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Established by Edward L. Youmans







[Illustration: WILLIAM PENGELLY.]


MAY, 1899.






Hardly two years ago the names Dawson and Klondike were entirely
unknown to the outside world, and geographers were as ignorant of
their existence as was at that time the less learned laity. To-day it
may be questioned if any two localities of foreign and uncivilized
lands are as well known, by name at least, as these that mark the
approach to the arctic realm in the northwest of the American
continent. One of those periodic movements in the history of peoples
which mark epochs in the progress of the world, and have their source
in a sudden or unlooked-for discovery, directed attention to this new
quarter of the globe, and to it stream and will continue to stream
thousands of the world's inhabitants. Probably not less than from
thirty-five thousand to forty thousand people, possibly even
considerably more, have in the short period following the discovery of
gold in the Klondike region already passed to or beyond the portals of
what has not inaptly been designated the New Eldorado. To some of
these a fortune has been born; to many more a hope has been shattered
in disappointment; and to still more the arbiter of fate, whether for
good or for bad, has for a while withheld the issue.

In its simplest geographical setting Dawson, this Mecca of the north,
is a settlement of the Northwest Territory of Canada, situated at a
point thirteen hundred miles as the crow flies northwest of Seattle.
It is close to, if not quite on, the Arctic Circle, and it lies the
better part of three hundred miles nearer to the pole than does St.
Petersburg in Russia. By its side one of the mighty rivers of the
globe hurries its course to the ocean, but not too swiftly to permit
of sixteen hundred miles of its lower waters being navigated by craft
of the size of nearly the largest of the Mississippi steamers, and
five hundred miles above by craft of about half this size. In its own
particular world, the longest day of the year drawls itself out to
twenty-two hours of sunlight, while the shortest contracts to the same
length of sun absence.

During the warmer days of summer the heat feels almost tropical; the
winter cold is, on the other hand, of almost the extreme Siberian
rigor. Yet a beautiful vegetation smiles not only over the valleys,
but on the hilltops, the birds gambol in the thickets, and the tiny
mosquito, either here or near by, pipes out its daily sustenance to
the wrath of man. The hungry forest stretches out its gnarled and
ragged arms for still another hundred or even three hundred miles
farther to the north.

Up to within a few years the white man was a stranger in the land, and
the Indian roamed the woods and pastures as still do the moose and
caribou. To-day this has largely changed. The banks of the once silent
river now give out the hum of the sawmill, the click of the hammer,
and the blast of the time-whistle, commanding either to rest or to
work. A busy front of humanity has settled where formerly the grizzly
bear lapped the stranded salmon from the shore, and where at a still
earlier period - although perhaps not easily associated with the
history of man - the mammoth, the musk ox, and the bison were masters
of the land. The red man is still there in lingering numbers, but his
spirit is no longer that which dominates, and his courage not that of
the untutored savage.

The modern history of Dawson begins with about the middle of 1896,
shortly after the "public" discovery of gold in the Klondike tract.
Three or four months previous there was hardly a habitation, whether
tent or of logs, to deface the landscape, and the voice of animate
Nature was hushed only in the sound of many waters. At the close of
the past year, as nearly as estimate can make it, there were probably
not less than from fourteen thousand to fifteen thousand men, women,
and children, settled on the strip of land that borders the Yukon,
both as lowland and highland, for about two miles of its course near
the confluence of the Klondike. Many of these have located for a
permanence, others only to give way to successors more fortunate than
themselves. Some of the richest claims of the Bonanza, now a famed
gold creek of the world, are located hardly twelve miles distant, and
the wealth of the Eldorado is discharged within a radius of less than
twenty miles. Over the mountains that closely limit the head springs
of Bonanza and Eldorado, Hunker, Dominion, and Sulphur Creeks
thread their own valleys of gold in deep hollows of beautiful
woodland - fascinating even to-day, but already badly scarred by the
work that man has so assiduously pressed in the region. This is the
Klondike, a land full of promise and of equal disappointment, brought
to public notice in the early part of 1897, when intelligence was
received by the outside world regarding the first important gold
location on Bonanza Creek in August of the year previous.


On the 24th of July of the past year I found myself on the principal
thoroughfare of Skaguay, the ubiquitous Broadway, contemplating a
journey to the new north. The route of travel had been determined for
me in part by the non-arrival at Seattle of the expected steamers from
the mouth of the Yukon River, and by that woeful lack of knowledge
regarding "conditions" which so frequently distinguishes steamship
companies. It was to be, therefore, the overland route, and from
Skaguay it was merely the alternative between the White Pass and the
Chilkoot Pass or Dyea trails. The two start from points barely four
miles apart, cross their summits at very nearly the same distance from
one another, and virtually terminate at the same body of inland water,
Lake Lindeman, the navigable head of the great Yukon River. A more
than generous supply of summer heat gave little warning of that bleak
and severe interior with which the world had been made so well
familiar during the last twelvemonth, and from which we were barely
six hundred miles distant; nor did the character of the surroundings
betray much of an approach to the Arctic Circle. Mountains of aspiring
elevations, six thousand to seven thousand feet, most symmetrically
separated off into pinnacles and knobs, and supporting here and there
enough of snow to form goodly glaciers, look down upon the narrow
trough which to-day is the valley of the Skaguay River. At the foot of
this ancient fiord lies the boom town of Skaguay. Charming forests,
except where the hand of man has leveled the work of Nature to suit
the requirements of a constructing railway, yet clothe the mountain
slopes and fill in the gap that lies between them, shadowing the dense
herbage and moss which almost everywhere form an exquisite carpeting
to the underlying rock. The ear may catch the strains of a few
mosquitoes, or the mellow notes of the robin or thrush, but rising far
above these in the majesty of tone and accent is the swish of the
tumbling cataracts which bring the landscape of Norway to America.
Man, it is claimed, is much the same the world over; but there is a
limitation. The second habitation of white man in Skaguay was
established less than a year before my visit; yet at that time,
presumably to meet the demands of a resident population of nearly five
thousand, and of the wandering hordes pressing to the interior, the
destructive hand of the advertiser had already inscribed on the walls
of rock, in characters twenty feet or more in height, and sufficiently
elevated to make them nearly the most conspicuous elements of the
landscape, the glories of cigars, the value of mental and physical
specifics, and of other abominations which were contrived to fatten
the Yankee pocket.


Had it not been for the kindly advice of one who had just returned
from the Klondike, and who claimed to have crossed both passes fifty
times, I should almost unhesitatingly have taken the White Pass trail;
but the representation that beyond the summit the mud would be
neck-deep and virtually impenetrable for a distance of twenty miles or
more, cast the decision in favor of the Chilkoot. The fortunate or
unfortunate circumstance that a billowy sea made a landing of
passengers at Dyea impossible on that day threw me back upon my first
resource, and about two hours before midday of the 30th I was mounted
on a horse following out the Skaguay trail. By seven o'clock in the
evening of the following day I had reached Lake Lindeman, and about a
half hour later Lake Bennett, the starting point of the lines of Upper
Yukon steamers which had just recently been established. We had made
the forty miles of the dreaded White Pass trail without serious
hindrance or delay, up over the summit of 2,860 feet elevation, and
down over a course which was depicted in colors of hardship that would
have done more truthful service in describing a pass in the Himalayas.
There was no mud, not a trace of snow or ice except on the mountain
declivities, and had it not been for a horse that was both stiff and
lame, and required my attention as pedestrian to an extent that had
not been bargained for, the journey would have been an exceptionally
delightful one.

It is true that an unfortunate fall at one time almost deprived me of
my animal, but the service of tackle soon put him to rights and to his
feet, and but few blood marks were left on the rocks to tell of the
struggle. The most disagreeable incident of the journey was a dense
and shifting fog, which so blocked out the landscape of early evening
as to necessitate "feeling" the brokenness of a glaciated country in
order to ascertain wherein lay the trail. But beyond this there was a
perpetual delight in the landscape - in the narrow rocky defile, the
bursting torrent, the open meadows, with their carpet of green and
variegated with fireweed, gentian, rose, and forget-me-not, which more
than compensated for the little vexations that allied themselves with
the journey.


It is not often that the selection of a route of travel is determined
by the odorous or malodorous qualities which appertain thereto. Such a
case was, however, presented here. It was not the depth of mud alone
which was to deter one from essaying the White Pass route; sturdy
pioneers who had toiled long and hard in opening up one or more new
regions, laid emphasis upon the stench of decaying horse-flesh as a
factor of first consideration in the choice of route. So far as stench
and decaying horse-flesh were concerned, they were in strong evidence.
The Desert of Sahara, with its lines of skeletons, can boast of no
such exhibition of carcasses. Long before Bennett was reached I had
taken count of more than a thousand unfortunates whose bodies now made
part of the trail; frequently we were obliged to pass directly over
these ghastly figures of hide, and sometimes, indeed, broke into them.
Men whose veracity need not be questioned assured me that what I saw
was in no way the full picture of the "life" of the trail; the
carcasses of that time were less than one third of the full number
which in April and May gave grim character to the route to the new
Eldorado. Equally spread out, this number would mean one dead animal
for every sixty feet of distance! The poor beasts succumbed not so
much to the hardships of the trail as to the inhuman treatment, or
lack of care and assistance, which they received on the part of their
owners. Once out of the line of the mad rush, perhaps unable to
extricate themselves from the holding meshes of soft snow and of
quagmires, they were allowed to remain where they were, a food
offering to the army of carrion eaters which were hovering about,
only too certain of the meal which was being prepared for them.
Oftentimes pack saddles, and sometimes even the packs, were allowed to
remain with the struggling or sunken animal - such was the mad race
which the greed of gold inspired.

On October 9th I was again at Bennett, this time returning from my
journey into the interior, and full of experience of what steam
navigation on the upper six hundred miles of Yukon waters might mean.
There was now a change in the sentiment regarding the quality of the
two passes. The Pacific and Arctic Railway, the pioneer of Alaska
steam railways, was operating twelve miles of track, and had thus
materially reduced the "hardships" of the Skaguay trail; the Chilkoot,
on the other hand, was represented to be in the worst of mood, and
prepared to put the passing traveler into the same condition. It was
more than late in the season, but the winter's blasts had been stayed
off by a full month, and there were still no signs of their coming. A
little ice had begun to form along the river's margin and over
sheltered pools, and an occasional cool night made demands for
moderately warm clothing proper; but, on the whole, the temperature
was mild and balmy, and to its influence responded a vegetation which
in its full glory might easily have called to mind the region of the


Although strongly warned against taking the Chilkoot Pass so late in
the season, many of the outgoers, whose recollections of events in the
early part of the year were still vividly fresh, and who could not be
persuaded that the period of a few months had so effaced the
conditions of the past as to permit a steam railway to enter for
twelve miles into the region, chose it in preference to the White
Pass. My own mind had been cast in the same direction; not, however,
from a point of judicious preference, but merely because I was anxious
to see for myself that which had become historic in the movement of
1898, and of instituting a direct comparison of the physical features
and general characteristics of the two routes. With no serious
hindrance, the journey from Bennett out was that of a full day only,
and there was no particular reason to suspect that there would be
delay. Snow had fallen on the summit and whitened all the higher
points, but seemingly it hung in only a measurably thin crust, and
with not enough to necessitate breaking a trail.

A crude steam ferry across Lake Lindeman cuts off about six miles from
the first part of the trail, after which a rapidly rising path,
sufficiently distinct to permit it to be easily followed, winds over
the rocks and among rock _débris_ to Long Lake, situated at an
elevation of some twenty-six hundred feet, where night shelter is
found in a fairly comfortable tent. Up to this point we had
encountered but little snow, and the condition of the trail was such
as to allow of rapid travel. A wise caution detained us here for the
night, and the incoming of a solitary traveler warned us that a
blizzard had struck the summit of the pass, and buried it beneath a
heavy mantle of snow. Had we been a day earlier we might have crossed
dry shod, a very exceptional condition at this time of the year, but
now the possibilities of a struggle gravely presented themselves. A
light frost of the night had fairly congealed the soil, but the lake
did not carry enough surface ice to interfere with the progress of a
scow, and we reached the farther end without difficulty. The two-mile
portage to Crater Lake was largely a snow traverse, but an easy one;
at this time, however, it began to snow heavily, and the immediate
prospect was anything but cheerful. A low fog hung over the waters,
but not so low or so dense as to prevent us from occasionally catching
glimpses of the rocks which projected with disagreeable frequency from
an assumed bottomless pit or "crater." The ascent from Crater Lake to
the summit, somewhat less than three hundred and fifty feet, was made
in about half an hour, and then began the steep and sudden plunge
which marks the southern declivity of this famous mountain pass. Some
little caution was here required to keep a foothold, and a too sudden
break might have led to an exhilarating, even if not anxiously sought
after, glissade; but in truth, to any one only moderately practiced in
mountaineering, even this steep face, which descends for a thousand
feet or more from a summit elevation of thirty-four hundred feet,
presents little difficulty and hardly more danger. What there is of a
trail zigzags in wild and rapid courses over an almost illimitable
mass of rock _débris_, at times within sheltered or confined hollows,
but more generally on the open face of the declivity. This it is more
particularly that carries to many a certain amount of fear in the
making of the passage, but, with proper caution and the right kind of
boots, nothing of danger need be apprehended.

Unfortunately for the enjoyment of the scenery of the pass, I could
see but a modest part of it. Although snow was no longer falling, and
the atmosphere had settled down to a condition of almost passive
inactivity - much to the surprise, if not disappointment, of a few who
had prophesied a stiff and biting wind the moment we passed the
divide - heavy cloud banks hovered about the summits, and only at
intervals did they afford glimpses of the majestic mountain peaks by
which we were surrounded. Enough, however, could be seen to justify
for the pass the claims of most imposing scenery, and its superiority
in this respect over the White Pass. The temperature at the time of
our crossing was a few degrees below freezing, perhaps 25° or 27° F.,
but our rapid walk brought on profuse perspiration, and it would have
been a pleasure, if a sense of proper caution had permitted, to divest
ourselves of mackinaws and travel in summer fashion. We made Sheep
Camp, with its surroundings of beautiful woodland, shortly after noon,
and Cañon City, which, as the terminus of a good coach road to Dyea,
virtually marks the end or beginning of the Chilkoot trail, at two


To a mountaineer or traveler of ordinary resource neither the White
Pass nor the Chilkoot Pass will appear other than it actually
is - i. e., a mountain pass, sufficiently rough and precipitous in
places, and presenting no serious obstacle to the passage of man,
woman, or child. True, I did not see them at their worst, but they
were both represented to be frightfully bad even at the time of my
crossing. The seasonal effects, doubtless, do much to modify the
character of the trails, and even local conditions must mold them to a
very considerable extent. It is not difficult to conceive of miry
spots along the White Pass trail, or of snow-swept areas on the
Chilkoot, and there certainly must be times when both trails are in a
measure or way impassable. All trails are, however, subject to
modifications in character, and even the best is at times sufficiently
bad. Trains of pack animals cross the White Pass both winter and
summer, and, even with the great loss to their "forefathers," their
testimony of steady work is a recommendation of the class of service
in which they are engaged. A limited number of cattle and horses have
also found their way over the summit of the Chilkoot Pass - some
crossing immediately after us - but the trail is too steep on the ocean
side to fit it for animal service, although I strongly suspect that
were the location in Mexico instead of in Alaska, there would be a
goodly number of _caballeros_ and _arrieros_ to smile at the
proposition of presented difficulties. Indian women seem to consider
it no hardship to pack a fifty-pound sack of flour and more over the
summit, and there are many men who do not hesitate to take double this
load, and make several journeys during the same day. It is the load
that kills, and it was, doubtless, this influence, united to a cruel
method, which so strongly impressed the pioneers with the notion of
extreme hardship. The most level and perfect road, to one carrying for
miles a pack of from sixty to eighty pounds, soon begins to loom up a
steep incline.

Both the northern and southern slopes of the Chilkoot Pass are largely
surfaced with shattered rocks, over which, with occasional deflections
across more pleasant snow banks, a fairly well-defined trail mounts on
either side to the summit. In its grim landscape effects, more
particularly on the inner face, where a number of rock-bound
tarns - Crater Lake, Long Lake, Deep Lake - afford a certain relief to
the degree of desolation which the scene carries, it reminded me much
of the famous Grimsel Pass, and here as well as there the modeling of
the surface through glacial action was strongly in evidence. The
vastly towering Alpine peaks were, however, wanting, and the glaciers
that still appeared showed that they had long since passed their
better days. The actual summit is trenched by a narrow rocky gap,
roughly worn through walls of granite, and by it have passed the
thousands who have pressed to the interior. There is no timber growth
at or near this summit, nor is there soil sufficient to give support
to an arboreal vegetation. Nearest to the top line a prostrate form of
scrubby hemlock (_Tsuga Pattoniana_) alone makes pretense to being a
tree, but below it of itself grows to majestic proportions, and about
"Sheep Camp," with Menzie's spruce, a birch, and cottonwood (_Populus
balsamifera_), forms part of the beautiful woodland, which with
ever-increasing freshness descends to the lower levels.

Lest I be accused of too freely seeing the beauties of the northern
landscape, I venture in my defense the following graphic description
of the Dyea Valley from the pen of another traveler and geologist,
Prof. Israel Russell: "In the valley of the Taiya the timber line is
sharply drawn along the bordering cliffs at an elevation of about
twenty-five hundred feet. Above that height the mountain sides are
stern and rugged; below is a dense forest of gigantic hemlocks,
festooned with long streamers of moss, which grows even more
luxuriantly than on the oaks of Florida. The ground beneath the trees
and the fallen monarchs of the forest are densely covered with a soft,
feathery carpet of mosses, lichens, and ferns of all possible tints of
brown and green. The day I traversed this enchanted valley was bright
and sunny in the upper regions, but the valley was filled with
drifting vapors. At one minute nothing would be visible but the somber
forest through which the white mist was hurrying; and the next the
veil would be swept aside, revealing with startling distinctness the
towering mountain spires, snowy pinnacles, and turquoise cliffs of ice
towering heavenward. These views through the cloud rifts seemed
glimpses of another world. Below was a sea of surging branches that
filled all the valley bottom and dashed high on the bordering cliffs.
Much space could be occupied with descriptions of the magnificent
scenery about Lynn Canal, and of the wonderful atmospheric effects to
be seen there, but the poetry of travel is foreign to these pages, and
must be left for more facile pens."


In its present condition the Chilkoot trail has the advantage over the
Skaguay in its shorter length, the distance from Dyea to the head of
Lake Lindeman, the virtual head of river navigation, being about
twenty-four miles; from Skaguay to Bennett, along the usual White Pass
trail, the distance is fully ten or twelve miles longer, although a
cut-off by way of the summit lakes reduces the traverse considerably.
At intervals along both routes fairly good accommodation can now be
had. One condition of the Chilkoot Pass, and that a not altogether

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Online LibraryVariousAppletons' Popular Science Monthly, May 1899 → online text (page 1 of 17)