Honestly, the Chilkoot Trail wasn’t on my list of “places to go in Alaska”, mainly because I didn’t know much about it. But prompted by a decision to bike to Valdez, or hike the Chilkoot Trail, Celine and I decided to make the trek to hike the Chilkoot Trail and explore Southeast Alaska, and I’m sure glad we did. If I by some miracle get a 5-7 day break ever again, I can hop on my bike and go to Valdez.
Since this wasn’t really ‘my trip’ to plan, I didn’t exactly look at where Skagway was on the map. I knew we had to drive through Canada to get there, but it didn’t register how close we would be to Juneau, a place I’ve been ever so curious about since 2006 when I thought I had a chance of the Juneau office hiring me, but instead I got picked up by the Fairbanks office. As you can see, that wasn’t a bad thing to happen to me, as much has flourished in my life since then, but I still hadn't made it to Juneau.
Anyway, back to the Chilkoot. We drove the 13 hours to Skagway, surprised by how quick the drive was, and ended up trying to put the pieces of getting from point A to point B together. The trailhead was 9 miles away, we knew no one in Skagway, and the trail shuttles didn’t even answer their phones since it was a Sunday. This is when the ‘e’ for extravert comes in handy.
We’re at the local brewery, carbing up on mac ‘n cheese and beer the night before we planned on starting the hike, discussing tactics to get to the trailhead. The Park Service wasn’t able to help us much other than tell us that the train nor most shuttles were running since it was after season.. and that we shouldn’t take the cut off trail because there ‘may be a bridge out’ and ‘there are lots of animals on the trail right now’. There’s a reason they were telling us this, but I don’t feel like I need to blog it. It has to do with a popular route to hike out and the route being on private property which hikers aren’t supposed to trespass on, but where no one seems to care that you are there. We would know, because the train came by as we were hiking down said route, and the driver smiled and waved at us instead of pointing a gun at us.
ANYWAY! I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask our very kind waitress whether she knew how people got out to the trail and whether she (hint hint) would know anyone who may be able to help us. That responded in an ‘actually….’ As she walked across to the table kittycorner from us, and some smiles and nods and glances were exchanged with a couple about our age. They lived in Dyea, where we needed to go, and the trailhead was on their way home. One hour later, we were piled into their New York license plated car and off to the Dyea trailhead where we’d set up base for the night and start the trail first thing in the morning.
The trail, was, as expected, extremely developed. Normally this bothers me, but I took a look at this trail as a historical look into a movement prompted by money. Hundreds of thousands of gold-seekers hiked this trail on the way to Dawson City in 1898 and 1899, where they would hope to stake claims and make it rich. Along the way, there are ‘artifacts’ scattered.. and I put ‘artifacts’ in quotes because it’s basically rusty trash that was never cleaned up. Celine and I had a discussion about when some Fairbanks yards would become historical artifacts. I’m sure some in my own yard are working to gain that status!
We expected to see a lot of people along the way, even though it was past peak-season, but to our surprise there was not a soul to be found until we met Tim the Australian on day 3 near the end of the trail. We also didn’t meet any large furry friends on the trail either. The first day on the trail, the trail closely followed the Taiya River, so we were doing a lot of loud talking and noisemaking, though the river was still drowning out our voices. There were some signs of bears, but honestly, it seemed like there weren’t any more footprints and scat than there is on the trails in Anchorage. We were happy about that. And now, for some pictures...
Which I was disappointed to find out that there were no building there, but just an old rusty boiler. I was absolutely amazed that some of these areas used to house 20,000 people and have little sign left of any life or that a tent city had ever been there. Way to grow back, earth!
Our last night of camping on the trail, near the end. Lucky me got a cold while on the trail, so was feeling pretty wiped out this night.
At the trail end, an older couple was stopped to let their dog out of the car. They offered us a ride back to Skagway, as we were 2.5 hours early for our ride. We timed it just right to meet up with my friends Carrie and Paul from Juneau.
Couldn't have asked for better weather in southeast Alaska. Next step, to Juneau!