What did the Chilkook mean to me?

This tremendous, arduous, adventure is still top in my mind. I can’t believe I actually finally went to the Yukon and completed such a difficult journey.  I watch videos and view pictures and think that it should have been easier than it was for me.  But then I remember that I am indeed 55 years old, have never done a hike like this before, have not carried a heavy backpack since I was 23 years old, and suffer from arthritis.  So I suppose I did alright.  The Chilkook has been a journey done only in my imagination since I was a young student studying western Canadian history.  I was captured by the haunting pictures of Stampeders lining up to complete the Golden Staircase; of stories of eggs being sold for $2 a dozen (a price that at that time would have been like highway robbery); of hardship and treachery; and of innocent hopefuls being scammed by those wanting only to make a quick fortune off the backs of the naive.   I have wanted to go to Yukon to see it for myself. To view the endless expanses of nature seemingly untouched has been on my bucket list since I was young.    I am overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment for finally having reached my goal.  I feel empowered to do more.  I have accepted that whatever I try, I will most likely be the “Leader of the Back” (one of the slowest ones on a trail), but I am OK with that place.  It doesn’t matter to me that I am slow or trudging; it matters  more that I set a goal and accomplished it.   Of course, not being near the back would be an awesome bonus, but really, the gold comes from just finally meeting my dreams.


The picture of the “Golden Staircase” below illustrates the hurdles to cross for those who ventured through the goldrush.  It also symbolizes my personal struggle to finally reach my dreams.  You can see the “Golden Staircase” path just to the left of center on this photo. The trail has a small patch of snow on it’s right side.  Image


Day One – Yukon Grand Adventure

The Grand Yukon Adventure


My journey through the trail of broken dreams



Day 1:

Fly from Calgary to Vancouver; Vancouver to Whitehorse


Arrived in Whitehorse at 1:00ish.  By the time we got our luggage it was 1:10.  The Eric Nielson Airport is a little bigger than Great Falls and is well adorned with local artworks.  We looked around for our guide, expecting to be greeted by a sign from our tour company – but no, we couldn’t see anyone looking for us.  I was disappointed, as I wanted to see a sign that stated “Gross / Leahy”.  We looked, looked, and looked some more.  I wanted to feel the slight thrill of being greeted. But as time went on, and no one was around, I started to worry.  I left a message with Vicki.  We then started phoning hotels to see if they had our names on their list.  I didn’t know the name of the tour company or the hotel.    Finally we found a hotel that had us registered, so we took a taxi.


Once checked in, we wandered around town., ending up at the Great Northern Bastard Hotel, a quaint pub with a garage door front opening to the street.  We spent a little time chatting with the local character, a grizzled older man who obviously enjoyed sipping on beer frequently.  He then proceeded to recite for us – “The Cremation of Sam McGee” – the ubiquitous Canadian classic by Robert Service.   We knew then that this adventure would be filled with interesting characters and stories.

I then was able to get in touch with our tour company only to discover that they had been looking for us, thinking we should have checked in at 2:00 instead of 1:00. Probably we just missed each other!  Anway, we finally met our group at 5:00 back at the hotel.  We then met our guide Ryan, and were given our food packs.  Shocked at how heavy they were, we were a little uncertain of how we would be able to carry so much stuff. 

We spent the rest of the evening walking around town, taking in more of the sights.  Whitehorse is a very artsy city.  Many downtown buildings have vibrant historical murals painted on empty walls.  IT also has lots of outdoor art, including some very creative bicycle racks. For example, the bike rack in front of one coffee shop looks like a coffe pot pouring coffee.  Another rack looks like a white horse.  You get the picture!

The downtown is very people friendly.  A beautiful walking path follows the Yukon river for several miles.   At one end, near the new library and first nations cultural centre, a historic section is be refurbished. Old buildings are used for community-based projects such as family literacy and an arts coop. A downtown trolley uses the old narrow gauge rail system to transport people from one end of downtown the other. Closer to the bridge, they have built a beautiful park that includes the historic steamship, two outdoor volleyball courts, frisbee golf course, and playground.  I can see that in the winter, when the temperature is not too cold, many people would venture out to cross country ski or snowshoe.  Many lights dot the paths that I am sure would be needed in the winter. 

We arrived back at our hotel by around 8:30 so that we could repack for the next day.  I was very excited, and a little nervous about the next day.  But sleep came easier than I expected, despite the light outside.

 Pictures:  The Yukon River from downtown Whitehorse.  ImageImage

North to Alaska…

I can’t believe I am finally doing it!  I am leaving “on a jet plane” tomorrow, July 14, for Whitehorse. Once there I will take the historic White Pass and Yukon Railway to Skagway, and travel toward the beginning of the infamous Chilkook Trail.  I will finally venture forth on an extended hike, staying 5 nights and 6 days on the trail.  I am a little nervous about packing. My pack is already feeling quite heavy, but I don’t know what I can omit.  I know from experience on the outdoor ed trips that I get very cold at night, so I need layers.  But, I also don’t want to over-pack.  Every ounce truly does make a difference.  I still have to pack my share of food and supplies.

Nevertheless, I am thrilled that I am finally going north. I have wanted to visit the Yukon since my early 20’s, when I really started to love my Canadian history.   I know I am only going to experience a tiny taste of the north, but it’s a start.   If this trip works out, maybe I can find another adventure a little further north or in the Yellowknife area next year.     Yahoo,…. here I go!

This photo, of the thousands of gold-seekers, to me is one of the most poignant pictures in Canadian history.  I have felt a strong sense of compassion for the thousands of unprepared dreamers who risked everything for the dream of gold and adventure.  This  picture represents the many stories I heard of the profiteers who made a fortune off these naive trekkers, selling them goods at unworldly prices, and tricking them into buying products they would never use.  These stories are what I remember most about the Chilkook Trail, or the Yukon Gold Rush Trail as I recall it being named.  In just a few short days I too will stand on the peak of the Golden Staircase.  I can hardly wait! check one more item off my bucket list!Image

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