Hikers planning to attempt the Chilkoot Trail this week should think twice. The Canadian portion of the 33-mile route is closed because of recent bear activity.
The so-called ‘Meanest 33 Miles of History’ got a little meaner this week when a bear ravaged a cook shack on the Canadian side of the Chilkoot. The popular and challenging trail stretches from Dyea, outside Skagway, and snakes its way over the pass through rugged terrain to Bennett Lake in British Columbia and the headwaters of the Yukon River.
According to the National Park Service, the U.S. side remains open, but hikers will have to reschedule their trip to accommodate the closure. Parks Canada says the Canadian side will be closed for at least 48 hours. Hikers have been evacuated from that side.
This closure is due to a bear incident that happened on Monday afternoon at Lindeman City, about 25 miles from the trailhead in Dyea. Parks Canada says no one was injured, but a bear broke into the camp’s cook shelter and raided the food cache. In a release sent Tuesday, the National Park Service in Skagway said response teams from Parks Canada with assistance from Yukon Conservation Officers are there and will “take measures over the next few days to identify the bear and return the trail to open status as soon as possible.”
This incident was discovered on Monday around 3:30 p.m., when Parks Canada staff returned to the Lindeman City camp to find that a bear had broken into the makeshift kitchen through a window and raided the refrigerator and cabinets. The bear found a significant quantity of processed food and was observed again in the structure at 6:45 p.m. The National Parks Service says hair and prints found at the site suggest that the suspect is likely a black bear. There have been a number of similar habituated and food-conditioned bear incidents along the South Klondike Highway in recent weeks.
Parks Canada says due to the great amount of food the bear got into, and the hazard posed to public safety by the now food-conditioned bear, they have decided to dispatch the bruin.
The closure was finalized Tuesday morning, forcing hikers to turn around at the border.
Sean Gaffney owns Alaska Mountain Guides. He says a group of 12 hikers and two guides are currently making their way back toward the trailhead in Dyea. He says it’s the first time in 25 years of facilitating guided hikes on the Chilkoot Pass that they’ve been forced to turn around and go back. Waiting it out on the trail wasn’t an option, Gaffney says.
“Because of travel arrangements, and the uncertainty about the timeline associated with the possible resolution up there, the group was in the position that they needed to turn around and head back down,” he says. “They’re not down yet, they’re in en route as we speak and it may take them two days.”
No one in the group was hurt. Gaffney says AMG does about eight to 10 guided hikes up the Chilkoot Pass each summer.
The Chilkoot Trail is a notoriously tough trek made famous during the Klondike Gold Rush when tens of thousands of gold seekers scrambled up the pass on their way to the promise of fortune in Dawson City. Artifacts and remnants still litter parts of the trail.
“I respect Parks a lot, they do a great job. We always see ourselves as being on the same team as the Parks’ folks. They make good decisions and they felt like this is what needed to be done.”
Gaffney says the hikers will be offered other activities like rock climbing or zip lining once they get back to Skagway.
For updates contact the trail center at 983-9234.