Jaclyn Pace, National Park Service ranger teacher, and Elena Saldi walk along the right after conquering Saintly Hill. Katie Emmets

Six Alaska teens hike Chilkoot as part of SRC program

Story and Photos by KATIE EMMETS

Six Alaska teenagers walked in the shoes of the Klondike Gold Rush prospectors for six days — but they did it in hiking boots.
The Chilkoot Trail hike, which was planned by the Skagway Recreation Center, started on a drizzly August 4.
Elena Saldi, Zoe Wassman, Trevor Cox and Al Weber were from Skagway, while Kelly Nemeth was from Gustavus and Max Suzuki was from Juneau.
Despite being rained on at the beginning of their parade, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Education Specialist Amanda McCutcheon said overall the hike went very well. The park provided education programing for the trip.
“The hike went off without one hitch,” McCutcheon said. “No tears and lots of smiles.”
Before getting on the trail, the teens were worried about being able to handle the whole thing, but she said attitudes went from nervous to enjoyment to accomplishment throughout the five-night, six-day trip.
“There was a lot of doubting what their capabilities were,” she said. “But along the way, most of the kids showed growth through their accomplishments. It was phenomenal to see them work through challenges.”
McCutcheon admitted she was nervous about the last three miles before the summit, which includes the Golden Stairs, because of the heavy backpacks the teens were carrying, but they made it up and over with no problems and were encouraging each other a lot along the way.
Although the trip was mainly for learning purposes and fun, the participants took part in a service project and helped the park trail crew on the third day of the hike.
Between Sheep Camp and Happy Camp, the six teens and five volunteers crushed rocks at a talus field and also helped clear brush away on the trail toward Sheep Camp.
Altogether, with 10 pairs of hands, the group donated more than 40 hours to the National Park Service.
Trip volunteer Elizabeth Meyer said the group received goggles, gloves and hammers and used the crushed rocks they created to fill in gaps between the larger rocks to make for easier climbing.
After lunch the group recieved hand saws and hedge clippers and cleared away brush to ensure an arms length opening for those hiking on the trail.
Meyer said Zoe and Trevor didn’t clear brush with the rest of the group, but continued crushing rocks because they liked it so much.
McCutcheon said the kids weren’t too keen on the service project at first but wound up having a lot of fun.
“The people on the crew asked, ‘who wants to do trail crew next year?’ and Zoe and Trevor both raised their hands,” she said.
McCutcheon said she was very pleased and proud of the teens for following the “leave no trace” principle, which promotes cleaning up after oneself at all costs in order to minimize the human impact on the environment.
There were many bonding experiences, McCutcheon said, from walking and talking, to doing Chilkoot Trail charades in the evenings.
Each of the five mornings, McCutcheon, who is a yoga instructor at the SRC, led the group in morning exercises.
“It got us all warmed up and ready to go for the day,” she said. “And it was really fun because other groups would sometimes join in on them from their campsites.”
The only issues McCutcheon noted were “mainly spilled water,” she said with a laugh, adding that they were extremely minor incidents. One involved a leaking water bladder in a tent, and the other was hot water that spilled while cooking.
“We had our bug bites and our blisters, and our gripes and groans,” she said. “But everyone knew everyone had things going on, so they weren’t too vocal about it.”
McCutcheon said the trip was a success, and added that she can’t wait to take a group of new kids on the trail next summer. She said she would ideally like to have 10 teens.
“We are actively seeking out grant money for next year,” she said. “And the rec center is planning a fund raiser where the kids show their pictures and tell their stories.”
Alaska Geographic funded the trip with $4,000, which went toward medical training, paid hours for SRC employees, food and gear. McCutcheon said there is more than $500 that wasn’t used that will be put toward next year’s trip.

Middle: The whole gang poses for a picture after looking at bear prints below the bridge.
Bottom: The hikers walk across wood planks of the beaver dams with their large back packs. The teen’s backpacks weighed anywhere from about 25 to 35 pounds.