Things Go Awry

I’m up at 6:20 to prep for the Chilkoot hike. I didn’t get a full eight hours, but I want time for my morning exercise routine, breakfast, a last check through my pack.

Hannah has found the only place in Skagway that’s open for breakfast, so we backpack the 18 blocks there.

We have half an hour before our scheduled mandatory briefing. Once that’s complete, we’ll have our official Chilkoot Pass permits. We’ll meet the shuttle we’ve scheduled to the trailhead, and hike the 13 miles to Sheep Camp. That puts us at the base of the Golden Staircase by tonight.

The Golden Staircase is day two: three thousand feet of talus climb from Alaska into Yukon Territory. Then days three and four are bare rock, scraggly evergreens, and lakes until we make it to the pre-booked train stop. The train takes us out to Whitehorse.

The barista is friendly, chatting to wake up. She smiles at our packs. “Where are you guys hiking?”

“The Chilkoot,” I tell her.

“Ooh, fingers crossed!”



“Oh, it’s been closed. But it’s probably open now. Somebody was telling me earlier.” She disappears down to the toaster end of the booth.

I eat my bagel, waffle, and oatmeal– I ordered everything on the menu. I’m always hungry, and I’m not convinced we’ve packed enough. The rest of the group orders and eats too.

We make it on time to the National Park office, but the door is locked.

Downtown Skagway in daytime is crowded: three cruise ships are in. Through the window, I can see the rangers in a stand-up meeting, preparing to meet guests. They’re late, though. It’s after eight.

Eventually, one of them sees us through the window, pokes her head out.

“Are you hiking the Chilkoot? You have to go up to the other office. Sixth street. We’re not open until 8:30.”

She ducks back in.

Well, then, we’re late. But hopefully the briefing will be short, the shuttle understanding. We pack back up to sixth street.

Three rangers stand behind the counter.

“We’re your eight o’clock for the Chilkoot,” I say, “sorry we’re late!”

The three women smile, “no problem!”

A moment passes as the rest of the group enters the office. The rangers look at us, look at each other. “Who’s going to take them?” One of them steps forward.

“We have some bad news.”

Apparently, there has been heavy rain. The first day of the Chilkoot is riverside, and the river is swollen. The creeks you step over are major crossings. There are rocks and trees coming down the current. Also, there’s some concern about bears.

The hike, in short, is canceled.

We sit on the benches, look around at the maps, the whiteboard with weather conditions. We set down our packs.

We surreptitiously suggest going anyway. Probably not a great plan– danger, border crossing, and all.

There is the transport we pre-booked: shuttle to the trail, train from the other end, bus.

And: where do we sleep tonight?

The rangers suggest we could delay by a day– “In case it’s open tomorrow. But it might not be.”

We could maybe push it a day, divide out the extra mileage. Rick and I can’t arrive later than scheduled, though; we have a race the next morning.

At least, we have a place to stay in Whitehorse. It was supposed to be the other end of the trail, four days from now, but a friend of the family has generously offered her house to us for as long as we need it.

If we can change the train tickets, cancel the shuttle, get a refund on the trail pass…

We leave our bags at the train station, and go for short hikes in Skagway. The sun is out; the water blue. By afternoon, the clouds have lifted high enough on the mountains that we can see the glacier. Our bus leaves at two.

By evening, we’re in Canada, Yukon territory. I guess it’s not that far by road, just four hours or so. Out the window, I imagine hiking up that hill, over those rocks, by this lake. We drive right by the end of the trail.

I fall asleep for part of the ride, but I’m tired anyway when we pull in. It’s been a long day of figuring things out.

The visitor’s center has transit maps, area maps, brochures for hikes. The rental car offices are closed, and sold out, and shuttles to adventure spots around are prohibitively expensive.

But we can take the city bus for $2.50 to our house tonight. And tomorrow, we’ll see. We’re in the Yukon’s capital: Whitehorse, the Wilderness City. There’s bound to be something good.

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