Hiking options to the Klondike gold fields included the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, which was shorter but more difficult, or via the White Pass Trail out of Skagway that was about 10 miles longer, but less steep. No matter which route the miners chose, the North West Mounted Police met them at the top and made sure each miner had the requisite ton of supplies before being allowed to mush on into Canada.
Roughly 30,000 indomitable prospectors chose to battle the 33-mile Chilkoot. The trail was rough, and the weather was harsh. In early April 1898, a storm hit the Chilkoot Pass, triggering an avalanche that killed 60 people. Many turned back, especially when faced with the formidable frozen “Golden Staircase” at the end. This last long difficult incline is a quarter mile climb gaining 1,000 vertical feet! To get their load up the ice stairway, prospectors had to repeatedly go up and down it 20 or 30 times, which took about three months! Those with the means hired native Tlingit Indians to help haul their heavy gear. Some used packhorses, and for a few months, there were even several aerial tramways to help move freight. But most men couldn’t afford help, and muscled it solo, slowly but surely.
Today, the Chilkoot Trail is littered with rusty relics and considered to be the world's longest outdoor museum. Remnants of wooden buildings and canvas tent cities appear every few miles. It’s tempting to do a little relic collecting along the way, but that's illegal. Modern-day hikers challenging the Trail must only stay in designated campsites and leave every artifact in its place. There’s nothing left now of the town of Dyea, but at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, 150 businesses, including 48 hotels and two hospitals, served the masses.
Although gold was never found in the Skagway River Valley, Skagway was a better, deeper port than Dyea, so it earned the reputation as the “Gateway to the Klondike.” Most stampeders “jumped off” here. If miners hadn’t brought along enough supplies from Seattle, this was their last chance to get outfitted. If you didn’t have $500 to buy your “grubstake” (requisite ton of goods), and were in Skagway after May 1898, you could work for the White Pass & Yukon Railroad Company for $3 a day. Built to carry miners into the Klondike, it was said that the railroad employed the most highly educated workforce. Many of the 35,000 recruits had been doctors, lawyers, and other professionals before they risked it all and joined the Gold Rush. In fact, some of the former doctors were pulled away from driving rail spikes to assist the railroad’s surgeons in the field. Debris from blasting away granite hillsides caused many, many injuries.
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