Susan C. Anthony

Golden Staircase photo from 1898.Hiking the Chilkoot Trail

August 1 - 10, 1998

We hiked the Chilkoot Trail for the second time in 1998, on the 100th anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush. Remember the famous photo of miners hauling 100+ pound packs of gear and supplies one step at a time up the "Golden Staircase" into Canada? I only carried 30 pounds or so, but it seemed plenty heavy. We were amazed that ten years before we'd hiked the whole 33 miles in just three days! This time it took five days. We must be aging. We spent lots of time resting and exploring. The weather was perfect.

The photo below shows me with a friend at the top of the pass. In 1898, a large number of stampeders packed canvas boats to the Canadian border atop the pass. The Canadian Mounties considered them unsafe and wouldn't allow them into the country. We're standing next to boats men were forced to abandon at the top of the pass. Just below the top weathered layer, the canvas is still good. The Mounties may have been wrong. Any canvas that lasts 100 years is pretty sturdy.

Sherrie and I among abandoned canvas boats at the top of the pass.

The weather was sunny throughout the trip, a rarity in the Coastal Range. Four brave friends accompanied us. Several more had originally planned to come on the hike, but canceled, leaving Dennis as the only guy, with five women and two dogs! Goldie wore a backpack and carried not only his dog food, but our trash. A commercial group on the same schedule was really happy Goldie was along, as they'd otherwise have been forced to pack out every morsel of food they didn't consume. Not even a breadcrumb is allowed to pollute the park. Goldie was a cooperative garbage disposal, though of course he had to pack out his own leftovers (poop).

A few of the rules for hikers seemed a bit extreme. We were required to hoist food high into a tree before setting up tents. Because we hung food in bags used to store sleeping bags while hiking, that meant we were supposed to lay the sleeping bags on the ground (in mud and rain at times), hang the food, then set up tents to put the now-wet sleeping bags inside. A ranger jumped on us once because she found us setting up tents before hanging our food. We didn't see a bear, bear sign, or a track the entire trip. We live in country with lots of bears. It seemed like overregulation, to say the least, though we've heard of worse. A friend who took a bus trip into Denali Park was accosted by a ranger because he poured the rest of his bottled water onto the ground after the trip. We want to protect the wilderness, but good grief, not from water, and not to the point of destroying human enjoyment of it!

We decided this would be our last hike over the Chilkoot. The weather and company was great and we couldn't hope to improve on the experience. Also, to tell the truth, we missed the friendly park personnel who'd welcomed us to Canada in 1987 with warm drinks on our first hike over the Chilkoot. We didn't want anything more to do with the new generation of Canadian park personnel!

A highlight of the trip was a sourdough pancake breakfast at Bennett Lake, hosted by costumed descendants of stampeders who cooked with sourdough originally packed over the pass in 1898!

Go on to read Roberto in the Iditasport
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