“The eye catches the movement. The mountain is alive. There is a continuous moving train; they are perceptible only by their movement, just as ants are…. They are human beings, but never did men look so small.”
— Tappan Adney, reporting for
Harper’s Weekly, September 1897
University of Washington photo
By “SCRUFF” McBRADY
Cub Reporter on the Trail
The above description by our gold rush colleague more than a century ago paints the image that he saw as he approached the Scales, looking up to the summit of the Chilkoot Pass. The long line of some 40,000 men and women, captured in many photographs, continued for another year.
The history of that incredible journey is preserved today by the park services of the United States and Canada. One can still hike the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail, which begins at Dyea and ends at Lake Bennett.
Hiking the Chilkoot is something the editor of this sheet does at least once every five years to “help bring Skagway back into its historical perspective, and to preserve the sanity.” And believe me, the latter is a tall order. The trail is not only good therapy — an escape from the hustle and bustle of the Skagway metropolis — it’s an enriching experience that perfectly blends history and beautiful scenery.
The Chilkoot, recently selected as Alaska’s first U.S. Millennium Trail, is a museum of the Klondike Gold Rush. And like most museums you go through, one is allowed to observe, but not touch. If you are caught taking an artifact, the penalties are stiff. But what’s different about this museum is how you go through it — retracing history with a heavy pack on your back. The best way is to plan ahead, be prepared and take your time.
Trail information can be secured at the Chilkoot Trail Center in the restored Boss Bakery Bldg. on Broadway between 5th and 6th (new location). It is open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., June-August. Those hiking the entire trail must obtain a backcountry permit and pay a registration fee and reservation fee to hike both sides of the trail. For permit pricing information, stop by the Trail Center or call 1-800-661-0486 for reservations.
Local shuttles can pick up hikers by the Trail Center and drive them over the 9-mile road to Dyea (best to travel in a group to save money). The trailhead is to the right, just before the road crosses the Taiya River bridge. The trail is well-maintained and historical photograph trail markers help you compare the views in 1897-98 with the ones you see today.
If you’re doing your first Chilkoot, it’s best to take 4-5 days and absorb it all. Your hiking correspondent, a veteran of more than a dozen Chilkoot missions, recommends camping stops at Finnegan’s Point or Canyon City (glacier views, shelter and ruins), Sheep Camp (shelter, ruins and ghosts), Happy Camp (cooking shelter and sharing summit stories), and Bare Loon Lake (swimming) on the first trip. For a faster three-day hike, plan camping stops at Pleasant Camp (nice tent sites), Happy Camp or Deep Lake (good water & berry picking) and either Lindeman (shelters & tent museum) or Bennett (old church, depot and interpretive exhibits).
Don’t miss the little tent museum at Lindeman. Inside, you’ll receive a certificate naming you as one of the 2,000 or more who hiked the Chilkoot this year.
There is train service out of Bennett five days a week from May 23 to Sept. 9, 2017. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, a southbound train leaves for Fraser and Skagway at 3:10 p.m. and on Saturdays at 2:10 p.m. (all times ADT). On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, a train leaves northbound for Carcross at 11 a.m., and hikers can connect to a bus to Whitehorse (and to Skagway via train/bus from Carcross on Friday only). There is no hiker service Sunday and Monday. Check options at wpyr.com and buy tickets in advance at the train depot. Passports are required.
At trail’s end, you’ll have sore feet and a need for a shower. But the discomfort is worth it, and you’ll probably want to do the Chilkoot again some time, and take along more friends. And if you’re made of the stuff of our grizzled editor, you may keep coming back until you have your ton of gear packed over the pass.
The “Cub Scruff”, now more than half a century young, still leads hikes and paddles for family, friends and wayward journalists. Read his award-winning journal from the summer 2010 hike with his son at: www.skagwaynews.com/081310chilkootjournal.html