Travelogue: The Chilkoot Trail

Retracing the steps of the Stempeders' route over the Chilkoot Pass. | Mark Daffey
Retracing the steps of the Stempeders' route over the Chilkoot Pass. | Mark Daffey

Step back in time and retrace the footsteps of the Klondike Goldrush. As its name suggests, the Klondike Goldrush was the migration of approximately steadfast 100,000 prospectors in their quest to amass riches in the Klondike region of the Yukon. It was a treacherous journey that required immense physical and mental fortitude to complete.

Great Canadian Trails’ Manager, Nathalie Gauthier, decided she would combine her thirst for adventure and love of history and embark on her own “search for gold” on the Chilkoot Trail. This 53-kilometre trail was a major access route from the coast to the Yukon goldfields and passes through the Coast Mountains which leads from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett Lake, at the border of British Columbia and Yukon. The White Pass trail was the other main pass used by prospectors during the Klondike Goldrush.

To discover more about Nathalie’s once-in-a-lifetime experience on the Chilkoot Trail, we asked her a few questions about her hiking adventure.

Direction to the Chilkoot Trailhead |  <i>Nathalie Gauthier</i>

What made you decide to do the Chilkoot Trail?

The trail combines two of my passions: hiking and history. I was really drawn to the natural beauty of the trail and rich history of the Stampeders. An interesting fact about the Goldrush was that the Canadian authorities required each person to bring a year’s supply of food to ensure they didn’t die of starvation on their way to the goldmines. As you can imagine, it made the expedition quite strenuous especially crossing the Chilkoot Pass, which needed to be climbed numerous times to carry all their goods.

Did anything surprise you about it?

It was surprising how quickly the landscape (and the weather) changes. The ecosystem diversity in this region is really something to behold. The hike starts in the green rainforest through Alaska, until you hike over the pass to reach the Canadian border where the sunny alpine scenery revealed itself.

Hiking Canada's Chilkoot Trail |  <i>Mark Daffey</i>

What was your favourite moment on your journey?

My favourite moment was when we arrived at the top of the pass. Leaving behind the lush rainforest for a stunning alpine panorama with lakes, snow-capped mountains and colourful wildflowers, it felt great to be above the treeline.  

I also enjoyed the conclusion of our hike at the beautiful Bennett Lake which houses St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church (constructed in 1899). It was pretty exciting to see the three float planes coming to pick us up. I never had the opportunity to have a front seat in a plane before.

Our float plane pick-up at the beautiful Bennett Lake |  <i>Nathalie Gauthier</i>

As a trail with a rich history, what was the most fascinating thing you learned about Chilkoot?

One of the things that surprised me was that very few people made money out of mining gold. More money was actually made around the infrastructure that was built around the Goldrush. Boomtowns sprang up along the trail as did accompanying shops, hotels, saloons and other businesses. Dawson City, founded where the Klondike and Yukon River meet, grew from a population of 500 in 1896 to 30,000 by summer 1898.

Fun fact: Chilkoot National Historic Site is the only park that Canada and the US joined their efforts for.

Is this a difficult hike? 

Mostly no since the terrain is mainly flat. However, ascending the Chilkoot Pass, the highest point along the trail can pose a challenge as it is a steep ascent with rock scrambling which was made more difficult for me as I am prone to vertigo. That part was pretty challenging but it was mitigated by the fact that we didn’t have to carry our full load.

Chilkoot Historic Trail_Mark Daffey |  <i>Mark Daffey</i>

Do you have any advice or tips for people wanting to do this trail? 

I would suggest reading a book about the history of the Chilkoot Trail before your trip. It really helps you appreciate the region, the artifacts you encounter on the way and the strenuous journey of many people exploring this harsh environment in search of fortune. I like to visualize the scenes from the past happening in the place I’m in at the present moment. It enriches the experience and makes me appreciate the places I visit more.

Walking from Happy Camp to Lindeman City |  <i>Nathalie Gauthier</i>

If you’ve ever dreamed of being a treasure-hunting adventurer during the Klondike Goldrush, now’s your chance to embark on a 7-day guided trek through the Chilkoot Trail. Luckily for you, you’ll get the full experience without enduring the hardships of the Stampeders. You’ll even get your own certificate for completing the trail!

 

 

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