1898 Yukon Nuggets
Routes to the Klondike
There were many trails to the Klondike. The most popular was the Chilkoot Pass from the Alaskan villages of Skagway and Dyea. But there were many other routes. None was a very good option.
How to get to the riches of the gold fields was on the minds of every would-be miner as they pondered riches untold. One way was by open sea to the mouth of the Yukon River in Alaska and from there up river to the Klondike. Although it was the easiest route, it was also the most expensive and could only be used in the summer. The second was the perilous Stikine route. It went through the interior of British Columbia from Ashcroft, BC, where the Thompson and Fraser rivers met. Then it was on to the upper Skeena River valley and through to the village of Glenora in the northern part of the province. This route crossed swamps and river gorges. Half the horses that attempted it drowned in mud holes. Many times a bitter man gave up and turned back.
Those who went on to Glenora met other prospectors who were going up the Stikine River from Wrangell, a growing Alaskan town near the mouth of the river. Glenora was a tent city filled with men waiting to cross the mountains to Teslin Lake and then on to the Klondike, 1600 kilometres away. Not half of the seven thousand who started up the Stikine trail made it to the gold fields. This was by far the poorest route but it had been well advertised by newspapers as an all-Canadian trail.
Another route wasn't much better. It followed an old fur traders trail which led from Edmonton to Athabasca Landing then over the mountains to the Yukon. Once over the mountain passes, the gold seekers had to pull their boats upriver 640 kilometres to Dawson City. Of the two thousand who took this route most turned back. Some died on the way. The few who finally made it to Dawson took almost two years to do so.
With all the trails Klondikers could take, through mountain ranges and summits, up rivers, streams and creeks, the most famous is the Chilkoot pass. The Chilkoot started at Dyea and, although it required physical endurance, it was perhaps the safest and best way to reach the Klondike. As with all the routes, settlements resulted along the way. At the foot of the Chilkoot there was Sheep Camp, the last safe place before the steep climb to the summit.
Here, goods were weighed and packers could be hired or aerial tramways used to carry provisions up the pass. The Chilkoot pass itself was ominous. It sloped upward at an angle of 35 degrees for 300 meters. Then it went straight up. Ant-like, one right after another, the seemingly endless line of seekers climbed the 1500 ice steps. Anyone who stepped out of line would have to wait hours for a space to get back in again. Once at the top, the prospectors would have to drop their packs, slide back down, pick up another pack of goods, and once again make the climb to the summit. These then were the routes to the Klondike. None were very good. And for the late-comers during the stampede of 1898, none were any good at all. If they got to the Klondike, they found that most of the ground was staked and their journey was really for nothing.
The company would have built riverboats there instead of at a little place north of the Whitehorse Rapids and Miles Canyon...a little place called Whitehorse. Had it not been for Miles Canyon, Carcross would likely have become the transportation hub leading to the gold fields. The Alaska Highway would likely have gone through Carcross on its way north to Alaska.
The American military building that road in the early 40s would not have needed to go through Whitehorse because there would not have been rail or riverboat systems based there. The military airfields, built along the route of the highway, would have included Carcross, not Whitehorse as a staging point. Cyr's woodlot on the clay bluffs overlooking Whitehorse, would still be just that...a wood lot. Not the Whitehorse International airport as it is now.
Because Miles Canyon and the Whitehorse Rapids were there, the history of the Yukon was changed dramatically. Undoubtedly, Carcross and not Whitehrose would have been the Yukon's capital city today. The sprawling bedroom communities now attached to Whitehorse would instead have bloomed down Lake Bennett, over to Crag Lake, up to Lewis Lake and beyond.
So the next time you visit Miles Canyon, think for a moment about what that beautiful vista meant in shaping the Yukon's future.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.