We lollygagged the morning away, and in fact most of the early afternoon, which when we first looked at our itinerary we thought would be an unbearable feat. Nope. Easy-peasy. We woke up leisurely, and drank the remainder of our freeze dried coffee with all the other Chilkoot “survivors”. We compared “notes”, spoke of home, shared email and blog info, and promised in earnest to stay in touch. We systematically went through the groups and persons that we had seen along the way. Several groups had failed to show up that evening, and we hoped they would arrive in time Saturday to catch the train back to Skagway. We had heard that several people had been medevaced (helicopter airlifted) from the Chilkoot Pass due to of all things, heat stroke! Soon we hear screams of JOY! And who should appear, the remaining two of the Canadian Triad, Dianne and Danielle!
It was a raucous reunion. They dropped their packs and basked in their accomplishment. There were two trains scheduled for Saturday. The first was headed further into Canada leaving at 1130, but not before a whistle stop at Bennett Lake for the “tourists”. The train pulled in and soon our tranquil beach is invaded by gawking, fresh scented, clean clothed, sweat free, “hikers” out to get a look at the shores of Bennett Lake, the exterior of the old church, a cemetery, and us. They took pictures of who knows what, as in all actuality there is nothing really left of the Gold Rush, save some buried “midden sites”, broken glass and rusty nails. I’m sure at one point there were artifacts a plenty, but not so much now. We joked amoungst each other that we felt like gorillas in the zoo, and wondered at what point we should start throwing poo. Soon the train whistle blew and it was time for them to reboard for their trip to Carcross. With nothing much else to do till our 3:30pm train, I decided to wander the shoreline in hopes of finally seeing the rapids from Lindeman to Bennett.
I discovered a few “treasures” along the way. I don’t think I have ever seen so much broken glass and rusted tin cans in one area, Nearby, there were several structures under construction. It appears that Glamping (camping without the true grime and dehydrated food) is coming to Bennett Lake, to what we heard would be $1600/double occupancy for a four day “adventure”. I’ll bring my own tent and food thank you. Paul and I wandered as far as we dare, to the edge of where the rapids flowed into Bennett Lake.
Considering what we found on shore, we figured what lay underneath the end of the rapids and at this portion of the lake must be enough goods and materials to fill a museum. We wondered what would happen if next we visited, dive gear in tow. We imagined getting on the train in Skagway with air tanks, our dive bags and dry suits, and the looks we would get. I can’t imagine after all these years that Parks Canada would not have done some underwater exploration. When we were on the California State Parks Dive Team, we dove in Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe (California), it was like going back in time to solve a mystery with the artifacts we mapped and catalogued. I recall us finding piles of broken plates and cups (fine China) and wondering why, for the most part, they had accumulated in one area. Then we recalled that decades ago, before Vikingsholm was built there used to be a “resort” of sorts. We surmised that the kitchen must have been perpendicular to the pile of debris, and the reason why all we found were broken, chipped dishes (not a single one intact) was because this is where they chucked (out the window) any and all chipped and broken dishes as they washed them. Ones imagination tends to run even wilder from there, as you picture the people who once worked there, and the patrons. The sounds, sights and smells. What were their stories, as everyone has a story. The same thoughts ensue as we peer at the tail end of the rapids, unable to venture any further up due to the terrain, and frankly it looked rather “Beary”.
We examine an abandoned washing machine, a tired coffee pot and the debris piles that practically coat the shoreline, scattered well into the water. I can’t imagine people of that period would just toss their empty bottles/tin cans willy-nilly, and/or purposely smash everyone to pieces. With 120 years passing, we are sure that we are only viewing the last remaining surface artifacts, that either have been broken by vandals (for fun), or with the pressure and friction of the snow and ice during winter.
(Later in the week when we are dining at a wonderful fishing lodge with my father, we spy an intact bottle in a display case labeled “Chilcoot Trail 1970”. Proof, many an intact souvenir of the Chilkoot Trail exists.). When we return from our exploration, it is time to pack up and head over to the train station. Everyone talks of how hungry they are, how they are looking forward to their “turkey sandwich” box lunch, most (including us) have purchased for our ride back to Skagway.
We wander over to the currently boarded up train station. We are amazed at how many hikers have now appeared, and have timed their arrival at Bennett Lake with the train. A replica boat used to ferry goods from Bennett Lake down the Yukon River is dry-docked across from the train station, giving us something to examine whilst we wait. In the near distance movement on the tracks marks the impending arrival of the White Pass & Yukon Route train returning from a visit to historic Carcross. It slows to a stop, and the conductor leans out a stairwell of a train car and announces to us, “Bring your packs up to the front”. We are told that we have our choice of two cars, and are NOT to board or inhabit the “non-hiker” cars (lest we stink them up). With that, the train station comes “alive”. The doors to a “hidden” interpretive center open, complete with a fully appointed bathroom. Droves of camera laden people, clad in pristine “hikerwear” filter off the railroad cars behind us, wandering into the interpretive center and up the “road” to explore the cemetery, church and shores of Bennett Lake. Thinking the train was to leave at 3:30, we are more than slightly annoyed, namely because we are all hungry and most have no food or snacks left in which to nibble before the dispersal of our box lunches. Resigned to the fact that we aren’t gong anywhere soon, we wander into the interpretive center. The displays are quite good.
The 3D topo map provides a great overview visual to the terrain we have traversed. They are running a movie loop of the history of the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike Gold Rush on a big screen TV. Paul is seated at the edge of the seating. A woman in a wheelchair has parked 2 seats away from Paul. I take the vacant seat next to Paul and begin to watch the film. Next thing I know, the woman in the wheelchair turns toward me, wrinkles her nose (giving me a look of disgust) and wheels to the other end of the seats. Aw come on! Really?! I am pretty sure that I don’t smell any worse than Paul. I am tempted to walk up to her, take a really big sniff, and see if I can identify her laundry detergent. But I don’t, because the film is actually quite interesting. Soon the train whistle blows and it is time to board the White Pass and Yukon Route train back to Skagway.
We clamor aboard one of the cars, to begin our scenic journey. A woman narrates as we go. We spy still visible traces of the White Pass route, often referred to as “Dead Horse Pass“, wherein 3000 horses/mules perished attempting to haul goods over this route to Bennett Lake.
We are fascinated at the engineering feat, and the obstacles and terrain that had to be overcome to make this route. Thousands of men worked to have this completed as quickly as possible. It took them 2 years, 2 months and 2 days to complete it and have it running. 2 years after that it was practically obsolete as no one was “racing” to the Yukon for gold anymore. Today, it’s primary use is for tourists off the cruise ships from May till October. Eventually our box lunches are dispersed. Not much for $20, but we are hungry and soon the car becomes quiet, as we inhale the meager contents. The pictures and video we take, do not do this “ride” or the scenery justice. If one is ever in Skagway, this is a worthwhile “touristy” thing to do…even for the cost. On the way to Skagway we pick up some National Park Service private contract, archeologists. They are surveying, inventorying, and exploring the remnants of the White Pass Route, to see what the feasibility of actually opening and restoring this route for hiking and back-packing to Bennett Lake.
From what they told me, it’s a long way off, as it will take a lot of trail maintenance, but they hope it happens as it would add another fantastic dimension to the story of the Klondike Gold Rush. Eventually we glide into Skagway. We remove our hats and sunglasses, and hold our open passports, and hold them in our left hands (not that we have two) for the CBP Officer (US Customs and Border Patrol) to examine. We are given the “Okay”, and step off the train to a bustling “metropolis”, compared to where we have been for the last 4 days. We grab our packs, say our “goodbyes” and head for a shower and to be reunited with Schluffle (the rest of our stuff for next week’s fishing). We set up our camp, for another night at the Pullen Creek RV park, and then head to the Bonanza Bar and Grill to meet up with Russ, Trudy and Heidi, Beverly and Mike who is the bartender (currently working at Bonanza)who hiked the trail with us.
We eat, drink, laugh and play several rounds of highly spirited BINGO for alcohol related paraphernalia. I win a Bud Light hat and plastic pitcher, both of which I return to Mike, as do not want to carry this, nor would I EVER drink this beer.
Full and happy we literally wander back to our tent, the streets void of all activity. Tomorrow we will play tourists till it is time for our ferry back to Juneau, and on to the next adventure.