Roads to Alaska (Page 3)
The Klondike Loop
In July of 1897, gold seekers began arriving by the boat load on the beaches of Skagway and Dyea, Alaska.   The influx continued for more than a year.   Adventurers had learned that from either of these towns they could climb to Lake Bennett where it would then be easy sailing to the Klondike Valley about 500 miles north in the Yukon Territory.   But they must hurry to make their claims.

Lake Bennett was only about 33 miles away, but what the "stampeders" discovered was that the first obstacle on the Chilkoot trail from Dyea was a climb of 3500 feet. Some of this was almost vertical on steps chiseled out of ice.   The Canadian Mounties at the summit/border, required them to carry provisions for one year. Many of these determined individuals carried a ton of provisions up this mountain by making as many as 50 trips on foot, depending on how much they could carry each time.

The White Pass trail from Skagway was a gentler slope, rising to only 2800 feet, where horses could be used.   It was a little farther, but the real problem with the White Pass seems to have been Skagway and the scallyway, Soapy Smith, who "ran" the town.   It's a sad story of gangsterism and ploy.   Either way, Chilkoot or White Pass; some men, women and horses perished under their burdens in avalanches, falls and just plain human treachery.  

Except that it still derives its life from that short period in history when men and women risked all on the chance of quick fortune, Skagway is now a fairly normal town with a population of about 800 residents.

Now, instead of boat loads of gold seekers, huge cruise ships loaded with gold bearers arrive steadily all summer long.  

Now they come ashore with video cameras to capture the adventure.   A few, as we did, drive down the convenient highway that parallels the old White Pass Trail from Bennett Lake to the Skagway beach on windy Taiya Inlet.

This photo on the museum wall lets us feel the confidence in the eyes of these stampeders as they relax in their last moments before undertaking their ascent up the White Pass Trail.   We know now that some men and beasts like these were walking into disaster.

This free museum at Skagway had a fine documentary movie and many informative exhibits like this one that showed the provisions a Chilkoot Trail stampeder had to somehow carry up that steep trail.

After we'd had enough of Skagway, we bought a couple of disappointingly small deli sandwiches, each with a teensy package of potato chips and a can of pop at an exorbitant Soapy Smith price.   We thought it would be nice to take them to a picnic table over at the Dyea Campground.   The dirt road was full of pot holes, narrow and twisty.   Dyea is absolutely nothing but a "place" at the end of a small finger of water. There indeed were good tables and a campground, but the stiff wind was bitterly cold.   And the hardy mosquitoes were most happy to see us!   Our lunch was a complete disaster, useful, I suppose, as a remembrance of the disasters of Chilkoot and White Pass.

We left Skagway the same way we came, via Yukon/BC Highway 2.   We had bypassed Whitehorse on the way down, but it became our overnight stop on our way to the far north.

The next day, August 23, we continued north toward Dawson City, generally following the path of the Klondike gold seekers.   Our lunch stop was at Fox Lake Campground, just as it was in 1971.   We have this photo as a reminder of that.   The campground has become much more elaborate and might not even be at the same location.   Fox Lake is fairly long.

A little farther up Highway 2, at Carmacks, we begin following the Yukon River.   A special place is Five Finger Rapids, one of the last hazards for the gold seekers before arriving at the Klondike in boats they had built on the shores of Bennett Lake.

In late afternoon we arrived at Klondike River Campground, just 12 miles east of Dawson City.

Dawson City

is on a river corner. This view looks northeast across the city.   The main river front is the Yukon River flowing northward.   The Klondike River comes in from the east and joins the Yukon here at the south edge of the city.

As in the 1890's, the Yukon waterfront with its dyke is still a focus in Dawson.

Only a few things are different.

The streets are still a soft brown, and the sidewalks are still made of wood.

But what are all these strange iron-covered wagons with black stuff around their wheels?

I forgot to check to see if they still have square nails. . .

They still have "clean rooms, fine foods and potable spirits . . . ."

And women still like flowers and spending money.
Just kidding ... just kidding

X   X   X

Meanwhile the old is being carefully and methodically
renewed to better than the old "new" condition.
Dawson City was never this good.

Parting remarks about Dawson:

Dawson city is 165 miles south of the Arctic Circle.   It is now a tourist center with a population of about 2,000.   During the winter, not much is going on.   The "Top of the World Highway" to the west is closed and the ferry crossing on the Yukon shuts down.

Gold was discovered near Dawson in 1896 on Rabbit Creek, now called Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River.   The lucky guys were Skookum Jim, Taglish Charlie and George Carmack.   Dawson City exploded to a population of 30,000 just two years later and was a supply and service center for the miners.   But by 1899 most of the miners had moved on to Nome, leaving the Klondike to large scale industrial miners with their dredges to sift huge areas of sand for gold.   These operations were financed by the Rothschilds and Guggenheims.   Then Dawson began its decline to almost a ghost town. Sacred, sterile piles of sand remain to this day as part of the tourist attraction.

Dawson City still has gold fever.   Here we spent more for gasoline than any other place on the trip. One pump was labeled "Gold" and the other, "Bronze."   We bought only "Bronze."   But no!   I am wrong to complain.   This town is much more laid back than Skagway.   The streets may not be paved (on purpose), but their T-shirts were very reasonable.   And the library was very spacious and cordial.   I really liked the relaxed way of Dawson.   Those Canadian Mounted Police really have things under control here!

After our day in Dawson, we put our van and trailer on the open ferry at the north end of town for the short ride across the Yukon.   We camped at Yukon River Campground, a super nice place with no real amenities except a pleasant spot by the river.

There is no electric service for anyone living on this side of the river.   We had a nice conversation with our campground attendant who lives up the hill year-round.   He has a personal acquaintance with the spotted fox that I had spotted as it approached the campground earlier that evening.   He also explained that the strange clicking voice we heard from a raven on a Dawson utility pole, was only one of several in the raven repertoire.

We only regret that we didn't set our camp here the night before.   It would have been only a short swim through a swift current to Dawson!   But then, why swim?   The ferry is free and everything is within a walk.   Next time that's what we will do.

Background image is from the stream at Fox Lake Campground northwest of Whitehorse, Yukon
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