Chilkoot Trail, Day 2

2 08 2013

I awoke to a rustling sound outside of the tent.

Bill! I whispered as loudly as I could so I would wake him but not the other campers.

There’s something outside our tent. Get the flashlight!

That we needed a flashlight meant if was probably somewhere between 11pm and 3am, though again I was clueless about time. I also don’t know why I didn’t tell him to grab the bear spray, which I insisted be kept in the tent at night.

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**more soft rustling**

Bill turned the flashlight on and directed it towards my pack, which was right outside our “door”. There, a small dark blob, about 2 inches long skittered across my pack. With a slight chuckle, Bill told me it was a little shrew. Phew. I was very thankful it wasn’t a bear. However, I wasn’t 100% relieved. What was in my bag that attracted the little guy? If he can smell something, I’m sure a bear could as well!

I was able to fall back asleep after a little while, but I definitely woke up several times throughout the night.

We had planned to get up around 5:15am so that we could be out of camp by 6:00am as the rangers had suggested. It was somewhere a little before 5 I think when we actually did wake up. The sun was already out and we had gone to sleep before 9pm, so we were pretty well rested and excited about today- summit day!

IMG_2282Bill started to break down camp, while I ran to the bathroom, since I had been too scared to go in the middle of the night.

On the Chilkoot, there are outhouses at the campsites.

IMG_2285On the US side, the outhouses are stocked with toilet paper (wahoo!) and wood chips. Without going into too much detail, campers are asked to throw down wood chips when they’re done, because the waste is composted. I’m not quite sure how the uh “fertilizer” is retrieved, but I know at some sites a helicopter flies in…

Anyhow, we broke down camp and headed to the food area for our breakfast of bagels and nut butter (for me) or cheese (for Bill).

IMG_2286Mini maple cinnamon bagels-yum!

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The bandana crew 🙂

And, we’re off! Summit, here we come!

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The area between Sheep Camp and the Summit was actually the danger zone for avalanches.

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You could tell when you had arrived in an area that had once been destroyed by an avalanche. The surroundings changed from this:

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to this:

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It was NOT recommended to stop and hang around on these sections of the trail. Though the avalanche warning had been lifted, anything could still happen. The sun was shining brightly and the snow was melting- we didn’t want to be around if just the right patch of snow/ice decided to break off.

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As we got higher up the mountain, we started to see some of the pieces of history left behind from the gold rush.

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As we gained elevation, the hike definitely became more challenging. There were a lot more rocks that we were climbing up and over, and we came to our first “snow bridge”.  It’s been awhile since I’ve seen snow, so I was kind of excited when I saw it. I was certainly singing a different tune when I saw snow later in the day…

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We also encountered our first real water crossing.

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I bounced from stone to stone, trying to avoid as much of the water as possible. Though my shoes claimed to be waterproof, I’m smart enough to know that they’re only waterproof to a point. I didn’t want to march right through the water just yet, I’d try to keep them as dry as possible for as long as possible.

This part of the trail definitely had some of the best views.

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We encountered more snow bridges and more rock climbing- more than once I asked, “Are we on the golden staircase yet?”

IMG_2331We found our way through the snow and rocks, thanks to handy trail markers, like these rock formations:

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IMG_2338It was crazy to look back and see how far we’ve come- and to know that we weren’t even at the top yet!

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If you’re able to zoom in on the picture above, you can see other hikers a little below center, on the left hand side.

We looked ahead and finally spotted what we were assuming was the Golden Staircase. The Golden Staircase was the nickname for the part of the trail leading up to the summit. If the stampeders could just make it over this nearly 45° incline and to the other side, they would be on their way to the gold!

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See the trail markers in the foreground? Life savers!

We still had quite a ways to go, so we kept trucking along.

We finally arrived at “The Scales,” a place where the stampeders would reweigh their loads- they were required to carry 2000 pounds over the pass- before they could head over the summit. Here many gold hopefuls discarded much of their equipment and turned back, discouraged by the treachery of the trail.

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We spotted a friendly little marmot exploring the goods.

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We looked ahead, knowing that the staircase wasn’t so far off anymore. There’s actually a person on the staircase on the picture below.

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We crossed another snow bridge and we were at the base of the staircase. Gulp. This was no joke. I was going to be doing some rock climbing- which I’ve never done in my life! Bill is quite experienced when it comes to rock climbing, so he told me the basic rule- don’t move a hand or a foot until the other three are firmly planted. Make sure to get a positive handhold before moving to the next one.

I looked back one more time at how far we’d come. The group we’d passed at the river crossing was still pretty far behind. I’ve gotten this far, now I just need to get up to the top!

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(looking back, you can see other hikers)

I slowly but surely started to move up the mountain, but I was scared as heck. I began breathing heavy and tried to hold back my tears. What if I fall backwards? What if I can’t find another good hand hold? Where do I go next?

I began to doubt myself.

Bill positioned himself behind me, so that he could help me in any way possible. He stopped me, and calmly asked if I was breathing hard because I was scared or because I was winded. Definitely scared. He reassured me that everything was going to be just fine; that he was there to help me and that I was draining myself of energy by getting anxious.

People who we had passed on the trail earlier had made it to the golden staircase and were easily making their way up, past us, and on to the top.

If they can do it…

Finally, I’m not quite sure how, I made it to the top.

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The view was incredible! We were SO LUCKY to get a clear day!

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People we met along the trail who had hiked it before said that they never knew this sign was up at the top! It had always been too foggy for them to see!

We didn’t hang out for too long because it was starting to get windy and chilly. We also knew that we were only half way- the descent can often be worse than the climb, and we weren’t sure what to expect from the descent.

IMG_2363We were welcomed into Canada with a snow covered trail. It was windy and the sun had hidden behind some clouds, so we crossed it quickly and made it to the warming station to refuel and warm up.

IMG_2366We filled our bellies with more bagels and cheese as well as some trail mix and gummy bears- gummy bears were an AWESOME idea- before hitting the trail again.

We were just asking ourselves if we had missed the big saw blade we saw in so many pictures from the trail when we discovered it right under our noses!

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We also got a fabulous picture with Crater Lake in the background:

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Then, things started to get a little sketchy. The mountain was still snow covered (actually only 40%, but it was definitely enough) along the trail and it was a little icy. I wish I had taken a photo, but the trail ahead was a snow bridge, at least 100 yards long, and it was along the side of the mountain. There was snow to my right, all the way up the side of the mountain. There was snow to my left, down the mountain, for about 40 feet or so, before it had melted away and large rocks showed. Beyond the rocks was a long way down to the lake. Believe me, you did NOT want to fall down. Bill had been wearing his Luna sandals for the entire trail so far, but this patch of trail was too dangerous (and cold) for his sandals. He switched into his Merrels, and followed behind me, lightly holding onto my pack in case I were to fall. We worked together, slowly making our way across the icy trail. I was trying to dig my heel in first to make a “step” but unfortunately my shoes were not doing a good job. Instead, I put my foot down, and then, moving my foot back and forth, I used the side of my shoe to make a step. I had my trekking pole in my left hand, the side closest to the drop, and my right hand was free so that I could lean towards the mountain and try to grab the snow if I needed to.

We hadn’t gone very far when another couple that had been in the warming station with us passed by. They had proper footwear and a set of trekking poles each. They offered their poles to us, but we declined; I think it was more that we needed foot traction rather than poles. They did however, say they’d make steps with their feet for us to follow behind.

Though we were still moving slowly and cautiously, we followed in their footsteps and that helped a lot. I think at this point I started saying that I would rather be doing a half ironman than what were were currently doing! Bill asked me if I was still happy to see snow. I was too focused to laugh so I snapped, “no.”

Finally, we made it to the end of the snow bridge (for now).

We were out of water, so we stopped at the lake to get some.

IMG_2376I sat behind a rock to block the wind while Bill ran to the chilly water to fill up. When he got back, we looked up and realized that we probably hadn’t chosen the safest place to fill up. It certainly looked like prime avalanche territory.

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So, we put our camelbaks away and got back to the trail.

The next section of the trail included water crossings. A LOT of water crossings. And more snow. ARGH!

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The water crossings became so frequent and in a lot of cases, it was probably more dangerous to try and hop from rock to rock to avoid getting wet, that eventually I just started to walk through them with Bill. When the water was running pretty hard, we held hands and walked across together. The water was never higher than my ankles, but my shoes definitely got wet. The water went over the sides and seeped into my socks. Awesome.

We stopped for a snack in a safer spot, and I changed socks while Bill warmed up his feet (he had put his sandals back on!).

IMG_2387My shoes were soaked, inside and out, and I really didn’t want to put my freshly dried and warm feet into my shoes. So, Bill busted out his “ultra-light dry sock kit” aka baby powder and plastic bags.

IMG_2388It actually worked pretty well! Unfortunately, one of the bags had a hole in it, so eventually water seeped in, but my feet stayed pretty dry for the rest of the day, even after more water crossings!

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We were so relieved when we reached Happy Camp (mile 20.5). It was a little windy still, but now that we were at a little lower elevation, it was a bit warmer. We went to the warming hut to rest and refuel, where we met two couples. We chatted with them for a little while, and they told us it was only 2pm (I don’t remember if it was 2 Alaska time, or 2 Yukon time though). We had initially planned on staying there for the night, but since it was so early and the sun was shining, Bill and I decided to head on to Deep Lake, the camp at mile 23. Staying at Happy Camp would have left us with an 8.5 mile hike on Day 3. Moving on to Deep Lake would make Day 3 a bit easier- only a 6 mile hike.

So after spending a good 45 minutes or so in the warming hut, we packed up and headed out. We weren’t sure if anyone else had headed out or if most of the hikers would stay at Happy Camp. Regardless, we had a 2.5 mile hike to go.

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The first part of the trail, right out of camp, was a little tricky. The path was narrow and rocky, and if you fell, you would tumble 6-10 feet into the sparkling blue lake that was probably FREEZING. The trail widened some, and it grew a little less rocky. Remember how I felt the last 2.5 miles on day 1? That’s exactly how I felt for these last 2.5 miles. When would we reach camp? These were the longest 2.5 miles ever. Bill and I were both getting tired, our feet hurt, and I was starting to get grumpy. Bill tried to be funny at one point, and I wasn’t having it. I was so over walking; I just wanted to sit down at camp!

Finally, we saw the sign:

IMG_2404Just over the bridge was camp! We finally made it!

We were the first ones in camp, and as we were setting up, we wondered if we were going to be the only ones there for the night. I was kind of scared about being the only ones there all night, but about an hour or so after we had arrived, a family of three arrived. I (internally) breathed a sigh of relief and went to fetch some water for dinner.

On the menu for tonight: Chicken Tortilla Soup!

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The soup was definitely yummy, but it uh, stayed with us all night if you know what I’m saying…

Anyhow, as we were wrapping up our dinner, the family joined us in the eating area for their meal. We ended up chatting with them for quite awhile- Julie, Jared and son Trevor were from Juneau, and Julie and Jared had hiked the trail several times before. It was Trevor’s first time (he’s headed into 8th grade) and we enjoyed sharing stories from the trail so far with each other. By the time we had finished eating, it was starting to get chilly, so we headed back to our tent to change and get ready for bed. It was still light out, but we were beat! What an exhausting but rewarding day! It was crazy to think of how far we’d come today, physically, mentally and emotionally.  I put on my eye mask and curled into my sleeping bag. I was SO ready for an “easy” day tomorrow!

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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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