I mentioned my thoughts about hiking the Chilkoot to my sister Lucille, a transplanted prairie girl who now lives in Whitehorse, and she said that her partner and his family had done it many times, so I thought, “How hard could it be?!”
We completed our hiking party with a friend of hers, Michelle, and agreed that we would undertake the five day hike in August 2006.
We filled out the necessary paperwork for our trail permits with Parks Canada and were excited to receive the approval for the dates for the hike. We bought our train tickets that would take us from Lake Bennett back to civilization (Skagway) – we were that confident.
I looked up whatever information I could on the web, but didn’t have access to what the area was really like, what the conditions could be like, how challenging it was and in exactly what kind of shape you needed to be in. So we we’re going on the experience of others. They made it so how hard could it be!
No worries I thought. I can do this. When I started planning for it, I thought, “Now where exactly do we train in Saskatchewan to ascend a mountain that is nearly 4000 feet in height?”
Again, I thought, “No worries. Let me think.” Well, I can do more squats to strengthen my legs for all of that climbing. So I added more squats.
Speaking of climbing: How can I get some vertical challenges into my training? Well, I can drive out to the old Blackstrap ski hill – hmm that might be a little too far to do this every day. OK, what about the hill at Diefenbaker Park in Saskatoon. Sure that will work. What else? Hmmm… well I guess I can hike around the river bank. Sure, that will work. Now that I have a few areas that have a bit of height, what else?
Well I need to get used to the extra weight on my back while I am hiking. How much weight will that be I wondered? I had no idea but I filled my pack with about 15 pounds of stuff and set out on short hikes around the City.
So I added these elements – elevation and weight – to my training program for the two months before our hike.
I believe my training certainly did help me get ready for the actual hike; however my actual pack ended up being much heavier – closer to 25 pounds. We wanted each of our packs to weigh roughly the same amount, so we removed whatever we could to make them lighter, but they still ended up being around the 25 pound mark. By the end of the first day, this pack felt a lot heavier and I did consider leaving stuff like my tent behind, as this was the heaviest item in my pack. I soon realized that would be a bad idea.
So what did I learn?
- Best laid plans don’t always work out – plan for all possibilities including a plan B; prepare as much as you can with the current knowledge you have; accept that something might not go as planned, and just know that you can overcome the challenges
- Speak to an expert – ask tons of questions – they love to share their knowledge and expertise
- If you’re preparing for a trip in the mountains – go to the mountains to train or at least go a few times so you have a small idea of what you may be encountering. Wherever your adventure takes you, go to a similar area to train.
- Train longer – a trip like this requires an amazing amount of strength and fitness
- Train with as close to the actual hiking weight as possible
- Buy a lighter tent
- Go to an adventure/outfitter store and buy specific back-packing gear. I have seen amazing light gear that I would have loved to have had!
- Do tons of research – read up about the area, conditions, weather, etc. as much as possible. Look for videos, and ask a lot of questions of folks who have the experience.
- In short, be prepared and have a back-up plan just in case!