Posted by: cherylyoung | December 30, 2012

Day 9 of 50 things to love about B.C

Day 9 of 50 things to love about B.C



By Francis Backhouse

As I ascend the golden Stairs, the most famous section of the Chilkoot Trail, the rain lashes my back, plastering my clothes to my body.

My fleece goves are soaked from steadying myself against the web rocks, and my sodden wool cap sags over my eyebrows, trickling water down my face.

With my legs protesting the effort of propelling body and packs up a near-vertical boulder field, my heart drums in my chest and I take in oxygen in large, desperate swigs.

You could say I like learning about history the hard way.


Originally a trade route for the coastal Tlingit and inland Tagish peoples, the chilkoot Trail gained international renown as a gold-rush route during the final three years of the 19th century.

Some 20,000 to 30,000 Klondike-bound fortune seekers used it to cross the Coast Mountains and search the headwaters of the Yukon river.

Today, it is a world-class backpacking route co-managed by Parks Canada and the U.S National Park Service as part of Klondike Gold Rush International Historic Park.







The trail begins in Alaska at Dyea, near Skagway and ends 53 Kilometres later at the ghost town of Bennett, British Columbia.

It provides three distinct ecosystems-coastal rainforest, alpine tundra and boreal forest-while travelling from the sea-level trailhead to Hillkoot Pass at some 1.100 metres, and back down to Bennett at 650 metres.

In the peak season between May and September each year, about 2.500 backpackers come to walk in the footsteps of the Klondike stampeders.

Their stories come alive when you’re struggling over the same terrain or admiring the same spectacular scenery, and there are tangible vestiges of the past scattered along the route, from horseshoes and bred tines to the remains of an aerial tramway that once paralleled the golden stairs.

When tens of thousands of ill-prepared gold hunters started to converge on Dawson City in 1897, North-West Mounted Police were posted at the Chillkoot summit-the boundary between Canada and the U.S.

An order signed November 18,1898, by legendary NWMP officer Samuel Steele decreed that no person would be permitted to enter the territory without either two months’ provisions and at least $500.00 cash, or six months provisions and $200.00 casth.

For gold seekers, that translated into weeks or months of work to move their supplies in stages from Dyea to Bennett.


These days, backpackers hike the trail in three to five days., camping in the same place where the prospectors stopped.

A half dozen small communities sprang up along the Chilkoot Trail during the gold rush and were just as quickly abandoned.

Of these, Bennett has the most visible reminders of the past, including a picturesque wooden church and a cemetery with few lonely grave.

At the end of my backpacking trip, as I wait for the train that will return me to Skagway, I wander through the old townsite and think about those who passed this way en route to the Klondike.

Although few ended up with the riches they had dreams of, many stampeders forever recalled their journey ofer the Chilkoot Trail as an adventure of a lifetime.  More than a century later, it still is.


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