• Nine men pose with gear at the Alaska-British Columbia border in the snow

    Klondike Gold Rush

    National Historical Park Alaska

Thirty-three Miles

July 30, 2012 Posted by: Katie Bonanno
Rewinding back to January when Nicole and I were interviewing for this wonderful internship here at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, we were informed that the internship would involve tackling a few major projects, all incorporating artifact conservation. (Psst…if you're wondering what artifact conservation is, be sure to check out our previous blog post, "What is artifact conservation, anyway?") One of these major projects was working on the George and Edna Rapuzzi collection we've introduced in our prior blog postings, and another was hiking the historic Chilkoot Trail, assessing the condition of Gold Rush era outdoor artifacts along the way. Well, five days and thirty-three miles are under our belts - we have successfully hiked the Chilkoot Trail!

[Photo 1] After a successful first day, the curatorial team enjoyed hot chocolate and tea at Canyon City, about 8 miles from the trailhead in Dyea

 

[Photo 2] Tom, Shawn, and I documenting a stove near the Canyon City historic site

The Chilkoot Trail was originally one of the trails Tlingit natives would have used to trade with the Interior, and is also one of several routes Gold Rush stampeders would have taken to travel to the Klondike gold fields. The trail starts in Dyea, just nine miles from Skagway, and snakes thirty-three miles through the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness, ending at Bennett Lake in British Columbia. In Bennett, the stampeders of 1897 and '98 would have hopped on a boat and continued sailing north to the Klondike, but for our team of cultural resources folk, reaching Bennett meant boarding a White Pass & Yukon Route train headed back to Skagway as the conclusion of our journey.

[Photo 3] Tom, Phil, Nicole, and Shawn on the train after completing the Chilkoot Trail

And what a journey it was! Most hikers do the trail in three or four days, and for the bulk of those three or four days, the weather tends to be rainy, cold, and windy. Before leaving for the trail, we stocked up on rain gear, assuming we'd be absolutely miserable without some Gore-Tex. Much to our pleasant surprise, our rain gear stayed packed away in the bottom of our packs for the entire trip!
[Photo 4] Tom, Shawn, and I enjoying the hike to Lindeman City campsite
Nicole and I (along with Sam, museum curator; Deb, museum technician; and Shawn, Tom, and Phil, archaeologists) were so lucky to have been able to hike the trail in five days (as opposed to the typical three or four, or in some extreme cases, one!) and take time to really drink in our spectacular surroundings and do some careful and thorough condition assessments, of course! But we were also extremely lucky to have been blessed with five days of sunny, warm, and quite frankly, balmy weather.
[Photo 5] What a beautiful view from a hillside near the Summit!
Well, to be fair, on the third day of our trip, the day did start out slightly cool and cloudy, drizzling intermittingly, so it wasn't quite like the tropical paradise you may be imagining. The third day was the day we climbed the Golden Stairs, so-named for the steps the stampeders would have carved from snow on this steep incline to reach the Summit. The Stairs are a grueling stretch of trail that ascends approximately 1,000 feet in about a mile! As we hiked this intense stretch to the Summit, the sky slowly cleared behind us and by the time we had reached the top, crossing into Canada, the weather was again balmy, clear, and beautiful. We couldn't have planned the trip better if we tried!
[Photo 6] Stacks of collapsible boats located just before the Summit

 

[Photo 7] Nicole hiking down a snowy decline to Happy Camp, the first campsite after the Summit

As artifact conservation interns, the Chilkoot Trail was an absolutely amazing experience. Before treating any artifact, extensive photo and written documentation is completed, part of which involves researching an object's historical context. On the Chilkoot, we were able to experience artifacts in their historical locations, making their historical context so vivid and tangible. These artifacts add another dimension to the Trail, and lent Nicole and me a deeper understanding of archaeological sites.

[Photo 8] Nicole assessing the condition of the collapsible boats near the Summit

[Photo 9] The team checks out a boat frame and small artifacts on the way from Deep Lake to Lindeman City

Many of the artifacts we encountered along the trail were either objects discarded by the stampeders en route to Bennett (think cans, shoe soles, clothing, belts, and glass bottles) or parts of the system of transportation or communication that functioned along the Trail during the Gold Rush (think telephone wire, cords and wenches from a tramway, and boat and sled frames). We also documented historic hotel and logging mill sites, in addition to the spectacular Canyon City boiler and an astoundingly neat stack of collapsible boats just before the Summit. Most of the artifacts are in remarkable condition, considering they have been exposed to the harsh climate of Alaska and Canada for over a century.

[Photo 10] The Canyon City boiler, one of the most impressive artifacts documented on the U
Now that we have completed these assessments, maintenance or monitoring plans for the artifacts can be developed. The history of the Gold Rush is preserved in the very fabric of the Chilkoot Trail, and additional conservation interns and cultural resources workers will be able to hike the Trail in the years to come to ensure that this history is not lost as the artifacts deteriorate. Hiking the Chilkoot Trail was a truly breathtaking experience (sometimes literally!), and for both the phenomenal wilderness and for the unique history lesson, the Chilkoot experience is unmatchable.
[Photo 11] A gorgeous view of the sunset on the last night of the trip at Bare Loon Lake

 

Chilkoot Trail, Artifact conservation, Archeological objects, Interns, Hiking, camping, summit, Parks Canada, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park



Did You Know?

Pile of boards and canvas in abandoned on rocks

The mystery of why these canvas boats were left behind at the Chilkoot summit of Klondike Gold Rush NHP, remains unsolved. One theory reports that it was too costly to pay the customs to take them over the border. Perhaps they were too flimsy for the rough waters of Bennett Lake?