July 6th chilkoot trail today we took the ...

Trip Start Jul 06, 1999
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Trip End Jul 11, 1999


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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Wednesday, July 7, 1999

July 6th, Chilkoot Trail

Today we took the shuttle to the trailhead and hiked 13 miles to our first campsite. The plan was that we'd do the longest stretch on the first day because it's usually on the second day that you're stiff from unaccustomed exercise and we planned to do the steepest part of the climb on Day 2. We figured that we didn't want to do any more distance than necessary on Day 2 as the recommendation is to allow 10 hours for the 8 mile hike between Sheep Camp (the last campsite before the stretch which includes the summit and so named because hunters of mountain sheep used to camp there) and Happy Camp (the first campsite after the summit). We made good time on the first 5 miles until Finnigan's Point where we took our first break but were mighty glad to see Canyon City where we were stopping for lunch. Many people, we found out later, break up the 13 miles by stopping at Canyon City for the first night and then going on to Sheep Camp on Day 2 and not tackling the summit until Day 3. Not us though...
It was on the second leg of the hike that we were besieged by mosquitoes. I generally don't use insect repellant - I heard years ago (so I don't remember the source unfortunately) that it takes seven minutes from the topical application of bug spray for traces of it to be detectable in your urine and that's always freaked me out - but in this case I had to give in. I'm sure everyone's familiar with the way mosquitoes buzz you and follow you in a small cloud? Well, every other time I swung my arm back, when I swung it forward again there would be a mosquito on it. Ugh! So I used the Muskol we'd brought and I have to admit, it worked very well.
Part of the point of hiking the Chilkoot Trail is its historical significance. It was the trail taken across the Rockies during the Klondike Goldrush. Each person taking it had to have a year's worth of supplies, which amounted to about a ton of goods brought in over multiple (about 55) trips, in order to be let into Canada. A lot of people bringing goods along the trail discarded things they'd used to live on while they were hiking such as tin cans, or things which broke enroute or goods they'd just pitch to lighten their load. These artifacts are still found along the trail and it is forbidden to disturb them. In fact, the American side has been designated a 15 mile long outdoor museum. There is a suspension bridge which crosses the river at Canyon City which leads to the original site of the camp where the Klondike Goldrush people stopped over. There is a sign at the bridge saying that packs shouldn't be left unattended since it's bear country so we should take them with us if we were going to cross to see the artifacts. It did not, however, let on that the site is quite a way along the trail on the other side of the bridge. After hiking along it for about 15 minutes without reaching anything, we figured that we'd already gone far enough since we'd just added half an hour to our hiking time and our packs were around 50 pounds each. I left Dad with the packs and jogged on ahead to see if we were close and it still took me another 5 minutes to reach the first sign of the city which was just a rusted cookstove. I went back and told Dad that it was pretty far to see anything significant so we decided to turn back and finish the hike.
As it turned out, Jay and his friends were about 15 minutes behind us and did the same thing only they turned back because a large bear was blocking the trail. It must have come along right after we'd left. Good timing on our part.
The scenery was beautiful, however, you had to remind yourself to look up from the trail occasionally or you'd miss some of the best views. Generally, you'd have to stop to do this since the trail demanded your full attention if you didn't want to miss your footing. The first day we were in forest for most of the day so there weren't a lot of places to stop and look around, particularly if we wanted to make the camp in reasonable time. We did have to stop occasionally for breaks and to pump water through our filter to replenish our supply so we had chances to look around. We got into camp around 6 pm, set up the tent, made dinner, cleaned up, and hung our food from the bearpoles. By 8 o'clock almost everybody in the camp were in their tents because we'd been told that we should leave as early as possible the next day so that the snow wouldn't be too soft yet when we got to it. We met some of our fellow hikers while we were making dinner and they included a couple from rural Manitoba that had dreamed of doing this hike for years, and a group of Italians who were having a leisurely 3 hour dinner and had the most bizarre (at least to us North Americans) camping supplies. It seemed odd that they'd pack in food like fresh tomatoes (both heavy and easily damaged) and then peel them before eating them (you had to pack out all your garbage and who wants wet garbage?) but that paled in comparison to, believe it or not, the WOODEN CHAIRS they'd brought to sit on. Dad also noticed umbrellas strapped to their packs. One of them had gashed his head and had a bloody bandage on it and bright pink antibiotic liquid had dripped from it down the side of his head before drying. They were all in high spirits though and it didn't look as though they were even a bit tired. That's more than can be said for me. I was a bit stiff and devoutly grateful I'd done some training at the gym prior to the hike. I go to the gym regularly anyway but in order to prepare specifically for the Chilkoot, I'd loaded my backpack with 50 pounds of lead shot and dive weights and taken it to the gym. There I wore it on the stepmachines, the treadmill (which I set the incline on as high as it would go) and the stepmill (picture a small escalator which you endlessly climb up instead of riding down on). This definitely helped me out as my leg muscles didn't cause me any real problems, even after 13 miles.
Tomorrow the summit!
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