Ghosts of the gold rush
The Klondike still bears the scars of the ‘yellow metal’ craze, says Felicity Aston
While filming a series on the Klondike gold rush for BBC Two (see below for details), I followed in the footsteps of the thousands of stampeders who undertook the odyssey from the Alaskan coast to the goldfields of the Yukon.
Standing on the summit of the Chilkoot Trail – the cruellest part of that desperate journey – it is impossible not to sense ghosts. Surrounded by thick fog and buffeted by strong winds in the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush International Historic Park, a second glance at the dark shapes on the snow reveal that these are not rocks, but remnants of the stampede. Rusty tin cans, wooden cases, even shovels and leather shoes, lie abandoned.
More than a century later, the hillsides around the lakes Bennett and Lindeman still bear the scars of the mass deforestation caused by the stampeders’ need for lumber. We found material elsewhere for our home-made wooden boat that we rowed 400 miles down the Yukon river to Dawson City. The town works hard to recall its riotous past but today there are only 1,000 inhabitants and the hordes that arrive every morning are tourists rather than fortune-seekers.
Venturing into the creeks surrounding
Dawson, it is astonishing to see the volume of earth that has been turned over in the continuing search for gold. The nuggets are long gone but anyone can still dip a pan into the Klondike and find a few flakes.
Many regard the story of the gold rush as a tale of greed but I believe this is instead a story of hope. People will go to great lengths to protect their family and provide them with a future. That is a motivation I think we can all understand.
High and dry: A boat abandoned by gold hunters in the Klondike