Saga of Sea Tub
Sea-kayaking Anacortes, Washington to Emmonak, Alaska
Northern Paddling Adventure #1
100 days, 3,392 miles, Apr-Jul 1988
Ray & Jenny Jardine
Saga of the Sea Tub
A 3,300 mile Journey to the North
Part 3 - Portage Over the Chilkoot Trail
The summer of 1988, Jenny and I embarked on a 3,300 sea-kayaking voyage along the Pacific coasts of Canada and SW Alaska, over the Chilkoot Trail by portage, and down the Yukon River. This is Part 3 of the story.
In the initial 50 days we have paddled and sailed our two-person kayak 1,085 miles through the Inside Passage, from Anacortes, Washington to Skagway, Alaska. In this next phase of the trip, we will portage the Chilkoot Trail from Skagway to Lake Lindeman.
Summary: The town of Skagway, Alaska lies at the northern terminus of the great Inside Passage. From here we paddle four miles up the Taiya River, then disassemble the kayak and begin an overland portage of the historic Chilkoot Trail, route of the Klondike goldrush stampeeders. For seven days we carry ultra heavy backpacks, making two trips over the snowbound mountain pass. The Chilkoot trail is only 33 miles in length from its start in Dyea to Bennett, but by the time we have portaged our boat and gear to the first ice free lake, we will have hiked a total of 95 miles. The Klondike Goldrush took place in the fall and winter of 1897-98, and it took most stampeders three months or more to haul their supplies over the trail. But no matter how fast they made it over Chilkoot Pass, at 3,739 feet, they had to wait at Lake Lindeman and Bennett Lake until spring breakup in order to continue down the Yukon river. The spring breakup was therefore our date around which we planned the entire trip. As it turned out, the breakup was early this year, so from Lake Lindeman on, we did not see any ice.
June 16 Day 53The historic townsite of Dyea (Die-EE) lies at the head of a bay a few miles west of Skagway. Those stampeders of 1898 who trudged over the Chilkoot Trail, and that was most of the gold rush participants, began their epic struggles in Dyea. Jenny and I would paddle those few miles from Skagway, then we planned to follow the Taiya river paddling upstream as far as possible. We sleep late, but we are anxious to come to grips with the portage so we decide to forgo our layover day. We have no idea what the river entrance will be like at Dyea. But we do know that high tide is not until 4:00 pm, and we figure we would need high water. We sort gear, pack up, then amble to the closest restaurant for a hurried breakfast. Jenny telephones Canadian Customs in Whitehorse and receives permission to cross the border via the trail. On a whim we stop at a curio shop and I buy a t-shirt that catches my eye. It shows two Inupiaq Eskimos paddling kayaks and was inscribed with the words "Alaska Yacht Club." We carry our gear to the marina, and while loading the Tub we meet a friendly Canadian couple from Whitehorse who are winching their power boat from its trailer into the water. They are most amiable and we talk for quite some time. The fellow is a hunter, and I ask him how serious the concerns are for the grizzly bears. Every local we have talked with seems to be an expert on this subject, yet to date no two opinions on the subject have agreed, nor borne even the slightest resemblance to one another. These particular folks learned their bear-lore from the Indians, they claim, and I find their attitude toward grizzlies makes sense so I will elucidate. According to them, grizzly bears are unpredictable and also fearlessly curious. The best policy, they say, is to exercise great caution in not forewarning the bear of ones presence - and also to carry a big gun. Walking through the woods making noise, these folks say, will of course alert the bear to ones presence, and this is not a good idea. The couple relate several stories about people they know, or ones they knew of, who had received a thrashing at the paws of some grizzly. In the category of serves-you-right humor, I suppose, one story, in essence, goes: Man out in woods with his dog. Dog happens upon grizzly cub and chases after it, barking. Mother grizzly, unseen by dog at first, is outraged and chases after dog. Dog runs sheepishly back to owner with enraged bear in hot pursuit. Dog's owner becomes the object of mother grizzly's fury. Dog escapes unharmed. The wind has piped up to 20 knots, apparently as it often does here at Skagway - much to the gratification of the locals, as the wind keeps the mosquitoes and other bugs at bay. The harbor is whitecapped and we are in for a battle. Paddling out of the protected marina, straightaway we encounter rough seas. We bounce around like a cork while paddling full-tilt and taking frequent greenies over the deck and occasional bucketfuls of cold brine in our faces. The water finds its way through the boat's well-worn and now semi-worthless spray cover, and lands in our laps. Within minutes after embarking we are soaking wet, head to toe. For fifteen minutes we paddle with a will across the channel, until I happen to realize that, somehow, things do not seem right. Engaged in our struggles, I had neglected to navigate. We stop paddling and I study the map - as we thrash around in the three- and four-foot chop. "We're going the wrong way," I sheepishly report to Jenny who is not amused. I turn the boat 90 degrees to starboard and proceed ahead correctly. Our smashing to windward was for naught; now we are taking the wind and waves harmlessly on the quarter, so we enjoy a more civil ride. I joke that we had just gone out to give the sea one final kick in the pants before turning tail and heading into the protected bay.
We make our way to the mouth of the river and start padding upstream. Having vanquished the sea, we find ourselves confronting the forces of the outflowing river, which also seems to be in a gnarly mood. The river is bulging with spring runoff, voluminous and swift. As we make our way around the many bends we have to paddle furiously while sometimes ferry-gliding from one side to the other where the counter-current is less malevolent. When the outflow becomes too powerful we land ashore and start lining the boat upstream. Altogether we progress about three miles in as many hours. With Jenny watching the boat on the eastern river bank, I scout inland, clawing my way through dense trees. Eventually I come to, of all places, the Dyea ranger station. The ranger there informs me of the current trail conditions, etc. I return to the boat and we paddle another half-hour against increasingly fast current. But finally we meet our match. The riverbank is sheathed densely with overhanging branches, preventing us from lining the boat. I scout the hinterland and determine that access to the trail from this point is impractical; so we drift back downstream a quarter mile to the Dyea Campground.
Selecting a campsite we spend the remainder of the afternoon dismantling the boat for the trek ahead. Day's mileage: 7
June 17 Day 54We sleep in until 7 am, and spend a few hours in the morning experimenting with the most efficient means of loading our backpacks, which we had included in our resupply parcels, collected at Skagway. I put the entirety of the kayak components into my pack: the fabric hull and decks, the floorboards, and the wooden end pieces go inside, along with the shotgun and two bags of paddling clothing. Onto the outside I lash the longerons on one side and the gunwales and washboards on the other. The frames I secure to the front of the pack. Knowing the weight of the various components, I estimate that the pack weighs about 100 pounds. Shouldering the ponderous thing, with no little effort I totter around camp, testing the plausibility.
Into Jenny's pack we stow the orange boat bag, six fuel canisters, foul weather clothing, our rubber boots crammed full of miscellaneous ditty bags (boat repair kit, first aid kit, tools, hatchet, and the chart bag containing maps). On top of the boots we pack the camera box, a clothes bag, the red bag containing eight days' worth of food, the saw and the tarp. The anoraks we arrange accessibly beneath the top flaps. On the sides of her pack we lash two foam pads, and on the front the life jackets and three flat, five-liter water bottles. Altogether Jenny's pack weighs quite a bit less than mine, but is nonetheless extremely heavy. And she volunteers to carry the paddles by hand. At 1:00 pm we set off from the campground waddling beneath our heavy loads. Very soon it becomes apparent that we have outdone ourselves in our packing efficiency. We follow a gravel road half a mile to the trailhead. Even on the road's flat surface we have to lumber slowly, as though climbing steeply uphill. We reach the trailhead and indeed follow the trail which soon climbs steeply about 400 feet, only to descend back to the river. This first hump seems contrived, as if the trail planners wanted to dissuade the faint hearted at this early stage, to reduce the efforts required to rescue them. No doubt the stampeders hiked a better route - in wintertime they would have walked the frozen river. Back at the river's edge, the trail follows a long, nearly level stretch, crossing several narrow foot bridges and passing through an extensive region of bogs, swamps, and low, sandy ground which supports a luxurious growth of alder and cottonwoods. At our feet are Red Columbine, Dwarf Fireweed, Black Lily, Dwarf Dogwood, and a throng of mosses, ferns, and infertile Horsetails. The air is still, humid and muggy, and even though the day is not hot, sweat rolls down our faces. We take three rests, each at strategic locations. Our packs are so heavy that we cannot set them down on the ground at will. Instead, we have to sit down onto a log or rock and then lean back and ease the load off our shoulders. In addition to these rest stops, we take many "stoop-over" rests with hands braced on knees to take the load off the shoulders for a few moments. Having spent the past seven weeks sitting on our bums, our legs and backs are not accustomed to the rigors of such strenuous backpacking. Progress is disappointingly slow, and we are beginning to realize that we have underestimated this portage. The 33 miles now seems like a very long way.
We cache our packs at the ruins of an old mining enterprise of some sort, and cover the packs with a tarp. We have hiked 3-1/4 hours to here, but without the backpacks the return takes us only 1-1/4 hours. Back at the campground, our tent has never looked so inviting. Day's mileage: about 6 (3 in, 3 out) Hours hiked: 4.5
June 18 Day 55As we near summer solstice, the nights are no longer dark. The dead of night consists of an hour or two of dusk, and the remainder of the night is quite light, even though the sun is below the mountainous horizon. As such, whenever we awaken in the hours of sustained twilight, we have no reference to give a hint of the time. Neither is the watch a great deal of help. If it reads 7, 8 or 9 o'clock, for example, we cannot be certain if we have the luxury of the whole night's sleep ahead, or if the night has slipped away and we have overslept - perish the thought. Either way, we feel tired. A motorboat pulls to shore, waking us from a deep sleep. Looking at my watch, it reads 10:30. The numbers mean nothing, so I utter them aloud, trying to make sense of them. A boat pulling up to our camp is most unusual. I open the tent's door and groggily look out. It is a camper truck backing into our site. The driver gets out, has a look around, finally notices our tent and says, "Oh, there's a tent in here, Martha!" Unapologetically he drives away. Sleep is one of our greatest comforts - the result of the strenuous nature of our journey, and I can fall asleep the way that Humpty Dumpty rolled off his proverbial wall backward - with a CRASH! Typically I awaken several times in any given night, disturbed by some noise: a rodent stirring among our bags, raindrops beginning to patter on the tent fly, or some unidentifiable rustling in the forest. These interludes come as something of mixed blessing, for with each awakening I have the distinct pleasure of going back to sleep. Despite the lack of dawn, our bodies maintain a primordial circadian rhythm. Following eight plus-or-minus hours of sleep we awaken refreshed; not particularly enthusiastic in the light of yesterdays tremendous efforts, but eager to go nonetheless. We make coffee, Jenny makes a few sandwiches for lunch, and we set off along the dirt road, leaving our camp behind without dismantling it. We feel as if we are going to work, but the work before us today is something that hardly anyone would subject themselves to - except perhaps the stampeders whose route we are following. We retrace the three miles to our cache and find our packs undisturbed, lying beneath the tarp. The tarp is quite wet from the night's rain. Yesterday's loads had been something of an overkill, so by mutual consent we lessen them. I remove the kayak frames from mine, and the red food bag from Jenny's. Now we have two loads each, and we leap-frog them another 1½ miles to Finnegan's Point. There we cache the paddles, frames and food, then continue with the still-heavy packs. The three miles to Canyon City passes slowly underfoot. We take several mandatory rest stops interspersed with numerous stoop-overs. At this point my pack weighs about 90 pounds, I figure, and Jenny's 70.
Reaching the cabin shelter at the historic site of Canyon City, we set our packs on the porch with sighs of inexpressible relief. The day is quite chilly, but because of our exertions our bodes are generating enough metabolic warmth to remain more than warm. But each time we stop we become quickly chilled, so the cabin provides welcome relief from the brisk wind. The cabin has a wooden planked floor, two picnic tables, three rustic chairs sawn from logs, and a wood-burning stove. On the shelf are several notebooks containing copies of diaries written by some of the stampeders. The entries are fascinating and some are particularly informative as they describe the obstacles ahead. The Klondike goldrush was one of history's greatest stampede. Few events in the annals of man's doings have called forth such determination - and have seen such toil and hardship (at least in modern times) - as the rush over the Chilkoot Trail and down the Yukon River to the boom-town of Dawson. Most libraries contain a few books on the subject and I recommend them heartily. We set off again, following the rugged trail that now climbs steeply in places. This section of trail resonates with the footsteps of the Klondikers. We can almost visualize the stampeders hauling their big frame-packs before us and behind us. They would hike a few hours from their previous camp, empty their packs into their caches, which they then covered with a tarp before returning for yet another load. After all 1,600 pounds (as required by law) had been so laboriously carried forward, the miner would return, pack up his camp, and carry it to the cache, then repeat the process. The journey to Lindeman or Bennett Lakes was one of unfathomable toil. We, on the other hand, have the advantage of confronting the Chilkoot in early summer. The early stampeders faced the mountain pass in winter. And another distinct advantage is that altogether our outfit weighs only about 300 pounds. At 3:30 pm and nearing Pleasant Camp, we walk a short ways into the forest and unload our packs, arrange everything neatly into a pile, and cover it all with the tarp. We have worked an arduous 7½ hours. Now all that remains is to return to camp - 11 miles back down the trail. We regret not having brought our sleeping bags, as we could have spent a comfortable night in the Canyon City cabin. By now our feet are not particularly enamored with the prospects of walking, so it is a real effort to prevail upon them to carry us those miles. Rain has fallen sporadically throughout the day and the wind is rushing through the trees keeps the insects largely at bay. We keep a sharp watch for bear, but see only their copious droppings on the trail. Once we are surprised when a grouse stands before us only a few feet away. No doubt it has a nest nearby. When I begin looking around for the nest, understandably the bird becomes nervous and starts acting the pantomime: "I'm delicious and injured - come get me" and proceeds to lead us down the trail, ten feet ahead at whatever our pace. When we stop, it stops; when we go, it goes. The bird does not lead us off into the woods, but directly down the trail - a maneuver that I think is astute on her part. When she deems that we had been craftily removed far enough from her habitat, she takes to wing in a burst of tumultuous flapping that confirms that her injury had been only feigned. The only other animal we see today is a tiny, brown and furry shrew. It scurries across the gravel road ahead of us, legs moving in a blur of speed that suggests that the creature is but a leaf blowing in the wind. The shrew hides beneath a clump of grass and does not run away when we approach quite near for a better look. It is these interesting tidbits throughout the days that we enjoy the most. We reach our tent at Dyea Campground at 8:30 pm, as the skin of our feet is beginning to blister. During the hike back out we had averaged only two miles per hour, and I mention this to illustrate how sore are our feet. We had begun our day carrying only one quart of water, an oversight that quickly proved a mistake. So our first priority is to take turns quenching our tormenting thirst with long drafts at the water bottle. Jenny whips up a quick dinner of rice, barley and split pea stew, and we forego our nightly journal writing, planning to make amends tomorrow during our much needed layover day. Gratifying are the final wakeful moments after a long and arduous day, before falling backward off the wall with a CRASH! Day's mileage: 24 Total mile hiked: 30
June 19 Day 56We visit the ranger station to inquire about a telephone, and the ranger makes a radio call for us to summon a taxi. Thus, we spend our layover day in Skagway.
June 20 Day 57After wiling away the morning in Skagway, we return to Dyea by taxi. Late afternoon we set off up the trail carrying our camp. Our packs are not too heavy, and our feet have largely recovered, so we make good progress and reach Finnegan's Point at 9 pm. Here we find our wooden kayak frames in good order, hanging from the branch of a tree where we had left them - out of porcupine reach. A couple of trekkers from Chicago are camped nearby and we talk with them awhile before retiring each in our own tents. Around midnight, in the dusk of the summer solstice, the resident porcupine pays us a visit. I hear it making its first gnaw on the kayak's wooden frames, which it has apparently been drooling over as they hung out of reach, and which I had inappropriately retrieved from the tree branch and placed on the ground near the tent. Jenny, a novice in dealing with porkies, goes outside to shoo the creature away, only to discover that porky won't shoo. She returns to the tent somewhat aghast. I instruct her on the proper anti-porky technique of arming oneself with a sizable stick, and she finally manages to get the point across. The animal waddles away, feeling no doubt rejected and making strange crying noises. But Porky is persistent, and although we manage to thwart his robbing our goods, he succeeds in robbing us of our sleep. Such is life in a campground. We would not have chosen to stay in a campground, but are compelled to by sundry park regulations. Day's mileage: 5 Total: 35 Hours hiked: 3
June 21 Day 58Jenny rises at 5 am to make coffee and get breakfast cooking, and we set off at 6 am without waking our neighbors we hope. The sky is cloudless and we enjoy at lest mentally revitalizing hike in the morning's crisp, early hours. Reaching our cache near Pleasant Camp, we are relieved to find the cache undisturbed. Onto my pack I tie the boat's hull and floorboards, while Jenny takes the two bundles of long pieces: longerons, washboards, and gunwales. Both our packs have become again quite heavy.
I have lashed the kayak's floorboards athwartship onto my pack, so while carrying such a wide load I have to turn sideways hundreds of times to negotiate trees abutting the trail. The most awkward moments occur as I traverse a suspension bridge built only wide enough to accommodate one hiker. Shuffling across sideways, my pack and I just squeezed between the tension supports.
The two and a half miles to Sheep Camp pass with grueling slowness. Basically, the problem is that our packs crush our shoulders painfully due to the fact that we had left the pack stays at home to save weight. This omission has rendered the hip belts useless in helping support the ungodly loads. Nevertheless, as we move up into the Chilkoot basin we find mental reinvigoration as we catch glimpses of the grand scenery towering overhead - rocky and snow clad mountains bathed in brilliant sunshine. We arrive at Sheep Camp at noon. The campsites are all vacant, so we pitch the tent near the tumultuous creek. We organize our gear leisurely, eat lunch, then snooze. At 1:00 pm we rise and set off back down the trail, bound for the cache we had left three miles back. En route we pass three hiking parties, all heading for Sheep Camp that night and points beyond the following day. The third party is the nice couple from Chicago whom we had met at Finnegan's. We reach the lower cache and load the whole kit and caboodle into our packs, and without resting we hike all the way back to our camp at Sheep Camp, passing our friends once again. After a sponge bath at the creek we dive into the tent to escape the camp mosquitos. Day's mileage: 14 Total miles hiked: 49
June 22 Day 59We rise at 4 am. Jenny makes coffee while we load our packs with as much gear as we think we can carry to the summit. Drinking our brews, we recount in some disgust last night's encounter with what can sometimes be the greatest pest in all the "wilderness", found only in the National Parks. We were fast asleep when this fellow began hollering at us. We both lay still, feigning sleep, knowing this guy could only be a ranger - as no one else in his or her right mind would even think of being so belligerent. I looked out to find him sitting at our doorway - looking in. He started asking all sorts of ridiculous questions, such as: had we seen any bears and what was our itinerary. Then he informed us of the illegalities of harboring food in the campground, and ordered us to move our food into the nearby cabin. We had no problem with that, and then he switched gears and started asking about our endeavor. "You're carrying a kayak, right? You paddled the Inside Passage, right? You're floating out the Yukon, right?" Yet in the course of our interrogation he let it slip that he did not know where the Yukon River went, nor where the Bering Sea was. At long last he departs. We leave the campground quietly at 5:30 am and resisting the temptation to bang on the ranger's door and ask a few aggressive but meaningless questions, we follow the trail up into the rugged basin, generally climbing toward timberline. In a light rain, which persists throughout the morning, I carry the kayak's hull, floorboards, end boards, life jackets, clothes bag, 3 foam pads, my Wellies, red food bag, fuel cans, and bilge pump. Jenny carries the camera box, orange boat bag, hatchet, her Wellies, boat repair kit, chart bag, gunwales, washboards and longerons, 2 foam pads, tarp and lunch. My pack weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 pounds and Jenny's is not much less. Hiking the trail is a matter of traipsing gingerly up and over, and down and around the irregular terrain. Gaining altitude, we pass beneath a few avalanche chutes filled with fresh talus, and hop heavily from one stone to another through boggy the areas. At one point we come upon a grouse with several chicks. The chicks scatter, peeping as they go, while mother hen stands her ground, not acting terribly disturbed. This morning we are practically bathed in sweat. We are hiking hard while carrying heavy loads - this while wearing the mandatory rain gear. Finally, as wet inside as I am outside, I remove the rain jacket and hike in the cold drizzle wearing only a t-shirt and polypropylene pants. Scrambling over loose rock I hear a muffled "oomph!" behind me. Quickly turning I see Jenny's pack lying flat on the ground, with two arms and two legs sticking straight out from under it, cartoon style. Fortunately no damage has been done. However it is quite an effort on my part to pry the huge pack off her (or I should say: pull her body out from under the ponderous thing) especially with her arms stuck in the shoulder straps.
Bearing a load of that magnitude, there is no catching oneself using outstretched arms. One simply gets mashed face first into the earth. But she has a tough spirit and after a few short sobs and a long, reassuring hug, all is made well and off we go again. Climbing higher, we reach the first snowfields. These we traverse, while I try to keep the snow out of my jogging shoes. The surface of the snow is hard packed, since it is mostly compacted avalanche debris. So our feet sink in very little. Occasionally we traverse a patch of bare ground, and on one of these we stop for breakfast in the rain. At this higher altitude the air is decidedly frigid, and requires that we keep our rest stops short.
Reaching cloud base we pass through the area known as The Scales. In a dense fog, which is actually a cloud, we can see nothing ahead. So we simply follow the footprints of our predecessors as they lead up a long, 35 degree snowslope. This slope is so familiar to anyone who has seen the classic photo of the stampeders all lined up in an unbroken line "climbing over the Chilkoot." Contrary to what the photo depicts, we find that the slope is inclined at only about 35 degrees. After we have climbed a few hundred yards, the snow gives way to bare talus. We sidestep the base of a steep rock buttress, and begin climbing the talus, about five degrees steeper than the snowslope. Working our way upward over loose rocks, big and small, we eventually gain what appears to be the summit. The clouds are impervious, reducing the visibility to less than 100 feet.
Leaving Jenny resting by the packs, I hike farther into the greyness to make certain that we are at the top, and find that we are not. So, returning to Jenny we shoulder our packs and carry on, trudging up more snowfields, and now following pickets set in the snow to guide the way. In another half an hour we crest the hill and find a large orange sign reading "Danger Avalanche Area". We proceed another few minutes until the wands begin leading downward. The visibility here is practically non-existent and we have no inkling what lies ahead. So we return to the crest to cache our load in the rocks, only hoping that we have indeed reached the summit. The trek from camp has taken four hours. We empty our packs, stash our gear in a pile, then cover it all with the tarp and cinch it round. Now toting empty packs we begin making our way back down, retracing our steps in the snow. The going is quick and easy. We slide and sometimes ski, and in so doing recover the distance back to The Scales quickly. The major impetus is the cold wind whipping through the pass, and the knowledge that we now carry no survival gear whatsoever. We are surprised to see a lone woman hiker climbing the slope. We stop to chat, and right away she flaunts her employment with the park service. I mention the signs all along the trail. "Oh, you mean the interpretive signs," she says. By way of explanation, a park service employee had perhaps checked out a library book about the history of the Chilkoot Trail, and selecting only the most impossibly forlorn illustrations - and using taxpayer's money - the old photographs were copied as etchings on large aluminum signs, and accompanied with the most oppressive captions imaginable. These obnoxious signs had been planted all along the trail. "We backpackers don't need to have our scenery interpreted," I rationalize; "and these metal defacements seem out of place in the wilderness." "This is not a wilderness," she retorts, "and there are a lot of people who have no business hiking a trail of this caliber." (as if the glum signs with their oppressive captions are meant to help those poor people). She then asks us expectantly what we think of the park service's plans to build tourist lodging somewhere along the upper reaches of the trail, and says the clientele will be delivered in on mules. "Inevitable," is my fatalistic reply (admittedly I don't deal well with such bureaucratic nonsense). Farther down the mountain we meet our friends from the previous camps, the couple from Chicago who, as it turns out, are on their honeymoon. Their progress is slow, as the woman is complaining of a sore knee. The fellow expresses surprise to see that I have gone to the top and back in my jogging shoes. We wish each other well, regretting that this would probably be our last meeting with these amiable folks. The clouds are breaking, although the wind remains strong, and Jenny and I are wet and chilled when we reach our tent at Sheep Camp. The time is only 11:30 am, and our afternoon is free. We have been looking forward to relaxing in the cabin, sipping hot chocholate before a wood-stove fire. Inside the cabin we find a small pile of wood with a sign saying "Leave this wood here. It may save the life of a hypothermia victim." The wood-burning stove, however, has been removed. We joke that perhaps the park service views eating firewood as a new method of reviving hypothermia victims. After all, the wood does contain a lot of calories, bomb calorimeter style. Anyway, we hang our wet clothes and packs inside the cabin to dry, ignite our trusty butane stove and make a couple of reviving hot brews. The remainder of the afternoon we spend in the tent; eating, napping and making ready for tomorrow's carry over the pass. But before turning in, and as a precautionary measure against further ranger invasions during the night Jenny leaves a note under a rock next to our tent with answers to the inevitable night-time interrogation. Hours hiked: 6 Day's mileage: 7 Total miles hiked: 56
June 23 Day 60We awake to the sounding of our wristwatch alarm at 3 am, and begin packing our camp, making ready our second and final carry up to the pass and our first carry down its far slope. I lug the kayak's washboards into my stay-less pack and cinch the load down tight against the pack's haul strap. This stretches the pack taut, and makes the kayak's washboards serve as impromptu pack stays. We seem to have found the correct apportioning of our gear, so that we can now carry everything in two loads, albeit heavy loads. Today we estimate that our packs weigh roughly 65 pounds. Why don't I carry the lions' share, one might ask? With Jenny around, I don't have to. She is unbelievably strong. Once again the trail is wet from the evening's rain, and throughout the morning we hike in a continuous drizzle. Knowing just where to go proves a great advantage, especially across the snowfields where yesterday we had done a lot of fossicking around in the talus searching out the best way. Hiking familiar territory, we make much better progress. The sky is cloudy with a ceiling at about 2,500 feet. The higher we climb, the nearer we approach the ceiling. Just above timberline we enter cloud base where the pervading fog again restricts visibility. Is our fate to hike twice over Chilkoot Pass without once seeing it? The snowpack is melting fast, and our tracks of yesterday are hardly discernable. We reach the Scales and climb the steep snowfield - the "Golden Stairway" as it was known to the stampeders. After negotiating the steep talus above, and more long snowfields above that, we reach our cache. The time is 7:30 am, and we have made the trip an hour faster than the day before.
Visibility is again a mere 100 feet, and we still cannot discern whether - or not - we are at the Pass. An icy wind is blowing through the notch, making it imperative that we move on. I grab my Wellies (rubber fishing boots) from beneath the tarp, and put them on for the long snow slog ahead. With that I stow my jogging shoes in my pack. From camp, Jenny has worn proper mountain boots and gaiters.
Carrying the same loads we had started with that morning, we march past the "Danger Avalanche Area" sign and trudge ahead, following pickets while ever descending. Soon we are certain that our cache was indeed at Chilkoot Pass - 3,750 feet above sea level. Having also crossed the international border, we are walking on Canadian turf once again.
The snow is mushy from the rainfall, but it has a solid base underneath so we sink in no more than three or four inches. We traverse diagonally down a steep slope and reach a couple of small shelters, no doubt placed by the Canadian authorities for emergency purposes. We press on without stopping, knowing we must traverse this dangerous avalanche zone with no dithering. Following the bamboo wands, and resetting those that had fallen over, we descend further. Then we traverse the broad plateau harboring Crater Lake - still mostly icebound. The environment seems harsh and stark. An arctic wind buffets us viciously while grey clouds obscure most of the scenery.
We continue several hours, then just before reaching Happy Camp, at 2,900 feet and just at timberline, we stop in the lee of the first stunted trees. Here Jenny produces the stove and makes coffee, and we enjoy a much needed rest. From Happy Camp the trail follows a long, steep-walled gully, where, stepping over the occasional crevasse we walk atop the deep snowbank covering the creek. Then for some reason the trail leads far up a hillside, climbing 500 feet or so, bypassing Long Lake. We press on and soon meet a Canadian Warden (ranger) headed the other way. Our packs are rather unconventional with all the fiddly boat-bits protruding everywhere about them, and the warden's greeting words are, "Oh, you're the ones carrying the boat." Further conversation reveals that he does not know that we have kayaked the Inside Passage from Washington, but that he does know we hope to paddle the Yukon River to the Bering Sea, and he does know where the Bering Sea is. The fellow proves most affable, and we talk for perhaps 20 minutes. He has canoed the Stewart River and 1,000 miles of the Mackenzie River, so he is tuned closer to our particular wavelength. The Warden tells us about two cabins at Lindeman City, near his headquarters, and welcomes us to use one. Our loads are beginning to weigh heavy on our soles, and Deep Lake Camp, our day's destination, is only another two miles farther on. So we say we hope to see him again at Lindeman the following day. One interesting fact he related was that the snow is currently melting at the rate of 5 to 10 inches a day. We say goodbye and set off down the trail over mostly bare ground, negotiating only an occasional patch of snow.
We cross a footbridge at Deep Lake and reach the campground of the same name at 12:30 pm. Here we establish camp in a grove of what appears to be stunted White Bark Pine, pitching the tent in a driving drizzle. Crawling inside and collapsing with fatigue, we rest for a few minutes before firing the stove and making reviving cups of hot chocolate. Later in the afternoon we rouse from our naps and find that the sun has emerged from between patches of dark clouds. The high country is still fraught with high wind, rain and snow flurries. We explore the area, admiring some of the bits and pieces of Klondiker memorabilia still lying about. The three most noteworthy items we find (and leave lying) are a pair of shriveled boots, a nearly disintegrated sled, and a remarkably intact coffee pot.
We talk with the Warden as he passes by on his return trip, and he points out a couple of mountain goats, high on a nearby escarpment. How they got there defies the imagination. The resident ground squirrels are in evidence, reminding us with their innocent little faces that we had better suspend our food from a tree branch before turning in. Hours hiked: 7 Day's mileage: 10 Total miles hiked: 66
June 24 Day 61At 5:30 am we start climbing the trail with empty packs. The sky is cloudy and rain falls lightly and sporadically throughout the morning. The scenery is grand and we are relieved to be out of the rain forest. This is alpine country. It is open and the views are not blocked by the everywhere dense vegetation, as they are in the coastal rain forests. As we climb the rise alongside Long Lake, we see the mountain goats in much the same place on their cliff that we had seen them yesterday. We reach the snow and find that it had not frozen during the night. Its surface is quite slushy. Two and a half miles from camp we pass through Happy Camp and stop to talk with a fellow who, with his wife, had climbed over the Chilkoot Pass the day before, behind us. His wife does not emerge from the tent, but in the rain and icy wind we certainly do not blame her. They camped at Sheep Camp two nights before, as had we, but they had experienced problems getting over the pass. The wife had succumbed to the elements, as it were. Fearing hypothermia, the fellow had pitched their tent in the avalanche zone, a few miles this side of the pass, and his wife had crawled inside her sleeping bag to get warm. About that time the Warden happened along and helped them down by carrying the woman's pack to here at Happy Camp. The fellow, Russi, is a biologist from Bishop, and he tells us of serious drought conditions in California this summer. He could not fathom our hiking back up to the pass to retrieve our cache, and as we walked away I could not help thinking how different are our attitudes. Having spent each day engaged in some sort of struggle with the elements, nature has toughened Jenny and me somewhat. We view our carrying our boat and gear over the Chilkoot as not the dreadful task that most would see it, and this morning we think nothing of hiking the 6½ miles in wretched conditions, trudging through snow, back up to the pass only to load our packs with 70 pounds of gear and make the return trip. Comfort and the quest for comfort are the bane of modern technological society, it seems. The creature comforts and the security we all strive for only make us slaves to them. They never satisfy, instead they only weaken us. Jenny and I rise to meet each day as though it is a brand new day, full of adventures. As such, we think little of the labors and discomforts involved. We stride over the snowfields as a frigid wind flails our faces with driven rain. Yet the metabolic furnace inside allows us to wear no foul-weather clothing, other than a thin parka each to fend off the wind. The snow is melting remarkably fast; our boot tracks from yesterday are all but gone, and a number of the wand markers we had set yesterday have already fallen over - the snow having melted away from around them. Along the riverbank many of the big snow blocks on which we had trod yesterday are displaced and some have fallen over. We make our way past barren Crater Lake, just as the clouds begin to lift, giving us hope of seeing some scenery when we reach the pass. While we negotiate the avalanche zone the clouds continue lifting, revealing an immense and hideously steep snowfield directly above. How it was glued in place, what forces were holding it there, I could not guess. This slope is the object of the avalanche warning. It had slid the year before in early July, and had buried the trail 20 feet deep in frozen white concrete. According to the warden, Parks Canada currently has plans to set charges at the slope's apex, as soon as the weather clears enough to get a chopper in. Judging by the weather we have seen, this might not be soon. At the Canadian huts we meet a German fellow who has just hiked over the pass from Sheep Camp. He is on a year's leave from work, and has been traveling around the world for eight months. He has recently come from the States, and says that the next time he visits America will "not be for another 30 or 40 years." He found the moneymongery and over-capitalism overwhelming. He qualifies his acerbic remarks by saying "in general" a few times. Then he admits that in Germany the money-greed is much the same, only the avarice is more subtle (not his exact words). He allows that America has some nice scenery, but points out that many, many places in the world also have nice scenery. How true. Still in the avalanche zone, we feel a pressing urge to move along, so we say goodbye to this unabashed wanderer and resume our trudging up the snow slope. We reach Chilkoot Pass at 8:30 am, three hours after having left camp. The clouds have lifted a few hundred feet over the pass, exposing at least some view of the surroundings. Our cache is undisturbed, the only change is that the covering tarp contains pockets of rain water. We move our gear off of the rocks and into their lee, where protected from the boisterous wind we load the backpacks. Shouldering our heavy loads, we set off the way we had come, leaving Chilkoot Pass astern.
Gravity facilitates the descent, but the slushy nature of the snow makes carrying the big packs a tipsy-turvy exercise. We make our way speedily, glancing aslant at the avalanche slope looming above.
With the wind now at our backs, we soon overheat. And by the time we have made it out of the avalanche zone we are drenched in sweat, despite the arctic cold. We press on over the mushy snowfields, taking turns carrying the kayak paddles, while passing snowbound lakes and tarns, crossing snow bridges covering streams large and small, and negotiating the occasional patch of rock and semi-frozen tundra.
The farther we descended, the more we leave the stormy alpine conditions behind, until eventually the sun comes out. This presents a new problem - a powerful glare reflects from the snow's surface.
Once we encounter a marmot, which allows us a few close-up photographs. A short distance later we pass by a ptarmigan, which does much the same.
The snow blocks along the river have melted remarkably since we had trod on them earlier that morning. Now we have to walk the adjacent scree field. We follow the trail over mostly bare ground and soon come to the several hundred foot climb of the mountainside astride Long Lake. Traversing this higher region we again meet a Warden, a different fellow this time. He is friendly also, but not so talkative.
By now we have completed our descent to the outlet of Long Lake. We walk past the German fellow who seems surprised that we are passing him, and arrive at our camp at the head of Deep Lake. The time is 12:30 pm and we are pleased with our efforts for the day. How good it feels to lay down our back-crushing loads and slip out of our feet-pinching boots. During our absence some ungrateful animal has chewed into one of our food bags, which we left suspended in a tree. It has chomped a few holes in various plastic bags containing what scant provisions remain, and we even find a few fleas on the bag.
Our evening's entertainment consists of an enthralling rock-climbing demonstration staged by the local mountain goats. Behind our camp and a few hundred yards to the south towers a steep granite wall, perhaps six or seven hundred feet tall. The wall is not quite vertical, but is what climbers would call a slab, far steeper than one could climb unroped unless one is an expert attempting to impress the heck out of somebody. The mountain goats are climbing around on this slab as a matter of course. Off to both sides of the wall are wooded ledges, and on the left ledge the goats seemed to live, for they have been there for the past two days whenever we look up. I watch dumfounded as one of the ewe goats begins traversing one particularly steep section - accompanied by its tiny youngster. I have seen a lot of climbing, but I have never seen anything like this. For perhaps fifteen minutes the pair cautiously traverses the full width of the rock face, hundreds of feet above the ground. Then, another goat moves out onto the face, makes its way down, carefully, step at a time, pausing to study the next move, then taking another step, until it is perhaps 50 feet from the bottom of the wall. I think it is heading for the ground, but no, the goat traverses left a ways, then climbs the wall, zig-zagging and following the best line until it is safely on a ledge high above. I hurry back and fetch Jenny to come see the spectacle, then we sit watching, spellbound. I keep saying, "I can't believe it." I would never have believed goats could climb like that, had I not see them do it. Hours hiked: 7 Day's mileage: 13. Total miles hiked: 73
June 25 Day 62We rise at 3 am and set off with mixed emotions, eager to reach Lindeman Lake yet pensively knowing that this is our last day on the Chilkoot afoot. We like being up here very much.
Lindeman City consists of the Warden's station and a camping site with cabins. Reaching this is a three-mile, gentle downhill stroll. The sky cleared during the night, allowing the temperature to plummet below the freezing mark. So the half dozen snowfields we cross are frozen solid. And the air is still, affording the rare opportunity to photograph regally mirrored Deep Lake. The morning is very beautiful, and of course, having surmounted the Chilkoot, we are in a good position to appreciate such fine weather. The trail makes its way along the rim of a deep gorge, through which courses the outlet of Deep Lake. We are following the headwaters of the Yukon River - not yet paddleable, at least not by the likes of the crew of the unpretentious Sea Tub.
We reach the shore of Lake Lindeman in a little over an hour, and there we find the most idyllic camping we have seen this side of Washington's North Cascades. The forest here is what botanists term "boreal." Unlike those of the rain forest, the scattered trees of the boreal forest allow more elbow-room to wander among them. The forest comprises largely spruce, lodgepole, and some willow and alder. In order to reach here we have paddled for two months, and we feel it has definitely been worth the prodigious effort. We stop at the Upper Cabin, and are greeted by a pair of early rising campers who invite us inside to warm ourselves in front of the wood-burning stove. So we go in and sit talking with the folks for an hour. The fellow is a Caucasian from Namibia - South West Africa - and the girl hails from Melbourne, Australia. One of the best aspects of these outdoor trips is meeting the amiable people along the way. Making friends in the city is not so easy because speaking to strangers is largely discouraged, sometimes out of fear. But out in the wilds we feel there are no strangers, only friends who have not yet met. Occasionally we will encounter a bad apple, but they usually give themselves away at the outset. Unloading our packs, we pile our gear off to one corner of the cabin, then Jenny jams my empty pack into hers, and we set off back up the trail. Walking buoyantly in tennis shoes again, as we had while descending from Deep Lake, we make excellent progress. We arrive back at our previous night's campsite and while the coffee heats on the stove we strike the tent and stow the remaining gear into the backpacks. We then make our second and final trip down to the Lindeman City Camp. The early morning hours are the best for hiking, but by now clouds are forming and the ambient lighting is not nearly as stunning for photography. Nevertheless, the trail is excellent and makes for pleasant hiking indeed.
Back at the cabin we find the other campers have departed, so we install ourselves in the cabin. Stoking the wood-burning stove, we make a brew and heat pails of water for laundering a few items of clothing, and for sponge-bathing our crusty bodies and shampooing hair. After pitching the tent near the cabin, and at the bank of Lake Lindeman, we spread the equipage for a celebratory photograph.
The project at hand is to reassemble the collapsible kayak. Remarkably, after amassing the parts we find that none has been lost or damaged in transit. But assembling the boat proves a test of nerves against dozens of mosquitoes swarming about. This is our summer's first serious encounter with the voracious bugs, and the good news is that our bug repellent works well. The bad news is that our supply is minimal. Otherwise, the boat reassembly proceeds with no problems, although the job takes the better part of the afternoon.
That done, we turn and find that the incongruous, discombobulated array of parts we have been lugging over the mountains the past week has lost their separate identity. The Sea Tub now lies intact beside the tent, transformed into a most familiar object, which seems singularly out of context this far removed from the ocean. Nevertheless, we are ready to paddle once again. We saunter over to the Warden's headquarters for a final visit. They are away, but we enjoy a self-guided tour of their open-tent visitor's center. It contains a photo exhibit and an interesting selection of literature concerning the history of the Chilkoot Trail and of the local ecology. And of course Robert Service is well represented. On our stroll back to camp we climb the steep rise to Boot Hill to visit the grave sites of some of the prospectors who lost their lives hereabouts. At the foot of an old wooden cross is a plaque with a quote from Robert Service's poem "The Law of the Yukon." It reads: This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive; That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the fit survive. Dissolute, damned, and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain, This is the Will of the Yukon, - Lo, how she makes it plain! I had read those words many times. But reading them here, standing before this historic grave site, sends cold shivers down my spine. A crisp, afternoon wind has piped up, so back at the cabin we grab the resident buck saw and axe, and feeling like pioneering homesteaders we wander out back and hack up an evening's supply of firewood. Then in the warmth and comfort of the cabin we cook supper and write in our journal. We are now under the Law of the Yukon alright, but rather than dissolute, damned, and despairful; crippled and palsied and slain - we are tolerably respectable, redeemed and reassured; able-bodied and fit and decidedly thriving. We are ready, in short, to begin the 2,000 mile kayak journey down the mighty colossus that is the Yukon River.
Saga of the Sea Tub, Part 3
© 1988 Ray Jardine
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1987 PCT 1
1989 08 JMT