Homer Girl Scouts conquer historic Chilkoot Trail
Steep snow fields, active bears and water crossings add challenges to trip
It might have been in a park but it is was certainly no easy stroll for a group of Homer Scouts to follow in the footsteps of the Klondike Stampeders of 1898. But they accomplished it.
A group of eight Homer Scouts, led by Troop l1935 leader Poppy Benson, successful crossed over the 3,500-foot Chilkoot Pass and conquered the 33 miles of the Chilkoot Trail during a 12-day trip to Southeast Alaska. Making the trip were Cora and Jamie Parish, Daisy Kettle, Eve Brau and Rylie Alborn.
In addition to the six days backpacking the trail, the trip included exploring the Yukon gold rush towns of Whitehorse and Carcross, visiting the Klondike Historical National Park in Skagway, a ride on the famed White Pass Railroad — which is the only way back from the end of the trail, Takhini Hot Springs, and a long drive across Alaska and into Canada to reach the gold rush country.
For Kettle, climbing the 800-foot "Golden Staircase" outside of Skagway was among the highlights to the trip. The historic route used by miners to reach the gold fields is famously portrayed on some Alaskan license plates and in many historical photos. Steep snow fields, unusually active bears and large amounts of water crossing the trail added other challenges, she said.
Kettle also noted it was really interesting to see the diverse landscapes along the trail, from the lush rainforest at the sea level trailhead near Skagway, to the flower covered tundra, the bare rock and snow world of the pass and the drier, sandy pine forests of the Canadian side. The trail is also stunningly beautiful with sweeping vistas of waterfalls, lakes and mountains. Wildlife was particularly abundant with several sightings of mountain goats, bears wandering through camp — fortunately without incident, spruce grouse chicks, ground squirrel babies and ptarmigan.
Cora Parish was impressed with the history and the 120-year-old artifacts strewn all along the trail. More than 30,000 people poured over the Chilkoot Pass headed to the Klondike gold country in just two short years. "Cities" of thousands of people sprang up at numerous sites along the trail.
Parish said she also loved the train ride, noting none of the Scouts had ever been on a train — or ever been to Canada.
Alborn took maximum advantage of the social aspects of the trail, although Daisy remarked she had never felt so compelled to talk to so many people. Only 50 people per day are permitted to start the famous trail and all are required to camp at the same spots and eat and cook at the shelters provided to protect the trail and avoid problems with bear.
So unlike other Alaskan trails, the Chilkoot is a very social experience. On their outing, the girls met many Canadians, Swedes, Australians, Mexicans and 12 members of the U.S. Public Health Service from throughout the country including the Assistant Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Pamela Schweitzer, who gave her Assistant Surgeon General "coin" to Benson because she was so impressed at seeing Girl Scouts on the trail.
Benson said she couldn't have been more proud of the troop, especially since none of the group had backpacked before.
"They are all backpackers now ... and sophisticated wilderness women. These are five young women Homer can be proud of." she said.
In addition to Benson, the Scouts were joined on the trail by two parents, including Sherry Parish and Margi Blanding.