“Watch out, another pile of scat here,” I called back to Mark, who was a few steps behind me on the muddy trail. It was the fifth we had come across already, and we weren’t even at the first campsite yet.
I started to replay the ‘bear-aware’ rules in my head, just in case we came across the culprits behind all the piles of poo on the trail.
No sudden movements…
Talk in a low, loud, calm voice…
Make yourself look big…
Back away slowly…
Or, wait, are you supposed to stand your ground?
And what was that about playing dead? When exactly are you supposed to do that, again? After they’ve made contact? As if I’d have any control over my mental and physical functionality after a bear had “made contact” with me.
And then the questions started running through my head:
Does Mark actually know how to work that bear spray?
Why are we hiking at the height of berry season?
Why did I decide to put all the food in my backpack?
Now I was the one walking through bear country with eau-de-beef-jerky wafting out behind me. Great.
It was my idea to hike the Chilkoot Trail. I had first heard about it from my aunt who had done it years ago and it had stuck in my mind. I was looking for another challenge and recently we had been drawn to the North more and more. It seemed like the perfect time to do it.
Mark was only there because he didn’t want me to do it alone and, for some reason, I couldn’t find anyone else that was able or willing to spend five days lugging 50-pound packs 53 kilometers through the mountains.
By the third pile of scat, I was glad he was there. I’d be even more grateful he decided to come along by the third day, but that’s a story for another time.
Obligatory trailhead photo
Day one was all about excitement and finally getting out there after months of planning. With fresh legs and full bellies, we set out late-morning, aiming to reach Canyon City campground.
Our “last meal” before hitting the trail
Our first day on the trail did not disappoint. Rocks and mud and forest and rivers and ups and downs. Impossibly tall trees on impossibly steep mountain sides. In some places it was soft and muddy, the trail having just re-opened after the rising river flooded some of the lower sections. In other spots, the trail was wide and packed, which made for easy walking. Narrow boardwalks spanned swamps, testing our balance with heavy packs on. Stairs cut into the rocky ground carried us up and up and up. The clouds, threatening rain all day, held off; letting out only light showers that barely even made it through the thickness of the tree branches.
Notice the nice ripe berries, just what a hungry bear is looking for.
Lunch break at Finnegan’s Point, with the Irene Glacier in the background.
By the time we reached Canyon City we were tired. And sore. And it was only the beginning. Kids hiking with their families, some as young as four years old, ran and screamed and played tag. I watched in awe as I sat at the picnic table, stretching my hamstrings and eating freeze-dried rice and chicken out of a bag. How the hell did they have so much energy?!
Suppertime on day one.
We were back in our tent soon after eating, enjoying the opportunity to get off our feet and stretch out a bit. I felt grateful I was there and a little nervous about what the upcoming days would bring. As a not-very-athletic prairie girl I felt a little bit like I didn’t belong there, but I was determined to see it through.
Day 1 Trail Stats:
Date: August 9, 2016
Trail Section: Trailhead to Canyon City
Total Distance: 12.5 km/7.7 miles
Total Time: 11:00 am – 4:20 pm
Read about Day 2 here.
Plan your own hike on the Chilkoot Trail with my how-to guide!