Heather Helzer is a Hike it Baby mom who is backpacking a 4-day trip with her son. We got a chance to interview her before she left for the trail.
Where are you headed?
This week my son and I are solo backpacking the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail. The first adventure is getting to the trail. From Anchorage, AK, you can either drive 17 hours or fly to Juneau then to a ferry or seaplane to Skagway. We are taking the flight, ferry and seaplane route!
Skagway is a small village in the Inner passage in Southeast Alaska. And it’s a very special village. Unlike most villages in southeast Alaska that were wiped out because of the 1964 earthquake, Skagway survived. It still has several historical charms in this quant community. The Chilkoot Trail is also a historical charm, known as the original gold rush trail to Dawson City. My understanding is that along the trail I’ll encounter several remnants from the past that were left on the trail along with lots of historical signs to learn about the past.
You’ve Mentioned that it’s Logistically Unique as well?
Another unique thing about this trail is that I’ll cross the Canadian border on day two at the top of a 4,000-foot pass. I’m hiking with my son and my passports. The border patrol only allows 50 people to pass through the border a day so they require permits. These permits sell out quick! I got ours in January!
The trail also has designated campsites which are regulated. My understanding is that they’re unlike your typical Alaskan campsites with wooden platforms for every tent site, bear lockers and ranger house with someone at the houses June through September. When you get your permits, you also are required to pick your campsites because it’s part of the permit fees.
Lastly, on my last day, I’ll be hiking a short four miles to the historical Whitepass train! The trail is one of the last coal trains that still are running. The train will take us back down the pass to Skagway! Again, one other important detail to nail down in January because the train only goes twice a week to Bennett, Canada, to pick up hikers.
What does your Hiking Itinerary look like?
Day 1 – 13 miles to Sheep Campground with 1,000 of feet elevation gain
Day 2 – 7.5 miles to Happy Campground with 3, 000 feet of elevation and a border crossing
Day 3 – 8.5 miles to Bare Loon Lake Campground with minimal elevation
Day 4 – 4 miles to the train station for lunch (prepaid for!) then taking the train back to Skagway
Heather’s packing video
How Are You Feeling?
I’m very excited and nervous all in one about this adventure. I know that Finch and I are capable of completing the hike. We previously backpacked the Kesugi Ridge, which is 34 miles three weekends ago in 2 nights and 3 days, one day less than this trip. The catch is my friends came along so I had the comfort of another family, plus I got a total of approximately 5 minutes of free hands per day. I tried my best not to ask for any help the entire trip but broke down when I knew I could get it during tent setup and water collection. Unlike the Kesugi Ridge hike, this hike allows 50 people per day and the permits were sold out for the days I’m hiking, so my goal is to meet other hikers and not be shy about asking for assistance if I need it. This will probably be the hardest part of the trip, not getting any breaks from Mom duties. Finch has spent every weekend in the tent for the past five weekends, so we’re pretty used to set up, take down and sleeping in a tent nowadays so things should be pretty easygoing.
You sound really prepared. Do you have a backup plan?
I have an inReach with me and will be checking in with my family, and it’s tagged to my Facebook account so my friends will be able to see how we’re doing. As far as backup plans go, I’ll learn more details today about if I don’t get to specific camps, but honestly, it’s not really a concern for me. We hiked 14.5 miles three weekends ago with a 3-hour break to swim in a lake and eat. It’s daylight here until 10, so we have plenty of daylight for hiking. Physically, yes, carrying a 50-lb pack plus 20-lb kid isn’t easy, but my Deuter Air Comfort 70+10 pack is amazing and it makes carrying heavy weight a lot more manageable because of the weight distribution. Also, I’ve been training with heavy packs all summer long and triathlon training. Did I mention I’m signed up to run a 49k race on Sunday in Anchorage too? YEP, I’m nuts.
What do you think will be hard for you?
Emotionally, if it’s pouring rain for four days like predicted, this could also wear on me. I hate wet tents! I luckily don’t mind wet feet but four days of it might make me change my mind on that statement. Praying for better weather! Bears also scare me, but I’m just going to be loud when I’m scared and brave. I have two cans of bear spray but am unable to have a gun because of hiking through Canada. If I could, I would carry a gun but I can’t so I’m going to be brave and loud!
Thanks so much for sharing your backpacking adventure with us. We can’t wait to find out how your trip went! For those of you who have been backpacking with your little ones, share your adventure below. If you are a hiker and considering a trip like Heather’s and you have questions, let us know and we’ll try to get them answered for you!