Danny Brady crosses the border into Canada at the summit of Chilkoot Pass, and Jeff Brady takes a break after descending from the summit.
Father and Son on the Chilkoot
Trail Power to the 10th
Part two of two
Story & Photos by Jeff & Danny Brady
Part 1, from Dyea to the Summit, appeared in the Aug. 13 issue. Father and son had crossed the border late on the afternoon of their third day on the trail. They could not stop long at the summit if they wanted to reach Happy Camp before dark.
We head down the snow slope to Crater Laker, our hiking poles keeping us upright whenever we slip. It’s a long slog to the next camp, but at least it’s still sunny. We keep looking back at the summit, marking our progress until we can no longer see the tall outhouse on the hill.
During one break when we discard our packs, Danny wants to check out the hills to the west and starts running across the still treeless terrain. I catch him in mid-air, my favorite photo from the trip.
“How much further?” he says, about every quarter mile, asking then how many quarters we have come, or if we are in the final quarter of the stretch from the summit to Happy Camp. With my dyslexia, it’s easier for me to write this now than it was to explain it to him then.
A warden, Stephanie, who remembers helping my wife when she worked at the Garden Center, stops and chats on her way back to the summit from Happy Camp. She tells us we are about halfway, but I know we are close to Morrow Lake, and that’s just a mile from Happy Camp. Perhaps the day has been just as long for her. It’s getting cooler and we change into long-sleeve shirts. Danny puts on his hat.
Morrow is a great place to camp, and we used to stop our groups there in the 1970s, but Parks Canada discourages it now. We regrettably soldier on, but Happy Camp appears down the canyon by Coldsfoot Creek about a half hour later.
Danny doesn’t run this time; it’s 8:30 and we’ve been hiking 12 hours. We drop our packs on a platform, grab our food, and head right for the warming hut for supper. Those inside are glad to see us, and gives us a little whoop.
I think we had stroganoff that night. It was nearing dark when we finished and set up the tent. Clouds were forming way up on the summit, and the wind was strong and appeared to be scattering the clouds before they reached us. It looked like the good weather might hold till tomorrow.
I told Danny we would sleep in, and again told him how proud I was of him.
Only a 10-year-old, after a strenuous climb up the fabled Golden Stairs, would take off into the summit country to jump over more rocks during a rest stop on the way to Happy Camp.
Day 4 - Happy Camp to Lindeman, 5 miles
Camera dies, blueberries blitz power bars, passing notes for extra day
I woke and tried to get a shot of Danny sleeping, all snug in the hood of his sister’s sleeping bag, but my old Fuji would not respond. I changed the batteries, and still nothing. I’d have to find some other batteries or there would be no more pictures.
We got up around 9 and headed over to the shelter for breakfast. We loaded up on oatmeal. The Calgary family was there and we finally had time to talk at length and learn more about them. They were actually two families. A couple and their teenage son and daughter, and a friend and his daughter, Richard Z. and Megan. He hears about my camera plight and offers some extra batteries.
The shelter is crowded, even though it has been doubled in size over the past few years. We conclude that Parks Canada needs to build another, or invest in another campground closer to the summit. After we break camp I try the batteries and the camera still doesn’t work. Oh well, at least I have pictures of us getting over the summit, but one of the prettiest sections is between here and Lindeman.
When we finally get moving, it’s our latest departure time yet, after 11 a.m. We cross a quarter-mile scree of rock in a small canyon where Coldsfoot Creek drops into Long Lake. This can be some of the trickiest footing of the journey, but my rock hound son loves it. I poke along on the easy lower trail. Earlier in the summer, snow covers this scree by the water and an upper path must be used.
At the end of this section we are back in the sun, and zig-zagging up the hill to a plateau high above Long Lake. It’s a trudge and we are both still tired from the previous day’s ordeal. We reluctantly pull out more power bars, wishing we had blueberries instead. About halfway to Deep Lake, Danny spots a huge grouse on the trail and makes a run at it. The grouse springs into flight, tailed by three chicks. Grouse don’t really have a destination in mind when they decide to fly, and the four of them go in different directions, but all downhill into a sloping meadow, where they start calling each other and probably will spend the rest of the day finding a rendezvous spot.
After two miles, Deep Lake is in sight and we drop down to the old bridge that crosses the creek. A warden greets us and warns us about a young black bear that was chased out of the Upper Lindeman Cabin a couple nights ago. He asks if we have seen any bears, and we tell him “just scat” and about the grouse, our lone wildlife sighting.
We thought we were the last out of camp, but along comes the Anchorage group. We leap-frog the rest of the day. At Deep Lake we head to the camping area, which also has new platforms and a huge picnic table for lunch. Three women from Whitehorse are there. We call them the “bear bell ladies,” but they have a lot of miles on the trail. One is on her ninth Chilkoot, and she also remembers hiking over the “notch” from Fraser to Happy Camp “when I was young.”
They move out, bells clanging, as we move in, and then the Anchorage group shows up. Lunch on the lake. By now, everyone in our little traveling pocket community knows the other’s pace and habits. We let the bear bells get well out of hearing range before we decide to go.
The blueberries along Deep Lake are famous, but we are about a week early. This is an immediate letdown for me, and my energy is at a low point this afternoon. We are still resting every one-eighth mile, and it’s looking as though we won’t get to Bare Loon Lake until 8 or 9 p.m. And then we’d have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to be on the trail by 7:30 in order to give us plenty of time to get to Bennett, eat lunch at the station, and make the noon train to Carcross.
I spell this out to Danny. As much as we want to catch the Thursday northbound train to Carcross and have Grandma Bea meet us, we would be pushing ourselves, and there would be no time to explore and enjoy Lindeman, Bare Loon and Bennett. We can spend another day on the trail, we have an extra day’s food.
“What about lunch at the train station?” he asks.
“We can have lunch there on Friday.”
“OK Dad,” he says. “Let’s just go to Lindeman.”
I’m relieved, but now I need to find a way to get a message to Bea that we won’t be heading to Carcross on Thursday’s northbound train. The Friday train out of Bennett is the southbound to Skagway, and there is no Saturday train at all.
The wind has picked up and is cooling us off on a very hot day. The blueberries are better the closer we get to Lindeman, and we stop frequently on the descent by Moose Creek canyon. This waterway rivals the Tutshi River but has no suspension bridge or whitewater rafting groups on it. Seeing the falls requires a hike and I’m glad there are still places in this world that you have to work to get to.
About 5:15 p.m. we come upon Lindeman City and hike down to the wooded flat, a forest where a tent city once stood. We head straight for the Lower Lindeman Cabin and camping area, and it looks like everyone else has done the same. They are all happy to see us and are not surprised that we chose to stop here and spend another full day on the trail.
“This is it,” I say. “No more for today.”
Danny drops his pack and gives it a little kick.
To our luck, Heather and Chris are there packing up for Bare Loon after a rest stop. They were on the same original schedule as us, planning to take the train to Carcross.
“Hey, can I get you guys to send a message on to the conductor to take to Carcross and give to my mother-in-law?”
Heather produces a notepad and I scribble a note for them to pass on. I laugh, thinking that this will work a lot better than if I had a satellite phone or SPOT device. Notes passed along a trail, what a novel idea.
It’s so hot that the wardens, in their skivvies, come upon the camp and invite everyone to jump in the lake with them. There are no takers, so they jump in themselves. One of them, a pretty blonde girl, is the enforcement officer, we are told, and we all feel much safer watching her. I love Canada.
We find a nice campsite not far from the lake’s edge, but sheltered from the wind. It also is positioned for the morning sun.
I send Danny for water for our dinner, chicken pot pie in bag without the crust. But he comes back with no water and a defeated look on his face. He said he tripped on a rock and landed on his hand and elbow. I bandage a cut on his hand, and the elbow seems to be working and not turning colors. Several of us take a look at it. Still he is sore and I give him some ibuprophen. As he reads himself to sleep after dinner, he says it’s feeling better but still sore when he extends it. He gets curled up in a comfortable position and is out.
I get up in the middle of the night and see the moon rising over the hill to the east. A couple planets also appear and the first stars of the fall. It’s the end of July, and now dark enough for us to see our place in the universe. Way out here.
Visiting with their new friends from Calgary, and diving into a yummy cheesecake and berries dessert at Bennett.
Day 5, Lindeman to Bennett, 7 miles
Easy trail, faster pace; trekking over the sands down to Bennett
I get Danny up on the fourth try. His elbow is fine but he wants to sleep some more. He finally is hungry enough to get up and join the rest of us. He eats the last bananas and cream oatmeal packet, and I eat the last English muffin. It’s stale and even a slathering of honey and peanut butter won’t make it go down easy. I dip the thing in my tea to soften it up.
We take time to visit the tent museum, where we fill out a nature card about our dangerous grouse encounter and also grab our official Chilkoot Trail certificates. No one is there to witness it, so we mark them ourselves. Danny No. 1 and Jeff No. 10. I could spend all day in there reading the laminated copies of old Bennett newspapers. I scan them all, and at the bottom for some reason there’s a laminated full color National Post of President Obama’s first state visit to Canada. I think to myself, “Too soon to be historic among these 110-year-old papers.”
We run into a warden and he, of course, asks if we have seen any bears. We tell him we took an extra day and will take our time to Bennett today. He says it’s too bad we missed the train today because there are “big doings” in Carcross for the Golden Spike Anniversary. I guess I didn’t get that press release, or no one passed a note up the trail to me.
Anyway, we are Bennett-bound today, and are on the trail by 11 again after a quick stop at the Lindeman cemetery. Near one of the main junctions in Lindeman, a staircase rises to a knob overlooking the old city. About eight graves are there. Most are fenced but with no markings on the headstones, except for one, a stone marker with a Masonic emblem that Danny notices right away. I’ve read about this one before in Michael Gates’ “History Hunting in the Yukon” column and book. When he was a historian for Parks Canada, Gates was able to find out who the person was based on just a few markings on the old wooden slab – part of his name, Kent, and his home town of Aberdeen, Wash. – and then locating an Aberdeen newspaper account of the death of William S. Kent. The Masons then gave him a ceremony and a new marker in 2007.
The trail climbs after leaving Lindeman to a high plateau with a series of up-and-downs. The sun is out but it’s very windy and the breeze cools us down when we stop. Even with our stopping and starting, we are making good time, and I am surprised when we reach Dan Johnson Lake and then Bare Loon Lake in three hours’ time. There are tent platforms here now, and the place looks a little too civilized with a gazebo area and even a bug tent. We eat lunch by the lake. Skinny dipping here is usually mandatory, espccially if you are camping for the night, but the wind makes me feel otherwise.
We soldier on. The trail has more dips as it veers back toward Lake Lindeman. After another mile, we come to a rise where we can see Bennett Lake in the distance. Danny is excited to be able to see our final destination. He jokingly asks, “Are we there yet?” and I give him my stock answer. “We are, on the Chilkoot Trail between Bare Loon and Bennett.”
We stop at “Winnie’s Camp” for a rest high above the lake. Here we used to camp sometimes with Klondike Safaris and I tell Danny how I used to sit up on the rocks with my old dogs Pelly and Taiya and watch the stars come out. I wouldn’t mind camping here again, but am content to find the overgrown trail down to a creek for fresh water. It’s hot and Bennett is where we want to be tonight.
I tell Danny that once we see an old trapper’s cabin, we are just a mile away. When we come upon it, he gets excited, though some of the hardest hiking is just ahead. The “mighty sands of Bennett, await,” I say. And it’s another long slog up them. These sands have their own three summits, and we finally crest the last one at about 5:30 p.m. I tell Danny how his sister ran down the hill once she saw the lake and church steeple, and Danny follows suit but takes a dive at the bottom. It will require another band-aid to the hands, but there is no pain this time. We let out a whoop, and give ourselves a fist pump and then hug.
We head to the campground and everyone is surprised to see us there so early. The sun’s up and we find a great site high on a rise above the lake, at about the location of the old telegraph office, according to a map of the old city. We’ve been following that line since Canyon City and have finally found the end.
The Calgary family is setting up at the long picnic table down by the cooking shelter. We will eat our red beans and rice at the other end of the table. Plus we have been saving a special dessert of cheesecake and berries that Molly Dischner sent Danny for his birthday to take on our hike. We watch the sun set on the lake.
Richard asks if the batteries worked, and I tell him how the camera must have broken and give the batteries back to him. He then says I can just use his camera, since his daughter has another, and give it back to them tomorrow when we get to Skagway. So we shoot the rest of dinner, and it goes down better. The dessert is a capper. We go to bed early and read until it gets dark.
In the morning, we are up around 9 and eat the very last of our food, another dessert: apple cobbler. We then take a walk down to view the artifacts along the One Mile River. Danny pretends to wash his shirt in an old wash bin. By the river, at the end of the rapids, I tell him the story of the man who lost his outfit twice there on a big rock just upstream, and then supposedly cried to the heavens how he disappointed his family back home before shooting himself.
Danny looks up river and says, “It doesn’t looks so bad.”
“Well, you’d want a river kayak to get through there today,” I say, then look longingly at Lake Bennett. If it wasn’t so windy, I’d call down to Carcross and have our canoe loaded on the train so we could paddle the lake.
We walk up toward the church and take some more pictures. Several groups that are just finishing the trail this morning let out whoops. A group of college-age girls makes the most noise. We then drift back over to the camping area, pack up our gear for the last time, and head down toward the train station. A young girl comes up the trail and we ask her to take our photo with our packs on by the old “end of the trail” sign. She had just finished the trail that morning with her mom. She is 12, so Danny has her beat for the youngest to finish the trail, at least on this day. We’ll have to check later to see if he was the youngest this year.
At trail's end and on the golden stairs to St. Andrew's Church in Bennett City.
Good grub, train down, hiking sticks forgotten, trail remembered
It’s about noon and we are one of the last hiker parties to eat in the old station house. White Pass has opened a Chilkoot Hikers room in the back. It’s actually a nicer room that the big dining hall next door. There are huge murals and maps on the wall, a replica boat, and several artifacts to view. The meal is the same as the tour folks eat – a hearty stew – and served by a Carcross woman and her daughter. We chat for a while before they have to help out with the 200 people arriving by train from Carcross. I tell her about coming up here on the train in the early 1980s and watching the Super Bowl – a couple years before Skagway had satellite TV. They are out here for about 10 days and then get four days off. Today they served about 65 hikers. With the train alternating northbound and southbound runs every other day, the busier days are when the train heads south to Skagway. Just after the train arrives, conductor Dave Dobbs finds me and tells me the message was delivered to Bea yesterday by brakeman Steve “Leprechaun” Caulfield. We line up with the other hikers and hand our packs up to the train crew who stow them in the old container car. I also hand them our hiking sticks and they ask me to remind them about them later when we get to Skagway. The weather is nice all the way down, the clouds having lifted at the summit by the time we crest the White Pass. It’s Leprechuan’s birthday, so he receives a lot of birthday wishes. We take photos of the Calgary bunch, and they shoot us. My favorite is a shadow shot of me and Danny against the rocks by Clifton, my hand stretching over his head. Later I make them a CD of the photos after uploading them on my office computer, and include a gift certificate to our bookstore. They will hit it the next morning before heading to Glacier Bay and Kluane for more hiking.
The train stops at the Shops and we are transferred to buses. We grab our packs but forget the sticks. I don’t realize this until a few hours later and go out there but don’t find them. I track down Dave the next day: they had set them down outside for us, but they apparently were picked up by other hikers. So if anyone sees them, we would like them back. My stick belongs in the museum. Danny’s can go with him on many more Chilkoots.
Later he tells me that the Chilkoot was the highlight of his summer, and he can’t wait to tell everyone about it on the first day of school.
“Dad,” he says with a grin. “Are we there yet?”
Stick dancing before boarding the train, and a shadow play on the way down to Skagway.