White Pass: The Dead Horse Trail

“The inhumanity which this trail has been witness to, the heart break and suffering which so many have undergone cannot be imagined. They certainly cannot be described.”
~ Clifford Stifton, Canadian Minister of the Interior, 1897.

The White Pass was advertised as an easier trail than the Chilkoot. Although it was longer, it was said not to be as steep, and therefore a better route for pack animals. The reality, however, was that the trail was narrow, rocky, and marshy in some places.

So many horses died along the trail in the winter of 1897-98 (about 3,000 horses) that author and prospector Jack London named it “Dead Horse Trail.”

Eventually, a wagon road was constructed, followed by the building of the White Pass & Yukon Railroad, which is still in use today.


The White Pass Trail, ca. 1898


The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, shortly after construction


The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway today

If you hike the Chilkoot Trail today, you’ll end up at Lake Bennett. From there, the best way back to Skagway is by train. But don’t worry about the fact that you’ve just spent the better part of a week without washing and so probably smell like a bear after a long winter’s hibernation: the railroad officials load all hikers into their own car at the end of the train!

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There’s Gold In Them Thar Hills!

A few blocks walk from the hostel brought me to the headquarters of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park – Seattle Unit. As the Park Service explains,

This park is unlike many other parks in the National Park Service. Our “park” consist of a single building in Seattle, located within the Pioneer Square Historical District. It has no outdoor components, but the visitor center has indoor exhibits and displays. You can also find brochures and other information about surrounding national park sites located throughout western Washington.

The Seattle Unit is housed in the former Cadillac Hotel, where many of the Klondikers (as the prospectors were called) actually stayed on their way to the gold fields of the Yukon Territory.

cadillac hotel 1

The Cadillac Hotel

The Klondike Gold Rush resulted in about 100,000 prospectors heading to the gold fields on the Klondike River—and the vast majority of them came by way of Seattle. The result? Seattle became a major city almost overnight.

And while the Klondikers headed north with visions of gold nuggets dancing before their eyes, the folks who made the most money during the gold rush were the Seattle merchants. That’s because the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP, or the Mounties), wouldn’t let anyone into Canada without a year’s worth of provisions—nearly 2 tons of supplies!

The Chilkoot Trail

The Chilkoot Trail was the most common route into the gold fields. Starting at the town of Dyea, it followed an old Tlingit Indian trade trail over the pass.

Chilkoot Trail

The “Golden Staircase” over the Chilkoot Pass

The trail over the Chilkoot Pass consisted of 1500 steps carved in the ice. In order to ferry all their goods, most of the prospectors made 30 to 40 trips up the “Golden Staircase,” as it was called. (When I led a group of teenagers over the trail in the ‘80s, we called it “hell.”

The Scales

The Scales

The last resting spot before the climb over the pass is The Scales, so-called because this is where the Canadian Mounties had set up their scales to measure the weight of each prospectors goods. This was done to prevent the miners from starving over the fierce winters.

It is said that if a man stepped out of line on the Golden Staircase, it could take hours for a break in the line to let him back in.

White Pass Trail

Another route that many of the miners took was the White Pass Trail. More on that in another post.

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Back In The Land of Greedy Landlords

Before moving back to Seattle, I had forgotten that Washington law allows landlords to collect 3x the rental price for a place to live: 1st and last month’s rent, plus a damage deposit equal to a month’s rent.

Which means it would cost me almost $1700 to move into the cheapest place I can find on Craig’s List. And at what I’m paying for a room in the hostel, it would take me 3 months to save that kind of money.

Except I can’t stay in the hostel much longer. I’ve reserved for 10 days, and they have a limit of 14. So after that, I may be out on the street before my next money arrives.

Enough of the Bad News!

I’m a block away from Uwajimaya a huge Asian grocery and gift store. I bought a decent lunch there the other day: Thai curried chicken over rice set me back all of $3! And I got a frozen dinner last night that I heated up in the microwave in the hostel’s kitchen. After I do a load of laundry, I’m going to head back there to buy a couple of days’ worth of food. I can’t afford to keep eating in restaurants, no matter how cheap they may be.

Yesterday I discovered that my age entitles me to discounted fare on the metro bus system; the system’s headquarters (where I have to go to buy the pass) is two blocks from the hostel.

What it doesn’t entitle me to? Laundry that does itself. So I’m off to do a load.

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Filed under hostel life, moving, Seattle

Moving Across The Country Can Be a Real Drag

Especially when you do it by train. I simply had far too much stuff to go by air, my truck wasn’t going to last but another hundred or so miles, and the train seemed like a reasonable alternative.

Which it was, by the way. I’m not knocking Amtrak, but there were a few things I wish I had known before setting out on my journey.


The first thing you need to know is that while drinking water is available on the train, it is room-temperature, and is not available in all cars. In my case, getting water meant walking back to the car behind mine. And unfortunately, since I didn’t think to bring a drinking utensil, I had to settle for one of the 2-ounce paper cups the railroad provides.

My one-way fare was under $300; that was for a coach-class seat and it included my luggage. I could have opted for a sleeper berth, but that would have added about $1,000 to my ticket. Of course, it did include all meals, but for that price, I could have flown first class to Seattle and shipped my bags.

Which Brings Us To Meals

The first rule of eating on the train is this: There are no cheap meals on Amtrak. I splurged on dinner Tuesday evening: a steak, baked potato, and vegetable, with a semi-stale dinner roll, accompanied by a bottle of beer and followed by a small dish of ice cream set me back $30. And it was a small steak. That was in the dining/lounge car.

I saw someone who had bought a chicken dinner in the café car: A roll, a small dessert, one leg and one breast set him back $12.50.

The lesson I learned: Bring your own food and beverages. a 12-ounce can of Coke cost $2.25…and it wasn’t even cold. Even a cup of mediocre coffee cost $2.00.

NOTE: you cannot consume your own alcoholic beverages on the train. They MUST be purchased in either the café or the dining car.

I practically lived on trail mix for the rest of the trip.

Still, a girl could do worse, I suppose.


Don’t make the mistake of traveling by train if you want to “see the country.” Unless your goal is to see the underbelly of cities and endless reaches of flat, empty farmland, there really isn’t anything to see. Oh, sure—there were the sunflower fields in North Dakota, but even they pale after a while. And who knew there were so many oil wells in that state?

It was too dark to take decent pictures in Glacier National Park, and all through the Cascades, we traveled through narrow cuts that were made just to fit the train. Besides, the windows were either too dirty or too reflective to get any decent shots.

I did, however, see lots of cattle and horses. Also a few deer and antelope, but I couldn’t tell if they were playing or not,

The Bottom Line

Yes, I’d do it again. But I’d be better prepared. And now that I know there is a one-hour layover in Minot, North Dakota, I will definitely walk to a grocery store and replenish my supplies of food and water. It would have been nice of them to tell us we had that much time. In fact, if it weren’t that it was 8 in the morning, I could have sent out for a pizza!

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10 Surprising Benefits You’ll Get From Keeping a Journal

I stole today’s title from The Huffington Post. Over the years, I’ve had any number of therapists tell me I should be keeping a journal, but none of them have been able to explain just why I should be doing it. Consequently, I’ve always told myself, :Hey! I write stories and I blog. Isn’t that good enough?”

But this morning I cam across the article I reference above in the Huffington Post. It gives a pretty good layman’s explanation of some of the benefits associated with regular journaling. I thought I’d share them with you as background to thus post about the great journaling app I discovered the other day.

Day One is a simple journaling app for the MacOS and iOS platforms. But don’t mistake “simple” for “bare bones.” With Day One, I can write my journal entry and have it keep track of where I was and what the weather was like when I wrote a given entry. I can add photos from my camera roll, or I can take pictures from inside the app. I can also add maps and tags.

I can honestly say that this is the first journaling software I’ve ever used that suits my needs. So much so, in fact, that I went ahead and spent the $5 it cost to buy my own copy. I also took advantage of the apps “Reminder” feature to remind me at a particular time every day that I need to add a new entry for that day.

I’ve also created two journals: the standard one that comes with the app is for my daily entries, and I’ve added a TRAVEL journal to document my train trip across the USA.

So far, I’ve only found three (very minor) drawbacks to the app—if you want to consider them drawbacks—it’s only available for Mac, iPhone, and iPad (no android or PC version), and while the previous version was capable of posting your entries to a web site, they haven’t yet added that capability to the latest version (2.01). The publisher says it’s because they redesigned the app from the ground up for version 2.0, and still have more coding to do so they can incorporate the web connection.

The third drawback is that Version 2.0 doesn’t sync with iCloud or DropBox. It does, however sync across all your devices. So if iCloud and/or DropBox syncing is important to you, the publishers recommend using the previous version.

Day One 1

My experience with the app has me convinced that for me, at least, it is the best journaling app available.

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Filed under Software, writing, writing tools