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Stampede Routes to the Klondike Gold

Klondike Gold Rush

Originally published on Murray Lundberg's "Yukon & Alaska History" site on May 4, 1998.

      The following article is copied from the April 1, 1898 issue of The Klondike News (Vol. 1, No. 1). Published in Dawson City, it was, although brief, one of the most accurate guides, and was widely circulated Outside. Note that several of the spellings are not correct: "Stickine" should be "Stikine", "Takau" is "Taku", "Skaguay" is now "Skagway", and "Chilcoot" is now "Chilkoot."

How to Go

      In these days of rapid changes, when one reads of railroads in impossible places and steamboats that will shoot rapids, one hardly knows how to advise on this subject. What today might be an utterly impractical route, may in a few weeks be open for travel by steamboat, railroad, bicycle, or balloon. What we have to say on this subject is from our own actual experience during several years residence in the country.

      The different routes by which Dawson may be reached are supposed to be as follows:

The Edmonton route
The Copper River route
The Stickine route
The Takau route
The Dalton trail
White Pass or Skaguay Trail
The Chilcoot Pass or Dyea Trail
The St. Michael's or All Water route

The Edmonton Route

      The Edmonton route is out of the question at present for anyone taking in an outfit, as it involves long portages between rivers and lakes and hundreds of miles of travel through an unknown country. It would take fully six months to reach Dawson this way.

The Copper River Route

      We warn our readers against any attempt to reach the Klondike country by way of Copper River. No living man ever made the trip, and the bones of many a prospector whiten the way. In the first place it is almost impossible to ascend the Copper River. There are trackless mountains to cross, by the side of which the Chilcoot Pass trail is a boulevard, and rapids that would make the White Horse dry up and quit business. Finally the White River is not navigable for loaded boats.
      Certain unscrupulous parties operating steamboats up that way are issuing gaudy pamphlets with nicely worded directions of how to travel over a country that white man never set foot in. This is worse than murder, and such crimes deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law. We would suggest that they be hung, drawn, quartered and fed to a pack of hungry Malamute dogs.

The Stickine Route

      One of the advantages this route is supposed to enjoy is its freedom from rough and dangerous water, such as the White Horse Rapids. While it is true that by going this way one would escape the danger of walking around the White Horse Rapids and the expense of sending the boat through by tramway, we would suggest that there are only a few hundred yards of rough water in the White Horse Rapids, and there are 150 miles of Stickine River, and a more swift, crooked and dangerous river does not flow.
      The portage of 150 miles from Telegraph Creek to Teslin Lake is one that the traveler will never forget, even though made over a wagon road, and we would advise our friends to wait until the long-talked-of railroad is completed and go over this route by Pullman car.

The Takau Route

      This is another back-breaking, soul-destroying way of reaching the Yukon. It has to recommend it as a possible route, grand scenery, fine fishing and a splendid opportunity for physical exercise.
      In the month of August, 1897, the Editor of the 'News' was one of a party that made the pilgrimage from Juneau to Teslin Lake. Assisted by six stalwart Indians we put in ten days of terrible labour in dragging, poling and packing a canoe to the 'head of navigation.' Then we spent six delightful days in fighting our way through mud and mosquitoes to the head of the lake.
      There is one mountain over which the traveler must pass that is 5,200 feet high, and where one misstep would give the climber a fast mile. This is the celebrated Sin-Wah-Clan mountain. It is twenty-two miles fom the head of navigation, at the junction of the Silver Salmon and Nahkanah rivers.
      To make the trip from Juneau to the head of Lake Teslin in eighteen days is considered fast traveling over that part of the country, and for the sake of comparison we will say that our trip from Dyea to Dawson in October last was accomplished in twelve days.

The Dalton Trail

      For those who have cattle and horses the overland route offers many inducements if the trip be made in midsummer. There is plenty of grass for stock, fine hunting and fishing, and good camping accommodations. The trail starts either at Haynes' Mission on the Lynn Canal or at Pyramid Harbor in the Chilkat Inlet. From either of these places the road follows the meanderings of the Chilkat River and over a comparatively easy summit of 2500 feet to the Altsek River, and thence along this latter water course to Dalton's Post. From the post the trail turns to the right and follows the borders of Lake Arkell to the Tahkeena River.
      Ascending this river a well-defined trail leads to Hoochia Lake Here it branches, the one to the left, although shorter, is much more difficult and rough, and will lead the traveler to the Pelly Post, otherwise known as Fort Selkirk. The regular trail keeps straight on to the Nuttsendone River, and will land one on the Yukon at a point just below Five Finger Rapids.
      From here steamboats will be in operation this summer that will carry travelers to Dawson in a few days. The entire distance from the Chilkat Inlet overland to the Yukon is variously estimated from 375 to 400 miles. On this trip one needs both shotgun and rifle. There are moose, caribou, deer, mountain sheep and other animals to be encountered, as well as vast numbers of ducks, geese, grouse, and other small game.
      The lakes and rivers are filled with splendid fish. including trout, bass, pickerel and white fish. In the Hoochia Lake there may be caught a yellow meated fish of exquisite flavor as yet unnamed, but one well calculated to appease 'the Yukon appetite' that is certain to be acquired.
      But it must be remembered that the snow falls early and deep in this region, and in no event should the trip be attempted later than August 15th.
      The writer started from Haynes Mission en route for Dawson on the 12th of September and was compelled to turn back. Other parties who started about the 1st of September were caught in the most terrible storms when half way across. Their stock perished, their provisions had to be abandoned, and it was only after fearful hardships that they succeeded in reaching the coast. The trip may be safely made, however, at any time between May 15 and August 15th.

Dyea and Skaguay Trails

      So much has been said and written of these two trails that it seems a waste of words to describe them. They start six miles apart and end at the head of the lakes, the Dyea or Chilcoot trail being 28 miles in length and the White Pass or Skaguay, 33 miles. The intending Yukoner would better make his own inquiry and investigation before choosing either. The Dyea or Chilcoot is the old reliable trail, and has been traveled for many years; but if a good wagon road is constructed over the White Pass it will be the better route, being a thousand feet lower. We would advise our readers, however, to fully satisfy themselves on this point before starting. The trip from the head of the lakes down to Dawson can be made in from eight to fifteen days. Light draught steamers will ply on Bennett, Marsh and Tagish lakes, and the dangers and difficulties encountered by the old timers will not be met with by the travelers of 1898.

The St. Michaels, or All Water Route

      It is well known that in the years gone by the Yukon River boats owned by the old companies had a persistent habit of sticking on the sand bars far below Circle City, and it was about an even thing whether or not they would land their passengers and freight.
      There is a sneaking idea prevalent, however, that this state of affairs was not the result of carelessness, ignorance, or the natural conditions surrounding navigation, but part of a well-laid plan.
      The United States government sent a representative into the Yukon country last year and his report appears in the May Bulletin of the Department of Labor, and from which we quote the words of Capt. E. D. Dixon, an old Mississippi River steamboat man, and now engaged in running a boat up the Yukon. Capt. Dixon says: "I have never seen the river with less than six feet of water at any point below Fort Yukon. The shallowest riffle is at White Eyes, and the lowest water I ever saw there was six feet, and that was the lowest water known there for years. At a medium stage of water there is sufficient depth at Fort Yukon. The steamers have been running in the wrong chanel."
      "From White Eyes to Fish Camp, twelve miles above Circle City, the current averages about five and a half miles an hour. It runs swifter than that on the riffles of course. From Fish Camp to Dawson we have a narrow river, averaging about a half a mile in width, with an average current of six miles an hour. In ordinary stages of the river there is from six to seven feet of water on the highest bars. The Yukon is an ideal river for navigation. There are no rocks, no boulders, and no snags to hinder navigation. All the rocks in the river are easily located by the breaks the current thows over them, and they are all near shore. It is one of the prettiest rivers under the sun to navigate."
      In the year 1897, the Yukon was opened for navigation by May 17th, and the first boat arrived at Dawson June the 2nd. The Bering Sea, however, does not open until the fore part of July, and it is useless to leave the Pacific Coast until the middle of June. The trip from St. Michaels to Dawson occupies from twelve to eighteen days, according to the swiftness of the steamer traveled upon, and the distances to the principal points are as follows: Fort Adams, 1250 miles; the Tanana, 1265 miles; Minook, 1315 miles; Fort Hamlin, 1385 miles; Fort Yukon, 1665 miles; Circle City, 1750 miles; Forty Mile, 1997 miles; Dawson, 2050 miles.
      The river boats consume from one to two cords of wood per running hour, and the traveler should inquire carefully into the fuel supply of the boat he intends going on.
      Many of the boats recently constructed for the navigation of the Yukon draw less than three feet of water, and will make the trip from St. Michaels to Dawson in twelve days.
      Given a good modern river boat, a qualified pilot and an abundance of fuel, and it is safe to say that during the months of July and August the companies thus equipped will land their passengers safely and in due time.

The map below is a small section of a 12x20-inch map showing all of the major routes to the gold fields.

Detail of "Map of Alaska", 1897, by The Fort Dearborn Publishing Company, Chicago
Routes marked, from north to south, are the Chilkat (Dalton) Trail, Chilkoot Trail, White Pass, Taku Pass and the Teslin (Stikine) Trail.

References & Further Reading:

  • St. Cyr, Arthur - The Stikine River Route to the Klondike Gold Fields, 1897

  • Berton, Pierre - The Klondike Fever (published many times since 1958)
  • Cohen, Stan - Yukon River Steamboats (Missoula, MT:Pictorial Histories, 1982)
  • Neufeld, David and Frank Norris - Chilkoot Trail: Heritage Route to the Klondike (Whitehorse, YT: Lost Mooose, 1996)
  • Weir, Joan - Back Door to the Klondike (Erin, ON: Boston Mills Press, 1988)

    © 1998-2024 Murray Lundberg: Use for other than research purposes must be approved by the author.