Photo: Retracing the Chilkoot Trail. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
About 100,000 prospectors tried to get to Dawson City in the years after the 1896 gold discovery. While most stampeders didn’t strike it rich, and many didn’t even make it to the goldfields, they were part of the Klondike Gold Rush adventure.
About 3,000 adventure-seekers now annually hike the 53-kilometre Chilkoot Trail, which was the most popular route for stampeders, since it was the shortest and cheapest way to the goldfields. Parks Canada and the National Park Service, which now maintain the trail, both warn that today’s trek through Alaska and British Columbia is not for unprepared or novice hikers.
Last July, adventure travel company World Expeditions offered its first Chilkoot trip through its Great Canadian Trails branch. Local porters and a guide carried supplies, cooked meals and setup tents for four nights, making the trip more accessible to less experienced or equipped hikers. The following photos are from that trip, which also included two nights stay in Whitehorse, Yukon.
The hike begins near Skagway, Alaska, in Dyea. Most hikers begin their trip there and head north towards Bennett, which retraces the route of the stampeders heading to the goldfields. Average completion time is three to five days. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
My group travelled from the trailhead to Canyon City on the first day of the hike, lead by guide Vanessa Stewart. As opposed to later in the trip, creek crossings are covered. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
All overnight hikers must have a permit, which includes the date of crossing the Chilkoot Pass (also known as the Golden Stairs). The permit requires hikers to agree to certain conditions, including not removing or disturbing artifacts, or feeding wildlife. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
There are some ups and downs on staircase-like rocks between the trailhead and Canyon City campsite. The campsite, where most hikers stay on the first night, has an elevation of about 76 metres. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
A suspension bridge, which has a posted warning saying only one person should cross at a time, allows hikers to visit the Canyon City ruins. We crossed the bridge at the beginning of our second day, on the way to Sheep Camp. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
Ruins include a steam boiler, which powered a tramway from Canyon City over Chilkoot Pass during the gold rush. Hikers aren’t supposed to touch any of the artifacts, which is one of the conditions of the hike permit. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
A discarded cookstove that’s been taken over by vegetation was probably used to cook for the stampeders during the gold rush. Most of those who got rich during the gold rush were the people who succeeded at “mining the miners” not those who went looking for gold. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
Coral fungi, moss and lichens are found frequently on the American side of the hike in the first few days. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
The third day’s journey, which was by far the toughest, went from Sheep Camp to Happy Camp and included crossing the Chilkoot Pass. Small artifacts were found in the rocky area before climbing the pass. As we approached the Chilkoot Pass, the artifacts included boot soles, chains, cooking supplies and a telegraph wire. The day’s hike can take up to 12 hours. Since there’s an avalanche hazard until mid-July, hikers are told to start their journey early, when the snow pack is generally more stable. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
This photo was taken towards the end of climbing the Chilkoot Pass and doesn’t really capture the difficulty. It took about an hour and the majority of the time was spent on all fours. Some of the rocks are slippery and come loose when they’re stepped on. The pass, with an elevation of 1,067 metres, is the highest point of the hike. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
Crossing the pass also means crossing the border, from Alaska to British Columbia. Shortly after crossing the pass, hikers see the Canadian flag and a small warming shelter. We had lunch and hot chocolate there before setting off again. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
After some snow initially on the Canadian side, the environment becomes greener in the alpine tundra. The landscape is rocky, snowy and grassy as lakes come into view. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
Fireweed, the official flower of the Yukon, begins appearing on the Canadian side in British Columbia. The plant was chosen as Yukon’s floral emblem in 1957. The hardy plant grows along roads and rivers and is one of the first plants to appear after a forest fire. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
After a much-deserved restful sleep at Happy Camp, day four began much the same way as day three ended, amongst stunning surroundings of lakes and flowers. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
Leftover boat parts on the Canadian side of the trail are among the artifacts left by the stampeders. After carrying their supplies over the Chilkoot Trail, prospectors still had more than 800 km of lake and river travel ahead of them before reaching Dawson City. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
Two hikers on a beach near Lindeman City. The beach has thick sand and massive amounts of driftwood, some of which has fireweed growing in it. We spent our last night there. The historic area was once home to hustle and bustle in 1898. As well as lots of artefacts, Lindeman City also has an interpretive tent with historical displays and notes from other hikers about the wildlife they’ve encountered on the trail. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)
On day five, at the end of the hike, our group paused at Bennett before a floatplane arrived on Bennett Lake to us back to Whitehorse. Other hikers take the train from Bennett, which was once a busy tent city for stampeders who built their boats there, rather than earlier on the trail at Lindeman Lake. (Photo: Carys Mills/Canadian Geographic)