One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: still Day 5

An installment in 6 episodes. This is the last installment, yippeeh.


“If I saw a hitchhiker wearing a tie-dyed shirt, I’d assume he’s been waiting for a ride since the 1960s. I think that kind of patience is groovy.”

Jarod Kintz


No kidding. I have been standing here for one hour and not a single car came by. In the summer the Klondike highway is a bustling road, boatloads of cruise ship passengers experiencing the second gold rush. Not today. At least it is a nice day. I can hear some crows gawking in the distance…

“Hélas”, the first car! Big pickup, Yukon license plates. Slows down for the train rails, not for me… Oh well. I was sure the first car would pick me up. Who let’s a stranger stand on the road in this god-forbidden wilderness…

Another 15 minutes go by, uneventful. Car #2. No luck.

The a big rig. Has to stop at the tracks. Passes me at 5 mph… What the heck.

A couple cars go by heading to Whitehorse, wrong direction, honking, Do they think this is funny? I am wondering. Don’t they know once you hit the road the hike is over. Nobody walks on the road for fun.

Ah, here comes my rescue. A WP&YR company van pulls into the parking lot. Just a driver in a crew cab van. He’ll pick up some crew and come back, he’ll let me squeeze in. I just need a little patience. 20 minutes go by. The van comes back, empty. Just the driver. Comes to a dead stop right in front of me! Pulls out of the parking lot. The driver is shrugging his shoulders.

WTF?

Company policy? I don’t get it. Do I need to get frost bite first before they pick up a hiker? My faith in mankind dwindles.

What’s that? 3 cars in one hour? At that rate I might not make it to Skagway today…

Three more big rigs rumble past me. Same company, so they won’t stop. I got that. Thank you very much.

Then two ladies with Alaska license plate drive by in a nice suburban, shrugging shoulders? What’s that, the new sign for “%$@ *&%”?

Two hours and 8 cars I begin to consider my options here. Weather, check. Food, well a couple bars and a can of fish, plenty of water. No tent! Just a sleeping bag. 4 km to Fraser, the Canadian border. Maybe nobody picks me up because of that frigging border. Maybe they don’t want to cross the border with a stranger? That’s possible. Alright, so how how about walking past  the border, maybe I get a lift after that.

I shoulder my backpack, which feels as heavy as on day one. Road hiking sucks. Shortly before the border a helicopter shows up and circles overhead. What’s that? Are the looking for me, or the two ladies? Don’t get your hopes up. They don’t rescue hikers from the road. No, they install some equipment in the mountains. Onward.

Crossing the border is mightily uneventful. No control, no guard, nada. I guess you can always leave a country…

Alright, now I am out of sight of the border station. Traffic is even less than before. I guess some folks just drove to border for work.

A couple more cars drive by. Nothing. Either no eye contact or the shrugging shoulder. I take a break and take note of the amazing landscape I am passing through instead of reveling in my misery. Summit Lake is almost mirror-like. I see reflections of islands and lone spruce trees. My mood lightens. I’ll try to find that hunting cabin near the pass today if I don’t get picked up. From there it’s a good 14 miles to Skagway. No sweat.

Then car #13 arrives, passes me slowly, comes to a halt. Is that possible? California license plate. White pick-up. Out steps a giant of a man in camouflage. Good lord.

 It’s Bob on a road trip from California. We find some space for my backpack and myself in the truck and off we go. Life is good. We get through US customs.I have been a regular here during the summer. Three times a day did I cross that border. They know me and are curious about my hiking adventure.

Not only gives Bob me a ride to Skagway, he even drops me at my car in Dyea. We have a couple of beers and a burger in town. My treat.

What goes around, comes around. Life is good. My faith in humanity is restored.

Thank you for reading. It wasn’t all that dramatic. Just a little fun thing to write.

Advertisements
Standard
One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 5

Dispatch From The Couch:

Google Trekker Lets You ‘Hike’ the Chilkoot Trail


I made it to Lake Bennett in 4 days, the end of the Chilkoot trail. In the summer you can have a float plane pick you up and fly to Whitehorse for a good soak in Takhini hot springs or you take the White Pass & Yukon Rail train back to Skagway. Not exactly an option for me. The train stopped running for the season and I did not order the plane. So I have to hike out following the railroad tracks back to the Klondike highway. Not the most exciting finale.

Nevertheless, I get started prodding along the rails, secretly hoping that the maintenance crew comes by and picks me up. Good luck with that.
Every mile I pass an orange sign indicating how many miles to Skagway. I am walking in my inner boots, because these stiff plastic winter boots and railroads tracks just don’t play well together. My backpack feels like an anvil. 40 miles
The views are great. I start to recognize the mountains. They seem distant. 39 miles.

What’s that humming? I have been walking with my head down, counting my steps, looking at rusty nails, when I hear a rumbling ans squealing. Is that the maintenance crew? You bet. I tiny orange engine whizzes along the track. I jump of the track as fast as I can with my expedition backpack. Two railroad workers inside the crew cab seem to wear 4 or 5 layers of coats and hoods not even glancing once at me. That’s ok. They are going in the wrong direction anyway. But once they are done, maybe they’ll slow down and have a good heart. 38 miles.

The railroad track is surprisingly winding. I never see more than 300 feet ahead of me. The bears apparently use the track as well. So I keep my eyes peeled. What is that? Something is standing on the track. It’s brown. Is it moving? No, just standing there. Hmmm. I keep getting closer making noise with my walking poles. No movement. That’s not a bear. It’s a human being. Looking at the track… Oh well. Am I in trouble? You are not supposed to walk on the track, how else are you going to get out of here? Turns out there is a whole crew of railroad workers around the corner redoing the tracks. They are all friendly, some taking a break from their hard labor. With picks and hammers they put in a whole new track. I wonder how many folks in the world still know how to do this kind of work. Now I am sure I’ll get a ride home at some point. They don’t spend the night up here, heading home to Skagway at some point. 37 miles

Plodding along. 36 miles

I can smell the road. 35 miles

Oh well. I just keep going. Getting a second wind. Once I am on the highway, I’ll get a lift, no problem. 34 miles

I start to hate these mile markers. Did they forget to put one in at mile 33? It just feels like eternity. No, there it is. 33 miles

I think I need a break. I am doing good time. Who needs the maintenance crew? Can’t be much further. Newly energized I tackle the next orange mile marker. There it is! 32 miles

WhitePassOh, I have been here before. That’s the Log Cabin area. I made it. Klondike highway. I know exactly where I am. 4 km to Fraser, the Canadian border. 16 kilometers to White Pass Summit. 15 miles to Skagway.

Hopeful, I toss my backpack to the ground, plant my hiking sticks in the ground, ready to hold out my thumb. It’s 11:45 AM AKT, that makes it 12:45 BC mountain time.

To be continued…


“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

Terry Pratchett

Standard
Into the Wild

A Blessing

“Beyond the wall of the unreal city … there is another world waiting for you. It is the old true world of the deserts, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the shores, the open plains. Go there. Be there. Walk gently and quietly deep within it. And then —

Lower Dewey

may your trails be dim, lonesome, stony, narrow, winding and only slightly uphill.

May the wind bring rain for the slickrock potholes fourteen miles on the other side of yonder blue ridge. May God’s dog serenade your campfire, may the rattlesnake and the screech owl amuse your reverie, may the Great Sun dazzle your eyes by day and the Great Bear watch over you by night.”

Edward Abbey


Taking a break from reminiscing about the Chilkoot trail, letting Ed speak. He was such a gifted writer. I hope everybody finds time to read his books and thoughts on humanity, most notably.

  • Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness (1968)
  • Appalachian Wilderness (1970)
  • Abbey’s Road (1979)
  • One Life at a Time, Please (1988)
  • A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: Notes from a Secret Journal (1989)
  • Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951–1989 (1994)

Many put him in the  conservationist camp. I think he was much more. He was philosopher, an anthropologist concerned about the survival and well-being of human society.

Those are big words. In the end he was a man who experienced Nature as it was meant to be and had the gift to capture these moments in words for us, to remember, to reflect, and to protect…


Previously posted:

Thoughts on Wilderness

Thoughts on Wilderness – № 2

On Progress and Growth

The love of wilderness…

Standard
One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 4

In the summer of 1899 the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) railway arrived at Lake Bennett. Almost immediately the Chilkoot Trail was abandoned in favor of this newer, faster and cheaper way of moving goods and people into the interior.


Chilkoot Pofile Day 4

Another day of splendid weather, cold but clear. Well, cold. That’s relative, just below freezing. Nothing compared to what it will be in a few months (-40°C and colder). Smaller creeks and puddles have just a thin coating of ice.

A face in the ice.

A face in the ice.

I am in no rush today. Not sure how far I will push. Near Deep Lake I run into a major blueberry patch. They are as big as small grapes and so tasty. Where are the bears? I see none, so I have a healthy breakfast. They taste so much better out here…

With every step towards Lake Lindeman the trail becomes more lovely. Pine trees and a deep gorge, open views on the surrounding mountains, skeletons of boats. Within 3 hours I arrive at Lake Lindeman. What a beautiful location. A solid cabin invites to stay. There is plenty of drift  wood on the shore. Wouldn’t be hard to have a sizzling stove going in no time. Time for lunch. I am feeling up for more so I keep walking.

Bare Loon Lake, British Columbia

Bare Loon Lake, British Columbia

Passing several smaller lakes and a trapper cabin the trail slowly turns sandy and wide. In the summer there must be traffic by day visitors coming up with the train. The train service has stopped a few weeks ago for the season, so all is quiet today.

I arrive at Lake Bennett. Happy. The end of my excursion. Sort of the end. The end for tonight. It is moving to see the lake disappear in the distance knowing this was a major accomplishment for the early miners if they had made it this far.

Lake Bennett

Lake Bennett


“The sky is already purple; the first few stars have appeared, suddenly, as if someone had thrown a handful of silver across the edge of the world.”

Alice Hoffman

Standard
One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 3

In the summer of 1897, news of the Klondike gold strike turned the intermittent trickle of hardy prospectors into an uncontrollable flood of fortune seekers. More than 30,000 men, women, and children scaled the daunting Golden Stairs during the Klondike Gold Rush hauling one ton of supplies to sustain them for a year. The hardship and drama is very much unimaginable by today’s standards.


© Parks Canada

Today: the queen’s stage, or hors catégorie, as the French would say. From Sheep Camp to Happy Camp in about 8 miles and almost 3000 feet of climbing.

Another crisp morning. In the summer the ranger will kick you out of camp at 6 in the morning, because of avalanche danger. Not so today. The snow from last winter is  gone, the new accumulation is harmless, and most importantly, there is no ranger. I am slowly getting into a rhythm. It takes me an hour in the morning to stow all my belongings into my backpack and get ready. Although it’s day 3 and I have already consumed some food, there is still not enough room for all of my stuff inside the backpack. So I am stuffing socks in my pockets, the camera bag houses the gas, waterbottle, sleeping pad, and raingear go on the outside of the backpack. I am looking like a traveling salesman, but it works. I also think, all the dangling makes enough noise to keep the bears away.

I make it above the treeline. It is pretty straightforward to follow the trail. Shortly before the Scales I run into snow. Luckily I see the footprints of Sam and his dog. The scales were used to weigh once more the gear of the miners. Packers would charge by the pound. At some point there was also a tramway heading up Chilkoot Pass. Until a couple of years ago a wooden tower from the tramway was still standing nearby. Now the towers have been reduced to a pile of rotting beams. Rusty cables on the ground are great trail markers. A couple more inches of snow and the cables will disappear. Around the pass turns out to be the most challenging section of the trail this time of the year. Big granite boulders are covered with a couple inches of snow. It is impossible to see where the rock ends and where the hole begins. I don’t want to twist my ankles here.

After a number of false summits I reach the top of Chilkoot Pass. It is winter up here. Most artifacts are hidden beneath the snow, except for some massive iron wheels. The Golden Stairs… Go look up the historic images of this place with a thousand miners crawling up the pass. Like an ant hill, simply amazing. I am sitting by myself at the same place almost 120 years later. Humbling.

Chilkoot Pass

Chilkoot Pass

I spend some time in the emergency shelter, which would be a great place to spend the night. No wood stove, no wood to burn, but a nice shelter. This would be an amazing place to watch the Northern lights! It’s too early to call it a day, and it is easier to stay warm walking than sitting around in the shelter. Who knows what the weather will bring tomorrow? So, I keep going, descending to Crater Lake. What a sight. Glassy surface! How often does this happen? Frozen waterfalls and creeks make for an interesting descent.

Crater Lake

Passing a few piles lumber (Stone Crib), I finally make it to  Happy Camp, another fine warming hut. “Happy to see you!”

I don’ t expect any other visitors, so I make myself comfortable attempting to dry out socks, boots and whatnot. There is a big poster on the wall showing Happy Camp during the Gold Rush. What a miserable place it must have been compared to today. Still, the miners called it Happy Camp for a reason: They had made it over the pass! In the flickering light of a candle they were served coffee, stale bread with some butter and a piece of canned beef – happiness.

Well, it’s freeze-dried Pad Thai and the last can of beer for me tonight and I call it a day.

boots

Not quite.

At 3 AM in the morning I hear voices outside, flash lights flickering across the room. Two ladies and a dog made it across the pass, coming from I have no clue where. They have been hiking for 12 hours straight and are to put it mildly out of their mind happy to have found this place in the last glimmer of their fading head lights. An hour later it’s all quiet again. Everybody is settled in for the night.

This time for good. When I leave the cabin in the morning the two night walkers are stlll sound asleep. Only their company, Nugget, is growling at me.

Good bye Happy Camp!


“Look, when do the really interesting things happen? Not when you’ve brushed your teeth and put on your pyjamas and are cozy in bed. They happen when you are cold and uncomfortable and hungry and don’t have a roof over your head for the night.”

Ellen Potter

Standard
One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 2

The Chilkoot Trail served as one of several trade routes into the interior for coastal Tlingit, who would trade eulachon grease and dried fish for fur and skin clothing. In 1880 the US Navy negotiated an agreement with the Tlingit to allow prospectors to use the Chilkoot Trail. Within short order it became the primary route for miners to make their way into the upper Yukon River basin.


What do I remember of this day? The amazingly great weather, fall foliage and berries, and a comfortable cabin at Sheep Camp.

I wake up to a perfect blue sky. No need for a rain jacket today. Nevertheless, the sun remains shielded by the mountains for most of the morning. I can see my breath walking for the first hour. Looking back I see the Chilkat mountains basking in the bright sun light. No clouds as far as I can see.

cranberry

I am still surrounded by coastal rain forest. Many leaves have already found their way to the ground. Highbush cranberries  (Viburnum trilobum) everywhere, a welcome refreshment on the way up. Plump, and tart. The berries remind me of the salmon roe I tasted earlier in the season. Once the outer skin pops, boom, an explosion of flavors.

cranberries

I am not the only one, who enjoys this treat. Apparently a squirrel had the smart idea to store some berries on a bed of tree moss. A week ago, we found mushrooms in the trees. Same idea… I guess the squirrels here know how high the snow can get in this valley.

The berries themselves can stay on the bush throughout the winter without dropping  to the ground. That’s why we sometimes see cranberry bushes in the spring that have berries from last year, and flowers from the new year at the same time. The fall foliage of this plant is also pretty to look at.

It’s a short walk from Canyon City to Sheep Camp. In the summer this must be quite a scene. There is a ranger station and a daily evening lecture. Not so in the off-season. It’s all quiet here, except for some distant water falls. Three warming tents to choose from. Mine has a wood stove. I collect some dead wood and chop it into pieces. Once the sun sets the temperature plummets pretty quickly. It’s a bit of a challenge to lighten the wood, apparently it’s not as dry as I thought. I read horror stories in the log about hypothermic hikers in the summer. Imagine being in here, wet and cold, trying to light a fire knowing that you have to spend the night in your tent. Rain and wind seem to be norm in the summer.

Well, my fire finally catches. It may not provide a lot of heat, but the crackling sound has undeniably an effect. I crawl into by Feathered Friend and call it a day. Tomorrow is supposed to be the biggest day on the hike. 8 miles or so to Happy Camp, across Chilkoot Pass. According to the park rangers the orange trail markers have been pulled on the American side. So far it was pretty easy to find the trail. It may have been covered with wilted leaves, but the opening in the woods gave it away. Tomorrow the trail will be above the tree line, so it may be a bit more challenging. Fresh snow may cover the trail…

As long there is good visibility, I am not worried.


“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”

Sylvia Plath

Standard
Inside Out

One moment you are happy…

“You are happy for an instant
and then you start thinking again…”

Georgia O’Keeffe

Hiking alone. Good for the body and the soul? I am wondering.

Here I was hiking up Mount Decoeli outside of Haines Junction in the Yukon. Mount Decoeli is with 6,279 ft / 1,914 m the 138th highest mountain in Yukon, no big deal. It is readily accessible from the Alaska highway and promises a great 360 degree view with glimpses to the distant ice fields. It is seven o’clock in the evening when I start hiking from Bear Creek Summit. Not a soul in sight.

Bear scat, willows and alders, a loud creek to begin with. What am I doing here? What if I run into a bear? I am clapping my hiking poles, holler, whistle, and rumble along and across Bear Creek, as much as possible, to stay out of the man-high vegetation. The hike is outside of the Kluane National Park, so I did not have to register with the rangers. Nobody knows where I am, where I am going. Calm down. This is great. This is why I am here. To hike cross-country, finding my own trail…

scree

A few hours later I pick up a faint trail leading into steep scree land. A social path, a wildlife trail? It seems to go in the right direction and the path  makes it much easier to walk on the mountain slope. It’s 10 o’clock. The sun is still up there throwing warm beams of light on the hillsides. Across the valley I see nine dall sheep, inching their way back into the mountains, grazing in places without, at least from the distance, any green.

Finally, the top. More snowy mountains emerge in the West. Nothing seems to be that tall, like viewing Denali from the distance. I do not know that I will fly over these distant mountains in a few days, which leaves me with the feeling of belonging. Not tonight. The sensation of loneliness creeps into my body. Circling thoughts, not exhausted enough to keep the head from spinning. What now, Georgia?

sky over kluane

Georgia O’Keffe had an open marriage with Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer, gallery owner, and magazine publisher. Were they in pursuit of happiness during their unconventional relationship? Benita Eisler described their marriage as “a collusion … a system of deals and trade-offs, tacitly agreed to and carried out, for the most part, without the exchange of a word.” Several hundred portraits of Georgia were taken by Alfred. One notable portrait exists by no other than Ansel Adams, who described Georgia as “psychopathic.”

The nine dall sheep are still grazing on the side of a mountain when I descend around midnight.

It is past two o’clock in the morning, when I stumble back to the car, hungry and tired. A cup of udon needles with sweet carrots fixes the hunger. I sleep in the next morning.

What’s next? Rest, think, hike, worry, repeat…

Standard