Sunday, April 29, 2007

Chilkoot Pass

These pictures of miners climbing Chilkoot Pass were taken during the Klondike Gold Rush. The pass is the highest pass in the Coast Mountains between Alaska and British Columbia. That line of what looks like ants is men. People. Mostly men. When I lived in Fairbanks in the late 60s, I met two elderly women who came in over the Pass during the Gold Rush. Neither struck gold, neither could find respectable employment, both became prostitutes rather than go through the Pass again. One of them was a major shareholder in a local bank. The other one told me that "the secret" was to never let a man kiss you on the mouth, because of germs. Ah, people are so amazing, aren't they? The reason I met these women was because the log house we lived in had once been owned by a very famous courtesan, and these elderly friends of hers stopped to chat when I was out in my vegetable garden. An odd conversation to have while weeding, but what the heck, that's Alaska.

This second photo doesn't give the breathtaking view of how many people there are, but does allow you to see that they are people. The Chilkoot was taken because, on a map the 27 miles from Skagway to Lake Lindeman, looked both faster and easier than the sea route from Seattle to the mouth of the Dawson.

What the prospectors hadn't counted on was the steepness of the pass and the fact that midway through the first year of the Gold Rush the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would not let anyone enter Canada over it without supplies to last out a winter. Which meant, since there was no grass to feed horses, carrying a minimum of 1150 pounds of supplies up on their backs in relays of as large a burden as one could carry at a time.

Most of the prospectors walked approximately 1000 miles to get all their gear over the "short" 27 miles. Getting there was hell. Accidents, epidemics of spinal meningitis, smallpox, and scurvy, combined with avalanches and winter cold claimed uncounted lives. It's no wonder that the elderly women who stopped by my garden decided that they weren't going back out over that Pass.


kenju said...

Wonderful photos, MG. I read somewhere once about how many of those men died trying to go through the pass.

Uncivil said...

There were some tough,strong willed people back then. What's happened to us now?
Great story!

Anvilcloud said...

I heard of this and seen some pictures before, but I now know a little more than I did.