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.

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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

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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…

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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

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One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 1

The Chilkoot Trail is a popular recreational trail following the footsteps of Tlingit traders and Yukon prospectors for 33 miles crossing the Coastal Mountain Range. Almost 3000 hikers attempt this historic and scenic hike every year, mostly between May and September. In the off-season you may have the trail all to yourself for a number of reasons. First, the weather can be treacherous around Chilkoot Pass with high winds, low visibility, and avalanche risk. Second, the rangers have left the park, so you are on your own. And finally, the White Pass & Yukon Railroad does not run any more, which adds another 10 miles of hiking along railroad tracks to your adventure, unless you were smart and have made arrangements in advance.


LeavesOn October 1st, a rainy day, I set out from Dyea with a backpack that felt way too heavy, anticipating a great experience. During the summer I had hiked the first 7.5 miles several times solo, with friends and clients. I knew what to expect. A steep hill right out of the gates, then a mellow walk along the Taiya river, passing through beaver country,  surrounded by a lush temperate rainforest.

Before I reach the trailhead a concerned local asks I wanted a coffee as a last treat. Isn’t that nice?

BeaverIn the summer this is a lovely stretch with lots of wild flowers, berries, and waterfalls. Tender ferns border the trail, lichen in all colors and shapes everywhere. For a while you walk on boards through beaver habitat just an inch above water level. Sometimes the trail follows an old wagon road, flat and wide. Then it climbs through the forest over knotty roots and slippery rocks. A few days ago, the trail was under water, so that the rangers had to wear hip waders in the first three miles. Now the water has receded, just leaving some muddy patches, great places to look for animal tracks. I don’t see any fresh bear tracks, fine with me.

My backpack feels heavy, but I am sure it’s nothing compared to what the miners and the packers were carrying. At Finnegan’s point I take a break to get out of the rain in one of the more than welcome shelters. My goal for today is Canyon City. I take my time, averaging about 2 miles per hour…

Canyon City was once one of those boom towns along the trail. Today not much is left, except a gigantic steam engine boiler, a dilapidated cabin, a forlorn stove in the woods. Miners with money would have their load transported to the next camp by a cable tramway. Imagine the determination it took to install the heavy machinery here in this wilderness over 100 years ago.

I settle in into the sturdy log cabin at Canyon City campground content with today’s work. My backpack seemed work. I lighten the load cooking dinner and enjoying a cold one.

LeavesSigns of fall are everywhere. Fallen leaves on the ground, in the water, and on the cabin roof. Daylight fades around 8 PM, leaving 12 hours for hiking and 12 for rest, so I thought.

Around 10 PM I hear noise outside the cabin. No, it’s not a bear. It’s Sam with his dog hiking in the dark, trying to catch up with a friend at Sheep Camp, another 5 miles away. This is the third time Sam is hiking the Chilkoot trail. He did it once in 18 hours! The fastest recorded time is under 5:30! Now, that’s not hiking, that’s racing. I would not want to run in bear country.

Well, now it’s time to sleep, and rest up for an easy day tomorrow: Sheep Camp, the last camp before Chilkoot pass.


He to whom the portentous conspiracy of night and solitude and silence in the heart of a great forest is not an unknown experience needs not to be told what another world it all is – how even the most commonplace and familiar objects take on another character. The trees group themselves differently; they draw closer together, as if in fear. The very silence has another quality than the silence of the day. And it is full of half-heard whispers, whispers that startle – ghosts of sounds long dead. There are living sounds, too, such as are never heard under other conditions: notes of strange night birds, the cries of small animals in sudden encounters with stealthy foes, or in their dreams, a rustling in the dead leaves – it may be the leap of a wood rat, it may be the footstep of a panther. What caused the breaking of that twig? What the low, alarmed twittering in that bush full of birds? There are sounds without a name, forms without substance, translations in space of objects which have not been seen to move, movements wherein nothing is observed to change its place. Ah, children of the sunlight and the gaslight, how little you know of the world in which you live!

Ambrose Bierce

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Into the Wild

Thoughts on Wilderness – № 2

“We need the tonic of wildness…

At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things,
we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable,
that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.

We can never have enough of nature.”

Henry David Thoreau


Denali National Park management goes one step further than most other parks by promoting their leave-no-trace policy. Backpackers in the park are now, as part of the mandatory safety instruction, advised not to publish or follow GPS-data on their hike in an effort to avoid the creation of man-made trails. “Leave only footprints, take only photographs” may be a popular motto in other parks with designated, and well maintained hiking trails. Not so in Denali National Park.

McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park, AK

McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park, AK

A few marked trails exist in Denali National Park, mostly around the park entrance. Few backpackers venture far away from the park’s road into the back country of this vast park. Those that do, enjoy the experience of wilderness as described by Thoreau. The management of Denali National Park wants to keep it that way. By preventing the establishment of man-made trails they hope to keep the majority of the park wild and pristine.

Tundra hiking in Denali National Park

Tundra hiking in Denali National Park

“Let the tourist be on his own, and not be spoon-fed at intervals. Let him be encouraged to keep his eyes open, do his own looking and exploring, and catch what he can of the magic of wilderness.” Those were Adolph Murie’s words in the 50’s, opposing a plan to develop trails in Denali National Park. His opinion seemed to have inspired the park’s trail-less philosophy.

This approach provides the unique opportunity for hikers to experience nature in the most profound and intense way.

tundra

Find your own path…

Wildlife management in Denali National Park also differs from most other national forest lands and parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. It’s hands-off. No animals are culled! In the most protected areas there is no hunting, period. In other areas subsistence hunting is allowed, but no guided trophy hunting, thank you very much.

Finally, no private traffic on the park’s one and only road. Just as Edward Abbey suggested. Unfortunately, many other parks look more like drive-through theaters than wilderness.

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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…

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