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The Chilkoot Trail

CANADA | Saturday, 14 June 2008 | Views [832]

On Sat 14th June we splurged on breakfast at the Haines Chillkat bakery as we hadn't had dinner the night before. Then we checked out the farmers market, bought some food supplies and packed up our gear in preparation for a huge 3 day hike along the historical Chilkoot trail. We left our car in Haines and caught a ferry to Skagway. Once in Skagway we set about getting organised for the hike; bought some hiking boots, rented some gators, talked to the trail information office, registered for the hike, and wandered forever trying to find somewhere to leave our valuables. Finally the local hiking store helped us out. We stayed in the Skagway hostel that night as we couldn't set out on the trail til next day.

On Sunday afternoon we caught a bus to the start of the Chilkoot trail- just 15 minutes from Skagway and off we went. A Novia Scotian guy named Chad was also starting the trail at the same time as us so we hiked to Finnigans Point campground together where we planned to camp that night. On the way we passed an amazing beaver dam while walking along narrow planks over a swamp which were almost under water. I was already scared of bears before starting the hike but the preparation and information we sought and read made me even more so, and so did teh bear scat we kept seeing evrywhere. Chad had a bell with him, plus we chatted along the way so the noise should have warned off any bears which kept my heart from racing too fast.
Next day we hiked a lot further, to Sheep Camp- we arrived not long before a large group of boy scouts who took over the shelters and made it a little less pleasant for the rest of us. There were also 2 Danish girls, Chad and an English guy who camped at Sheep camp that night. At least I wasn't worried about bears, but it wasn't quite as peaceful as hoped. We planned to leave before 5am next day on the rangers advice (we needed to cross the snow early in the day before it was melted by the sun).

We thought we were first to leave camp next morning but the English guy was not far behind. There was a lot of snow! The information office had described there being "patches of snow" but really there was blanket white everywhere. You could hear the water rushing underneath which also made it a little more tricky, and we often fell knee deep into the snow. We were glad we'd rented gators and bought proper hiking boots- which were a lot more waterproof than my joggers. We also needed to pull out our gloves as it was chilly! We lost the trail numerous times (it was not marked well at all along the snow) and misguided the English guy who was just behind us as we fumbled along. But we finally made it past the scales where the goldrushers back in 1898 had to weigh their goods to ensure they had more than 1000 pounds of supplies before they were allowed to hike the Golden Stairs. A thousand pounds is a lot of weight and they made trip after trip to the top of the stairs and back down carrying 100 pounds each time. Sme hired natives to carry it for them, some did it themselves. The going was slow for them though as they had to queue to climb the stairs each time, and could only go as fast as the slowest or laziest person in the line in front of them. Thinking about that we had it easy with maybe 22 pounds of weight and much better clothing and equipment. Still, it was steep and slippery- much steeper than when the goldrushers did it, as they had thousands of people trampling the snow- we didn't. We had to climb on all 4's as it was easy to slip, and just keep slipping. It was icy, and windy, and the going was really tough which kept us warm. Boy it was steep though! And then we made it to the top and we were in Canadian territory! On the other side of the pass it was sunny and beautiful, but lookig back we saw some mean looking clouds gathering and we knew we needed to get a move on before the bad weather caught up with us. We hit avalanche territory so could not stop but still managed to snap a few photos of the glacier lakes and mountains we passed as we trudged through the snow.

We reached Happy Camp where we had planned to stay that night but it was unprotected and there was no stove so it was going to be freezing. We met the Danish girls there who had obviously set out even earlier than us. They were soaked, in tracksuits pants and joggers, they were ill equipped for the amount of snow we had to walk through. Not that snowshoes would have helped much as the hiking was steep. We had enough day light to push on to the next camp so we did even though we were hurting. We ate and dried our socks a little then kept moving- barely. We made it to Deep Lake camp in late afternoon- we'd been hiking about 10 hours that day and were completely exhausted. But the sun was shining and the camp was proected from wind. There was a river running just below us- it was a really stunning place. We fought sleep, well, Jo slept and I set up camp and then we ate and crashed out at 6pm. There were no bear containers so we had to keep all food and products that have any smell up on tree logs. Chad and the Danes also made it to Deep Lake that day- all were very tired, but at least there were no boy scouts! The Danes had bought the wrong gas tank for their stove so we lent them ours, otherwise it would have been just dry food for them for the entire trip- and it's questionable whether they would have had enough.

Next day, Wed 18th it was raining- we had rain coats but they were cheap and soaked through pretty quickly. We had planned on camping our 3rd night on the trail, but it was freezing and wet and the campgrounds along the way had no stove. And we'd had enough. We were ready to get clean and warm and eat some real food. So we hiked all the way to the end of the trail- to Bennett. We should have been making noise to warn bears off, but we were too tired even to talk so we were just lucky we had no bear encounters though there was still plenty of scat around. We had booked our train ride back to Skagway for the following day so had another night camping in the rain to look forward to. But....luck was on our side! We got to Bennet at 1:50pm...and there was a train there. We bolted for it as it leaves 2pm daily but we'd been told there was no train on Wednesdays. We asked the conductor if we could get a ride a day early and it was granted. We were so happy! They put us in the back cabin away from the tourists who take the train ride instead of hiking. We couldn't blame them as the tourists were annoying, and we stunk! It had been 4 days since our last shower- and a lot of hard yakka in between. But half way through the 2 hour ride someone maybe noticed my blue lips and told us there was a stove in te front cabin. We were soaked through and freezing so squeezed our smelly selves past the nicely dressed tourists and stood in front of the stove the rest of the way back while the tourists took photos out the window. We saw our first grizzly while on the train. It was big and was heading towards the 2 Danes we'd passed a little way back. They were headde for a differnet campsite that night but had obviously stopped for a drink and something to eat. So back the train went and picked them up- no chances are taken with grizzlies. So the Danes got a free ride back to Skagway (tickets cost $90 each!) so they were even more lucky than ourselves. All in all we hiked 37 km over 3 1/2 days- it was hard going but very rewarding, but I could not wait to get warm and clean. We caught the ferry back to Haines that afternoon with all the cruise ship tourists (again stinking them out!) picked up our car and checked into a motel for a well earned shower, cooked meal and bed.

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