Subject: Alaska Dispatch #4 - from Skagway, AK
Greetings, all -

Well, we did it. The Chilkoot Trail was every bit as beautiful, interesting and challenging as I'd expected. We were blessed with perfectly gorgeous weather for the whole hike, for which we are intensely grateful. Just a week before hikers had to do the entire trip in rain. That would've been perfectly miserable, and more dangerous. A big thanks to everyone for your good thoughts regarding weather!

As for the trail itself ... Tuesday the 13th we left the Chilkoot Outpost after a substantial breakfast. They also kindly stored our non-backpacking luggage for us. Just as we approached the trail head saw a coyote run across the road. The trail begins with a very steep but short climb, but after that it was pretty typical backwoods terrain through lush rain forest. The Taiya River was off to our left for almost all of the American side of the trail. Saw many different kinds of ferns, mushrooms, berries and wildflowers. Lunched at Finnegan's Point, the first camping area on the trail. There we met our first "trail buddies," Joan and Clary from Toronto, and Marcell and Leonard from Amarillo. A kind of community develops along the way as you encounter the same groups, folks who have the same itinerary and similar hiking pace. Just as we left Finnegan's Point I happened to look back across the river and saw a beautiful cascade coming down from a glacier. One of my favorite views of the trip. Another favorite spot came a few miles later. The trail crossed many little streams on their way down to the river, but one was quite large and steep - quite impressive. The rush of cold air that came along with it was refreshing. Each crossing had it's own bridge of some sort, a fact we later came to appreciate much more! Camped that night at Canyon City. We were about the fourth group into camp, preceded by the rest of our soon-to-be trail buddies: Kelvin and Flora from Fairbanks. The flies were awful, but otherwise it was a good night.

Wednesday we hiked from Canyon City to Sheep Camp, stopping for lunch at Pleasant Camp. Had another steep short climb to start the day, but otherwise just an enjoyable hike. Sheep Camp was already getting full, but we were still able to find a good camp site. Later in the evening a large group of German hikers came in; we recognized them from the ferry. The trail has a lot of international appeal; our cohort included folks from Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and maybe more I didn't discover. Everyone got along very well and helped each other out when needed. Wish we could keep that going on a larger scale.

Thursday we got a very early start, 5:45, as we'd been advised by the ranger the night before to allow at LEAST 10 hours to get to Happy Camp. It never really got dark, so it wasn't hard to wake up early. Thursday's hike was probably the most physically challenging thing I've ever done. The three or so miles up to the Golden Stairs is all up hill, some of it over boulders. Around the Scales we crossed our first snow field, then the Stairs - a steep "river" of boulders one has to negotiate to get to the summit (never mind the two false summits in between). It took us seven hours to get from Sheep Camp to the summit. We puzzled our way along (it was a mental challenge, too) using all available limbs (Kelvin aptly called it the "spider method"), and marveled as some of the most fit and experienced hikers walked up like mountain goats. But we made it. Even now I'm not sure how, but we did. After crossing another small snow field we took a welcome rest at the summit, which is also the Canadian border. When we prepared to have our photo taken there we discovered that the LCD screen of Laura's camer had been damaged in the ascent. It seemed to still take photos, so we just aimed it as best we could for the rest of the hike. It will be amusing to see how those turn out!

The remaining four miles down to Happy Camp seemed to take forever and covered many types of terrain. The climate changed, too - still sunny, but much drier and no trees. I didn't put sunscreen on soon enough so one of my arms got fried; uncomfortable but not serious. Lots more snow fields on the Canadian side. We were very glad for our trekking poles! Many many streams to cross, as well, but without the benefit of bridges. Needless to say, I love my Gortex boots! When we finally stumbled into Happy Camp, we found a campsite, put out our ThermaRest pads, laid on the ground and began laughing hysterically. We'd been hiking for 12 hours. Our legs were shot, our feet were throbbing, but we'd done it! The mosquitoes were awful, as numerous as the flies on the US side, but with a more consequential bite. Laura almost got eaten alive before we managed to get the bug spray on. Advice to those who hike this trail in the future: take one can PER PERSON of the heaviest-duty bug spray you can find, as well as those nifty mosquito nets that cover your head. We wished we'd had those. Otherwise, though, our provisioning worked out very well.

Not surprisingly we slept in a bit the next morning. That's one advantage of having so much daylight to work with. The hike to Bare Loon Lake was aptly described by the Canadian warden as "a little up, a little down, a bit rocky." Wouldn't have been bad at all if we hadn't been so worn out from the previous day. The scenery was great, more stark and dramatic than the rain forest. Bare Loon Lake was a beautiful site, but it was a challenge to find adequate space even for our small tents because the terrain was so rocky and uneven. We managed it eventually, though, and rested well.

Saturday's four miles to Lake Bennet were very nice walking. We left plenty early so had plenty of time to relax before the train came. Riding the White Pass and Yukon RR back to Skagway was a treat. For one thing we got to ride the only steam train on the route. The cushioned seats were enough to make us happy at that point, though!

Well, my time on this internet card is about up, so I'd better wrap up. Dyea Dave met us at the train station in Skagway and took us back up to the Chilkoot Outpost. We enjoyed a celebratory dinner there - grilled steak and sockeye salmon. Now we're back in Skagway hanging out until our ferry departs at 9pm. Meeting a couple of our trail buddies for dinner.

More later, Cindy in Skagway, AK