It was 1897 and the world was in a great depression when the news of Klondike Gold shook the world. Discovered in 1896 by three Yukon “sourdoughs”, George Carmack, Dawson Charlie, and Skookum Jim, it took the following winter and spring to boat the first gold out of the Yukon, which landed in Seattle in July of 1897. That tonne of Gold sparked the greatest goldrush in history as more than 100,000 attempted to make their way to the Klondike to seek their fortune. By the summer of 1898 Dawson City was known as the “Paris of the North” and boasted a population of nearly 40,000 people (today approx. 1800 make Dawson their home on a year round basis). The dance halls thrived, women and men wore the latest Paris fashions and gold flowed freely as a currency of the day.
Few were prepared for the arduous journey to the Klondike. After a long boat ride from main departure points as San Francisco and Seattle, cheechakos landed in Skagway to the shock of a goldrush frontier town. By 1989, the North West Mounted Police had instituted law that anyone making their way to the Klondike had to have a years worth of provisions, or roughly a tonne of supplies. Dawson City had only been a fishing camp prior to the GoldRush and even though businesses were springing up as fast as mines, there weren’t the supplies in town to look after the masses making their way to the Klondike.
If one survived the gangsters of Skagway, the infamous Soapy Smith and crew, the next stage of travel was to cross the foreboding Chilkoot Pass. With more than 1000 pounds of gear to haul, goldseekers packed their supplies in small loads caching them along the way as they made their way across the harsh 33 mile pass. Today the Chilkoot Trail is preserved as a National Historic Site and many hiking enthusiasts trek the historic route each summer.
By late winter of ’97, the goldseekers trickled in to Lake Bennett, near the headwaters of the Yukon River and the end of the Chilkoot Pass. Exhausted and in the middle of a harsh Yukon winter, the brave souls quickly started to work cutting wood and building rafts or boats that would sail them down the Yukon river the remaining 450 miles to Dawson City.
When the spring thaw finally came, it was a mad race to be the first afloat. Little did the adventures know the long path before them as they made their way across Lake Bennett, the Southern Lakes, Tagish Lake, Marsh Lake, through Miles Canyon on the Yukon River, across Lake LeBarge, and if they were very lucky through Five Finger Rapids to float the rest of the way to Dawson on the Yukon River.
The lucky souls that made it to Dawson City still had many challenges ahead. Most of the prime ground was staked and living accommodations were challenging and hard to find. For many, it was the adventure of getting to the Klondike that was their main achievement. At a time, when depression had the globe in its grasp, the Klondike Gold Rush and the people that jumped into this adventure, kept the world on the edge of their seats with the larger than life stories that fed to “the outside”.