Chilkoot Trail, Day 1

31 07 2013

It’s taken me three posts about my trip so far to get me to my first full day of hiking. I guess I really am being wordy…I hope you’re still with me!

In case you missed them:

Made it to Alaska!
A Little Mix Up
Chilkoot Trail, Getting to the Trailhead

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Our plan for the day was to hike 12.7 miles to Happy Camp, the last camp before the summit. Despite our late start, I figured we’d be in camp by about 6:00pm or so, with plenty of sunlight to spare. Not even a minute into our hike, we stopped to put on some bug repellent. The ranger was right when she said the bugs were out. It was no worse than the mosquitoes we encountered on our first practice hike, but they were definitely everywhere. We sprayed ourselves down with some deet and rubbed on some Natrapel before going any further.

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Looking at the elevation map, I didn’t think it would be too much of a challenge to get to Happy Camp. Yes, it was further than I had ever hiked before, but I’ve run a half marathon before, and my pack only weighed in at 23.5 pounds (quite a feat after seeing some of the other packs on the trail!) It couldn’t be too bad, right?

IMG_2176Unfortunately the first quarter mile was filled with lots of steps. Whether they were logs and mud or rocks, there were a lot of up and downs in that first part of the trail. I very quickly came to appreciate my trekking pole to help me on some of those steep steps.

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And Bill. He would often turn back to lend me a hand to help me up some tricky spots. He was absolutely wonderful on this hike-I can’t imagine a better hiking partner!

I started to doubt that I was prepared for this trail, and thought how much longer it would take us to get to camp if the entire 13 miles were like this. Thankfully, the climbs petered out, and we trekked through lush forest and flooded valleys, which thankfully had bridges and wooden walkways for the hikers.

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The trail was very quiet. Shortly after we began our hike we passed a family heading in the opposite direction of us, clearly day hikers. A little while later we came upon a family of four, who we leap frogged with for a bit before passing them for good around mile 5. We saw one other guy setting up camp at Canyon City (mile 7.8),  but other than that, we didn’t see anyone else until we made it to our destination for night 1.

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By the way, I should mention that it was probably in the low to mid seventies throughout the day. It was clear and warm, maybe even a bit too warm for hiking, but I would rather have warm than freezing!

Bill and I kept a pretty steady chatter, partially to alert bears (if any) of our presence, but mostly because we like to talk to each other:-) We did run across a few piles of bear poo and a stick with what I’m pretty sure was bear fur.

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We definitely picked up our pace and got out of that area as quickly as we could.

Several sections of the trail further in teased us again with steps. Up and down, up and down.

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I began to despise steps, but I was often reminded of how awesome it was that I was here, healthy, and capable of marching up and down this historic trail, surrounded by so much beauty.

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Right around Pleasant Camp (mile 10.5) Bill and I both ran out of water. So, we stopped and filled up at the river, snacking while we waited for the purification chemicals to do their thing.

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We were already feeling pretty tired by the time we reached Pleasant Camp, but we knew the end was nearby- only 2.5 miles from Sheep Camp, our camp for the night. I was thinking, 2.5 miles? No problem! Um, no. I’m pretty sure these were the longest 2.5 miles ever.  It wasn’t that the terrain was any more challenging than before, I just think we were exhausted and mentally OVER walking.

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In Day 1, we put more miles on our feet with a pack on than our two practice hikes combined (probably not the best idea, btw). I nearly squealed for joy when I saw the sign that we were less than a mile from Sheep Camp.

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Finally, probably a little after 6, maybe closer to 7 (I didn’t wear a watch and I turned my phone off), we arrived in Sheep Camp. We were one of the last people to arrive, followed only (as far as I could tell) by the family we passed back at mile 5.

IMG_2273This wooden platform would be our campsite for the night. Each of the campsites had platforms like this so that campers wouldn’t destroy the vegetation. Bill was able to set up our tent without any major difficulties (phew), and we headed down to the warming shelter/cooking area for dinner. When you camp in bear country, they make it very clear that you sleep and eat in two different places.

Tonight’s menu: Mac N Cheese with summer sausage on the side.

IMG_2279After a long day of hiking, I thought the mac n cheese tasted SO good. Bill was a bit disappointed, since preparing mac n cheese on the trail is a bit different than eating his beloved comfort food at home. We still polished off two boxes and the entire sausage. Hiking makes you hungry!

After dinner, we packed away our food and “smellables” (aka scented toiletries) in a bear bag and put it in the bear locker. We were prepared to string a bear bag up in a tree, but lockers were provided at just about every campsite.

IMG_2287Exhausted, we hit the sack shortly after dinner. It was still fully light out, sunset several hours away. I put on my eye mask and tried to fall asleep. Tomorrow is a big day.





Chilkoot Trail, Getting to the Trailhead

29 07 2013

We woke up bright an early on Wednesday morning, partly because we knew we had a lot to do that morning, and partly because the sun rises at like 4am and my body was still on East Coast time. We headed to the lobby to check out and grab some breakfast, but the hotel restaurant was pretty crowded and we didn’t have a ton of time until our cab arrived to take us to the airport. So we walked a few blocks to Silverbow, an Inn and bakery, which I only knew about from sharing a cab with the family the night before.

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Going to Silverbow was SUCH a good idea! Carbo loading the day I was about the hike 13 miles? Heck yes!

IMG_2134Bill and I each ordered an egg and cheese bagel. Silverbow claimed to have the best cookies in Juneau, so I grabbed one of their Moka Choka cookies too.

IMG_2133So. Good. It was hard for me to save it for the trail!

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We devoured our breakfast and hopped into our cab to the airport. The cab driver was actually a teacher, who was working to make some extra cash for the summer. Juneau is an expensive place to live, so she was doing what she could to make a few extra bucks.

We were flying Wings of Alaska, which is a tiny airline that flies into the small towns all over southeast Alaska. One of the most popular forms of transportation in Alaska is small aircraft, which is exactly what we would be boarding to get to Skagway.

IMG_2139The plane had seats for 10 people, including the pilot and copilot. Guess who was the copilot for today’s trip?

IMG_2141Yup, that would be yours truly! I kept my hands OFF of all of those controls while our pilot safely flew us over the ice fields between Juneau and Skagway.

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Besides the beautiful snow topped mountains, we also saw plenty of greenery, lakes, waterfalls, and even a whale in the water below!

When we arrived in Skagway, Bill’s friend Nathan picked us up from the airport. Skagway is the definition of a small town, so the airport was literally less than a 5 minute drive to downtown, where we needed to pick up our alternative solution for a tent, our permits to hike, and our train tickets to get back to Skagway when we finished the hike. We also needed to pick up some bear spray and alcohol for our stove, since the box we sent several weeks earlier with these supplies hadn’t yet arrived.

Bill and I had decided that our best and cheapest option would be to purchase some tarp and lines to make a tarp tent. So, he headed to the mountain shop for some extra line and our bear spray. He’d pick up the tarp at the hardware store after we got our permits. Next, we stopped at the trail information center to check in, get our permits settled, and hear about the trail conditions.

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(the 18th was our summit day, the day we would cross into Canada)

The rangers went over permit conditions, and prepped us on what we could expect to see out on the trail. All Bill and I needed to hear was: “A lot of hikers have been saying how bad the mosquitoes have been. It’s been the worst season for bugs in years…” and “Once you get past the summit, there are patches of ice; we highly recommend trekking poles.” before we looked at each other and decided that we were keeping the Squall and buying a set of trekking poles. I stayed and listened to the rest of the ranger’s talk, which included that the avalanche warning had been lifted (HOORAY!), while Bill went back to the mountain shop.

By this time it was getting close to 11:30, so we stopped at a coffee shop for our final “real” meal before Nathan dropped us at the trailhead. It was finally time to start the hike.

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A Little Mix Up

26 07 2013

IMG_2171I could easily start this post with my first full day in Alaska, our first day on the trail. However, I would be leaving out an important detail about the trip.

So, if you watched our video about the gear we were bringing, Bill mentioned our tent was the Henry Shires Moment DW. A little confession: we had ordered the tent a few weeks prior to the trip and due to backorders, it actually arrived on the Friday before I left. Bill was already in Alaska, so I was just going to bring it. I honestly had no idea how to set it up and I didn’t want the kitties to put claw holes in it, so I left it in its bag and brought it as is. When I arrived on Tuesday evening, Bill opened up the tent to  set it up (I know, I know, it’s NOT a good idea to go into a hike with gear you haven’t actually tried out before).

“Uh Steph, I don’t think this is the tent we ordered.”

“Huh? No way, let’s look at the instructions.”

Sure enough, the tent was the Squall 2- a tent that required a trekking pole to set up, which was exactly the reason Bill hadn’t ordered it in the first place…

We both looked at each other with an “oh crap” look on our faces. At somewhere after 11pm, and a flight to Skagway scheduled for 8:45 am, our options were clearly limited. Ever the problem solver, Bill immediately started to toss out ideas for how we might get by.

Option A: Buy a tarp at the hardware store and some extra lines at the mountain shop in Skagway and make a tarp tent. This would probably be the cheapest option, but the biggest downfall was that neither of us had practice setting up a tarp tent and if it was buggy, we had no insect shield.

Option B: Rent a tent from the mountain shop in Skagway and send back the Squall asap. This would probably cost a little more than the tarp tent, but it would probably be a lot more weight than we were expecting to carry.

Option C: Purchase a set of trekking poles and go with the Squall. Trekking poles can be expensive, and we hadn’t really planned on needing them, so this was definitely our last option.

We went to bed mulling over the options, and hoped it would all workout tomorrow.

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