Nothing spells easy like, H-A-R-D! What was supposed to be an easy 5.5 mile hike that would normally take us 2-3 hours with breaks, took us 6.5 hours. Paul had been nursing his right foot all the way down from Chilkoot Pass (hyper extended his foot stepping on one of the many thousands of mis-shapen granite rocks littered along the trail). His body decided overnight to compensate by making it nearly impossible for him to walk . What was weird is that the ball of his foot no longer hurt. He woke up at 1:30 in the morning with searing pain in his right ankle. WTF? Pain factor 10, when you least expect it. Now normally it’s me with these goofy injuries, of which Paul chides me for. But this time it is he who cannot exactly explain how it happened, but can only say that it hurts like hell, and he must push through the pain, cursing each misstep. Sadly the last of our small bottle of vitamin I (ibuprofen) had been used up last night by Paul (why we brought so little, we can’t even figure out why), so this morning I had to “Yogi” some off a family for him to be able to walk. Each step looked as if he were stepping on glass, and there was nothing I could do to help. I would have given him one of my pain killers that I keep and usually bring along for occasions such as this, but wait someone (of whom I will not name) threw them out because the bottles said they were “expired”. I’m pretty sure that stuff doesn’t expire. At least I’d like to think so.
The first part of the hike, not long after leaving camp was laborious (mostly because of Paul’s injury), for it was mostly talus, scree, and impolite chunks of granite on a narrow path along side a steep cliff. I wondered if this was going to be the trip we hit the SOS button on our Delorme, as Paul would teeter nearly over the edge of the trail barely catching his balance when a shot of stabbing pain would blast through his ankle. How the Stampeders survived carrying their crap over this route I’ll never know. (No wonder they mostly did this in the snow, when the rivers had frozen over). I will say though, that for me the views were breathtaking. I’m sure it was “breathtaking” for Paul, but in an entirely different way. About halfway to Deep Lake, we made use of the icy water running across the trail and stopped so Paul could “ice” his ankle, somewhat reducing the inflammation and pain.
After that, the terrain and pain got a little more manageable, but still no fun…even at a pace slower than my normal “OneSpeed”. Needless to say, Paul was a little grumpy. If only I would have been able to bring that Vicodin, we’d already be Vico-done! By the time we (Paul) hobbled into Deep Lake, a mere 2 miles from Happy Camp, Paul was “done” and seriously considering camping here for the night, which wouldn’t have been a bad thing as this place was gorgeous.
I so wanted to swim here, but the water was way too cold, and you’re not allowed to light fires. Here Paul soaked his foot for nearly two hours to get the swelling down. The same family that gave me some Advil in the morning, showed up as Paul was “icing” his foot, and gave us the rest of their Advil and an ace bandage to maybe help give better support for his ankle. While Paul was soaking his foot, we played with the idea of blowing up my air mattress and having him paddle himself at least part of the way. We reconsidered when we learned that the lake feeds a river that runs through a steep and narrow gorge via an equally steep plunging waterfall (from said lake). Hobble along it is.
Of worthwhile to note, this specific 3.5 mile section from Deep Lake to Lindeman City, was highlighted by the Parks Canada Ranger in our orientation when we picked up our permit on day one. It seems that this specific section has a problem with bears acting “aggressively “. No one has been attacked, nor has anyone had to deploy and use their bear spray, just that the bears in that area REALLY like to use this section of trail and are not too intimidated by humans. Last year (I find this out now. A bear was killed, and the section of trail we are on now, was closed temporarily. The restrictions, previously set were and are not currently in effect. During the orientation, it was highly (note, highly is underlined and in bold) recommended that one hike this section in groups of 4 or MORE. They figured if you were a smaller group, that by then you will have made friends, and would hike in a larger group…at least through this section. When the Ranger was discussing this, we took note, but were not really concerned. Flash forward 2 days and here we are, a slow moving “Happy Meal” for 3.5 miles. Not sure if bear spray would even be useful, if we had it. We figure no one is coming behind us, so even if we stayed the night, there was no guarantee that his foot would get better, or other people would show up. I considered walking the 3.5 miles to Lindeman City, dropping my pack and then coming back to carry Paul’s pack and walk with him, but being solo on the trail (twice) would be even dumber.
So, after 2 hours, Paul is ready to go. His ankle/foot it sufficiently numb, and the ace bandage is giving him better support, in addition to the minimal KT tape I had applied before we left Happy Camp. Once back on the trail, we are happy that the tread and slope are “gentle”. The trail initially hugs the edges of the lake, and then weaves through a narrow corridor of tall, dense, vegetation. We are mindful to be talkative, and keep our eyes peeled for movement in the bushes that flank us, and for the distinctive smell of a bear. As we trod along, soon we are passed by two sets of people, both are running (on purpose), but not for the reason one would think. The first was a couple that were obviously “fast-packing” this trail. He was wearing a cuben fiber Hyperlite Mountaingear backpack, and she a 20L Camelback pack. As they trotted by, I saw their permit “dancing” on his pack. Not sure why they were in such a hurry, as the train doesn’t leave till Saturday. I would imagine they have made other arrangements to return to Skagway, or elsewhere. The second, was a pair of girls in running attire and water bottles. [Who does that? I mean really! What do you even see when you traverse a path strewn with such history and beauty, trotting along at that speed? With all the planning and coordination it takes to do this trail, what do you get out of it? An awesome workout? A record maybe? Bragging rights? Not our cup of tea, but then hey, whatever floats their boat. Or in this case…plane, as we heard later on that they were racing to get to their chartered float plane out of Bennett Lake.] They smile as they pass, the kind of smile that reads, ‘Poor bastards, they’re gonna get eaten’. At one point while we’re hobbling along, Paul tells me that if a bear does indeed attack us, that I should save myself, because at the pace he’s going, he’s a “goner” anyways (Black or Brown bear), no need for both of us to be eaten. I look at the icy cool lake water the trail is hugging. There will be NO running, fighting, or playing dead. We will swim our way out of it. Waterfall be damned! Not sure how fast bears can swim, but what I do know is that adrenaline is a wonderful thing. We get to the end of the lake, and hear the roar of a waterfall.
We spy a skeleton of a boat, left for “dead”. The trail rises and parallels the gorge.
It is here we see why the bears like this trail. It is the only “flat” tread up from the edges of the unstable cliffs, and it’s lined with hordes of blueberry bushes. We are walking through their “food court”, duh! It is here that we feel most on edge. We are glad it is mid-day and very much on the warm side. Better probability for safe passage. As we walk, I notice evidence of recent trail work. Much of the vegetation has been cut back from the trail, allowing for a clearer view of what’s ahead and behind. The lion’s share of the vegetation removal appears to be concentrated on the blueberry bushes. Brilliant! Exactly what I would have done, remove their natural food source. But then the snarky side of me thinks, ‘Now they (the bears) just have mobile piñatas to swipe at. With the vegetation trimmed back, we notice an increased frequency of rusty artifacts. Weathered sled skids, wagon remains, tin cans and soles of shoes pepper the trailside. We must be getting closer to Lindeman City we think.
Soon a weathered sign appears tacked up on a tree, “Lindeman City” it reads. The outline of water appears on the horizon, and then like a cruel joke, the trail narrows into a green tunnel, complete with blind curves, lined with blueberry bushes loaded with ripening fruit, as it descends to the shores of Lindeman Lake and the remains of the once crowded, white canvas clad, metropolis of Lindeman City. Here there are two places to camp. Upper Lindeman, or Lower Lindeman. We choose Upper Lindeman, namely because it continues on the path toward Bennett Lake. We pull into camp, amid cheers of “You Made It!” Paul drops his pack on the deck of the cooking cabin, relieved to be done. Equally relieved, I find us a campsite, while Paul and the rest of the crew trade stories. Evening food preparation has begun. It is only 3pm. We have a snack, and watch as a power boat races up the lake and pulls up to a dock not far from us. It is the Ranger. He wanders over to the group gathered at the picnic tables adjacent the cooking cabin to say “Hello”. He asks how everyone is doing and if we have any questions or need anything. I ask if he has any ibuprofen. Russ says we could probably use some athletic tape. No ibuprofen, and no “athletic tape”, but he does have “hockey tape”. I laugh , as they are one in the same, but of course we are in Canada where athletics IS hockey. I properly tape Paul’s ankle, as I used to be athletic trainer in college, and we finish setting up our camp. More discussion, laughter and trail stories follow. The Ranger confirms that they purposely were cutting back the blueberry bushes in hopes of dissuading the bears from frequenting that portion of the trail. We ask him if he was around when Parker (from History Channel’s, “Gold Rush”) filmed his “Wintery” hike of the Chilkoot Trail, “Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail”. “No, but I heard there was a lot of wine. The liquid form”, he replies. We get to talking about the trail, and how Parker actually had “Sherpas” and a full support crew while filming. So much for “reality TV”. I knew that most of the “reality” on reality TV is contrived, but Sherpas carrying your wine, that’s just not right! I will say though, that they made an ascent of the Golden Staircase in less than stellar conditions, which was super treacherous, with or without a fully loaded backpack. The discussions turned to more Alaskan reality shows, bears, homesteading and their (Alaskan’s) differences with the “Lower 48”. For the most part, the Alaskans we talked to, hate the Alaska reality shows, and are genuinely embarrassed by them. They are completely taken aback, however, by the fact we are from California, especially Southern California. They can’t get over (especially Russ) how we in no-way fit the well established “stereotype”s they have become accustomed to.
We finish setting up our camp, and it is time for our evening vittles. Our “dessert” is a muscle relaxant for both of us, and soon we were easily asleep.