The “Chilkoot Trail” isn’t really a trail, it’s just “one big pile of &%#@ rocks after another!!!“
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Back in 2016, my brother, nephew and I hiked the Chilkoot Trail. People call it “the meanest 33 miles in history,” and I found out why – the hard way. After that adventure, my nephew – just out of the Army – headed back east to start the fall term at Penn State. My brother and I went on to take two canoes “up” the Yukon River – paddling 440 miles in 12 days.
Once back home I posted “Naked lady on the Yukon,” on August 28, 2016. (The events of that trip were still fresh in my mind, for one reason or another.) I later posted Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Part 1 and Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Part 2, on September 7, 2016.
I guess I’ll have to revisit “Naked lady” in more depth later on. (Deep sigh.) But for now it’s enough to say:
I just got back from two weeks canoeing the Yukon River… And the “mighty Yukon” is the last place on earth I would expect to see a [naked] lady sun bathing. But one moment, out of nowhere, there she was…
Which brings us back to the “Chilkoot &^%$# Trail!”
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The “Chilkoot” starts in Dyea, Alaska. And Dyea is pronounced “DIe-eeee,” maybe prophetically. (Like, “that’s what you feel like doing once you get on the &$%# Trail!”) It ends in Bennett, British Columbia. That’s where you end up waiting, a long afternoon, with other hikers who’ve shared your ordeal. (Of four days or more.) There’s only one train, at 3:15 in the afternoon, so all the footsore hikers get a chance to sit on something besides rocks, and pitch their tents to dry out.
Which brings up the fact that the number of hikers is strictly limited; you have to get a special permit to even start. And they keep track of who gets where and when.
Like on the second afternoon – on the way to “Happy Camp,” seen in part at right. That late afternoon I was “dragging tail” and the light started fading, so a nice lady ranger came out to help me, along with a nice husky young gent who carried my pack the rest of the way.*
That’s when I experienced the phantom pack phenomenon. It’s not unlike the “phantom limb” sensation, but leaves you weaving and rolling like a drunken sailor.
That was one time I got to “if I could have cried I would.” (Hey, I’m secure in my masculinity.)
Another thing: The nice lady ranger felt so bad for me she let us three stay in her private facility – the one above right – which meant we didn’t have to pitch our tents in the dark. (She also gave us juice boxes, like “heaven on earth.” I could have sworn they were raisin juice, but my older brother later said raisins are just dried-up grapes. It may have been the delirium, or the relief…)
Another excuse? “Hiking the Chilkoot Trail is sheer torture for someone – like me – with only one good eye and and thus no depth perception.” (For more detail see the February 2017 post, On that nail in my right eye.) So my word of advice: If you have only one good eye and no depth perception, take it slow and easy, and be ready to let the other hikers pass you by.
More good advice: Anyone hiking the trail is advised that if they have to get airlifted out – like for a twisted ankle or such – the cost will be a cool $28,000.00. Which brings up another point rangers make in the process of getting your permit to hike the trail: Watch out for the bears!
A historical note: The Chilkoot’s claim to fame started with the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896–99. That “transformed the Chilkoot Trail into a mainstream transportation route to Canada’s interior.” Also, the only other route to the gold fields was through White Pass. (Up to 1899, when a railroad was built from Skagway to the Yukon.) So which route was better? Pioneer Mont Hawthorne said there wasn’t much difference: “One’s hell. The other’s damnation.”
Another side note: White Pass was also called “Dead Horse Trail,” apparently renamed by Jack London: “Nearly 3,000 pack animals died. Drivers rushing over the pass had little concern for beasts. Exhausted horses starved, were hurt on rough ground, became mired in mud and fell over cliffs.”
Which also gives you a feel for “hiking the Chilkoot.”
Which in turn brings up the question: Why the hell would you do such a thing?
We were speaking of pilgrimages. More to the point, of why an otherwise-relatively-sane 65-year-old [at the time] would either hike the Chilkoot Trail or spend 12 days canoeing 440 miles on the Yukon River. That of course brings up St. James the Greater…
And James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims. On that note, the post cited the book Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today. (James Roose-Evans.) It said a pilgrimage – like a 12-day canoe trip on the Yukon or a “hike” on the Chilkoot &$%# Trail – “may be described as a ritual on the move.”
Further, the book said that through “the raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep,” we can often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings. (And that’s especially true when the “majesty and permanence” of God’s creation included “all those &$%# rocks!”)
Finally, the book noted that such a pilgrimage – such ritual on the move – can be “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.
I certainly felt “chastened” after we got back to Skagway from the Chilkoot Trail. (Although the 10-of-12 beers that my nephew and I shared – of the two six-packs I bought – helped a lot too…) But as I said in I pity the fool, “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope, even at the advance stage of his life.”
Besides, my Chilkoot Trail experience made the Happy Camp “raisin juice” taste great!!!
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To repeat, the Chilkoot Trail is just “one big pile of &%#@ rocks after another!!!“
(And this is one of the smooth parts…)
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The upper image is courtesy of Chilkoot Trail – Image Results. From a post, “What the Chilkoot Trail Taught Me about Leadership – Pt. 6,” posted on
We endured miserable weather throughout the day – cold, rainy and very windy… At times, especially hiking up to and down from the summit I was quite frightened as I was afraid we would either be blown off the mountain or slip careening down the mountain.
Re: “Up” the Yukon River. Like the Nile River, the Yukon flows north, which makes it unusual.
Re: The book Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today. The book also noted that a healthy sense of ritual “should pervade a healthy society, and that a big problem now is that we’ve abandoned many rituals that used to help us deal with big change and major trauma.”
Some people reading “Hola! Buen Camino” might think I had a lousy time in my five weeks hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. For example, there was my comment on the first 10 days – after starting in Pamplona – being “pretty miserable. My left foot constantly throbbed, until it blistered up and got tough…” But there were lots of good things that happened during those 30 days on the Camino…
But “fun stuff doesn’t make for good drama.” See What Elements Make for [Good Drama]?
If your drama doesn’t have a juicy, complex, emotional, heart-wrenching, personal, intelligent, connectable role for an actor – it’s dead in the water. And as a side note, don’t be afraid to inject some comedy into your dramatic scenes. Except for Schindler’s List, every single drama listed above has more than one moment of levity. However, there is one thing that every good drama needs no matter what the story is. It’s more than a trend – it’s the mandatory ingredient – CONFLICT. Drama is based on conflict. And not just any conflict, but one that is powerful, relatable, and complex enough to propel a story forward…
And BTW: That hike on the Camino de Santiago in Spain took place in the fall of 2017.
The lower image is courtesy of Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site – Parks Canada: “The Chilkoot Trail is a 53 kilometre / 33 mile trip through history and one of North America’s most fabled treks. The trail crosses the international boundary between the United States and Canada and is co-operatively managed by Parks Canada and the US National Park Service.”