The Chilkoot Trail
Expedition to follow the route of the 1898 Klondike Gold rush
Conducted by: Jack L. McSherry, III and Brian L. Miller
From the logbook of: Jack L. McSherry, III
The Chilkoot Trail:
“If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour”.
Henry V; St. Crispin’s Day Speech
June 6, 2001
6:00 to 6:00 am. We got up and got dressed and ready to go.
7:00 am. Breakfast at “Sweet Tooths”.
7:30 to 8:00 am. We packed our back packs for the hike. All extra things we packed up into boxes and left them at the front desk. We told them we would pick the things up in five days. When we get back.
8:30 to 9:00 am. We went to the Park Trail Center .This is an office in Skagway maned by both U.S. National Park Rangers and Canadian Parks Wardens. Here we found out what the conditions were along the trail and obtained permits. They made Brian sware on a rock from the original gold claim, thay as party leader he would obey all the rules. I made him party leader because Bonnie said hat he was the responsable one. He also had to promise that I would obey the rules too.
They went over the trail conditions and told us that snow shows were required on the Canadian side. There the snow was deep, soft and wet. Also, they gave us warnings about avalanche danger.We were told that upon arrival in camp, to put our food, stove fuel, garbage and cooking gear up a bear pole. Even before we start to think about setting camp. Their last suggestion was that we should not forget to carry bear repllent. The Canadian Warden’s name was Rob.
Temp 65 F. sunny
9:30 am. We mailed our packages and postcards home from the Skagway Post Office.
10:00 am. We got back to the Golden North Hotel and checked out. And then sat outside waiting for ground transportaion to the trail-head. Our transportion was by “Frontier Excursions”, a local tour and transportation outfit. The lady that drove us, was a year around resident of skagway. She was not impressed with weenie tourist types, or most of the local tour outfits. She believed that the Yukon and Whitehorse railway trip was a big waste of money. She seemed to like Brian and I, reconizing that we were tough, real men, about to hike the Chilkoot.
11:00 am. We got picked up by Frontier Excersions.
11:30 am. Arrived at the trail-head of the Chilkoot Trail very near the old ghost town of Dyea, Alaska.
11:30 am. Left The Trail-head and started the hike of Chilkoot trail. Brian took point. Just a few steps on the trail and you begin to climb Saintly Hill. It is steep and rocky. Very hard going. We think the vertical rise is about 100 + ft. followed by a gradual incline for another 50 ft. vertical rise.
About 3 miles in we came upon an old saw mill site and cabins. The saw mill operated in the 1950s. But the age of the buildings is unknown. The one building is a partially collapsed log cabin, and the other is a plank building. There are still some rusted cots inside the plank building. With tin cans, pots and pans lying around.
About 4 miles in we saw the first wooden dowel in a tree. They were for the old phone line from Dyea to Bennett to Log cabin to Skagway and back to Dyea.
Just a short distance beyond this point we saw grizzly bear scat.
3:00 pm. At 4.81 miles from the trail-head, we arrived at Finnegan’s point. A site of a ferry and toll bridge during the gold rush era.
There is a National Park warming shelter here. It is a platform tent with a small wood stove. The warming shelters are modeled after the buildings in the area at the time of the gold rush.
Temp . 70 F.
300 yards beyond Finnegans point we found very fresh grizzly bear scat. Brian thinks that he must have scared the bear badly.
5 miles from the trail-head we saw another phone line dowel in a tree.
6.65 miles from the trail-head we arrived at “The Rock Garden”.This was an area of small trees and large round cobble size rocks all over the trail area. They were very hard to walk over.
6:00 pm. 7.5 miles from the trail-head, we arrived at Canyon city. Here there is a National Park warming shelter. A log cabin with a wood stove. The Park also allows camping here. So, we hung our food on the bear poles and set up camp.
7:00 pm. Boiled water to cook dehydrated food. Then began to eat dinner.
7:15 pm. After eating the hot food, I had a protein bar. These were given to me by Marion Brandt before we left. They became known to us as “Marion Bars”. When I ate my first one, I chipped a tooth. Thanks Marion!
8:15 pm. Temp. 57 F. sunny.
8:30 pm. The sun went over the mountain and the temperature dropped to 50 F. I already have blisters on my feet. Now I will have to contend with them for the rest of the trip. The blisters are on both heels and left front side of left foot. I taped them up with electrical tape.
We passed three groups of hikers, heading south, prior to reaching Finnegan’s point. The first one, a lone hiker, sited three grizzly bears. The second group said one bear crosses 30 feet in front of them. The third group saw a bear sitting in the center of the trail. They waited for him to move, then passed within 30 of him.
All the bears were seen between Finnegans Point and Canyon City.
As we walked, Brian had on his bear bells. I had my tin cup clanking. And every 100 ft., sometimes less, if the area was thick, we would yell “brother bear?” or”hey bear”.
We did not see any bears up to this point.
June 7, 2001
7:00 am. We got up and washed in the stream. Brian shaved. The stream was 35 F.
8:15 am. Breakfast 49 F. sunny.
9:00 Left for Canyon City ghost town.
The ghost town was a short distance up the trail and across a suspension bridge. We first came to a large old iron stove. Said to be a resturant stove. On the stove, an near by, there were many tin cans that predated can openers. We could see how they were opened with axes and other tools.
We also came upon the old steam boiler used for the tramway to the summit.
Many foundations for buildings and tents could be clearly seen. A few buildings could be seen in ruin, with parts standing. We also came apon the parts of an old freight wagon.
11:00 am. Arrived back at the Canyon City Camp. We packed up our gear to continue on the trail.
12:00 am. We left Canyon City Camp.
At mile mark 7.88 we found sled runners, a relic of the gold rush
At 7.95 miles we went up a very steep climb up a canyon.
Starting at the top of the canyon, we started to see down telephone wires and poles. At 8.82 mile mark there is an in-tact, down telephone pole, complete with cross bars.
At 10 miles in we came apon a porcupine walking up the hill away from us.
At 10.6 miles we arrived at the location of the old Pleasent Camp ghost town.
3:00 pm. We arrive at Pleasent Camp warming shelter and camp area. Yet we will continue to Sheep Camp.
4:30 pm. We arrived at Sheep Camp, 11.75 mile mark. Just 50 ft. prior to the camp we saw fresh bear scat, very green in color. We assume they are eating grass and not people.
4:35 pm. We set up camp.
5:00 pm. We ate dinner in the warming shelter. We are met there by 4 hikers out of Juneau. They are 3 elementary school teachers, one has his son along. Temerature 50 F. light rain.
7:00 While we were at the warming shelter, we were met by two National Park Rangers. They said that they came down from their camp to show us pictures of the area from the time of the 1898 gold rush. The real reason they came down was to check on the condition of any hikers at the camp prior to their attempt on the summit. They said that they didn’t have any deaths, yet, but had to send a good number out by helicopter with broken bones. The Rangers also let us know about the conditions ahead and on the summit.
8:30 pm. We walked around and took pictures.
9:00 pm. We put on our thermal underware for the next day.
9:10 We went to sleep. temp 48 F. sunny. The Rangers told us that the temerature has been going down to the 30s F. here at night.
June 8, 2001
4:00 am. We got up. 35 F. sunny, few clouds. Here at Sheep camp is the 11.75 mile mark.
4:30 am. We cooked and ate breakfast. Then break down camp.
TODAY WE WILL ATTEMPT TO SUMMIT THE GOLDEN STAIRCASE!
6:00 am. Left camp. 35 F. sunny.
At 13.62 miles from the start of the trail, about 2 miles beyond Sheep camp, we came to the “Rockfield”. An area of large boulders that fell off the mountain above. There are many streams between the rocks. We had to crawl over these boulders, one by one, as we continue up the mountain.
We saw a miner’s grave next to the trail here near the begining of the Rockfield. We also came apon our first Rock Cairn. These piles of rocks, used as trail markers, were put up by the original stampeders. Today they are maintained by the Park Service.
At 14.00 mile mark we find a tramway wheel along the trail.
8:45 am. about 14.16 mile mark. We arrive at the tree line and our first snow.
9:00 am. about 14.3 mile mark. We start up “Long Hill” The top of the hill is at 14,68 mile mark. But, it sure seems to have been farther.
At 15.00 mile mark we see a collapsed building. This is the area that the great avalanche killed 70 peolpe on April 3, 1898.
At 16.00 mile mark we arrive at “The Scales”.
Just as we were about to crest Long Hill and arrive at the Scales, we stopped and sat down for a rest. We began to talk about going up the summit. Brian said he didn’t think it could be worse then what we have already been through. As we went over the crest, Brian in the lead, he looks up and says,” Jack, you are not going to like this”. As I stepped over the crest I saw the scales a flat and slightly down sloped area. Above it was the Golden Stairs, 1000 ft. straight up! We push forward.
11:00 about 16.2 miles. We start our climb up the Golden Stairs.
The climb starts at a gentle roll off to a slope angle of 45 degrees. The snow appears to be about 20 ft. deep. This area gets 70 feet of snow in the winter.
At about 300 ft. up the slope, the sun hits the snow and melts the surface. We are now sinking into our hips with each step. At one point Brian gets stuck and I have to reach forward and dig him out from behind. Once free we will continue forward.
I find that the only way I can make headway is to crawl. I crawl up the snow much like someone climbing a latter. Brian tries to use his snowshoes. He makes a little headway. Then he looses one of his snowshoes. It slides a little way down hill. Brian decides that he must go back down for it. I tell him to work his way to the left and place is pack on a rock outcrop first. So, it doesn’t also slide down.
Brian gets his snowshoes and begins to start up again. He begins to have thoughts that we should turn back. That maybe we cannot make it. Brian is also starting to feel sick, and his back hurts. But he continues.
As we get up 500 ft. We reach the false summit. This is the location of the original, and famous photographs of the slope and the Scales. I reach this location first and point out our location and historical significance to Brian, before I tell him, that when he reaches me, he will only be half way. In this area there is a lot of metal relics and wooden parts from the old tram way. The temperature is 55 F. and sunny.
For a short distance the area is flat. Then it starts up at a 45 degree ange and rolls into a 60 degree slope angle. We both start crawling again. I climb better and with more ease then Brian does. He is still behind me. I look down and realize that the mountain of snow is as steep as climbing a ladder. Although it is hundreds of feet down a steep snow slope, I think it is strange that I have no fear. This is the same area that if a miner slipped, he would slide down and under the snow, never to be seen again.
As I reach the summit and the slope flattens and gently rolls over the crest, I wait for Brian. he is feeling more back pain and more sick.
3:30 pm. We reach the summit. There is a monument here. And, this is the border between Alaska and the British Columbia, Canada.
4:00 At the British Columbia Border there is a warming shelter and a Warden shack. The Warden is not there. We stop at the warming shelter and melt snow to fill our water bottles. We drank a lot of water on the way up. It didn’t seem windy, but it must have been. We felt really dry. We also cooked some food and hot chocolate. I gave Brian some advil for his pain. He was not hungry, but ate a protien “Marion” bar anyway.
5:00 pm. Left the border area, on snowshoes. The snow still is about 20 deep. We were warned that the next two miles would be avalanche danger area. We saw avalanches that had happened and some areas that were going to avalanche soon. But, those areas were far enough away from our trail. Brian walks better on snowshoes then I do.
As we walked we came to an area that skirted a cliff, like a shelf. There was an area to walk on about eight feet wide of snow. The cliff went up one side and the snow dropped off in a 20 ft. straight down shear on the other. We felt the snow could cut loose at any time. So we decided to both make it accross at our own pace, slightly apart from each other. This way, if the snow gave way , we would not both be caught in the slide. We decided to meet at the end of this segment. The idea was if the one person did not show up. The other could go back and rescue him. We both got to the other side and decided to rest, for a moment, as we were really pushing it.
7:00 pm. We put on the rain gear over our packs. 50 F. rain
9:00 pm. We arrived at Happy Camp ghost town. We met the Juneau boys there. They were starting to worry about us. They tought that we might have decided to stay at the border warming shelter over night.
The Juneau teachers had the only camp sight without snow. That area the snow seemed to have been blown away. Everywhere else there seemed to be from 2 to 4 feet of snow. There we ice steps cut to get into the warming shelter, five up then three back down onto the porch.
The warming shelters on the Canadin side have no stoves. They are just wooden shacks. This one had no bear pole. Instead it had a closet with a door to the outside, to store food and cooking things.
We had been hiking and crawling for about 15 hours. Brian was still sick. He went to sleep on the warming shack floor right away. The park wardens do not let you sleep in these shelters, it is against the rules. But, since Brian was sick and very tired, we decided to stay in there for the night, instead of setting camp on the ice. I was prepared to sleep on the ice. It would not have taken long to set camp. But, Brian just could not.
9:30 pm. Brian went right to sleep on the floor of the warming shelter. He had just taken more advil. We had gone 8 1/2 miles in 15 hours. I changed into dry cloths, and hung up my snow soaked pair of pants. Then I cooked and ate my dinner.
10:30 pm. I placed my sleeping bag on the floor, and my bear spay near my head and went to sleep. Sometime during the night, Brian got up and went to the outhouse. He was unable to find his bear spray, so he took mine. While sleeping, for a short time, I was defenseless. Remember that these shelters are for cooking, so this is where the bears smell food.
June 9, 2001
6:45 am. We got up. temp 35 F. sunny
7:45 am. We cooked and ate breakfast.
9:30 am. sunny 55 F.
10:00 am. We left Happy Camp.
For the first mile we walked over wet snow and used snowshoes. Then we went over rock trail and snow, so we had to remove the snowshoes. We never knew when we would sink in to the knee or to the hips. As we took off our snow shoes we had a short rain shower so we put or rain covers on our packs.
2:30 pm. 23 mile mark, sunny 65 F. Arrived Deep Lake ghost town. This area was closed to camping until the snow melts. It is here that Brian decides that there are two things he really wants. The first is a double cheeseburger. And the other is to kill Gregg. As Gregg said that he didn’t know why we were only planning to go 5 miles a day. After all, He could go 20 miles a day on the appalachian Trail, in PA.
We see the snow starting to end here. We will soon be below the snow line.
We are following the trail above Deep Lake Gorge. Some of the relics include a foundation of a tent tavern.
6:00 pm. Arrived at Lake Lindeman City. This is a ghost town that once had 10,00o residents. As we arrived we found a rotted sled, half full of tins, coffee pot, and assorted things. Just beyond we found the skull of a horse. It appeared that some stampeders came though with a horse pulling a sled. The horse died from the arctic cold. So they took what they could carry, and continued.
Once we got to the camp and a cabin warming shelter, we dropped our packs, and started cooking. Brian was feeling a little better. We both noticed that we had a good bit of sunburn. Eventhough, we had on 30+ sun block. The sunburn was caused by the rays of the sun bouncing off the snow, for the two days. This is also called “glacier burn”.
After dinner we went looking for the Parks Canada Warden, just to check in and let them know that we crossed the border.
We found the Wardens compound. It consisted of a number of tens. One was a kitchen another for sleeping, and several for storage. The tent holding the food supplies had an electric fence around it, to keep away bears.
We found the Warden, a middle aged lady named Christine. She has been at this post, for twenty years, in season. She gave us each an orange to eat. She told us that it was the best thing, if we were really played out.
Warden Christine wanted to know about trail conditions, and if snow shoes were needed. She was surprised to hear that it took us 15 hours to travel over the summit. And she said she would relay the message, to the trail head, that snow shoes would be needed, for travel on the British Columbia side. She tells us that this time of year is when the trail is the most difficult. She told us this is as close as you can get to the conditions the stampeders faced in 1898.
Christine understood our interest in history, so she gave Brian and I a personal tour of the ghost town. Along the way we saw many relics, building foundations, cans, bottles, old shoes, sleds, outhouse foundations, spilled pitch from boat building, and a bow piece from the famous collapsable boats. We walked down the main street of the town with many foundations on both sides. There were many trees that had several trunks coming out of old stumps. Trees that were cut down during the gold rush. We also came upon large moose tracks.
At one point, at Lindeman City we saw the ruins of a saloon. With many beer and wine bottles all around. Even champage bottles.
The ruins extended over a large area and were everwhere.
Parks Canada issued us our certificates for hiking the Chilkoot trail, which we picked up at the Warden’s camp.
9:00 pm. We put up the tent. Put the cooking gear, food an garbage up the bear pole, filtered water for the next day. And ate our oranges as ordered.
9:50 pm. We went into our sleeping bags, made our log entree, and of course, the sun was still up and bright. We are actually sleeping inside the ghost town. There are many cans and relics around our tent.
There were many mosquitoes in this area. So, we put on jungle juice.
10:00 We went to sleep. Today we went five miles in eight hours. We are the only people in this camp.
June 10, 2001
4:15 am. We got up and packed up.
5:20 am. Left Lindeman City
7:20 am. We arrived at Bare Loon camp. the sight of a lake and a gold rush camp. On the way we saw a single bear track and many moose tracks and moose scat. Brian thought the moose scat was piles of acorn type nuts, piled by squirrels. I had to break the news to him.
Upon arriving at Bare Loon we saw the camp of the Juneau boys. We stopped for a vist. Their coffee was hot and they offered us each a cup. I had mine and it tasted great, Brian, of course, had none.
7:40 am. Left Bare Loon.
We found out that I walk slower then Brian. But that he needs more breaks. We decide the best way to make time is to let Brian walk ahead and stop for his break. When I meet him we continue. I take a break after every third “Brian break”.
The trail went up hill and then down hill, again and again. About one and a half miles before Bennett BC. We came upon a lot of sand. The sand was so clean that it looked like beach sand, and covered an entire mountain. Walking on it was very hard going, as bad as snow.
As we came upon a indian trappers cabin, the Juneau boys catch up to us. We stop talk and take pictures. Then we continue.
After a short distance we can hear the whistle of the Yukon and White Pass train. That is our train. Since we are not sure how far away it is, and we must get there on time we push forward. The muscles in my calves cramp up and lock. If I stop for about one half hour, I’m sure it would be OK. I would like to stop, but we cannot. We don’t want to miss the train. We continue and push on.
We pass the only building left in Bennett. It is the old wooden Russian Church. We take a few pictures. Below us we can see the train.
11:10 We arrived at the train station at Bennett, British Columbia. They have a special railroad car for us hikers, with hot and cold drinks waiting. At first we are honored by the special car. But, we realize, that it is because hikers smell bad. As I sit down, my legs tighten up. I am surprised when I go to get up and find out that I can hardly move. I take an advil and get some coffee.
The Juneau boys are on board. They are glad to see us. I tell them of Brian’s two wishes. they say they would also like a double cheeseburger, and they said they would like to kill Gregg too. We then step off the train to take some pictures.
The Juneau boys were planning their next trip. A boat trip from Bennett to Dawson City, down the Yukon River, next year. They invite us. Brian said “we”, meaning him, don’t do water trips.
We are taking the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow guage railroad back to Skagway, Alaska.
We traveled 7 miles in five hours today.
NO ONE WILL BELIEVE HOW HARD THIS TRAIL IS!
1:00 pm. Our tain left Bennett for Skagway.
The train followed along the original route. We went though Dead Horse Gulch and could see the famous old truss bridge, to the right. The train no longer uses it, and was rerouted along the edge of the mountain. We also went through two tunnels. The first into Dead Horse Gulch and the second went across another truss bridge. We could see straight down. We rode most of the way on the platform on the rear of the train.
As we went along, and futher up the mountain, we saw more snow and it got colder. At the white pass there was deep snow, a marker and a shack along the tracks.
3:30 pm. We arrived back in Skagway.
4:00 pm. We checked back into the Golden North Hotel. We picked up our extra things which were in storage. Both of us are having trouble walking. Our legs hurt and won’t move right. But, at least we don’t have those 50 pound packs on.
5:00 pm. We had our Dinner at the Bonanza Bar and Grill. We both have double cheeseburgers. And I have a “Yukon Red” beer. Brian is still not feeling real well.
7:00 pm. I have dessert and coffee, Brian has some ice cream, At the Alaska Wild Restaurant.
7:30 pm. We go back to our Hotel.
8:30 pm. We go to sleep. Brian wears his eye mask, he still cannot get use to the nightime sunshine.