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Chilkoot Trail

Prospective miners ascend to the Chilkoot Pass during
the Klondike Gold Rush.

Apart from its health benefits, running has often helped me do things more quickly and efficiently.  I have talked about its use for commuting (see post titled Commuting), and running is a great way to journey through remote areas, but it's also been useful in facilitating one-way hiking trips in remote country.

Old boiler on the Chilkoot Trail.
In July of 1985, my then wife, Barb, and I were touring Canada and Alaska by campervan when we decided we would like to hike the famous Chilkoot Trail.  The Trail was the major access route from the sea at Dyea, near Skagway, to the Yukon goldfields during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush.  The 33 miles of the Trail was only the start of the miners' journey to Dawson City.  It got them to the headwaters of the Yukon River where they then bought or built boats to float the remaining 560 miles downstream.  The Trail started in the US, but crossed into Canada at Chilkoot Pass (3075ft) where Canadian Mounties enforced a requirement that each miner have one ton of supplies with them (calculated to last a year).  This requirement meant that miners had to move their huge loads forward along the Trail in stages, and thriving camps grew up along the way, and much rubbish was discarded.

Chilkoot Trail.

These days, the Trail passes many rusting artifacts from those days and the abandoned locations of the towns and camps that sprouted during that time.  From the northern end of the Trail at Lindeman Lake, it is possible to hike a further 5 miles following a disused rail line to the nearest road access, the Klondike Highway.  We decided to take two days to hike the Trail and allocate half a day at the beginning and end to get to and from Skagway.

Near Chilkoot Pass.

The night before we started we camped at the trailhead in Dyea and in the morning unloaded our hiking gear before I drove our campervan back into Skagway where a kindly National Parks ranger had suggested we park it outside his house for safety.  I then ran the 9 miles back to Dyea along a road that followed the contours around forested hills overlooking the headwaters of Chilkoot Inlet.  On arrival at Dyea, we set out on our 48-hour hike which followed the very interesting Trail and included deep snow, occasional drizzle, thick fog and very cold weather.  We were glad we weren't carrying a ton of supplies each and had great admiration for the endurance of the miners.

Our hiking journey finished 38 miles later on the Klondike Highway, 28 miles north of Skagway, at 1:00pm on the third day.  We were both very tired and cold, and decided to try hitch-hiking back to Skagway, but gave up after an hour.  Plan B was that I run back to Skagway to retrieve the campervan.  The notes from our diary record that I donned "long thermal underwear, shorts, two extra tops, balaclava, gloves, passport, credit cards, money and car keys" before setting off southwards in the bitter cold.

White Pass.

The first miles were relatively flat, but very exposed, skirting several lakes beneath snow-covered peaks, before climbing a little to White Pass which marked the border between Canada and the US.  I stopped in at the very quiet border post to show my passport on a grey overcast afternoon to a US border guard who showed not the slightest interest in my strange garb or my lack transport, before beginning the steady descent towards Skagway.  Despite the greater protection provided by the thickening forest and deep valleys, and the slightly warmer conditions, I became very tired and was totally exhausted by the time I reached our van around 6:00pm.  I drove back to get Barb, picking her up about 7:00pm, and we continued onto the town of Whitehorse where we camped later that night.  Those three days of adventure still live large in my memory.

I walked 14km this morning through forests, exploring trails in the McMasters Firetrail area, in warm and sunny conditions.  I was a little breathless near the top of some of the longer climbs, but not too bad and enjoyed getting a bit hot and sweaty for a change.