Chilcoot Trail 2012

What it was REALLY like

I’m sitting in a hotel room tonight ready to catch an early morning flight to Winnipeg and then a bus to Kenora to spend some time with a couch surfing friend there. Sun is shining in the window reminding me of the beautiful days I spent on Vancouver Island in Sayward and Campbell River. My body has stopped aching and my Chilkoot hike is just a memory. From here it is easy to remember the beautiful trees, bluer than blue mountain lakes and the times we spent laughing together. There was more than that though and I do want to remember the rest of it too.

I trained during spring and summer but the heat from March on slowed me down. My body was not ready for 8 to 16 hour days. After the first day of up and down hiking it became apparent that I was out of my league. The brochures asked for ‘experienced’ hikers. I assumed that Desiree’s experience would carry me through but, I should not have been there. I slowed my group down painfully and put us in some danger. That being said….I did it…really. I did it without too much pain and I am proud of that

The days were long and my feet hurt from the beginning…not the blisters that Dave expected but actually bruises on the soles of my feet and ends of my toes. All that in-spite of the fact that I had been wearing these boots for two years. My feet were just not used to walking up and down hills carrying that kind of weight for hours on end. I remember having the same thing happen when I worked at a restaurant for double shifts.

The scenery made it easy to ignore aches and pains. I took it slow and easy trying to save my knees. It worked, they were fine but, it is sometimes harder to walk a slow, deliberate path than a brisk one. It added hours to our days.

By day 3 my pack and I had reached a kind of understanding. Before that I spent time adjusting straps and never really finding the ‘sweet spot.’ Suddenly though on day three, the day that we got up in time to get started by 5am (to avoid avalanche danger which was less before the sun had spent too much time on the snow) and didn’t reach camp til 6:15pm, about half way through the afternoon I realized that my pack was part of me. It no longer hurt. It was working. I had an understanding that I would have never been able to do what I did on day 3 on our starting day. I could feel myself getting stronger. If I hadn’t fallen into the first stream we had to ford, getting my boots soaked inside and out, I probably would have made a strong finish. As it was though, my feet began to blister. Nothing would stick to the affected areas in the wet boots and the blisters began to become personalities, angry, vengeful personalities. I really started to struggle.

After that I stopped frequently to pull on dry socks and to try to stop the rubbing. Our days got pretty long. On the last day, boots almost dry, we decided that we had to make a run for the train station in Bennett. It was a 13km day and we wanted to be there by noon so we would have time to explore the town site and eat the stew promised to us by the railway. Desiree walked with me and I decided to ignore my feet. I knew they were bad by that time. Taryn and Alison set a brisk pace. Des and I were slower but we made good time. When the steeple of the Bennett church came in sight, after a long slog through the glacial sand dunes, my feet celebrated. At the train station the first thing I did was take my boots off and tuck them into my bag. I have worn sandals ever since, sandals without backs.

 

 

Looking back at this letter and my memories I realize that some of the trip was brutal. The climb from the false summit to the summit felt almost insurmountable with it’s steep, loose stone. The swollen, faster, fuller creek crossings on day 3 and 4 were hard although by the end we were getting through without wet feet. Some of the new paths made by the park staff to get us around paths that were submerged by the melting snow pack were high and seemed to me to be almost impassible. Most of those things would have been easier for me if I had more experience although I actually think I would handle them better today. On the other hand right now I am remembering the laughter, the blue skies, the paths of footsteps, ours on top of those from the people who walked by earlier in the day, earlier that week, that year and back through the centuries starting with the first peoples who used the trail to get through the mountains. It was totally amazing. Every night when we sat, usually exhausted, eating our dinners we agreed that the day had been spectacular and totally out of the realm of our everyday lives.

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So, did you hear me say it was tough, brutal, a trip for only very experienced hikers???? Not really. I did it. My baby girl did it. I am still overwhelmed by our accomplishment. I think I would try it or something similar again, that is if my knees let me. Wahoo….isn’t life grand? Talk soon.

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What’s in my back pack on the trail

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Here is a list of things the prospectors were required to have to cross into Canada. It was said that this should weigh a ton and that it would take a man 40 or so trips to bring it over the pass.

150 lb. bacon, 400 lb. flour, 25 lb. rolled oats, 125 lb. beans, 10 lb. tea, 10 lb. coffee, 25 lb. sugar, 25 lb. dried potatoes, 2 lb. dried onions, 15 lb. salt, 1 lb. pepper, 75 lb. dried fruits, 8 lb. baking powder, 2 lb. soda, ½ lb. evaporated vinegar , 12 oz. compressed soup, 1 can mustard, 1 tin matches (for four men), Stove for four men, Gold pan for each, Set granite buckets, Large bucket, Knife, fork, spoon, cup, and plate, Frying pan, Coffee and teapot, Scythe stone, Two picks and one shovel, One whipsaw, Pack strap, Two axes for four men and one extra handle, Six 8-inch (200 mm) files and two taper files for the party, Draw knife, brace and bits, jack plane, and hammer for party, 200 feet three-eights-inch rope, 8 lb. of pitch and 5 lb (2.3 kg). of oakum for four men, Nails, five lbs. each of 6,8,10 and 12 penny, for four men, Tent, 10 by 12 feet (3.0 × 3.7 m) for four men, Canvas for wrapping, Two oil blankets to each boat, 5 yards of mosquito netting for each man, 3 suits of heavy underwear, 1 heavy mackinaw coat, 2 pairs heavy machinaw trousers, 1 heavy rubber-lined coat, 1 doz heavy wool socks, ½ doz heavy wool mittens, 2 heavy overshirts, 2 pairs heavy snagproof rubber boots, 2 pairs shoes, 4 pairs blankets (for two men), 4 towels, 2 pairs overalls, 1 suit oil clothing, Several changes of summer clothing, Small assortment of medicines.

Here is a list of things I carried:
Rain coat (not so light) and rain pants (super light), 2 short sleeved shirts, one pair of long pants, light shirt and pants to wear to bed or if I got wet. 7 pairs socks, undies, Sleeping bag, light self inflating mattress. Toothbrush and paste. 3 litres of water, oats for 5 breakfasts, 4 hardboiled eggs for summit day snacks, 4 dehydrated dinners, I dehydrated dessert, trail mix of almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, dried apricots, choc covered blueberries (this was heavy but filling). Envelops of hot chocolate and tea. A small flask of spiced rum to pour into the evening drink. Extra small stove and one small and one medium sized fuel bottle. Rope, knife, safety kit. I also carried hiking poles, knee braces that I wore every day and found to be useful for protecting my knees on scrambles over sharp rocks. That was an unexpected bonus and bear spray.

Along with clothes and water Desiree carried our lunches, a bag of flat bread, cheese, humus, sliced carrots and celery, as well as a small amount of peanut butter. She also had pan bannock, pan muffin mix, a daily chocolate ration and the tent. Her pack was slightly over 40 pounds. Mine slightly under. On the train when we talked to many other hikers we found that people carried packs that were much lighter. In the order of 25-30 lbs. We both thought that since we used every single thing that we brought we packed well. I think I would rethink the food next time. It weighed a lot but many of the hikers who do trips like ours often had all of the super expensive, ultra light equipment. We did not have that and it made a lot of difference. Maybe not a lot but several pounds…and every pound makes a difference.

On the other hand, there were a couple of guides up there leading a group of about 5 people. They were preparing gourmet meals every day. On the first night the cook put together a beautiful salmon fry with all the trimmings. Every meal was a delight to watch him assemble. At one point I asked how much his packed weighed at the start of the trail. He grinned, “I make a point to never weigh it,” he told me, “I just carry it.” Good advise. Desiree told me that as we started packing. “You take what you need and carry it. What is the point of knowing how much it weighs.” Probably good words for living life too.

I am still trying to sort out pictures from 3 cameras so I will be back with more. In the mean time, here are two that show my pack and two very different geographical zones.

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I’m back

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Just a quick word to say that I arrived home from my Chilkoot adventure last night at 10pm. I am still too overwhelmed to say much and trying to sort out a thousand photos…but

I am back, I am alive and I am in reasonably good shape except for some bruises, scrapes and a couple of blisters that I hadn’t expected.

Nothing that I could have done would have prepared me for the intensity, adrenaline and beauty of the whole experience. I talked to people, searched for every scrap of info on line and read the history of the area and still I was not ready for the days of pain, excitement, accomplishment and friendships old and new. Would I do it again? Not today but…maybe.

Right now I am just trying to process the whole thing…and get ready for my trip to Vancouver Island to visit friends and family. I will sort pictures and write, hopefully sharing some of the highlights and perhaps the lowlights too. For the next few days my internet will be spotty to non existent but keep watching this space for me to fill in the blanks. Talk soon.

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Last day

I didn’t sleep much last night. I am going over my pack in my mind. Do I have this, should I have that, what should I leave behind and what am I forgetting. I am just about ready and I can already feel the adrenaline. I hope that will carry me through the first few days.

I thought I should talk a little about the Chilkoot trail. It is a 53 km trail that leads from Dyea Alaska to Bennett BC (so it isn’t in the Yukon at all, I didn’t realize that).The summit is 3525 feet and I will be summitting on Sunday.

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The trail was used to get from the coast to the gold fields of the Yukon through the 1890’s and was largely made obsolete by the introduction of a train which followed an alternate White Pass route.

Thinking about the prospectors who were forced by the Canadian Government to bring a ton of supplies over the trail so that they could survive their first year in the wilderness, I am feeling pretty cocky about my ‘just under’40 lb pack.

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Hero’s for the day

Thanks to my hero’s for today, Sue Reynolds and Rich Helms who figured out how to get the blog apps working on my ipad. There is still a steep learning curve, I have to learn html…but I think it is going to be easier than learning German and I am trying to do that too.

I got in to Whitehorse today. The weather was a balmy 17 degrees with sunshine. I can breathe. I did a walk after super on the trail that Desiree has been using to train for the Chilcoot and I held my own for a short hike. No back backs, no weight, no stress. It was wonderful walking without the weight of the 30 degree temperatures and humidity I left behind. Maybe I can do this thing.

As soon as I learn to add pictures I will put some in. The whole territory is in bloom. Fireweed, wild roses and things I can’t identify. It is beautiful. I wish you could be here to see it.

Well, off to bed. It is still bright out an so like a child, my mind is rebelling. It is still bright…why do I have to go to bed. My jet lagged body is sliding out of my chair. Talk soon.