The Chilkoot Trail. Klondike Goldrush via the Chilkoot Trail


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Chilkoot Trail
1890's Route to the Klondike Gold Rush

History of The Chilkoot Trail | The Chilkoot Trail Today | The End of The Trail

Chilkoot Valley and Pyramid Harbour

History

The Chilkoot Trail, was the most famous route taken by prospectors and would be miners who made their way to the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon. It all started when gold was discovered in the year 1896 on Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River, just 17.7 km ( 11 mi.) from Dawson City. In 1897 when the word got on, the Klondike Gold Rush was on. People from all walks of life, stampeded to the gold fields. The most popular route to the gold fields, was over the Chilkoot Pass from Alaska through British Columbia and into the Yukon.

The Chilkoot Pass, was an aboriginal trail that had been used for years by the First Nations people who lived in this region. The complete journey meant, a trip by ship from Seattle, Washington to the town of Skagway in Alaska. From here it was overland by way of the Chilkoot Pass to the headwaters of Yukon River at Lindeman Lake or onto Bennett Lake, both located in British Columbia. To continue the rest of the way to Dawson City, the prospectors and miners built boats and rafts that were put into the water at either Lindeman or Bennett and the trek was completed by water

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The Original Chilkoot Trail of 1897

Crater Lake

The topography and the weather made this trip extremely harsh, and adding to the very harsh conditions, was a law that stated all who entered Canada could only do so, if they brought in their own food supplies that would last them a year. To enforce this regulation, at the summit of the pass was a North West Mounted Police Station. This regulation meant that every miner had to haul almost 900 kg (a ton) of food over the border. This could take a person close to three months to haul gear from cache to cache. After they reached the summit and the B.C. border, they still had a long way to go to reach Dawson City in the Yukon. Most made the rest of the trip by either boat or rafts they built at either Lindeman or Bennett. The trip up the Yukon was no picnic. It was a long, hard trek with many rapids that had to be traversed.

The Trail Today (the Alaska Section)

Scaling Chilkoot Pass

Today the trail from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia is the only part of this historic trail that is maintained. It is approximately 53 km (33 mi.) in length and is jointly administered by the U.S. Park Service and the Canadian Park Service.

The Chilkoot Trail Mile 0 is at Dyea, Alaska, which is 13 km (8 mi.) from Skagway, where you can get the latest information about the conditions of the trail, directions and transportation to the trailhead. There are four public shelters along the trail and campsites are well marked, but during the busy months of June, July and August you are not allowed to use the shelters for sleeping.

The summit is 939 m (3246 ft.) high, but remember you start the hike at sea level and have to make your way to the summit and down again. Along the way you could encounter snow, ice, fog and winds. Your first shelter is near a waterfall at Canyon City and at this point you have hiked 12.4 km (7.75 mi.). As you leave Canyon City, you start climbing to km 20.8 (mile 13) where you reach Sheep Camp. From this point of the trail till km 26.4 (mile 16.5) when you reach the summit, is a rough and grueling climb. After you leave the Sheep Camp, trees give away to granite rock, boulders and snow patches. From a place called the Scales you start climbing a 30-degree incline that was known as the Golden Stairs. The Scales got that name, because of the fact that the miners when they reached this point, would re-weigh their loads before heading for the summit and the police patrol station. The name, Golden Stairs, came from the steps that were carved out in the ice and snow by the boots of hundreds and hundreds of miners that made their way up this extremely steep and harsh section of the pass.

The Summit (the British Columbia Section)

You have finally reached the summit and are now in British Columbia. Take time out and rest, only do not get too relaxed, because your next campsite is 6.4 km (4 mi.) away. The trail down the summit is a sharp decline that crosses a constant snow field. Keep to your right at this point of the trail, as it cuts its way around the sheer side of Crater Lake. At km 33 (mile 20.5) you reach Happy Camp. This is a rather large flat camping site, or if you wish you can hike a few kilometres further to the next campsite, which is at Deep Lake.

The Canadian side of the trail, is not near as gloomy as the west side of the pass. The trail now takes you through spruce, alder, small willows and heather. The mountains are not as severe, not as high, or as steep as you make your way to Lindeman Lake. The campsite here is staffed by Parks Canada, where you will find a first rate exhibition of trail memorabilia, diaries and photos.

The End of The Trail

Miner

In order to reach the end of the trail, which is at Bennett in British Columbia you will have to hike another 11.2 km (7 mi.) after you leave the Lindeman Lake Campsite. This will take about four or five hours. From Bennett, there are a couple of alternatives you can take to reach the Alaska Highway or Whitehorse. You can canoe down Lake Bennett, and the Yukon River to Whitehorse. Or you can take the passenger boat that will take you to Carcross, where Alaskon Express (Gray Line) buses pick up hikers and continues onto Whitehorse or Skagway. Another interesting trip is to take the Chilkoot Hikers rail shuttle from Lake Bennett to Fraser, and onto Skagway via the White Pass or you can hike out to the Alaska Highway.

Essential Information

This hike is long and strenuous. It will take anywhere from three to five days to complete. Do not miscalculate the hardships you might encounter on the trail or the stamina you will need to complete the hike. Itís best to hike from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia and have the wind and weather at your back as it is easier to climb up the Golden Stairs, than to climb down. This section from the Scales to the summit is steep and even seasoned hikers can be intimidated.

You should go in self-sufficient and be prepared to backpack about 20 kg (45 lbs.) of gear which should include waterproof and warm clothing and footwear, as bad weather can hit anytime and hypothermia can happen. Included in your camping gear should be a camp stove and fuel, as open fires are not allowed on the trail. All along the trail you will find items that were discarded by the prospectors as they made their way up and down the Chilkoot Pass, do not touch or remove them. The law protects each and every piece of gold rush artifacts that you might spot on your hike.

Boundary

To provide information and assistance to hikers and to also protect the historical features and natural elements, there are park wardens and rangers at Skagway, Dyea, Sheep Camp, Lindeman Camp and along the trail. This is not a wilderness trail, and you will be sharing it with many other hikers, so wilderness hiking courteous and common sense should be practiced at all times.

Hikers making their way south to north, must pre-clear Canadian Customs. Report in person or by phone to Canada Customs and Canada Immigration Centre at Fraser, B.C. the phone number is (403) 821-4111 or call Whitehorse toll free at 1-800-665-8100. If hiking from north to south, you are required to report to U.S. Customs at Skagway.

For more information on the Chilkoot Trail contact

Parks Canada
Yukon National Historic Site
Room 205 - 300 Main Street
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 2B5
Telephone (403) 667-3910
Fax: (403) 393-6701
     or
Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
Box 517
Skagway Alaska 99840
Telephone: (907) 983-2921

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The Chilkoot Trail. Klondike Goldrush via the Chilkoot Trail