THE CHILKOOT TRAIL (Historic Alaska Information)
As we ascended Lynn Canal to its head we came to a fork. On the left prong was Healey's Post, or Dyea of old. Near by is Haines, and a wharf ready to fall, and a little below it Fort William H. Seward, a nicely kept barracks with about 1 00 soldiers, and one of the most beautiful spots on the coast. The tourist should climb some elevation here and look over the Fairweather Range; the view excels the choicest of Switzerland. On the right fork was Skagway.
In the early days, when gold fever was most feverish, some disembarked on the left fork and cooled their fever in crossing through this valley and over the Chilkoot; others landed on the right fork at the foot of White Horse Trail, and just as effectively cooled their's that way.
The Chilkoot Trail was best known, and first used. Schwatka went over in 1883, naming the pass "Perrier Pass," after a Frenchman of that name. At the same time he named Lake Lindeman in honor of Dr. Lindeman of Bremen Geographical Society. He reached the summit in about six days. Although his is the first official exploration, nevertheless it had been crossed by others, who had made some report of it before, including Arthur Krause, also Bean in 1878.
This pass was the highway for Indian trade between the coast and interior Indians from time immemorial.
From the landing on Lynn Canal to Sheep Camp was twelve miles up the valley of this Dyea Inlet, up which small canoes could be rowed, poled or pulled, and these were often used to assist in drawing the freight up most of the way.
The trail crosses and recrosses the stream, and in its icy water the gold fever found its first chill as the victim waded, stumbled and scrambled through the swife rapids and over the round glacial stones which covered river bottom and valley.
In the near proximity to Sheep Camp was and is a dirty Indian village. But its population of men, squaws, children and dogs took a prominent part in the now historical stampede.
Many of these Indians could carry one hundred and fifty pounds to the summit easier than some of the gold seekers could crawl up without any load. The usual load was one hundred pounds; strong Indians more; squaws, children and dogs accordingly less. They charged from ten to twenty-five cents a pound.
Now stories are told about strong Indians taking more than two hundred pounds to the summit on their backs. In one instance an organ weighing two hundred and twenty pounds; and in another a barrel of pitch weighing two hundred and forty-five pounds, which is the best record as told to me by a personal friend, who was an eye-witness.
The last half of the trail to Sheep Camp (so named by pioneer hunters who killed some sheep there) is in the side of the bluff several hundred feet above the stream. But the climb does not commence in earnest until we leave Sheep Camp.
This is the timber or snow line. A glacier hangs on either side and the streams from each unite here. On every hand is evidence that these glaciers once were one and discharged in the canal at Dyea. Some portion of the glacier has receded several miles above the Camp, and there now groans, roars and discharges ice and water near the trail. It is one of the rear guards of the retreating Malaspina Snow Cap, of which there are many visable on this side of the Fairweather Range, including Muir, Davidson and Bertha.
Looking backward from Sheep Camp we behold the glacier-worn, stone-covered valley of the Dyea River, up which came the tens of thousands of Klondike adventurers in 1897-8. In the mad rush some overloaded, inexperienced or reckless drowned in this river before reaching this point. Others became so footsore, homesick, or discouraged that they returned; still others had no provisions, some no money to employ the pack Indians, and after trying a few days to carry their own supplies (usually a ton) up to the pass in relays, abandoned the adventure and returned home.
From here, looking upward, it seems that a barrier is built to the clouds; and so it is. For almost four miles we "scratch gravel," pull each other, look for shrubs to hold onto, cling to the rocks, and climb, climb, climb until you would think the perspiration and profanity would melt the snow-covered trail. Looking back again, we see that we have ascended almost a half mile upward, and looking toward the summit, only a half mile distant, is an ascent of o\er 1,000 feet more. This is the herculean task, the almost insurmountable bar, the turning or stopping point for hundreds of tenderfeet. But those with courage and strength enough remaining crawl with their bellies to the earth like lizzards, kicking toe holds, delving into the ice and snow for almost a day longer, at last reach the coveted summit of Chilkoot Pass (Schwatka says the Indians called the elevation "Kotusk Mountain"). No human being could face some of the blizzards that come through it.
History will never record the names or numbers of all that gave their lives in attempting to scale this pass. The river claimed some, hardship and exposure dozens more, a great snow slide in 1 898 sixty-one more, and a misstep ofttimes hurled the victim to the dizzy depth hundreds of feet below. Two hundred lives would be placing the number under that actually known.
My friend, who went over the trail early in the spring of '98, says "that the best investment he ever made was the small sum he paid to an enterprising owner of a rope, which was so fastened as to enable the climber to use his hands by pulling himself up on the rope, and that this rope in those days was a living scrambling string of crazy gold seekers, day and night, and reminded him of the desperate, senseless salmon trying to swim up a dry creek bed in spawning time."
Since then pack trains, better trail, Peterson's rope tramway or counterweight tramway, lessened the labor and risk, and robbed the dirty Sheep Camp Indians of their vocation. Eventually traffic shifted to the White Pass Trail, and later still the White Pass and Yukon Railway modernized the travel. And now the old Chilkoot Trail is but little used, and Sheep Camp. Dyea, Haines Mission, Stone House, and other familiar stations are almost abandoned.
The altitude of the pass has been given all the way from 3,500 to 4,500 feet. The former is approximately correct. It was the highest of the passes.
That is about as high as the highest mountains in the eastern part of the United States. It was nearly all above the timber line, in snow and ice.
It required one month for many a poor miner to carry his provisions to the top.
After reaching the summit, a small lake named Crater Lake was visible, only 500 feet below, and its waters flowed away toward the Yukon. By a sharp descent the trail soon reached and passed it, then became an easy grade for about nine miles to Lake Lindeman, where the waterway to the Klondike and Yukon Basin begins.