Surviving The Chilkoot Trail

Surviving The Chilkoot Trail

This summer I survived my first backpacking trip and I had an amazing time conquering the Chilkoot Trail. It was my most challenging hike so far and prior to taking off, I was worried about a myriad of things including slowing down the group and having a miserable time. Instead, I became even more hooked on hiking and experienced history and gorgeous landscapes. Here are some of my key pointers for anyone preparing to undertake this historical trail.

The Chilkoot Trail runs between Skagway and Bennett and through the Alaska-BC border, but the route is commonly mistaken to run through the Yukon, and we did, in fact, drive down from Whitehorse. The trail was established during the Klondike gold rush and many artefacts are preserved along the way with historical markers. Our stats: 54km (detours for historical sites); 5 nights (Finnegan’s, Sheep, Deep Lake, and Bear Lune); 22lbs my pack; 1000m elevation gain.

  • Have a good group and stay close together

I was really lucky to be the most novice out of my hiking group. Even though I was eager to be as prepared and informed as I could be prior to the trip, I found it reassuring to be with a bunch of experienced hikers. It should go without saying, but to get the most out of the Chilkoot it’s important to have an understanding of environmental conversation and historical preservation. The trail acts as an outdoor museum, with many fascinating but fragile objects left there for posterity and context. It is also important to follow the trail’s rules about conservation and safety, such as using bear lockers and greywater sites.

We were acutely aware of our itinerary and timing, having to walk a certain amount of kilometres per day to make it to our next campsite. However, with several recent black and grizzly bear sightings on the trail, we were keen to stick together as a group. We all walked at different paces, a fellow hiker letting me know that I was walking on average a quarter of a step more than everyone else – being shorter of stature definitely made the trail more of a challenge!

  • Pack light but essential gear

We had two stoves between five of us and meals distributed between the most experienced hikers who were used to carrying heavier packs. We had a gravity filter for the group’s water supplies, bear spray, and lightweight camping gear. Be prepared for all weathers and trail conditions by carrying several layers, including ones that are wind and waterproof. We also had gaiters for mud and snow. Some days we got a bit of light rain, buffeting winds, and then blazing sunshine and calm all in one day! Remember to bring your essential luxuries i.e. the extra things you consider necessary for your happiness on the trail, not just your survival. For our group is was good food and entertainment. We had all brought reading material and card games, which definitely helped keep up our spirits! We had also organised a meal plan prior to departure, so we split the ingredients amongst the group. It’s much easier to cook more elaborate meals for a large group, whereas I can understand the appeal of simpler food supplies if you’re a solo traveller.

My pack essentials:

  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag
  • Compressing sack for sleeping bag (also doubles as a storage space for clothes when empty)
  • Ziplock of biodegradable toiletries
  • Snacks (essential calories!)
  • Camping Stove
  • Change of shoes & dry socks for camp
  • Packing cube of changes of clothes
  • Layers: short sleeve base layer, long sleeve base layer, hiking trousers, leggings for underlayer, fleece, pyjamas, raincoat (also for wind protection)!
  • Book
  • Light
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer

 

  • Plan a schedule and stick to it

The average time taken for the trail is 5-7 days and you do need to apply for a permit. You can definitely do it over more or fewer days and we saw people running the trail in one day! I would advise taking all the detour trails to check out the historical points of interest and being overcautious in terms of time.

There are several campsites along the trail and they all have wooden platforms for pitching tents for conservative reasons. We stayed at Finnegan’s Point, Pleasant Camp, Sheep Camp, Deep Cove, and Bare Loon. Because of this, the difficulty of our days increased with our summit day on Day 3 from Sheep Camp to Deep Cove being a gruelling 17km over the Scales and Chilkoot Pass.

The conditions passing over the summit can be extremely changeable and we found the Ranger Talk at Sheep Camp to be enlightening in terms of history and necessary in terms of safety and hiking preparations. It’s important to start early on summit day (we began at 5am) to avoid avalanches and there are no camps between Sheep Camp and Happy Camp over the Pass. We had a much needed break at Happy Camp before pushing on to Deep Cove. It’s important to take care of yourself and your fellow hikers but it’s also crucial to plan a reasonable schedule and stick to it so you can make your onward travel connections!

  • Befriend your fellow travellers

We had some lovely chats with other hikers along the way. Part of the wonder of hiking is experiencing gorgeous nature and connecting with other people face to face, without screens or other distractions. You have to make your own entertainment, and conversation with strangers was often welcome after a long day chatting with your own group! You’ll run into the same faces on the trail and often be in close proximity with the same people so it’s a good idea to get to know them. It also makes it easier for smaller groups/solo travellers to tag along with a larger group for bear safety.

  • Have fun and take lots of photos!

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One Reply to “Surviving The Chilkoot Trail”

  1. Only 22 lbs in your backpack? I’m lucky if I can get my pack down to 40lbs for overnight trips. Good write up though–I plan to hike the Trail this summer June 2018; made my reservation on th17th of Jan the day they (Parks Canada) opened.

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