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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Yukon Adventure, 2

As I wrote the other day, it was twenty years ago--exactly--that I left from home (Aurora, Ohio, at the time) and flew to Alaska, where I hiked the Chilkoot Trail from the old Dyea townsite, over the Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett, where a train would take me back to Skagway, thirty-three miles away.  I kept a journal along the way ...

30 July: Aboard my flights I was reading Larry McMurtry's new novel, The Streets of Laredo, which I was enjoying a lot.  I wasn't eating much--sticking to my training regimen--but in the Seattle Airport I ate a turkey-cheese croissant and some fruit (not too bad--but they bore a Gold-Rush price).

Skagway, AK
31 July: The U. S. Mail and I were the only passengers aboard the single-engine plane from Juneau to Skagway.  Son Steve and I had been on that plane in 1986 (he had just turned 14) when we'd first come up here, and back then I was trying, for his benefit, not to show my alarm.  The pilot looked about 20; the Skagway landing strip, like a driveway.  This time, the pilot looked even younger--12?  But we landed safely on the Skagway driveway, and a bald eagle was waiting for me at the end, "sitting insouciantly on a rock," I wrote, "watching the water for breakfast, I guess."  A van then took me to the Westmark Hotel.  I walked over and registered at the ranger station (they keep track of who's on the trail).

I caught a ride from the motel driver over to the trailhead in Dyea (the once booming town, no longer there), about eight miles via winding dirt road; some other hikers were in the car--college kids who were working in town for the summer; they were going to do the trail in a single day--I saw them later, heading back the other way.  They'd changed their minds.

The first half-mile of the trail was, I wrote that evening in my tent, "very precipitous and even treacherous."  A surprise.  I'd hoped for a warm-up mile or so, but this was not to be.  I should have checked the trail profile more carefully in the brochure I had.

I walked about two hours to Finnegan's Point, the first sanctioned campsite, "where two prior parties had staked out the best campsite--but I have a pretty good one."  In the camp: "A lens popped out of my classes--and I thought I was in deep shit, but it went easily back in.  Pit toilet is an abomination."  My little tent, borrowed from friends, went up easily, and I settled in quickly.  The sky was very light (Midnight Sunny), and I fell asleep reading Vanity Fair--the Thackeray novel, not the magazine.
Old Man on the Trail

August 1: Next stop--Sheep Camp.  And I was no longer alone.  In the morning, I'd met another lone hiker, Joachim Altvater, a young German man, just out of the military, who was hiking in North America.  He laughed, gently, kindly, at my Hiram High School/Hiram College German and told me to talk English, which he handled very well.  (The only term he could not find in English was magnifying glass, which he needed because of a splinter; I figured it out, though (so clever, I)--and actually had one with me--as you'll see.)  He wanted me to call him "Joe."  I'd just emerged from my tent when I saw him standing there.  He told me a bear had just walked through the camp.  I was both sorry and very glad I'd missed it.  I had read carefully about bears on the trail--and had hauled my food up on a pole, as advised, a pole supplied at each campsite.

Joe was a great guy to hike with.  He could have gone twice as fast--but didn't.  And he helped me in all kinds of ways--as you'll see.  In the morning, for example, the zipper on my sleeping bag jammed, and it took the both of us quite a while to free it up.  Or this, from my journal: "Fell on my back once today--slipped, actually, and lay there like a winded turtle until Joe helped me up.  I'm pretty sure I could have done it by myself--I hope I never have to find out."

Along the way we saw items left behind by the Klondikers back during the Rush.  The whole trail is part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (and Parks Canada--later), and you're not allowed to take things.  I'm not sure who'd want to: It was all I could do to carry the things I needed.  At the ruins of Canyon City, for example, we saw a large boiler some folks had hauled up there when Canyon City was a busy way station for the folks rushing to the Klondike.

Alaska side of the trail
The Alaska side of the Chilkoot Pass is officially a rain forest: The humidity and moisture come in from from the Pacific, hit the mountains, and ... happen.  I was soaking wet most of that portion of the hike--not from precipitation but from perspiration due to the humidity.

We stopped for the night in the early afternoon at Sheep Camp, right near the foot of the Chilkoot Pass.  We would ascend it in the morning.


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