In which we catch a break (Day 4)
The morning of Day 4 was a curious mix of elation (we had survived the Pass!) and reevaluation (I was walking on my leg but in pain, and the two guys who had struggled most on Day 2 were really pretty beat after the Pass).
Our original itinerary for Day 4 had been to go from the Deep Lake campground to Bare Loon Lake, about six miles. Since we had stopped at Happy Camp, we had an extra 2.5 miles to go to reach Bare Loon Lake. We knew this would be another long day, but we hoped it would be an easy one—we’d been told there was a little more boulder scrambling to get through and then the trail turned into a nice, even, gentle downward sort of hike.
The two guys were skeptical, as they were convinced by then that everyone lied about everything on the trail.
However, the only way to find out was to go.
We decided we would split into three groups again, since that had worked very well the day before. Our issue wasn’t that one group was really much faster than another—everyone made it in to Happy Camp within an hour of each other—but that we had different approaches to the hike. Or rather, to breaks.
When we had traveled in a large group on Day 1 and 2, those of us who were in worse shape felt pressured to keep breaks short. The fitter people said they were happy to take as long as we wanted, and I’m sure they were, but their body language made it plain when they were done resting and ready to get moving again. It’s hard to insist on resting longer when you feel like you are holding the entire group back. So you push on sooner than you are really ready, and you start the next leg off a little more tired, and want to slow down a little more.
Over the course of the day, we ended up feeling like we’d been walked off our feet. I had felt like that on Day 1, and while I had managed better on Day 2—since I was setting pace—the two guys who were also struggling had still felt a little too pushed.
When we split into the even smaller group on Day 3, they’d felt less pressure to take short breaks and, in the end, their longer breaks had let them walk faster, meaning they kept pretty good pace with the other groups.
So they wanted to do the same thing again on Day 4. Given the problems I was having with my leg, I opted to drop back to their group—I really wanted the opportunity to take longer breaks as needed. Their wives decided to swap and join my mom, aunt, and E. in the first group out. As before, the other two members of the group, who liked to break camp late, would follow along behind.
The guys and I quickly made a pact: anyone who wanted a break could call for one, and we would sit around for as long as any one person wanted. And any conversation we had on the trail stayed on the trail.
After making it through the boulder field with some cursing, the trail did indeed start to become… almost pleasant. We were back to some of the elevation gain and loss, similar to Day 2, but it wasn’t quite as severe and the scenery was much, much prettier than we had on Day 2:
Although there are lakes visible as soon as you come down from the Pass, the stampeders had to get to at least Lake Lindeman before they could use their boats—before that, the water was too shallow or connected by rapids too severe to risk boats on. And many stampeders did not build their boats until they reached Bennett Lake, due to questionably navigable rapids between Linedeman and Bennett.
Because of this, for this portion of the trail they were still ferrying their gear and using things like sleds to make their journey easier:
But that’s not to say that some didn’t try building and porting boats with them:
The wood surrounding Lindeman and Bennett was being stripped quickly by the stampeders, and so in some cases people were making boats where they could—sometimes, as we had already seen, even porting the boats up and over the Pass.
After an easy 2.5 mile hike, we reached Deep Lake, where we had intended to camp the night before. We caught up with the first group while we were there, but they were heading out and we were ready for a break. We waved good bye to them and relaxed for a bit. We had another six miles to go, but compared to the first three days, this day was almost restful. Easy. Pretty scenery and a decent trail that wasn’t trying to kill us with every step.
At least, I found it that way. I can’t speak entirely for the guys, as our conversation… ah, but our conversation is secret. The trail pledge is sacrosanct.
We all agreed that the scenery was stunning, however. This was definitely my favorite day—it was some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, and I was seeing it with the knowledge that it was scenery earned, not given to anyone who wants to hop in their car or take a quick train ride.
Not too long after we left Deep Lake, we ran into a Canadian ranger. She checked on our plans, and when she learned that we were going all the way to Bare Loon Lake, she let us know that there were plenty of open spots at Lindeman if we wanted to stop there. In addition to being closer, Lindeman was much more sheltered and comfortable.
This presented a minor pickle: one of the rules hammered into us by the rangers was that if we split up our group, we all needed to know the plan and stick to it. They had had cases where a large group split up and ended up at two different camp sites—with no way to communicate that everyone was safe.
So while we were all for stopping at Lindeman, we were also at the mercy of the group ahead of us—if they didn’t stop there, we couldn’t, either. We knew the ranger had talked to them, however, and we were hoping they would choose to stop.
Lindeman is only about 3 miles from Bare Loon, so it was only a few hours before we arrived there. Despite the easier trail, we were still moving at about 1 mph. But unlike the exhausted drudge of the day before, this had been an easier, more enjoyable walk.
We were thrilled to find some of our party waiting on the trail for us—they had indeed decided to stop at Lindeman. A couple led us off to our campsites while one remained on post, waiting for the last group to come in. As on Day 3, everyone arrived within an hour of each other.
Lake Lindeman itself was not the prettiest lake we saw on the trip:
It was also the first water source where I really questioned whether or not a water filter would be enough and if we shouldn’t purify the water as well. And, in fact, when I took down water bottles for several people and filled them all, there were some complaints about the taste. I don’t know if it was the lake or my filter—they seemed to like the water just fine when it was someone else’s filter. And I didn’t really notice a difference with the taste, to be honest.
But if it wasn’t the prettiest spot on the trip, it did have a lot of artifacts, often scattered through the trees and underbrush:
This was the first time I saw bones, something we had been warned would be on the trail. Some of the bones were from moose and other animals they hunted, but some of the bones were from the many horses killed along this trail. Most of the horses were brought in via White Pass, not over the Chilkoot Pass. But while White Pass may have seemed an easier route to bring livestock in, in the end it was not; so many horses died in White Pass that it became known as Dead Horse Pass.
I couldn’t tell you if the bones I saw were from moose or horses, but even after more than 100 years, there were still many bones lying around the camp.
While there is some romance in the thought of the Gold Rush, or of retracing part of the Gold Rush route, the reality is that it was a hard and brutal trail and not all the lives that were lost on it were human.
But some were, and we stopped at the cemetery to pay quiet respects to those as well.
We also visited the Lake Lindeman library, which amused me by its very existence. But it’s there—a small cabinet of books and games to provide some amusement to people traveling along the trail.
After checking out the area, we headed back to camp to eat, relax, and dry out a bit.
Although it hadn’t really rained on the trip, it had been damp and dreary. Our clothes were wet from brushing against trees and shrubs, and most of us had wet tents because we couldn’t properly dry them in the mornings. What’s more, some of us had soaked sleeping bags as well—one tent was not waterproof at all, and my mom and I were having problems with moisture seeping up through the floor of our temp.
So we were all happy to see that the warming cabin at this campground had a stove in it. I suspect that’s what made our first group decide to stop here rather than go on to Bare Loon Lake—the opportunity to spend an afternoon getting everything dried out was too good to miss.
What actually happened is that we strung everything we could up on lines in the cabin, and it quickly turned into a sauna from all the moisture. A wet-wooly-sock-smelling sauna. The only upside to being in the cabin was that it was warm and the smell seemed to scare off the mosquitoes.
By this point on the trail we all smelled pretty offensive all the time, so the warming cabin was not too much worse than what we were dealing with anyway. The smell managed to penetrate our mostly-shut-down noses to some extent, but not so much that it drove us all out and into the welcoming arms of the mosquitoes.
And so we settled in for an easy and long rest, after hiking about 5.5 miles. This meant we would have 7 miles to go the next day, instead of the 4 we had originally planned, but we were all happy to have an easy day after climbing the Pass. And we were even happier to be able to dry everything out—not just because it made sleeping that night more pleasant, but also because it meant our packs were noticeably lighter the next day.
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