Alaska – Chilkoot Trail

16th June 2004 After the wonderful sea kayak trip in Glacier National Park we headed back to Juneau on a single prop flight from the tiny airport at Gustavus. It was all very low-key, we hang out at a wooden shack café before we hear the pilot call ‘Brian and Martina, your flight’s ready!’ The plane flew low over beautiful and incredible scenery of deep green forests, snowy mountains and glistening sea and the flight was a worthy contrast to the boat we took on the way out to Glacier National Park.

That evening we decide to next hike the Chilkoot Trail in way of a relaxing contrast to the sea kayak. The trail follows part of the route of the Klondike gold rush in 1897-98 that took prospectors from the coast of Alaska over 3525-foot Chilkoot Pass, to Bennett British Columbia then to the Yukon River and from there to gold fields in the Yukon.

Historic Chilkoot picture circa 1897-98

To get there we took a boat trip north from Juneau up a fjord to the town of Skagway where we were able to sit out on deck in the sun taking in the views of snowy peaks on either side.

Cruise boats parked at Skagway, Alaska

Skagway was crowded with five cruise ships in the harbour, but the town was fun with original and replica building facades from the Klondike days. We found a campsite, picked up some supplies ready for the off the next day and packed our backpacks.

18th June 2004 Early the next day we took a bus to the trail start at the shallow sea inlet of Dyea. We hiked away with another hiker, Bob from Chicago, through green temperate rain forest along the side of a ferocious river fed from glacier melt. The old mining village of Canyon City was an interesting side trip including a huge old boiler used to power the tram trolley line up to Chilkoot Pass.

We called it a day after 12 miles at the Sheep Camp designated campsite along with about 15 other hikers. The camp did come with an evening ranger talk on trail conditions and wildlife though and on that note we saw a porcupine and black bear today!

19th June 2004 Ranger advice was to start early to avoid mushy snow and collapsible snow bridges across rivers and we are awoken at 4am with hikers setting off pre-dawn. We ambled off at about 6.30am continuing through lush forest to exit onto boulder fields and then snow patches with tumbling meltwater streams all around. Above, we hiked over large snowfields which are pleasantly soft and make for good hiking right up to Chilkoot Pass with its US-Canadian border wooden shelter and Canadian flag fluttering.

The pass is a grand spot with distant views inland to Yukon of snow, frozen lakes and mountains and we enjoyed a sun soaked rest here drying out the tents and sleeping bags.

From the pass we headed north down broad melting snow slopes dotted with lakes. The lake snow edges and floating ‘bergs’ make for dramatic hiking but the heat built up on our last three miles alongside a torrent of water to Linderman Lake campsite was HOT. With the heat came lots of ‘Mozzies’ – our first proper outbreak of the holiday that started in April- so we were thankful to cook in a log cabin beside the camping area. 14 miles today, mostly on snow and we are pleasantly tired.

20th June 2004 It was ‘Mozzie City’ out there in the morning so we packed up camp with some speed. The heat picked up quickly as we hiked through a drier forest reminiscent of the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Still scenic with lots of sparkling lakes and mountains on the horizon and by noon we had reached the road from Whitehorse, Yukon back to Skagway – the end of our hike.

We stuck our thumbs out and luckily a car stopped with a couple from a cruise liner in Skagway having rented a car for the day. As we had to recross the USA-Canada border we fetched our passports but at the control point the US officer checked the couple’s passports but just peered at us in the back seat and waived the car on. Maybe we were to grubby and smelly to merit a passport check to the USA!

Back in Skagway we had priorities; panini, showers, ice cream then later pizza. Another good, if hot, day and we both thoroughly enjoyed the history, scenery and variety of the Chilkoot Trail.

Next day we boarded an overnight boat on the ‘Inland Passage’ to Sitka on islands facing out to the Pacific. A great way to spend the longest day by sleeping out on deck overnight in calm weather watching the coastal scenery go by…

Overnighting on the boat from Skagway to Sitka, Alaska

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