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HIKER'S JOURNAL

Chilkoot Trail Backpack Trip, August 2009

In the winter of 1897-1898, 20-30,000 prospectors crossed the mountains above the towns of Skagway and Dyea, Alaska, over one of two trails en route to the gold fields of the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory; the shorter trail was the Chilkoot Trial from Dyea.  WNC assembled in Juneau whence we took the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry) to Skagway.  After making our last-minute preparations, we drove over to the site of Dyea, and the head of the Chilkoot Trail.  We were chauffeured to Dyea by a Arden from Juneau, who found, as the date approached, that he would have to join us only on day-hike components of our trip.

In summer, the Chilkoot Trail is noted for rainy weather on the Alaska side of the mountains.  Rain that fell on our hike was but a light drizzle.  The mostly overcast days with mild temperatures were just perfect for hiking up the gradual, consistent climb from Dyea up the Taiya River valley to our first camp near the ruins of Canyon City—a short-lived trail town.  At the Canyon City campground, we met several of the cohort of around 40 people with whom we would share the hike on subsequent days of our trip.  As we left our first campground, we stopped to visit the ruins of Canyon City.   This trail town had had enough wooden buildings that one could explore the remnants of town buildings.  Canyon City was also where one of the aerial trams that hauled goods over the Chilkoot Pass, for a fee, took on freight.  The boiler that powered the tram is still lying where it was abandoned.  Old cables and pulleys of the tram were visible there and along the trail for the next 10 miles.   We continued our hike past the site of the trail town Pleasant Camp to our second camp site at the site of Sheep Camp—a short-lived, but surprisingly large trail town that been mostly tents.  Those tents included 16 hotels, 14 restaurants, 3 saloons and a hospital.  Today, the town site is grown over, largely with Devil’s Cane (as thorny as it sounds), and finding any evidence of the former town requires searching.

Sheep Camp is the last stop for most hikers before climbing the steepest part of the trail, up to the pass.  Like most hikers, we retired somewhat early so that we could start our next day at 4am.  Hikers are advised to leave Sheep Camp by 6am to ensure that they clear the area closest to the pass early in the day before the risk of an avalanche becomes too great.  Last spring and summer, the weather in the mountains had been cool and snow had persisted longer than usual.  We took the posted avalanche warnings seriously.  After our steady 1500 foot ascent up Long Hill, we came to The Scales where prospectors had to weigh their goods and pay their packers the fee for the final climb over the pass.  Equipment abandoned by prospectors is visible on the ground here.  Here, we faced the famous 30-degree slope that is the final 1/3-mile ascent up 2000 feet to the summit of the pass.  (This is the site of the gold-rush picture on some Alaska license plates.)  Our day was overcast and foggy, limiting visibility, but we had little rain to impede the slow, challenging climb up to the summit.  At the summit, we stepped from large rocks of the pass onto the snow pack that would constitute our trail for the next several miles.  The temperature here was about 45 degrees and we guessed the wind was blowing about 40 miles/hour.  We stopped for lunch at the welcome warming shelter provided by Parcs Canada.  At this point, various members of the hiking cohort (WNC and others) checked up on each other to make sure no one had been misplaced.

From the summit, we faced the last 5 miles of our 8-mile day.  About half of those miles were on snow pack, and so most of the artifacts of the gold rush were buried, but hikers who have hiked the trail more than once told us that the walking was easier on the even surface of the snow.  We passed the stone crib that had anchored the northern end of the aerial tramway and the stone docks that a teamster had built so that he could haul freight across Crater Lake to his wagons.  The trail continued on mostly level grade to our next stop at Happy Camp—named because it was a welcome stop on level ground.  The wind we found at the summit was still blowing, but less fiercely.  Hikers in the cohort that included WNC were arriving here from 4pm to 10pm.  The long days meant that everyone was in camp by dark.

Leaving Happy Camp, we walked through the square-profile Coltsfoot Canyon, to Long Lake and then to Deep Lake, which made for a nice lunch stop.  From Deep Lake to our next stop, the trail was again below tree line and the sun was shining.  Artifacts, including the metal skeleton of a folding boat and the frame of a sled, were visible along the trail, which skirted a very dramatic canyon most of the way to Lindeman Lake, our next stop.  Our campground at the site of Lindeman City was in a beach setting framed by blooming fireweed, at the end of the 4-mile long lake.  This had been the site of a town of 4000 during 1897-98.  Botanists have estimated that it will take 200 years for all the trees cut during the gold rush to grow back.

On our last hiking day, the trail left the sandy lakeshore to traverse some scrub forest to the beautiful Bare Loon Lake.  (The loon wasn’t bare; the fellow who named the lake was skinny dipping when he heard the loon.)  After lunch in this picturesque spot, we continued through hardwood forest near Lindeman Lake toward our destination.  The last mile passed a prospector’s cabin and then followed a surprisingly sandy ridge that reminded us of hiking on the outer banks.  The welcome site through the trees of the Bennett church told us we had arrived at Lake Bennett for our last camping night.  We compared notes with other members of our hiking cohort and explored the town site. 

On the day we returned to Skagway, we had lunch at the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad depot, sitting in a real chair, eating off dishes that clinked, and enjoying not having to cook over a camp stove for the first time in several days.  The narrow-gauge WPYRR has been described as an engineering wonder for the steep grades and tight curves that had to be built.  Our ride on the WPYRR back to Skagway took us over the White Pass, the alternative route over the coastal mountains to Lake Bennett. 

We had decided to include time to explore other local features, and so after a welcome night in Skagway, we took a ferry to the nearby town of Haines.  We were rejoined in Haines by Arden for a drive up the Chilkat River valley and through the dramatic St. Elias Mountains to the border of the Yukon Territory.  We also had the opportunity to watch a grizzly bear fishing near the edge of town. 

We returned to Juneau on the state ferry.  Our trip included the opportunity to watch whales bubble fishing.  This is the technique by which they blow a net of bubbles to herd fish into a small space and then swim up through the fish with mouths wide open.  The ferry captain called the whales to our attention, and most passengers were in the right place to see 4 or 5 whale mouths simultaneously emerge from the water as they scooped up fish.

On our last day in Juneau, we took a day hike at the edge of town to see the broad, blue Mendenhall Glacier.  We appreciated how big is was when some hikers passed us and then became small spots of color when they hiked out onto the glacier.  Before heading back to the car, we were treated to “Mendenhall Margaritas,” made with ice from the glacier.

Glacier National Park, September 2007 - This 9-day itinerary took us through the North Fork area of Glacier National Park and included day hikes in both Glacier and in the Canadian Waterton Lakes National Park.  We started with a 6-day backpacking and fly-fishing component from Kintla Lake, in the northwest corner of Glacier.  We traveled eastward and upward to Boulder Pass, where we camped on a ledge that, in one direction, overlooked the lake, 3500 feet lower, where we had camped the night before.  In a different direction we had splendid views of Agassiz Glacier, now a modest remnant of what it was when it was one of the two largest glaciers in the park.  In 1850, it covered an area about 4 sq km, and the scoured mountainside shows evidence of that.  After our early morning visit from the resident mountain goat and mule deer, we took a few hours for some off-trail hiking up to a precipice by Boulder Glacier, for a look down the valley that includes Boulder Lake.  From our vantage point, we were something like 2000 feet above the valley floor—that is, 2000 feet almost straight down to the valley floor.  After retrieving our packs we moved on through the pass to our next campsite in a glacial cirque, where we shared the Hole in the Wall campground with a group of women ’packers who envied the meal Steve and Wayne were preparing for us.  (As expected, we thought.)

We left Hole in the Wall on a trail that is known to be precarious in snowy weather and made our way to Brown Pass, spotting a foraging black bear and mountain goats along the way.  We stopped for lunch at Lake Francis, where the fish just jumped into the frying pan for our lunch with minimal encouragement.  On our final backpacking day, we hiked toward Goat Haunt, along the way meeting a pair of retired park ranges who were hiking the perimeter of Glacier N.P. for enjoyment, but also to report conditions to the Park Services.  Rain clouds caught up with us at Goat Haunt and so we took the boat ride to Waterton, where we indulged in showers, pizza, and sleeping on beds for a change. 

Waterton Lakes park offers the opportunity for a popular day hike to Crypt Lake, which occupies a hanging valley high above Waterton Lake and has no visible outflow.  We took that hike the next day, starting out in snow that fallen overnight. 

Having traveled to the Many Glacier area of Glacier park the next day, we hiked along Lake Josephine (likely named for an area prostitute during mining days) where we spotted more loons and mountain goats just before sunset.  Creeks entering Swiftcurrent Lake offered more fishing opportunities.

Our trip back to West Glacier took us around the east and south sides of the park, where we were saw a number of beaver dams and lodges.  From West Glacier, we retrieved our lonesome rental car from Kintla Lake, stopping from delicious baked goods in Polebridge, miles from any town where one would expect a bakery, and stopping again to wet more fishhooks.  Our last hike took us back into the park for a walk up to Avalanche Lake, which lies in a glacial cirque and is fed by 7 waterfalls that begin on the mountain ridge above.

 

Shackleford Banks, October 2007 - Shackleford Banks offered us a delightful beach weekend in October.  This year the weather was positively summery, providing ample opportunity for swimming with the pelicans and watching the dolphins.  We had left Beaufort after a morning rain shower, bound for the Park Service dock on the island.  We hiked across the island over to a suitable campsite near the beach.  The water left in the air by the morning rain shower made for a magnificent rainbow that looked just like a Pride banner hung for us over the end of the neighboring island, just below the Cape Lookout lighthouse.  Saturday evening, the wind having died down, we had our supper on the beach, with entertainment provided by the resident crabs, while we awaited the fireworks at the seafood festival in Morehead City.  After some more beachcombing and lunch on Sunday, we returned to Beaufort, where we ended our trip with supper at one of the waterfront restaurants.
New Hope Valley Railroad - Jordan Lake Bike Ride - November 2007 -  We had a great turnout for our outing at the New Hope Valley Railroad Museum in Bonsal, NC.  After a ride on a stem locomotive, we enjoyed a great lunch prepared by WNC member, Hal L., at his beautiful turn-of-the –century farmhouse. We then rode our bikes the four miles from Bonsal to Jordan Lake and back.  We had great weather for our  locomotive ride and for the bike ride after lunch.  Thank you Hal for all the effort you made to serve and prepare lunch and host our event.  Thanks WNC members for the great turnout!  This even was as popular as our August Kayak Trip.  
New River Kayak Trip 2006 - Again this year, the 1st Sunday in August, Ray P. led a great trip down, or up the New River. (Yes, the second oldest river in the world and yes, it flows north). What a day and evening of fun! We had a great group who enjoyed the beautiful farmland and hills of SE Virginia and NW North Carolina. 15 of us came out of the River and had a wonderful gourmet meal at the Davis-Bourn Inn in Independence, VA. I'll give the day 5 stars and a big thanks to Ray.
Appalachian Trail, Laurel Fork 2006 - The weekend was splendid and the location made for fairly easy camping. We camped for the weekend a short hike from our cars on the Appalachian Trail. Our campsite was at the confluence of two creeks giving us a convenient source of water and the pleasant sound of flowing water during the night. (No hauling water up the trail for us.) The early arrivals on Friday hiked down the trail to view the gorges along both sides of the trail near our campsite. Saturday, the group of us hiked down into the gorge at Laurel Fork Falls for a creek-side lunch.  Afterwards, we continued downstream for the promised swim and returned to camp by the high-water route of the Appalachian Trail.  At supper we benefited from our proximity to our cars by enjoying more elaborate meals than mere dehydrated backpacker food. We concluded our trip on Sunday with a restaurant-cooked meal in Hampton.
Shackleford Banks 2006 - The weather system that was circulating around eastern NC on the first weekend of October cooperated nicely staying just far enough away that we had mosquito-suppressing wind, with minimal, intermittent rain. We camped about a mile from the dock where we landed on the island, setting up camp under the gaze of an equine welcoming committee. Having set up camp, we had the afternoon to explore the beach and interior parts of the island further to the east, including the maritime forest on the sound-side. Along the way we encountered some relatively social wild horses. The wildflowers in bloom gave vivid colors to parts of the island where they were growing. The easily visible fireworks of the Seafood Festival in Morehead City enlivened our evening. Sunday morning became warm enough that we succumbed to the temptation to go for a swim. Our welcoming committee returned to bid us farewell as we broke camp for a return to Beaufort and a sound-side supper.
Basin Cove/Stone Mountain - Basin Cove was a thriving mountain community until a tragic landslide in 1916 destroyed most of the community.  Now included in land that is attached to the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is available for hiking.  On a February Saturday, we hiked to the remaining cabin in the cove, past extant foundations of other buildings.  After our round trip of 11 miles, we returned to our bed & breakfast that night for a well-cooked meal, warm fire, and hot tub.  After breakfast the next morning, we added on a shorter hike to one of the peaks in the nearby Stone Mountain State Park and ended the day by exploring the restored homestead at the foot of the mountain.

    

Merchant’s Millpond Canoe Trip - Merchant’s Millpond is a 200 year-old millpond, now contained in a state park.  We canoed from the launch point to the group-camp site, where we set up our tents for our overnight stay.  After lunch, we canoed into Lassiter Swamp, at the upper end of the millpond.  Lassiter Swamp is home to some of the oldest cypress trees in North America.  Along the way, we encountered the relatively rare great white heron.  After supper later that day, we were “serenaded” for a couple of hours by a chorus of owls in nearby trees.
Pisgah National Forest Campout - We assembled at our meeting point along the Blue Ridge Parkway and hiked a couple of miles to our campsite.  Our trip leader had chosen this weekend to coincide with huckleberry ripening.  Good choice:  In the afternoon, we were able to pick enough berries to garnish breakfast the next morning and still take some home.  The energetic members of the party then climbed the adjacent Sam Knob before dark.  Our trip leader gave us all a pleasant surprise the next morning when he used a pooled supply of huckleberries to make huckleberry pancakes for everybody. 

    

 

Eno River State Park - Eno River State Park offers a generally gentle hiking terrain in the central part of the state.  This springtime hike along the Cox Mountain loop took us 4 to 5 miles through the Few's Ford section of the park, along the Eno River and around a couple of 700-foot peaks that give the trail its name.  The trees had few leaves on the day of our hike, and so we enjoyed unimpeded view of the profuse wildflowers in bloom.  Redbuds seemed to be ubiquitous.  The drama of the outdoors became real when a weather front brought us impressive wind and some hail, as we neared completion of our route.
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