Day Hike on the Historic Chilkoot TrailJune 27, 2016
On my first trip to the Yukon, 12 years ago, I became fascinated with the history of the gold rush to the Yukon and the stories of the people who came. It is hard not to soak it in while travelling around the north. You find signs of history everywhere. In 2016 the streets of Skagway, Alaska are teaming with cruise ship passengers shopping for jewelry and eating ice cream. In 1898 the streets were even busier with thousands of people travelling through the area on their way to Dawson City in search of gold.
Our family trip this summer was planned to follow this historic route. We have come to Skagway Alaska so we can board the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad to Bennett Lake where we will begin our canoe trip to Dawson City. Because of the number of people and the amount of money the gold stampeders brought to this area the route changed fast. It originated as a strenuous hike over the mountains followed by building boats at the edge of Bennett Lake and then some tough white water paddling downstream. Soon a railroad was built from Skagway to Whitehorse and paddlewheel boats put in service on the Yukon River connecting Whitehorse to Dawson City. City and towns which had grown based on one type of transportation were deserted as routes and methods of transportation changed.
The Chilkoot Trail was a hiking route shown to the gold stampeders by the First Nations people who lived in this area. Because the route was through two countries (US and Canada) the stampeders helped define the country border (at the mountain summits). Canada required prospectors to bring 2,000 lbs. of food with them when entering Canada. Canadian law enforcement personnel were stationed at the mountain summit to weigh the provisions and make sure everyone was following the rules. To get over the Chilkoot pass it is said that people had to make 30 trips over the summit carrying very heavy loads. The classic picture of the Chilkoot Trail shows the trail being hiked in the snow, as the stampers were travelling in early spring in order to reach the gold fields for summer panning.
The modern day Chilkoot Trail is administered by the US Parks Service and Parks Canada. Hikers usually complete the trail from Dyea to Lake Bennett in four or five days. One day we would love to come back to hike the trail but this year with two small kids we opted for a day hike in and out.
The trail was relatively busy with many groups starting and a couple seen hiking out (due to the bear problem described in the last post). There were also several day hikers and some guided hiking groups. While most of the literature we read says that the modern trail follows the original route the hike we did starts on the east side of the Taiya river and hikes way up into the forest before coming back down to the river, crossing at a bridge and then following a flat and straight route along the west side of the river. We did think it was more likely that the stampeders would have started on the west side of the river where the old town of Dyea was situated. It seems strange that they would have crossed the river, hiked way up in the forest and then back down only to cross back over to the side they started on.
Molly started whining about the hike when we were on the old flat & straight part of the hike. She insisted she was too tired to continue and wanted to turn around. Since we had to climb over the hill again to get out we thought we shouldn’t push it and we turned around. She literally ran up and down the large hill, showing us that she much prefers challenging hiking to the easy stuff. She wasn’t tired, she was bored. Overall it was a great day out and if you can’t do the full trail I would definitely recommend a day hike in and out from Dyea.