Chilkoot Part II

I awoke to a mad clatter.  The ground was shaking.  The stove pipe in the warming shelter was rattling as if a giant were pummeling it with garbage can sized hands.  I jumped to my feet.  What?  Could the wind out there possibly be this strong?

It stopped.

We later found out that it was a 5.8 earthquake.

It was 4 am.  If our alarms had failed to wake us up for our climb over the pass, at least the earthquake didn’t.

I stuffed down an oatmeal breakfast and packed up my gear and was off before 5 am.  Joseph, Audra and Inwoo were up and at ‘em just behind me.  It had been raining all night, so I was surprised to step outside and see traces of blue sky here and there.  I was bundled in my raingear anyway and glad of it because it was cold!

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The trail climbed steadily up to snow fields.  The snow was good.  Not hard enough to be slippery and scary and not soft enough that I was postholing regularly.  It allowed for quick climbing.  Up out of the trees, up into the alpine lands.  Ahead of me was white snow and black rock but look back and I could see Skagway’s green rainforest below.

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I took a break at the Scales to collect water before going over the pass.  The Scales is where the gold miners were stopped by officials to see if they had all of the necessary gear before they were allowed to head over the pass.  This is the point where a lot of people had to give up.  If they didn’t have what they needed and couldn’t get it, it was over for them so the scales became something of a junkyard and that’s what it is today.  A historical junkyard.

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The climb up the pass the Golden Staircase is a steep scramble.  There was still a snow chute off to the right but stay to the left and you could hike up most the way on dry but shifting rock passing a relics of a telegraph line and cable from the tram as you go.

There were so many miners that they had to wait in a line to climb to the top.  And how did they come down?  You guessed it!  After waiting hours in line with heavy gear on their backs to climb to the top of Chilkoot Pass, they’d slide down on their butts in about six seconds.  Daring folks!  That’s a steep slide.  I wouldn’t have glissaded the thing even with my ice axe!

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There is an old canvas boat just beyond there that my friend Cam told me about (it’s still there Swami!) and then this sign:

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The top of the pass is just a bit further and the view into Canada is enough to stop you in your tracks.

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How lucky I was with the weather!  The report called for rain but it was just blue skies and puffy white clouds.  I paused at the warming hut but not for long.  The sun was rising hot in the sky and avalanche conditions would get more dangerous the longer I waited so after some tea and a snack I was off.

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The snow was still solid but soft.  Still good conditions for quick travel and I flew down from the pass not pausing until I was out of the avalanche danger zone a mile or two later.  Then I was able to take my time and enjoy the sunny afternoon stroll.  As the snow continued to soften, postholing became more frequent but all together I only postholed 10 times or so which isn’t bad at all for a full day of hiking.

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I hiked down the valley to Lindeman and was very happy to spend the evening there in a cozy little cabin by the lake surrounded by snowy mountains.  My DREAM home.

I washed up and made myself a nice dinner and enjoyed an apple and hummus and tea for desert.  Afterwards I wandered over to the ranger post just a little ways off and was pleased to discover a museum tent that had more pictures and books and stories from the gold mining days.  I stayed in there for a good two hours pouring over it all, not wanting to miss a single detail.  I met Christine who is from Whitehorse and has worked as a ranger up in the park since the 70s.  She was very friendly and welcoming.  What a cool job.  I’m jealous!  I wonder if you have to be from Canada to work at Lindeman.

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I finally wandered back to the cabin and turned the corner to find Joseph and another hiker who was up from the Bennett side.

I’ve never really been taught how to use a wood burning stove- a bit of an embarrassment since I’ve been in Alaska for the last few years- Joseph seemed to know what he was doing, so I asked for a lesson and he showed me how to stack the wood inside and gave me great tips for fire building in general.  After getting the wood burning stove going properly, the cabin heated right up.  I got to use my down jacket as a pillow instead of wearing it!

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After brushing my teeth I went outside to put my sunscreen and tooth brush/paste/floss in the bear box where my food was.  The other camper was fumbling through his pack.  He had just realized that his platypus had punctured and leaked all over his gear.

I’m not sure exactly what sequence of events triggered this but his can of bear mace fell out on the ground, clip undone and went off.  The spray hit both of us briefly.  I didn’t see the bear spray can so what was happening didn’t click.  I was very confused.  All I knew was that my throat burned and my lungs felt tight and breathing was suddenly an effort.

“We just got bear maced.”  he reported.

What?  I turned and struggled to breathe.  Can I breathe?  For a second I wasn’t sure.  It was hard to breathe in but I could do it.  If this got worse I’d be in trouble.  If not I’d be fine.

The feeling lasted for a minute or so but it didn’t get any worse and although my throat burned for a good 24 hours after, I was quite alright and so was the other hiker.

. . .

Had a nice talk with Joseph on living life to the fullest.  He’s a pretty inspiring kid.  Has a medical condition that’ll restrict his mobility in the next couple of years so he is trying to get out and live to the fullest while he can.  He’s doing a pretty great job of it.  Moving to Alaska and rambling around the mountains.  Meeting him had a huge impact on me because he is going through all of this and is the same age as me.

Get out and live now.  Don’t wait or it’ll be too late.

I slept in a cabin by a woodburning stove for the second night in a row feeling tremendously spoiled.  These opportunities will be few and far between for the rest of the trip!

The following morning I spent a leisurely hour in the cabin and then hiked out to Lake Bennett where I will put in my kayak.

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I took the train back to Skagway to pick up my boat.  Skagway is quickly becoming my favorite town in all of Alaska thanks to its stunning setting and incredibly friendly population.  A big part of my love for the town is due to the incredible hospitality of Alexis and the folks who work on the train who let me crash at their place.  Thank YOU!

It’s all downhill (probably upwind, though!) from here, right?  Just 2,000 miles down the Yukon.

What the heck?  Here it goes.

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