They were called Stampeders. The Tlingit call them a name in their Native language that meant greenhorns. They were mostly young men, coming from all over the world, headed to the Klondike to make their fortune in the newly discovered goldfields. They came by the thousands, landing in Skagway on large ships and transferring their goods and supplies to small boats to be offloaded in a town called Dyea, a short hike to the start of a trail that would take them 40 miles over the Chilkoot pass to the Yukon River.
I have always liked trails with history. It is probably one of the reasons I fell in love with the Appalachian Trail. Like the AT the Chilkoot Trail is not easy. Royal Canadian Mounted Police stressed that all prospectors take a ton of supplies with them in to the Yukon so that they would not starve for a year. This required many trips up over the steepest part of the pass. They either had to hire the Tlingit people to carry their supplies or make several trips up and down the mountain.
There were stories about the prospectors leaving heavy items along the trail as they struggled with their load up the mountain. I saw it first hand on the AT. All along the approach trail to the top of Springer Mountain where the AT starts, I saw all sorts of items left from someones pack as they fought to lighten their load. And it was no different back in 1898 as the prospectors set off with high hopes and every piece of hardware they thought would make life easier in the wilds of the Klondike. They soon realized that the burden was too great to carry.
The Chilkoot Trail has been known as the world’s longest museum. They say you can see camp stoves, cast iron cookware, shoes, and all sorts of odds and ends discarded by the trail. I wanted to see some of those items tossed away from their packs, so this morning I decided to hike a couple miles up the trail.
The trail starts out by the river and climbs steeply several hundred feet up the side of the mountain. The temperature today was the warmest it has been this year and the humidity was wicked. I was sweating and breathing heavy right off the bat. As soon as I started to sweat the bugs found me – they love the smell of sweat – and I had to stop and apply DEET.
The trail finally decended to the river and the walking was easy then. I kept walking another mile hoping to see some remnants of a time gone forever, but I never found a single man-made object. After over 100 years anything left along the trail has been swallowed up by nature. No one is allowed to touch or disturb any artifact from the gold rush time, so the moss and digestive action of the forest has hid any hint of an item cast off.
I reached a signpost that told I had come 1.6 miles. It seemed further than that in my out-of-condition state. I pushed on for another half mile hoping to see something historical but it was not to be. The woods were eerily quiet and I began to think of brown bears while out all by myself. I never worried about black bears in anyplace I’ve hiked but grizzlies give me the willies. The sign at the trailhead said to never hike alone and make noise so the bears aren’t surprised. I started to sing.
On the return hike I met many people. All in all I ran into seven groups of 8 to 10 people in each group. I asked one group how many ships were docked in Skagway and was told that four were there now. One of the guides said it would be like this the rest of the summer. He told me that soon there will be groups of thruhikers going all the way over the pass to Bennett Lake.
It was a good hike even though I didn’t see any artifacts. The park service has improved the trail by making steps up some of the climbs and they have constructed bridges over some streams. I know the old timers didn’t have bridges or steps, but I was kind of glad I did. If Daryl would fly up here and hike with me, we could do the whole thing!