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Chapter 2-act 9: In memory of the great gold rush

The next destination in Alaska is Fairbanks, the biggest city in central Alaska. Originally it was founded because a man wanted to reach a northern part in Alaska to build an outpost. He negotiated with the captain of a steamboat, that he transports him up a river to the north most point which could be reached without a danger. When there was a sandbank in the river the captain said, OK until this point I can bring you. Even the man was not quite as north as he really wanted to he had no other choice than to get out and build his outpost at this point. This was the first house of the new town Fairbanks. It grews and became a city when a guy called Felix Pedro found gold. Like so many cites in Alaska Fairbanks was established by a gold rush. The man who build the first outpost became rich (like mostly the traders of goods and supplys for the stampeders (gold seekers in a gld rush which came to an area like a stampede) were the greatest profiteers of a gold rush, not the seekers themselves), because he was the first who could offer supplies. But the city didn´t vanished after the gold rush, like others I will notice later. Until today the day when Felix Pedro found gold are celebrated as the golden days in Fairbanks. By coincidence, I was there at the weekend when the celebrities happened.

But first I traveled again with the Alaska railroad. This time a much farther distance. The first time since Russia twelve hours in the train. I had already forgotten how nice it is to travel by train. How I missed it... The steady rattling of the wheels, the beautiful moving of the coaches, the screaming of metal on metal...

But like I told you the Alaska railroad is not a normal public transportation, it is normally used by tourists to discover the landscape. And therefor the coaches have a second floor with extra large windows, so that you could see almost everything.(and of course take pictures, a lot of pictures...Also this time the sentence which came mostly first out of the speakers was: get your cameras ready....) The difference between the first and second class is that in the first class everyone can sit in the second floor, in the second class two coaches has to share one platform.

The landscape is amazing. In twelve hours you had plenty changes it. We started in the alpine sector at the coast, passed the tundra and finally reached the Taiga. We saw the mount Kinley (the highest mountain in NorthAamerica) covered with snow and clouds, crossed old bridges a lot of rivers and lakes and the Denali national park, with its wild waters and forest covered mountains. The price for this journey was quite high. But it is worthy.

In Fairbanks I was witness of the golden days. A weekend full of activities. With games, fun and surprises... There was a beer contest. First I thought it was a drinking contest but ectually it was a tasting and quality judging and the owner of my hostel in Fairbanks was one of the judges. So I learned a lot about home brewing and get interested in this topic. I think when I come back home and finally settle in Kassel I want to try it for myself. It must be wonderful to drink self-brewed beer. There are a lot of variations and it sounded for me like a science or an art. Yeah, art is better. Good brewers are like artists...

And there was also the biggest parade in Alaska. And I really wanted to see a parade in the United states. I have this images, out of movies and series. And like so often in the last weeks my stereotypes became not disappointed. The streets were full with people in camping chairs, at least one third of them had little flags of the United states in their hands and at first there came the cars. Oldtimers with big engines and a lot of sound. The real parade started with a military-marching band. There were two commentators on a stage which attended the whole parade via microphone and speakers. At the streets there was a young women who made interviews with some participants of the parade. It was very American. In total it was a big advertisement festivity for the local businesses and the different kinds of free churches and social organizations. Also candidates for the major- election participate and of course the local beauty-queen. It was not so different from German parades at folk festivities by its looking but the impact was just another...

What was surprising for me was the appearance of the gay-lesbian- transgender community. They had a big coach and a lot of participants and they became the most applause. This was a stereotype which has not approved. For me the American society at this point appears very open minded and friendly and in the best sense of the word, liberal.

I also went to the cinema in Fairbanks, because I really wanted to see the new superman movie on a big screen. And it was amazing. I mean not only the movie (which is a much better Superman movie than the last one) but the whole experience. I think I wrote about the bigness in the USA in my last blog entry. A multiplex cinema with 16 different cinemas in a town with not 50.000 inhabitants. The medium coke one liter and the medium popcorn as big a the extra-seize in Germany. And the popcorn was salty and you get liquid butter about it. No wonder that so many people are fat...

When I had a Chinese buffet a the first evening (which is completely the same than in Europe from the taste, I think all Chinese restaurants in the world with exception of the ones in China buy from the same supplier the goods...) I watched a interesting talk show in the TV. It was the day after the racism-speech of President Obama, because of the judgment concerning the guy who shot a black youth and was freed by the jury with the argument of self-defense. The discussion was very interesting and also here you noticed the differences in the way of discussing. The arguments were uttered much more populist and the mutual attacks were much more aggressive. In Germany the political culture is more cautious. I like it more in this sharp way. But with less pathos.

In Fairbanks I use the time to inform myself what I can do when I reach Skagway, the gateway to the Klondike. As every times I´m very early to break my mind about what to do in the next days...

I have only the pictures of the stories of Jack London in my mind... I find out that there is the possibility to hike the Chilkoot Pass. This is the most popular of the ways the stampeders have gone during the great gold rush in the USA in 1898/99. About the struggles to walk this pass Jack London wrote among other things in Whiteclaw. It was a great adventure for all who made it. Today it is one of the most popular hikes in Alaska. Over 3000 people every year do the hike. And it is also an adventure to organize the trip. My hostel has decided to shut down the internet, because some guests used to much data space and the owners don´t want to pay expensive extra fees (In the land of the freedom the data space restrictions are reality since a long time about which in Germany is a fight at the moment ) I have to go to the near (only 30 Minutes to walk) supermarket to organize everything. Because I didn´t know that you have to get permissions both from the US park administration and Canadian Park administration. You have to tell them how many days you want to walk and on which campgrounds you want to stay. That is not so easy, when you do not know the trail and also do not know someone who did it. So more research about this facts... I found out that it is good to plan 5 days. But I have already booked the hostel for four days and also the ferry from Juneau to Skagway do not match with this dates. So I have to change also this schedules. It would have been nice if I had made all this efforts a long time ago...

I´m sitting also in this supermarket, without my recharge cable, because I thought it will not take so long. Also I have to to recharge my American-SIM with money to make more calls, which I have to do to get my permissions... Yeah, Murphys Law is the most easiest one in the world but also the one which is most hated...

Finally I get all my permissions and also the schedules in the hostel and from the ferry can be changed. The only thing which I have to do know is to spend some money in Wal-mart to improve my camping equipment which had some „holes“, like I noticed in some parts freezing near Anchorage: An additional sleeping bag, a drinking bottle with a bag, and and and. This part of my journey is the most expensive one until now...

Juneau, where I spent one night on my way to Skagway is a completely touristic city. But it is very beautiful because of this.


The houses are mostly in the style of the 19th century to keep the character of the time of the great gold rush and the founding of the city. Old wooden houses everywhere. Juneau is also the capital of Alaska so that they have also a beautiful capitol. The only thing which is disturbing are the masses of tourists which are falling like a swarm of insects into the city, because they reach in great groups every times when a cruise ship enters the harbor. When I stayed in Juneau there were four of them in the harbor.


The cruise ship tourists stream into the city to book tours or to people the many souvenir-stores and restaurants. The shops have almost all the same products: T-shirts, pull-overs, hats, socks, shorts, scarfs... with the logo of Alaska. Native knifes, horn of animals, furs, leather... Gold rush accessory...

The hostel is also in a old wooden house and compared to the other hostels in the states very cheap. Therefore some of the chores must be made by the guests. Because I checked in late, I could decide between cleaning the pissoirs and cleaning the toilets. I am at first a little bit angry because I will stay only for one night (not even a whole night, I have to wake up at 5 to get the ferry) and I have to to this disgusting work, which I even hate at home and now I have to do it in a place where I do not know how much people used this toilets before... But OK therefore it is cheap and at the base I support this system...

In the hostel I met a nice guy from the states with Indian ancestors. With him I climbed the near Mt. Roberts and we had a meal at the top, which was in the same time the ticket down the mountain with the cable car. ( When you eat something in the restaurant you get the ride for free. So we killed two flies with one hit because we were hungry and exhausted from the climbing...)We had a nice view into the valley and on the cruise ships, which lied in the harbor like animals from a far future.

Skaggway we reached by ferry, which was a real experience. The coast of Alaska is beautiful in the best sense of this word. High mountains covered with snow, waterfalls which running down from the glaciers into the sea, little rocky islands some of them with light houses...


We stayed on deck most of the time (until we were frozen down to the bones because we were not well prepared like others who had experience. My sleeping bag was in the luggage and also my fleece...) and watched for whales and talked to the people. Finally I saw really some dolphins who followed the boat for a time and the back of a whale for a short time and the fountain when it gets new air. Normally they are not jumping...This depends also on the type. But I saw my first whale!!! Unfortunately it happened so fast that I could not make a picture. After breathing the whales dive for a long time so the chance to see the same whale twice is very little... Even when the journey lasts almost 8 hours, it is really worthy, much better then to fly...

Arriving in Skagway we saw the same cruise ships, which were one day before in Juneau. In Skagway is the presence of the tourists even more obvious because it is much smaller and you can not book so much tours so that the people do not divide... When the ships leave the town it is really a ghost city. Skagway lives from the tourists. Everything and everyone is focused on them. In Skagway are living normally not even 700 persons. All inhabitants would be not enough to fill one of the cruise ships. You can imagine what impact it has on the village when four of the cruise ships are in the same time in the harbor. I think they must have plans on the boat which persons can go in which time to the village. If all people at the same time would enter the village would just burst... The 19th century is hidden behind every corner in Skagway. The city grew during the gold rush and had died like the other city in this area Dyea if there were not the mines (mostly asbest butalso gold) until the 80´s and since then the tourists... To walk through it is really beautiful. Almost every house is also a pension or a hotel, so the style is very traditional.


My hostel is in the same time the home of a great family. So that the character is also very familiar and cozy. You just felt not as a hostel more than a private guest. After my arriving I had to get the permission for the Chilkoot trail in the trail center in the town, because I started at the next day early in the morning. In the trail center the ranger enlighted me about all the dangers on the trail: The rifts, the rocks, the snow, the ice, the weather and at least the bears... I felt almost scared after I left the center...

In the hostel I slept in one room with a dentist from Las Vegas (yes, there are also normal people in Las Vegas. I was also surprised but Gordon told me that las Vegas is not only the strip and that it is also a normal american city with more then 2 million inhabitants. But this experience will come later...), who had hiked the trail in the previous day and had just arrived in the hostel. After we talked a lot I was almost more scared then before, not because of the bears but because of the weather. He told me about rain all the time, clouds, getting wet and freezing all the time. Wow, I have almost the best conditions to walk this trail and was happy about the rubbish- bags I bought, so that I could store at least my clothes and my sleeping bags dry.


Unlike Gordon told me the first two days were very cloudy but there was almost no rain, so that to get soaked by water was not a problem.


Because I didn´t know the trail and was influenced by the very cautious formulations in the Internet. I planned in total five nights on the trail. So the first two stages were comparable short to the distance I walked on some days in the Alps. Also the elevation to the pass was not so high. In addition there were no bear warnings for this part of the trail. So in total it was a quite easy hike the first two days. It was very beautiful to walk in the forests, to hear water everywhere, which came from the higher glaciers.


To sleep with the sound of nature is so relaxing (with the exception that it is not so nice to go to the toilet in the nights... Out of the sleeping bag, into the cold and into potential bear territory, without protection because you didn´t want to search for the bear spray in the dark...) Oh and I had forgotten: The mosquitoes. They are really a plague in this part of the world. Even if some locals told me that the worst time is long over. I can not imagine how the stampeders have fought against this problem. Even with spray and mosquito net is it horrible. These insects are beasts and born to test our calmness. Scratching became a normal activity through out the days...

At the way you can find everywhere lost stuff of the stampeders. At some places whole boilers of big steam -engines, which ran a cable car up to the pass once.



Not all the things are given back to the nature and the oxidation yet. But the imagination you have when you see this things... You think about the 30.000 men and a few women, which started this big adventure in the years 1898/99. Who walked the same way then you now. But they brought whole ovens, boats and a lot of other things. The difficulty for the stampeders was that the place they wanted to reach, the Klondike, is in Canada. And the Canadian government had decided to be strict and to let the stampeders only cross the border if they had enough material with them to stay alive in the wild without help for at least one year. They had the requirement that everyone, who wanted to cross the border had to bring one ton of goods (Food, tent, cooking gear...) with them. So they had to bring all their stuff from Dyea (the death city, were also the trail head is) to the pass, cross the pass with it and then down to the river and lakes which lead to the Yukon. This means that they had to walk the 31 miles not only once... They had to walk every stage of the trail 30 or 40 times. Scientists guess that every single stampeder walked 2500-3000miles to cross the Chilkoot pass!!! And they had not the good hiking boots like we, no backpacks and jackets by Northface or Schöffel, no synthetic tents, no plastic... And the Chillkoot pass is really not easy to hike. And you can trust me... Everyone who walked with me in the Alps knows that we had some difficult stages there but the golden stairs are a challenge against everything what I had seen before. Especially the passage from the scales (the last point before the border, where the goods had to be weight. At this point the most stuff can be found. Probably because the stampeders had at this point the last chance to leave some stuff...) to the summit. One hour of climbing. Not really hiking it was more climbing. This passage is so difficult that the stampeders walked it in the long winter months, beecause it was easier in snow and ice because you could break regular steps into the ice. (Therefore the golden stairs have their name: During the gold rush two clever men stood up in the night and broke with a shovel and a hack stairs into the ice up to the pass. The next days they wanted to have money from the other stampeders to use the stairs... They get golden noses from that...)




The Canadian flag at the summit is like a salvation after the hard work. Sometimes I think it was good that it was cloudy like this. So one could see only the next 20 meters and not the whole passage to walk. (Like the principle of Beppo Strassenkehrer from Michael Endes Momo. Step by step and the work looks easier...) At the top it was not more than 5 degrees. So a rest with a hot tea in the shelter was a perfect solution. I was the first hiker this day (I didn´t start first but I overhauled a lot of other hikers this morning. And I started already at 6 am...) so I had the shelter for a good time for myself. After a while Dan and his family from Canada arrived and we had a nice chat. Like it was during the whole hike. Everyday I met the same people. Sometimes during the day on the trail, sometimes at breakfast, sometimes at the campground or at dinner. There were a lot of interesting and nice people. Dick and Linda from Winnipeg in Canada, Amanda and Peter from Whitehoarse, Mikos (who shared my enthusiasm for Jack London and his real and written adventures) and Gabor from Hungary and and and. Something like a community grew during all the hikers. At the last campground every newcomer was greeted by the already arrived with applause and congratulations for finishing the Chilkoot.(A certificate one could get already at the museum at Lake Lindeman)

After the summit I thought the most difficult part is over but for my surprise it just came directly after it. Big snowfields have to be crossed... And the snow was frozen and slippery. Only very slowly and testing step by step was it possible and even like this I felt two times and slided a good time. With my heart beating and wet from the sweat (This time from the fear and not because it was so exhausting) I finally reached safe terrain. And exactly at this moment the sun broke the first time through the clouds. From this moment till the end of the hike she would not disappear anymore (with the exception of the nights of course..) And now the scenery became magically. Blue lakes, waterfalls, snow covered mountains and also wild animals...





In the summer this area is really beautiful. Also in the winter I think but then it is also quite rough. For the stampeders the way became now more easy. In the winter time when the lakes were frozen they could use sledges to transport the goods down to Lindeman lake. When the ice was already melted the ones with money could pay ferries. The others had to carry on. Sometimes they payed natives as packers but they were also not cheap. (there was even a strike of the packers which coordinated their wages) From Happy camp to the end of the trail there were massive bear warnings, because a few hikers saw grizzlies and bleak bears on the trail a few days ago. Even a mother with cubs... I tried it in the offensive way and I was lucky. (I didn´t even saw a bear what was a little bit disappointing) When I was alone on the trail I sang a lot because normally bears do not want to meet humans. And when they hear them they vanish into the bushes. I know from my mind exactly four songs, of course workers songs: Bella ciao, Auf auf zum Kampf (Go, go to the fight), das Einheitsfrontlied (the united front song) and the second part of the International inclusive the chorus. So I hiked, like on a good workers march through the forest and tried to convince the bears from socialistic ideas. It was definitely not nice to hear but at least I want to scare the bears and not entertaining them. Now the bears in this area at least know what a good German workers song is. And of course also some of the other hikers, because sometimes I didn´t recognize that they can also hear me before I met them....

The next passages were very short so that I could take long rests and enjoy the nature a lot by just sitting at the lakes and watching into the mountains. It was so hot (what is not really nice for hiking) that I was also swimming in some of the glacier lakes.


Most of the times it was horrible could so that one could not really speak of swimming. It was more a jumping in and trying to get out as soon as possible. But one lake was a little bit warmer. That does not mean that the lake was warm it was only a little bit less cold than the others. But it was beautiful. I swam to a little island and was lying in the sun. The feeling was like in a summer holidays. There were at the end also some sandy parts, so that one could really think to be in the desert for a moment. For the stampeders at lake Lindeman (where in the time of 98/99 was a real city with more than 4000 inhabitants) the journey to the Klondike continued by boat. They used the time during the winter while the lake was frozen to build boats for the spring. They cut down the whole forest near the city and built vehicles, which sometimes didn´t even look like a boat. (they were mostly no professional boat builders and who wants to bring a canoe about the Chilkoot?) For not a few of them the journey by boat ended at the one mile rapids between lake Lindeman and Lake Bennett (the end of the hiking-trail) because when they were not well build the boats (and sometimes also the people) shattered at the rocks... For not few of the stampeders the journey ended in Benett or they continued to Whitehoarse but never reached the Klondike. So that one could say that they made these heavy efforts without a result. The reasons were that the journey took so much time that in between all the claims at the Bonanza creek (where Sokuum Jim found the first gold) were sold out, there was a new gold found in another part of Alaska or they were just so exhausted that they could not continue. But for all of them it was a great adventure. Also Jack London did the pass but like I remember not really with the will to find gold it was more the experience and the opportunity to hear god stories what leads him. The same was it for me. But you can not really compare the touristic hike in nowadays and the efforts of the great gold rush.



6.8.13 21:30


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