Happy Camp (Day 3, Part 3)
After ascending Chilkoot Pass and taking some time to rest and celebrate our accomplishment in the warming station, my mom, aunt, and I headed out on the trail towards Happy Camp.
It was four miles away, and we hoped—now that we thought the hardest part of the trail was behind us—to make good time.
The view coming off the Pass was pretty, but notice the snow:
We had seen some snow on the American side of the trail, but it had always been off the trail proper. On the Canadian side, we would have to cross a few small snow fields.
The other thing to note in the picture is that the trail on the Canadian side skirts various lakes. While we would sometimes have a hard-packed trail, at other times we would be trying to walk across rocks and boulders on sometimes pretty steep slopes. In terms of difficulty, this was still somewhat easier than the boulder field at the foot of the Chilkoot Pass, but it went on for much, much longer.
But first, we had to descend from the Pass itself, and we had to do so in the middle of some snow fields.
Back in Skagway, when we had been packing our gear, my mom and I had discussed some crampons she had brought along and decided not to carry them. As we headed down the Pass now, I was regretting that decision—although I am honestly not sure I was regretting it so much I’d have wanted the weight for the entire rest of the trip.
We also knew from the two ranger talks that we had listened to that we needed to be very careful on our descent on the snow—a group a few weeks ago had tried to slide down, got going too fast to stop themselves, and shot off into the rocks at the end of the snow field with bad results. They had survived, but the injuries were bad.
Despite the warnings, I ended up having to drop and slide down—in a very, very slow scoot—to cross the snow. I could not get solid enough footing, or stabilize myself enough on my injured leg while taking the next step, to cross any other way.
By the time we reached the bottom of the descent, my clothes were soaked. But we were down, and my deep hatred of snow was only confirmed.
This picture shows two of the snow fields we crossed coming down (the Pass is straight ahead):
We had a couple smaller crossings after we came off the Pass, but not too many. We were in the rocks fairly quickly.
More than anywhere else on the trail, this section of the trail demanded we keep our eyes glued to the ground. A hiker in another group had a rough fall along this section of the trail, fortunately coming out of it with only some bruises.
Just as we had underestimated Day 2, we had not really anticipated how difficult the four miles from the Pass to Happy Camp would be.
It was beautiful, beautiful country—when I took a minute to look up and look around:
But it was not easy hiking.
And, much to our confusion, we ran in to more mosquitoes than we saw almost anywhere else on the trail. We saw very few animals, so I’m not sure what the mosquitoes lived on when hikers were not around, but they certainly filled up—and then some—on us as we passed through.
As we hiked, my mom and my aunt become delusional.
From the practice hiking I had done in spring and early summer, I had a good sense of my own pace. I knew that we were going about 1 mph. My mom and my aunt were certain we were going faster, about 2 mph. And they began counting off the miles based on that assumption. I tried protesting once or twice before I gave up.
But this meant, after about two hours, that they were convinced the camp would be around the next bend. And the next bend. And the next bend.
Part of the problem, mentally, was that while we had been going about 1 mph that morning, from Sheep Camp to the Scales, we had been going uphill at the time. I think it was hard for them to realize that we were still going that slowly, even though the ground was much flatter. It didn’t seem like the treacherous footing should be slowing us down as much as it actually did.
We were also tired and exhausted, and it was, in many ways, better to hope that camp really was around the next corner than to admit just how far we still had to go.
Despite how pretty the scenery was, we stopped taking pictures soon after coming off the Pass. Everything we had was focused on making those four miles, and more than once we expressed how grateful we were that we had been able to switch our campground to Happy Camp—had we been forced to stick to our original plan, we would have had an extra 2.5 miles to go that day, and we were all beat.
Eventually, all thing come to an end, even seemingly never-ending hikes. We hit a point where camp really was around the next bend, and we trailed in with all the aplomb of the truly exhausted.
In addition, I was pretty cold and wet by that point, and on top of everything else I’d been through that day, I was back to being in pretty rough condition.
We stopped at the warming cabin first to put food in the bear boxes, and I spent a few minutes in the cabin—there was no fire going, but other groups were in there eating, so between stoves and candles it was warm. Steamy and smelling like dirty socks, but warm. At that point, I realized that I needed to get out of my we clothes very soon, so I headed back to the tent and changed.
Somewhere in there, my aunt headed back on the trail to meet up with the slower group. I believe S. headed back out again as well. By then, I was in something of a fog—I just wanted to eat and crawl in bed.
As it turned out, everyone else in our group made it to camp within an hour of our arrival. For much of the last four miles, they had seen glimpses of us ahead of them, and all in all we had been carrying very similar paces all day long.
I knew my mom had carried a few tiny boxes of wine in her pack to celebrate getting over the Pass, and I had a can of cider and some chocolate in my own pack. I was, however, toast.
I was warm and dry for the first time all day, and the pain meds I had taken for my leg were kicking in. I was falling asleep just as the rest of our group made it into camp; as much as I was relieved to know everyone had made it, I was too tired to get up and see how they were doing.
We still had two more days of hiking to do, and I wanted all the sleep I could get before I had to face them.
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