It’s been almost 3 months since I hiked the Chilkoot Trail and figured it was time to write a post accompanied by some fabulous pictures and my thoughts on crossing this activity off my bucket list.
I first starting looking into hiking the trail in September of 2012. There were two things I knew for sure. One, I knew I did not want to or could not hike the trail alone, and two, I had no friends at the time who would be interested in hiking the Chilkoot with me. Not because they are lazy or don’t like hiking but rather that they had no interest in this type of challenge.
My first challenge was finding someone that was up for the challenge, not only hiking the trail but putting up with me haha! It didn’t take long to find that person. I was talking to one of drivers at my place of employment about his trip to Alaska the previous summer and I mentioned that I wanted to hike the Chilkoot Trail and he said “I’m in”. Just like that I’d found my hiking partner.
Within a couple of days I had booked my flight and was researching the requirements for hiking the trail. Now, one might think that it’s just a hike so what kind of “special” requirements could there be? Many, but nothing too intensive if you’re an organized person.
Our trip started in Vancouver where we took a mid-morning flight direct to Whitehorse, Yukon (I recommend flying Air North-great service, competitive fairs and you’re supporting a locally based company). We rented a car (as the Yukon gets an influx of tourists during the summer months, I would highly recommend booking as far in advance as you can as there are limited rentals available during the summer months) even though we knew the car would be sitting for four days while we were on the trail. We did this for a couple of reasons. All our clothing and supplies that we needed after getting off the trail (as we continued our trip by visiting Atlin, Carcross (dont’ forget to check out Motherlode Jewellery in Carcross) and Dawson City) were in the car. Also, while good transportation between Whitehorse and Skagway is available, the schedules are set, not allowing time for diversions or sight-seeing along the way. As you’ll see below and although we were on a pretty tight schedule to get from Whitehorse to Skagway to pick up our permits (most people start out early on the trail head but we started later in the afternoon knowing we wouldn’t have far to hike to the first camp but the permit office closes at 4:30 Alaska Time), we did stop to take some photos along the way.
It was beautiful when we landed in Whitehorse, a balmy 27C (80F) and it looked to be staying that way for some time. We met my friend Marie at the airport to get some supplies we needed that could not be bought in Vancouver and checked in our luggage. This is important and you should leave yourself some shopping time in Whitehorse (if this is where you are flying into). Bear Spray and propane cylinders ARE NOT ALLOWED ON A PLANE EVEN IN YOUR CHECKED BAGGAGE!!! These two items are essential to you hiking the trail successfully unless you plan on day running the trail (but you will still need bear spray). Back to bear spray and propane in a moment but to learn more about day running the Chilkoot Trail please watch the video below (linked from YouTube) and click here for information on day running the trail from Parks Canada. Keep in mind that the guys in the video below are in great shape and though the video gives you an idea (based on scenery) of the type of terrain you’ll encounter, it really doesn’t show how intense some of the trail can be).
Now back to the important stuff. You can buy cans of bear spray at Canadian Tire in Whitehorse however I am unsure where you can purchase it in Skagway. I’m sure there are places but again depending on the the time of day and day of the week, it may be harder to find in Skagway. Small canisters of propane or butane can generally be purchased anywhere near where camping is popular. However, that being said Canadian Tire is a good place to get both of these items at a reasonable price. The accessory for use with the butane or propane burner can be found at Amazon relatively cheap and like anything you purchase always check reviews to see how the product will hold up under hiking or adverse conditions. We used a propane burner with propane cylinders however after seeing others on the trail with the butane stoves, it is likely we would both use one of those on future hikes. The butane is lighter (and let me tell you, it will make a difference after hiking for hours on end). I found the stove below at Cabela’s online and seemed to have great reviews. If you are driving to Skagway from anywhere in North America this would be an option but again this type of item is forbidden in checked baggage on all airlines. As far as I can find, mailing these types of items are also prohibited so drive with them or buy there are the options.
While it may appear that I’m jumping around a bit, rest assured by the end of the post you’ll have created a checklist to follow to make your trip a success.
PICKING YOUR HIKE DATES
The best thing to do is decide when you can get time off work, check airline schedules and costs, call the permit office to ensure the dates you’d like to hike are available (limited number of hikers are allowed over the pass daily and only a certain number are allowed at each camp site), and making sure you have enough time to prepare and train.
I won’t go into a lot of detail on the Chilkoot Trail hiking restrictions and requirements but you really do need to read the information provided on the Parks Canada website. Bookmark it and I also suggest printing off the map below (provided on Parks Canada website) and choosing your campsites off the information provided on the map. Use the remainder of the paper to make notes and make alternative hike dates/camping sites if you can’t get the ideal ones when you call to book.
Reservations for the 2015 hiking season on the Chilkoot Trail will begin on Monday January 5th, 2015. The information below comes directly from the Parks Canada website but check it often in case anything changes. You’ll note that you are expected to have all your information ready when you call, such a # of people and chosen camp sites. On a personal note, I called about 10 minutes after they opened for the season this year (2013) and I had to leave a message for them to call me back. There are only a couple people in the office and they get extremely busy taking reservations. Don’t panic! The nice lady taking reservations called me back before the end of the day and we got the dates and camp sites we wanted. Also, have your credit card information ready as they will process the cost on the phone. My flight was booked a few months before the office even opened however the cost of airfare was so great I figured that if my hike dates were not available then I could pay the change fee for the flight which was still cheaper than waiting to book the airfare after the permit office opened. It is a personal choice you must make to how you want to do it. I was on a limited budget so I did it backwards compared to most people, but it all worked out in the end.
Information from Parks Canada website below…
Forty-two Reservations to enter Canada over Chilkoot Pass will be taken for each day. Reservations for the 2015 season will start being accepted on Monday, January 5, 2015.
Before calling to reserve please ensure that you can provide us with the following information:
• # of Adults (17 yrs+); Youth (6 – 16); and Children (5 yrs and under) in your group
• # of tent sites needed
• your hiking itinerary, if you have not yet selected your campgrounds please visit the Hiking page and consult Choosing Your Campgrounds.
• Credit card information
You may reserve Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm (Pacific Standard Time) by calling Parks Canada at:
• 1-800-661-0486 Canada & U.S.
• 1-867-667-3910 local & overseas
During the summer operational season reservations can also be made through the Skagway Trail Centre, seven days a week from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (Alaska Daylight Time), call:
NOTE: All fees are payable at time of reservation. Permit fees are refundable up to one calendar month prior to start date. Reservation fees are non-refundable. Click here for the Parks Canada Campground page.
What I can offer from experience is giving yourself and your hiking companions a little bit of dead time between arriving (whether it’s Whitehorse or directly into Skagway). We got off the plane in Whitehorse at 1pm PDT (noon, Alaska time), got the car and supplies from my friend and had a two and a half hour drive to Skagway (assuming there were no issues at the border). We had to be to the permit office by 4:30 pm Alaska time to get the pep safety talk and pick up our permits and then get on the trail and make it to the first campsite before dark if possible (we had head lamps but being our first night we wanted to get there before dark). We cut it very close, because we stopped a few times to take some pictures along the way and just the time it took to get organized at the car parking lot at Dyea along with walking to the trail head from the parking lot. The posted pictures you’ll see on here from my camera are date stamped but I have no idea of the time of day!
AT THIS POINT I MUST TELL YOU TO MAKE SURE YOU PICK UP YOUR TRAIN TICKETS AT THE WHITE PASS & YUKON ROUTE OFFICE ALONG WITH THE MEAL TICKETS YOU WILL LIKELY PURCHASE (MORE ON THIS LATER BUT REMEMBER THE TIME CUT OFF OF 4:30 APPLIES TO THE PERMIT OFFICE AND THE WP&YR OFFICE MAY CLOSE EARLIER.
When you arrive in Skagway to pick up your permits, train passes, and meal tickets you’ll undoubtedly want to take in the views of the area and the enormous cruise ships that dock here every summer. It may be a cruise ship day and there will be thousands of people wandering around (be careful if you’ve rented a car as tourists seems to forget that even in a small town cars still drive on the road and they blindly walk out in front of you).
At this point we had our permits and were heading to the trail head at Dyea, Alaska. For a comprehensive read on the history of Dyea, Alaska I strongly suggest you head to Murray Lundberg’s Blog on Explore North. He also hiked the Chilkoot Trail twice and has some wonderful pictures and information on hiking the trail. Click on the links below.
We had packed our backpacks pretty much with all the things we’d need for the hike and only had to make a few adjustments (add water to camel packs) before we set off to find the trail head. Now, I said I had something to warn you about and this is it. Make sure you do not leave your car lights on, interior lights, trunk light, and make sure that ALL your doors are completely closed. When we got back to our rental after four days on the trail and looking forward to having a showing in a few short hours only to find our rental dead, you can imagine the frustration that ensued. Not only because the car was dead but because we had no working phone, there was no On-Star on the vehicle (not that it would have worked there), and relatively no one around. Heed my warning, a door opened a quarter of an inch will drain your battery. Then you’re screwed!
The thing you’ll notice around my head is a Contour video camera that I had hoped to use on most of the hike. That didn’t work out so well. I bought an additional memory card and carried a solar panel backpack with me to charge the battery every day. That was the plan anyway. The new memory card would not work once I put it in the camera (which happened just as we got to the scales). I was pissed off. The plan was to take video along the way and then time lapse it together when completed. Four days on the trail in a five minute video. I thought it would have been pretty damn cool. This is a case of not using the equipment prior to leaving and leaving things to the last minute. I had almost a year to test everything and get the bugs out. I turns out the camera was defective and I had to return it but I would have known that if I’d done more testing with it. Live and learn I suppose. This leaves me without my time lapse video so I can either do the trail again (yikes!) or give it to someone doing the trail and ask them to do it for me, or live without it. Not sure what my plan will be yet.
I was going to attempt to post a couple of the videos that did work at the beginning of the hike–to the scales but they are too large to load onto the blog and I haven’t a clue how to edit them. I will though find some time this weekend to find a program that will edit them so that you can get an up-close view of what some of the hike was like. You’ll get me swearing, bitching, generally complaining, and a lot of my heavy breathing. What you may not get to see is how in awe I was of the overall beautiful scenery before me and the feeling of being blessed to be able to accomplish such a difficult hike. Bob, my hiking partner thought I hated it but I really didn’t. I was more peeved at myself for being unprepared and the camera not working. It’s even been long enough that I would contemplate doing it again!
The first day was hard. As I’ve said previously you really do need to know what your in for and though I was and am in shape, I certainly could have done more to prepare. These are the top things I would suggest doing prior to the hike.
• buy a backpack and wear it a lot. Start with 5 lbs in the pack and work your way up to 50 lbs.
• start with wearing the pack with weight for 1 hour and work your way up to 12 hours (seriously).
• adjust your backpack many times and make sure you’ve bought one, that one, fits your body, and two, is comfortable fully loaded with all your gear.
• make sure a few times before you go to pack your backpack with all the items you are planning on bringing, then repack, unpack, and repack again. This will help you know where everything goes every day you are on the trail and will help to determine if your pack fits and wears well with the items the way you’ve packed them. You may have to make adjustments, but better to figure them out before you go.
• talk to people that have hiked this trail and others to get all the information you need. Use the internet to assist you.
• buy hiking boots long before you leave and use them with the varying weight you are adding to your backpack. They should be well worn in by the time you leave and your feet should be adjusted to being in them for long periods of time with a heavy load on your back.
• go on hikes where you live, in your boots and with your pack.
There are many other things that will be on my final check list however based on my bad experience with my pack these are my top ones at the moment. Below are the boots I bought and I was very happy with them.
Click on this link to get a detailed description of the boots from Cabela’s website. They are advertised as light hiking or day hiking boots however they did me well on the trail (2014 Update- The boot advertised on the website is slightly different in color however they appear to be the same boot). They did get wet at one point through to my socks but in all fairness to the boots, it was during our hike from Sheep Camp to the Scales and we went through a lot of water that was fairly deep in some spots although the water level never crested the top of the boots. They were comfortable and kept my ankles from sliding around. Surprisingly, they came off the trail looking almost like new. I went through mud and water, and they were scraped on rocks and stood up to all that, so I would recommend them in a heartbeat.
Good socks are another must have item. I brought some thick black socks that worked well with my boots. I also brought a wool pair that my mom had knit me. Don’t bring wool socks! They left a huge rash up the calf of both my legs and though it wasn’t really itchy it was annoying for the last two days of the hike. I put all my bras, underwear, and socks into zip lock bags inside my pack however made a huge error when putting my back pack together. Army 101–line your back pack with a garbage bag and put everything inside into large zip lock or waterproof bags. You’d think I would have know this…duh! On the day we went over the summit the weather changed from sunny to slightly overcast, to down right miserable with light rain and mist falling on us. This pretty much went on for 8+ hours of hiking (even though our total time hiking this day was 11.5 hours!). I was soaked by the time we got to Happy Camp and almost everything in my pack was soaked. My sleeping bag included. This is not the way you want to arrive in Happy Camp. After 11.5 hours of hiking the last thing I wanted to do was climb into wet cold clothes and into a wet sleeping bag. A few things in my pack managed to stay dry and I was okay for the night, especially knowing we only had 2 more days to go and were heading into friendly weather. Do not rely on the water/rain cover that comes with your pack (don’t buy a pack unless it comes with one). Take the two seconds to line your pack with a large garbage bag or thick plastic bag and go to the dollar store and buy bags that have zippered top and put EVERYTHING in these bags. This cheap, non time consuming event will save you heartache and depending on the weather and time of year you go, your life. As the Parks Canada website points out, the weather on the trail can and does change all the time. Hiking in August can be just as unpredictable as hiking in June or July. There were many areas coming down from the summit where we were walking on snow–snow that was not ever going to melt during anytime of the summer. If you are soaking wet, tired and do not have dry clothing to change into or a dry sleeping bag you are risking your life.
As you can see from the photos above, the weather and terrain is significantly different than previous posted pictures. What the photos don’t show (that my video camera would have, had it been working) was how slick this snow was. There was a fine layer of crusty icy snow and when you took a step, neither of us was heavy enough to make this crusty layer crack enough to make it a stable step. Later, we walked across frozen glacier run off and it had the consistency of a dry slurpie or margarita. Maybe like dry ice. It was a fine texture and you could leave a foot print in it but you couldn’t get a grip with your footing when you walked on it. Walking poles are a must for various parts of the trail, not just the snow areas. I bought mine at Cabela’s for $10 bucks each and they worked great. They were on sale at the time and currently the website show’s a price of $29.99 USD each. If you’re a heavier person you will want to make sure that the poles you get can hold your weight. Not that you’ll be using them all the time but if you are about to fall and put a pole out to steady yourself you don’t want it snapping. It could be the difference between between hurt and/or falling down a sloping icy glacier into never never land (in some spots you would likely not survive falling off a cliff or into a deep crevasse).
I digress slightly in adding photos and jumping ahead but back to day one. We hiked the short 4.8 miles (7.7 km) to Finnegan’s point campsite. As it was our first day and we got a very late start we had booked in at Finnegan’s as the additional 3 miles to Canyon City would have gotten us there long past dark. To be honest, I was dead ass tired by the time we arrived. I also knew that it was only going to get more difficult as the hike continued and for me it was a night to contemplate whether I wanted to continue or head back to the car. The thought did cross my mind. There was no one at Finnegan as most people start the trail early and push to Canyon City, Pleasant Camp, or even Sheep Camp on the first night. As far as I was concerned this was good news. Why set up the tent when we can sleep in the warming shelter (technically you’re not supposed to though)! It had a door, there were bear lockers outside for our food and as it was the first night in the bush, I wanted to make sure I didn’t come face to face with a bear. I needed to acclimate to being in the wilderness.
Day one ended with a meal out of a bag, a bath in the cold river for Bob and a near sleepless night for me. Early the next morning (about 6am) we were up and getting breakfast ready when some day runners came by. They had started around 4:30 am from the trail head in Dyea. They had lightweight clothing on and small backpacks that contained only essential items. They stopped and ate small white potatoes they had boiled the day before. They said they kept to food with a high carbohydrate count during the first half of the run and would chow down on granola bars and items with sugar in them later when they needed that little extra energy. Makes sense. No use giving your body a lot of sugar only to have a sugar crash later. A few minutes with us and they were gone! We ate breakfast and had coffee (yes, I actually brought my glass Starbucks coffee press along with Starbucks coffee haha) and got ready to go. While washing our dishes I made the mistake of leaning over too far near the flowing river and kirplunk….my sunglasses fell from my shirt where they were hanging and into the rapids they went. Bob and I looked for them but alas nature had claimed her first item from me. Kicked myself in the butt for the next few day but surprisingly found a pair in Atlin, BC of all places the day after we got off the trail and I still have them!
Day 2 started off a little slower than day 1. We knew where we needed to make it to–Sheep Camp and from Finnegan Point and it was 7.8 miles (12.6 km). It was a long day and a variety of terrain. The gain from sea level is 1000 feet approximately from Finnegan Point to Sheep Camp and it is up and down. You can see on the map above or at Parks Canada.
I thought it was great how much information is provided along the way about the history of the trail and the various historic spots you encounter on the hike. The US historical society, along with Park Ranger and Canadian historical society and Park Warden’s do an excellent job of maintaining the trail and keeping hikers informed and safe. Although we only ran into one Canadian Warden on our way to Sheep Camp and had a safety talk and historical talk by the US Park Ranger at Sheep Camp, I found them both to be passionate about their work and friendly. The upkeep of the trail is apparently done by various crews on both sides of the border and as you can see in the photo’s, bridges and walking planks over stagnant water and swampy marshes were well maintained. As well, the Rangers and the Wardens mark the parts of the trail where most of us city folk would get lost. From the Scales to Happy Camp and between Happy Camp and Bennett you’ll find markers in the snow and rocks (see below) which are extremely helpful in the fog.
On the last day on the trail we hiked through forest areas where the path was not well worn. Along the way we saw large and small Inukshuks letting us know we were on the right path to Bennett. This one appeared to be decorated by someone who thought it was male and needed the family jewels. Again making the markers and placing them for hikers is done by dedicated workers that work on the trail year after year. It is important to note as well that on the trail between Sheep Camp and Happy Camp the markers in the stone and snow are continually being moved by the Rangers and Wardens as snow melts and rocks shift. What I noticed along the hike was as the snow recedes the markers in some areas must be moved up onto loose rock making, in my opinion, the hike much more treacherous. There were times when it seemed like we were walking almost sideways just trying to keep from sliding down the side of the hill over a cliff or into some freezing cold water.
This does beg the question; should you hike in the Chilkoot Trail in the early season when you’d be more likely to be walking on more snow, rather than steep inclines on the side of hills and mountains or during the peak season (end of July to end of August) when avalanche danger is considerably less? Based on my own experience hiking this trail, I would say it would have been easier in many areas walking on the snow (or climbing in some cases) however my fear of being buried alive overrides the small gain over pain. This will be a personal choice you will have to make when deciding what time of year you hike this trail.
We arrived at Sheep Camp around 4 pm I believe and encountered many people who had started the same day as us only very early in the morning and had spent their first night at Canyon City (we actually passed some of them in the morning at Canyon City. They were just waking up and we had already been on the trail for a couple of hours). I’d say there were probably about 30 hikers at Sheep Camp that night. Unless you are day hiking the trail or are physically fit enough to make it from Canyon City (for example) to Happy Camp, Sheep Camp is the camp site where most people spend the night before going over the pass the next morning. During the early season (avalanche season) it is imperative that hikers get an early start. You’ll also find this information along with avalanche notices on the Parks Canada website. Below are the avalanche flyers for the south and north sides of the trail where avalanche danger is present, sometimes all season long!
For a list of trail hazards click here.
The campsites at Sheep Camp appeared to be quite spread out. We had a fair distance to walk from our tent platform to the cooking/warming shelters but there were people who arrived after us that had a lot longer of a walk. Near the cooking/warming shelters was a shallow river area where everyone filled their water bottles. Most using some type of water filtration device. Bob had brought one but it seemed to take forever to fill the bottles. There appeared to be a variety of different makes but all meant to filter possible contaminated water into drinking water. Near the end of the hike we met some hikers who had not used a filtration system at all. They just made sure that when they filled their drinking items it was from a creek or river that had moving water. They said they had no issues and hadn’t felt sick once. If I was to hike the trail again I wouldn’t waste time with any of the filtration systems out there (just extra weight and room in the pack). The alternative (which Bob also brought) are water purification tablets. Each person will have an opinion on which they prefer. Each system has it’s own sets of pros and cons and then there are those that will just fly by the seat of their pants and risk using nothing. Alternatively, you can also boil your water however from a time perspective this is certainly the more time consuming way to go.
Coming into Sheep Camp you pass the sign below showing where to find the camp and Ranger Station. The Rangers live there for a set amount of time and then they go back to Skagway for their days off, rotating days in and days out. The Ranger gives the hikers the weather report on the way up to and over the summit. She let us know potential hazards currently on the trail and an interesting oral history of the Chilkoot Trail. You could tell that she was passionate about being a Ranger and ensuring hikers had a safe and informed hike.
Make sure to bring a pair of flip flops as I can assure you, there is nothing better than getting your tired dogs out of your hiking boots at the end of a hard, long day of hiking! No one cares what you look like on the trail so I opted for the fancy, generally frowned upon look of socks with my flip flops lol.
After spending the night at Sheep Camp, we got up very early (I think it was around 5 am), had chow and hit the trail for our longest, toughest day of the hike. As I noted above, at the start of the hiking season on the Chilkoot Trail starting early is a must to get out of the avalanche zone earlier in the morning. It is quite scary hiking through these areas (at least for me) thinking about an avalanche coming down. There was still snow on the peaks above us but the avalanche danger was very low. I think the thought of a possible avalanche would keep me from hiking the trail early in the season. Not the most pleasant way to depart life in my opinion but hiking early and having avalanche gear on you certainly decreases these risks.
The hike to the scales was beautiful and not too hard and the weather was sunny and warm. This was not to last though as by the time we hit the Scales the weather was cloudy, it was much cooler, and the rain was coming down in a slow drizzle. The mountains were socked in by some nasty looking weather that we were heading straight into.
As you can see on the Golden Stairs sign the journey was taken over the snow and once you see some of the photos below you’ll understand why it was probably easier on the snow than the steep, rough rocks that we went over in August. I would suggest that you spend a lot of time climbing hills and hiking locally where you live with your pack on. The biggest issues I had, that sent me into a full on panic attack (I didn’t know how I was going to finish the hike that day with my pack on) was having a pack that was too big for me and I did not adjust it or test it out before I left. If you are in good shape and confident in your abilities, the hike over the summit should not be so hard that you contemplate throwing in the towel half way up. With some expert advice from a hiking/backpack store and some preparation on your part, you should have a fantastic day. My issue was that the top part of my pack that sat on top of the main body kept hitting the back of my head and neck. My pack kept swinging from side to side when the top part shifted sending me left and right unexpectedly. A few times it caused me to lose my balance and fall on the rocks I was climbing. This can and was stressful, especially when you know you still have about 8 hours ahead of you! Do your part and learn from my terrible planning errors and test your pack loaded with your gear in many different terrains.
As you can see in the photos above the change in weather from Sheep Camp to the summit changed dramatically. I also did not have a cover for my pack and consequently almost everything in my pack was soaked by the time we arrived at Happy Camp. As I believe I stated above, line your pack with a garbage bag and invest in a backpack that comes with a cover, along with packing everything inside in large ziplock bags just to be on the safe side!
Once we reached the summit there was a warming shelter and a Warden’s station. We knew the Parks Warden was not there as she had been at Sheep Camp the night before visiting with the US Park Ranger. The shelter was a warm relief from the miserable elements we had just hiked through and a resting place for our weary bones. Make sure not to spend too much time there though as there is still many hours to go to get to Happy Camp. And though you are now descending the summit it is still very dangerous and can be a challenge. Not to mention you stiffen up very fast when your body is resting. On a not so funny note, there is a false summit that makes you think you are near the top. As you near it, it appears as though you’ve finally made it, only to get up to it and realize there is nothing there but more rocks to climb over. Very disheartening when you are so tired lol!
I cannot tell you how beautiful of a hike this was and all the scenery you will see and knowing that it has been untouched by humans (at least for now). It really is breathtaking! As you finally get down from the summit you’ll walk over snow fields that are slick to say the least and you should invest in a pair of walking poles. They will also be useful when you are walking on smaller rocks to help keep your footing. I got mine at Cabela’s on sale for $9.99 each. The extended so they were long enough for my height and collapsed for tying onto the side of my pack when not in use. Make sure you get ones that will be the right height for you and your body weight and again, test, test, test your equipment.
Here is the trail that led around a corner where we could see Happy Camp in the distance. Woohoo! Finally after 11.5 hours we saw the day’s end in sight.
Happy Camp is a very windy campsite that can make for difficult conditions when setting up your tent. There is warming shelter for eating and getting out of the elements but as this camp is usually where most people stop for the night after doing the summit, it can get quite busy in there. There were clothes hanging everywhere, drying out for the next day. The temperature was still quite cool so drying clothes outside was not an option.
There was plenty of flowing water down the hillside for washing up, dishes, brushing teeth, and filling water containers. It was an early night to bed that night (in a damp wet sleeping bag) and up early the next morning to get on with our hike.
On a side note, there was an older couple that had started a little earlier than us when we left Sheep Camp, that we passed a couple hours into our day. They were in their 60s and had done a lot of hiking previously HOWEVER, it took them until almost midnight to hike to Happy Camp. That is a 19 hour day!! Two young girls that had left Sheep Camp later than everyone else caught up with them at the summit and hiked the rest of the way with them to Happy Camp. The point is this; first, know your limits and again this goes back to prepare, prepare, prepare. Second, if you make it to the summit where the warming shelter is, you still have a long way to go. Even though the sun is up longer in the summer time, it will get dusky and dark at some point which can make for a treacherous and dangerous descent down from the summit. And although the information provided by Parks Canada says there is no over-nighting at this warming shelter –THEY ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE YOU LEAVE LATE IN THE DAY IF YOU CANNOT HIKE DOWN SAFELY!! Stay put and hike out in the morning. At some point your commonsense has to outweigh the rules and in this case, your safety is more important. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Leaving Happy Camp the next morning was exciting as the sky was blue and the weather looked nice ahead of us and I still had some drying out to do.
We had received a warning at Sheep Camp 2 days before that there were many bears between Happy Camp and Bennett. They advised that people travel in groups if possible and so we hooked up with a couple of great ladies and then we were four.
From Happy Camp we made our way the 8.5 miles to Bare Loon Lake. Along the way we would pass through Deep Lake and Lindeman City. We had originally booked a site a Lindeman City but decided if it was a good hiking day we would push on to Lindeman City so that our last day hiking would be the shortest and we wouldn’t have to worry about missing lunch and the train at Lake Bennett. A word of caution though. As hiking numbers can be high, sometimes the campgrounds will be booked up so check with a Warden (Canadian side) or Ranger (US side) if you find one to see if they can check to see if the campsite you want is full.
Deep Lake campsite is very small and has no warming shelter but it is a beautiful area. The photos below show us coming into Deep Lake and the walking bridge just before the camp.
Heading out of Deep Lake we ventured into a more forested area for quite some time. It was a nice change from being out in the wind but of course the bugs were worse as the weather had warmed up and there was a greater chance of accidentally walking up on a grazing bear. I dug out my bear bell and attached it to my pack and we all talked loudly. From Deep Lake it was 3 miles to Lindeman City. Lineman City is the largest of the campgrounds on both the US and Canadian side. There is a Canadian Warden’s station there, two warming shelters with stoves, outhouses, and lots of camping. There is also an interpretive center! From Lindeman City to Bare Loon Lake was only 3 more miles and it seemed like a good idea to keep going so that the next day we would only have 4 miles to Bennett instead of having to hike the 7 miles from our original campsite at Lindeman City. We wanted a relaxing last day of hiking. Below are pictures taken at Lindeman City where we stopped for a hot lunch in a fairly new warming cabin and Bob went and explored an old graveyard.
From Lindeman City we carried on to Bare Loon Lake where we would lay our heads to rest for the night. 3 more miles to go for the day! It was a great hike from Lindeman to Bare Loon Lake. Some up and downs, but nothing compared to what we had experienced the last couple of days. From here we were told to follow the Inukshuks that Wardens had constructed along the way. As the path was not always obvious and it would have easy to wander off the correct one, it was reassuring to have them. Sometimes they were far and few between and you had to have a watchful eye, but we always found the next one. The one directly below had some genitals added to it by somebody trying to be funny…apparently.
When we arrived at Bare Loon Lake there were quite a few people there already and some just getting set up. They had one outdoor but under over cooking and eating area but no warming shelter. The lake was a stones throw away and many were taking their first bath in a few days down at lake. I on the other hand chose to stay dirty and stinky until I had hot water and soap. Bare Loon Lake campsite is also used by those that arrive by Bennett by train and then hike to the Bare Loon Lake campsite. You still need to purchase camping and make reservations but it would be a fabulous 3-4 day trip or longer if you have time. I hope to get back there this summer the easy way (not over the summit). You can also take the train from Carcross on the Canadian side to Bennett and camp there as well or from Skagway to Bennett. Just remember to buy your permits and pay for camping, purchase your train tickets and have your passport with you if traveling from Skagway to Bennett. Below are some of the pictures from our night at Bare Loon Lake campsite. We also had the opportunity the hang some rope and put out our wet clothes to dry in the sun and warmth.
Almost everything dried out before the sun went down and got packed back up for the hike the next day, our final day of hiking and the day I got to shower (or so I thought, but that is another story).
The next morning we were not in much of a rush as we only had 4 miles to go to a hot meal and a long rest before the train picked us up. Again we followed the trail when there was one and the Inukshuks when there was not. We passed a trappers cabin that is still used and marked private property but the most interesting area we walked through was a sandy area that was like walking on a beach. I’m not sure why the sand was there, how it got there, or what caused it to be like that for about a mile or so. The photos are below. It made for some difficult walking with heavy packs on but it was a beautiful sunny, warm day that made it a second thought in my mind.
The sight of Bennett in the distance made me dance a little inside as I’d completed the hike but I was also a little sad that only a very few in the world will ever get to see such amazing rare beauty that the entire hike encompassed. As we hiked with our modern gear and emergency services, and everyday conveniences we certainly take for granted, I couldn’t help but appreciate what those that spent their life savings trekking to find gold in the Klondike went through to get there, if they made it at all. The photos and stories are available through books available at Amazon and other book sellers and many have great detail about what was required by each person going over the pass and the many difficulties they encountered. After completing this hike I can’t even imagine how hard they had it during the Gold Rush. Kudos to those that had the gumption to at least take the first step towards their dream.
Below are photos taken in and around the Bennett area where the train station is, a campground, the old St. Andrews Church, and again some fantastic scenery.
After a hot lunch (that you can purchase when you book your ticket from the train ride from Bennett back to Skagway or to Carcross) we waited for the train to arrive with their day passengers heading to Skagway that stop in Bennett for lunch and a little walking tour, to take us back to Skagway. Please remember that you must book your train ride out of Bennett in advance and pick it up the day you pick up your hiking permits. Contact the White Pass & Yukon Route for more information or click here. Remember, all times posted are in Alaska time which is one hour behind Yukon or Pacific time zone.
Below are some of the photos taken on the train ride back to Skagway from Bennett. That officially ends Hiking the Chilkoot Trail. I would recommend it to anyone that is in relatively good shape, has a desire to do this type of activity, and is willing to put in some time to prepare properly. For those that would prefer a scenic hike but a little less demanding (especially on summit day), I would suggest taking the train to Bennett and hiking to Bare Loon Lake or Lindeman City, or even Deep Lake (all on the Canadian side and do not require a passport).
I did not cover this topic previously however I feel I need to say PETS DO NOT BELONG ON THE CHILKOOT TRAIL HIKE!! A dog will not save you from a bear and they are not a deterrent from wildlife. They can get dehydrated like humans and can suffer exhaustion. There are some very steep and rocky areas that are difficult for even a dog to traverse. We saw a few on the trail but I thought it was very selfish of the owners to bring them. Keep this in mind if you decide to bring a larger dog with you. If your dog is injured on the trail (especially going over the pass), you will either have to leave your dog to die alone and in pain or remove your pack (which contains gear you need to survive) so you can carry him/her (although good luck with a 100 lb dog). This is no decision that an animal lover wants to make, but the possibility of it happening is great in wet, slippery, or snowy conditions. You will have to live with that so leave your dogs at home with a loving pet sitter.
Below are pictures from the return trip from Bennett to Skagway on the White Pass & Yukon Route train. Fabulous trip. If you have any question please contact me from the contact page. I’d be happy to answer questions if I can. You can also leave a comment here and I’ll answer you.