The Gold Rush/Chilkoot Trail

I feel extremely lucky to have some of the friends I do! Jamee is certainly one of them (don't know Jamee? Read this! Or a prior adventure with the original Jamee) After seeing Jamee briefly earlier this summer, Jamee asked me out of the blue if I wanted to do the Chilkoot Trail in August, and I... bought a plane ticket.

From left to right: Jamee, Michelle, Lo, and Virginia
(Team Blue versus Team Pink) 

4 unlikely heroines started the journey - me (the "good" gal, the innocent heroine), Jamee (wiley Jamee, a true chaotic neutral), Virginia (definitely evil), and Michelle (the only actual good person out of the 4 of us). We were dropped off at the trailhead in Dyea by one of Jamee's friends (who we sang Journey to the whole way to the trailhead, poor guy) in Skagway after taking a 6 AM flight from Juneau to Skagway (tired already? Me too).

Chilkoot "Piece of Cake" pass 
Jamee planned for us to do the 33 mile trek in 5 days, which would have been a reasonable 6 miles a day. Unfortunately, the campsites were spaced such that we hiked 14 miles the first day (?!?!) to Sheep Camp at the base of the Chilkoot pass. At Sheep Camp, the exhausted heroines set up camp and prepared to have a nice dinner. Except, we found out Virginia left her fuel at home and the replacement fuel we got at the Skagway airport was almost empty (whoops). Then, Jamee set the warming shelter on fire using her MSR stove. No, no that last part wasn't a joke - we actually made a young ranger's day when he got to "save" us all using a fire extinguisher which happened to be right there. But then we had a great meal and slept well!

Virginia getting close with nature at the top of the pass 
The next day was pretty brutal. At this point, we're all just slap happy and pretty much constantly ganging up on each other (except Michelle, remember, she's the only nice character in this story). We had 4 miles of Boulder field goodness to climb and over 2000 feet of gain. This was what the Klondike stampeders went over to get to gold in Dawson before the train was open from Skagway, and there was all this garbage, errr historical relics, over the trail from them. You know, you're looking for a handhold to haul your 35 pound pack and body up over some giant rocks and there's a 100 year old broken shovel hanging out.

The tallest is the bestest
At the top of the pass, we hung out and made friends with some of the other backpackers. We shared "friendship goldfish" and "friendship oreos" cementing our trail bond (re: everyone eating all my vegetarian friendly food). Then we trekked on to "Happy Camp", which was still about 4 miles away. Along the way, moments of true friendship occurred, like me laying down with my pack on (like a turtle) and getting stuck; naturally, Jamee and Virginia continued on their way, without a care to their trapped comrade. Sweet Michelle, however, gave me a hand up.

This is why Michelle was all of our favorites 
The landscape after the pass was surreal and perhaps the best part of the trip. It felt like we were walking on the moon as we passed several mountain lakes and waterfalls (meh, not actually that exciting after living in the PNW) and walked through alpine prairies with wildflowers in full bloom. If you feel inspired to do this trek with 3 of your friends, I think August is the perfect time to go.

wooly mountain squirrel 
We then made it to Happy Camp, filtered our water, set up our tents, made our dehydrated meals, and I started whining about how I had no food left. We slept under the stars after another clear night (what luck!) and then woke up bright and early and happy at Happy Camp. We were enjoying a slow breakfast in the warming hut, and then... the bear got us!

Perfection (well, minus Jamee,
 but just picture yourself there instead of Jamee!)
Just kidding, no bears. But, we were just taking our first sip of morning coffee when suddenly the coffee tasted spicy. Like, really spicy. My lungs then seized and I started to cough, and I thought I was having a severe allergic reaction (first thought: "damn, it's the nespresso instant coffee that got me"). I looked across the table at Jamee, and I see her eyes widen as she coughs too. Fortunately, Jamee knew exactly what had happened - we had been innocently bear maced by one of our fellow backpackers who hit her bear spray on the way into the warming hut. Jamee and I then started coughing with gusto, and we fled the warming hut. For me, my eyes, nostrils, and lungs felt like they were on fire, and my lungs kept trying to tell me that there was no air to breathe. Blessedly, it cleared up in a few minutes. Michelle, of course, was totally unaffected by the bear spray (as truly good people generally are).

"Hi Lo" 
After Happy Camp, we journeyed to Deep Lake campsite and Lindemann City. We had no real plans, and since we were going to stay out for 5 days, the idea was that we'd stay at one of these campsites. Neither appealed though (Deep Lake was pretty rustic and Lindemann City was straight up haunted), so we pushed on to Bare Loon. Despite a lackluster name, Bare Loon was a perfect campsite, with spots perched above a lake. We heard loons throughout the night and had a clear night to watch sunset and see stars.

Michelle enjoying the view 
We decided Bare Loon was SO great we'd spend another day there. Virginia and I did an out and back without packs to the final campsite/train station at Bennett Lake. Well, Virginia trail ran it and chased off all the bears and I meandered. We said bye along the way to all our awesome friends we had made (I found several other female physicists/engineers on the trail, just proving that female physicists/engineers are the best kind of people ever).

Unfortunately when we got back to Bare Loon, a rain storm had just blown in, so I ate almost all of my remaining food (supplies dwindling!) and passed out in the tent for several hours till the rain was gone. It was like it had never rained :D!

The right way to do a ferry
Our last day was slow and relaxing. We made it to Bennett Lake early, acted like homeless people outside the train station and played Farcle for several hours until the train came. The train ride back to Skagway was incredible (and a bit harrowing). You feel like you're falling off the edge of a cliff 90% of the time. In Skagway, we binge ate our hearts out at a Thai restaurant and then made our way to the ferry. We took a "slow ferry" (re: poor man's cruise ship) to Juneau that left Skagway at 8 PM and arrived in Juneau at 4 AM. We laughed and were ridiculous for about an hour (Virginia got my piece on why Ke$ha is actually a genius), and then passed out till Haines (long story, basically Haines ferry goers have no respect for sleeping bodies) and then more sleep till Juneau!

"I wonder where this goes..."
The next day at 6 AM (so 2 hours later), Jamee dropped off Michelle at the airport (bye Michelle!), we slept more, then Jamee and I went kayaking out to Mendenhall Glacier . An awesome experience with the best tour guide possible. After a quick dinner and a tearful goodbye (well, on Virginia and Jamee's ends), I left Juneau and headed back to Seattle.

Overall, it was an amazing experience. Despite constantly making fun of each other, we actually had no fights or serious disagreements. It was always about the "us" and making sure everyone in our group was happy and having a good time. We certainly had a few tough decisions to make, but what a team to work with :D A couple of people expressed surprised at 4 women traveling together in bear country, but it never felt unsafe nor am I sure how it would have been different if we had men with us (well, it would have been less fun but other than that...). Plus, if you know Jamee you wouldn't mess with her (don't be deceived by the blonde hair, blue eyes, and doll-like face!) 

So there's the end of another great adventure and I'm looking forward to more in the future. Thank you ladies for an amazing trip <3 Well, mostly thank you to Michelle, the glue that kept us from eating each other. Quite literally, that was a discussion topic once - who would we eat last... it was me, obviously...

The faces of trouble

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