Mark and Nadine's Arctic Expedition travel blog

On the Chilkoot Trail, Dyea AK

Totem Poles in Teslin YT

Totem Pole, Teslin YT


This morning we drove out of Skagway along the dirt road to the former site of the town of Dyea, which once rivaled Skagway as a port of entry for the Gold Rush. Skagway had a better harbor (Dyea’s harbor was and is choked with mud, and ships couldn’t get very close), but Dyea had a better trail to the Yukon headwaters (Dyea had the Chilkoot Trail, while Skagway had the White Pass Trail, which was longer, though not quite as steep).

The Chilkoot Trail has been restored and maintained by the National Parks Service and Parks Canada, so we hiked a little way up the trail - far enough to get a sense of how tough it must have been during that winter of 1897-98. Then each prospector had to show that he or she had brought one ton of provisions to get them through their first year; otherwise, the Mounties would send them back. So most had to make at least 10 trips, fully loaded, up the trail! Hard to imagine!

Other than the trailhead of the Chilkoot Trail, there’s nothing to see at Dyea today (the boom town died a sudden death as soon as the White Pass RR out of Skagway was finished in 1903, and repeated spring floods have washed away the remnants). So we headed back to Skagway, loaded up on provisions of our own (not a ton’s worth, though), and headed up the South Klondike Highway, on our way to the Alaska Highway.

The highway, which in places parallels the White Pass trail and railroad, is pretty amazing in its own right. Once we reached the summit, we traveled through an alpine “moonscape” of treeless hills until reaching the old railroad center of Carcross YT, where we stopped for a bit. Carcross is reminiscent of what Skagway was like before the cruise ships started landing in the 1970s. Many of its original buildings remain, most of them still in use. It’s quiet, but very interesting. The general store in Carcross is the oldest continuous business in the Yukon, and it’s still stocked with a wide variety of items - some for tourists and some for locals.

After Carcross, we hooked up with the Alaska Highway and headed south and east, toward home. Along the way, we stopped in the native community of Teslin (on the way north several weeks ago, we stopped here at the George Johnston Museum, to see his photographs of native life in the early 20th century). We stopped by the local interpretive center, which was closed, but we still got to see the totem poles that stand outside it, along with two huge “war canoes,” built in the traditional Tinglit style, but made with modern materials like fiberglass. Too bad the center wasn’t open!

We’re anxious to keep going, however, and we continued on to a roadhouse/campground just west of the Continental Divide, where we spent the night.

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