This post was written initially October 6, 2018, but held back until the Chilkoot Trail Artist Residency Applications opened on January 5, 2019.
As I write this, I am on-board a flight to New Mexico, for our annual Abiquiu Open Studio Tour. This downtime gave me time to recount one of my most amazing and rewarding adventures as an Artist in Resident on the Chilkoot Trail with the Yukon Arts Center.
On July 20, 2018, I boarded a flight from Albuquerque, NM to Juneau, Alaska where I would meet my hiking buddy, Nancy Morrill. Nancy who would arrive at the same as me was flying from Saranac Lake, NY. Our flights got in at 11pm, and we were quick to get to our Airbnb on Douglas Island so that we could get to sleep before our first big adventure. The following morning, we met hired guide, from ABAK to take us out onto the Mendenhall Glacier. We could not have asked for better guides. The two female guides managed our group exceedingly well. They were immensely knowledgable about the geologic history of the glacier and equally strong in handling fatigued person situations. ABAK fully outfitted us with climbing gear, safety equipment, even water, and snacks. It was a spectacular and beautiful experience with the opportunity to learn about how climate change is affecting Mendenhall.
The following morning, we boarded with all our gear the fast ferry, Alaska Fjordlines, to Skagway. The small boat with about 40 people made numerous stops to watch the whales, harbor seals and sea lions play in the water. Captain Glen would stall the ferry each time we saw a whale or a seal colony. It was a beautiful 4-hour trip that also goes to Haines, AK before arriving in Skagway.
Despite being 45 minutes late due to all the whale watching, Kerry, owner of the Swaying Spruce Cabin was there to pick us up. She drove us through the tiny tourist town and up the hill to her cabin. It is a delightful area, only 1.5 miles out of town but away from the hordes of cruise ship tourists. We had a couple of nights to get ready for our big adventure. I took a nine-mile run down to the NPS campground where we would stay the evening before hiking the Chilkoot Trail, the official start of my residency. We spent the morning with the NPS staff getting our bear avoidance, radio, and trail training. Both NPS and Canadian Parks are partners with the Yukon Art Center’s residency program. I packed close to 200 Chilkoot Bingo Games plus boxed sets that I gave to NPS, Alaska Geographic and Skagway Traditional Council, all of whom are sponsors and donors to the artist residency.
With our training complete, food all packed we were dropped at the campground. I was so excited to begin the hike. We pitched our tents and went out for a 6-hour walk into the ghost town of Dyea, now a beautiful campground. We stopped in at the only place to eat in Dyea, the Chilkoot Trail Outpost where we drank local beer and ate salmon sandwiches. While there, we met a couple who just completed the Chilkoot Trail and wouldn’t you know it, they are also from New York, and they live less than 5 miles from Nancy in the Adirondack Park!
Nancy and I said goodnight and went to our campsite, I was almost too excited to sleep. The following morning we began the trail with a half mile of the rugged, muddy mess. I imagined that the first mile or two are wildly popular for day hikes and the path gets pretty beat up, and yes, it soon became less torn up. The first night we would stay in Finnegan’s camp, a short 4-mile hike through the woods. We met two couple there, both men were military, and they all live in Anchorage. I pulled out the bingo games, and they pulled out the boxed wine and cigars. I passed on both. This was the first official Chillin’ on the Chilkoot Bingo game, and the first night I answered the park service’s call in with my handle, “Artist 3.”