Into the Wild

A taste of the Chilkoot trail

They came by the thousands...

They came by the thousands…

For ages the Chilkoot trail was used by Tlingit traders to exchange goods with the Athabascans. Chilkoot pass gained notoriety when 30,000 miners descended on the shores of the Upper Lynn Canal attempting the 35 mile trek to Lake Bennett, Canada. The gold diggers came from all over the world, some had sailed all the way from Norway, or New Zealand, circumnavigating the rough seas of South America entering the Inside Passage, landing in Dyea, an unruly boomtown that grew from nothing to more than 10,000 folks within 2 years. A false storefront, some tree stumps from the mile long pier, and slide cemetery are all that is left from the Klondike gold rush days.

Today, the Chilkoot trail is part of the Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park. They say it is the longest outdoor museum in the world, as the miners ditched or lost some of their 2,000 pounds of supplies on the way to the pass. Old cabins, stoves, cans, and other artifacts litter the path to the pass. Hikers pay $50 to hike the trail in 3-5 days, some race it in a day, which drops the price to $5, although running in bear country does not sound like a good idea to me…

Anyways. Before the hiking season starts on June 1, we got a chance to hike the first four miles to Finnegan’s Point. Here is what I got.

Lush fern foliage

Lush fern foliage

Board walkThe trail follows essentially the Taiya River, though steep hill sides force the trail initially up into the coastal rain forest. Lush ferns, devil’s club line the path. Soon, we encounter a board walk passing through beaver country, bear skat on the ground. The bottom of the bog is orange, brown from the tannin in the water. No fish, just beautiful reflections of dead trees, drowned by the beaver dam.

Devil's club, no touching!

Devil’s club, no touching!

Finally, we make it to Finnegan’s Point. In 1898, Pat Finnegan and his five sons built a bridge here across the river with the intent to collect tolls. Eventually the stampeders resisted his efforts to collect the tolls.

Today, there is a shelter, and nice wooden platforms for tents. So much for today. Time to turn back. Late May, spring is in full swing. I have seen the first green, red currants! It’s going to be a good year for high-bush cranberries, can’t wait.

One Man's Paradise

Dogtooth Peak, Dinkey Lakes Wilderness

Last weekend was a time to visit old and new stumping grounds. It was a relaxing and rejuvenating time around Courtright Reservoir and Dinkey Lakes in the Sierra Nevada. Rolling forest, alpine granite, and pristine lakes make this neighbor to the John Muir Wilderness a true Sierra gem. That’s what the National Forest site promises.

One day I hiked from Courtright to the top of Dogtooth Peak, a 10,256 ft / 3,126 m mountain peak. It ranks as the 531st highest mountain in California and the 3938th highest mountain in the United States according to Wikipedia. Surrounded by smooth granite domes Dogtooth Peak stands out by its craggy mountain  top. It takes a couple of 5th class climbing moves to get to the top of the rugged top. But boy, what a view. You can see most of the major domes around the reservoir and the Sierra Nevada crest to the East. The peak itself is surrounded by large quartz deposits, mostly white, but also some black and rose crystals of impeccable symmetry. Unfortunately I did not find the registry at the top of the mountain. I wondered if Fred Beckey left a note after his first ascent of the S-face. The man was just everywhere.

This time of the year the wildflowers are out, Penstemons, lilies, and many more flowers that I could not name, a very colorful display. The trails in the Wilderness area are barely marked, which is the way it should be. The trail to Cliff Lake is a popular day hike of about 5 miles. Primitive campsites are found around the lake, frequented by weekend warriors, fishing folks, backpackers and day hikers. Beyond the lake you are entering an area with less activity.

On my way back I went cross country following creeks and meadows leading to the reservoir. It reminded me of Alaska, being alone in the wilderness without a trail. At the end of the day a spotter plane started to circle overhead. A little later I heard a Bell helicopter, but I could not see it through the trees. The sound came closer and closer as I hiked South. Spotter plane, helicopter? That means forest fire. Not a fun place to be. I could not smell the fire, so it could not be that big, but they can explode very quickly. With some hesitation I kept hiking back to the trail head. Then I saw the smoke coming through the brush. The helicopter hovered almost over my head with a red water bag dangling from the underside. Well, the good news was, I was close to the reservoir, where they got the water from. The bad news, I was close to the fire. The helicopter was around for a couple of hours, disappearing once for an hour to refuel.


Shortly before sunset I made it back to the trail head. The helicopter crew still worked on the wildfire through the last hours of daylight.

It was a beautiful day above 8000 feet with a reminder how fragile this environment can be.