Friday, December 13, 2013
It’s well known that the route to the Klondike in 1897-98 was nothing if not difficult. The photographs of a line of men and sometimes women climbing steadily up the Chilkoot trail, carrying a portion of their one ton of goods on their backs, is iconic. So iconic it’s featured on Alaska licence plates. (I’ve always thought it a bit ironic that the Alaska licence plate proudly features people LEAVING Alaska).
But lesser known perhaps is what those would-be prospectors faced once they reached the summit. Could they take a rest and congratulate themselves on making it? Was it smooth sailing the rest of the way? A gentle stroll down the mountainside followed by a leisurely cruise?
Because once they reached the summit, and were inspected by the Mounties posted there and allowed to go forward, there was, of course, nothing until they got to Dawson City. Eight Hundred kilometres of nothing.
The only way to get to Dawson from here was by water, up the Yukon River. As there wasn’t exactly a port at the lakes, they had to build their own boats – and then navigate a river full of rapids through the wilderness.
And build boats they did, out of green wood they hacked out of the wilderness forest themselves. And not a canoe, but something that would transport all of their party and everyone’s ton of goods. While they waited the winter out on the shores of Lake Bennett for the river ice to break up. One day ice clogged the waterway, the next day it did not. And the armada set off. Just imagine a wilderness river, barely disturbed by so much as a paddle in all the years of its existence. Suddenly tens, then hundreds, of craft arrive. Canoes and rowboats, scows and barges, rafts that were living trees a few days before. Billowing with sails made out of the sides of tents or tarpaulins.
As this was Canada, and not the ‘wild west’ the Mounties kept an eye on the proceedings, they inspected the boats for some minimal degree of seaworthiness, and those they feared not capable of operating their craft were ordered to learn water skills first. At various points where the rapids were strong the police ordered women and children out of the boats to walk around.
Many boats and many possessions and even some lives were lost on the river. Imagine carrying all that stuff up the Chilkoot trail and over the summit only to watch it sink to the bottom of the mighty river.
GOLD WEB, the fourth book in the Klondike Gold Rush series, is now available for pre-order for both paper and ebook versions. Click for Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Kobo, Chapters.ca or remember your favourite independent bookstore.