Excerpts from "Two Women in the Klondike"
by Mary E. Hitchcock
The Skaguay Pass
Sunday morning we arrived at Bennett, of which we had read so much. A heavy snowstorm greeted us and we groaned, fearing that we could never get over the Pass. We all went to the Hotel Dawson for breakfast, and as we sat on the benches waiting for food, the discussion began as to whether we should take the Chilkoot or the White Pass. Neither Edith nor I felt equal to the perpendicular descent of the former, but many of the men perferred it owing to its being so much shorter. We used all our persuasive powers to urge them in favour of the White Pass, feeling that we should be so much safer in their company, and finally, as the blinding snowstorm became more fierce, we were successful, as no one dared attempt the Chilkoot under such circumstances. The runners for Dyea did all in their power to dissuade us, telling us that one of the Lakes was frozen, navigation stopped, the railway not running, etc.; but in the face of all these announcements our decision was unalterable. An agent for a new transportation company started by the railroad, which wished to make a record for itself, came to get our luggage to be landed in Skaguay for ten cents a pound, and promised that we should have everything the following day at two o'clock. Mark the result. We booked all through except our blankets and toilet bags which were specially marked for the Old Log Cabin Hotel, eight miles farther on, where we were to spend the night. A man "going in," seeing the fine quality of our blankets and noticing the newness of them, was most anxious to purchase them, telling us that we would find bedding all the rest of the trip, but we said that nothing would induce us to sleep in any but our own. . . .
I had read so much of the icy atmosphere of the summit, that I had prepared for it by wearing two thick suits of woolen flannels, a jersey, cloth jacket, and sealskin wrap and collar. [Another word of warning! Never overburden yourself with heavy clothing for an eight-mile tramp even to the summit, as each pound becomes an insupportable burden with each step.] My escort kindly offered to carry the sealskin, but his pack was sufficiently heavy as it was, so I staggered on until finally we were overtaken by the newspaper boy, lightly clad, and with nothing but a few papers to carry. I asked him if he wanted a job of packing, promising that he should be well paid for it. He willingly took the wrap, but was off before remuneration could be offered.
The trail wound up-hill, over rocks, across swamps, and over log bridges which threatened to turn as we stepped on them. We picked up our short skirts and wadded through shallow streams (bloomers are much safer without the skirts), reaching hilltops from which we could see the advance guard and those far in the rear, went down in ditches and swamps from which no sign of the trail was visible, and here Ivan came to our assistance, is it was only necessary to say to him, "Run ahead, good doggie," and, by following him, we soon had the leaders in full view again. Half a mile before reaching our destination we stopped at a tent on which we saw the sign "Restaurant." Never did oranges seem more delicious than those which Mr. T---- presented to us! No thirsty, fever-pitched patient could have enjoyed them half so intensely.
Refreshed, we continued our tramp, reaching the Old Log Cabin Hotel just as the more rapid walkers in our party had finished dinner. Their shouts of welcome were pleasant to listen to. Edith and her escort arrived an hour later; she was thoroughly exhausted, and delighted to find that we were to go no farther that night. The quarters were crowded to overflowing. We looked at the banks, one above the other, and felt that it was no place for the night. After a short talk with the proprietor, he accompanied us to a small tent, one hundred and fifty yards beyond, a new American Hotel and Restaurant. We passed through the latter, entering a long canvas-covered room, containing thirty-two bunks, sixteen lower and sixteen upper, with places made for two in each; all were of logs over which, as usual, canvas was tightly stretched. The part to be occupied by each person was clearly defined, as a pole was lashed down the centre, although the same blanket covered both individuals.
I immediately engaged the bunk in the corner, which was curtained off by a bit of canvas, for Edith and me. At the foot of the bed was a small space in which some old bags were stored, and this I secured for Ivan. . . . After waiting some time without receiving a desired package, I asked the proprietor, in as meek a tone as possible, if he could find some one to go to the Customs and get my pack. No, he couldn't. So my weary feet were dragged into the rubber boots once more, and I went in search of the missing bedding. It was not to be found. At last, meeting the chief, and stating the case to him, he called his assistant, who said that the leader had left the pack in his care, but that the last man in chaarge of the train had told him that the articles were to go on to Skaguay, and so had put them on his horse. "How far ahead is the pack-train?" said Mr. S---- who had kindly accompanied me; "I might go on and over-take it," but, as the poor fellow had already walked his eight miles, I assured him that we could get on without the things in question perfectly well. A fine predicament! No blankets, no pillows, not even a comb or brush, although instructions had been carefully written out and given with the positive assurance that they should be carried out to the letter. There was nothing further to be said or done. When Edith was informed of the great mistake that had been made, she mourned the loss of her films which she had placed in the bag specially for use on this trip. "Never again shall I do the White Pass," said she, "and the thought that such stupidity should prevent me from taking photographs annoys me beyond measure."
After dinner the men joined us and we sat around the stove on boxes telling stories. We had seen the bodies of horses lying all along the road, and were told that over three thousand have perished since June one year ago. From what we had read, we had fully expected the odour to be almost unbearable, but, fortunately, were disappointed. . . . Captain T---- came in and announced that if we wanted to catch the train at the summit we must be ready to start between five and six o'clock in the morning. This so startled the slow walkers that they insisted upon being allowed to retire at once. Although our part of the tent was well screened off, we demanded that the men should clear the cabin and wait until they were called in. We undressed rapidly, realising that it was icy cold outside, and were soon rolled up in the blankets we had sworn not to use. "Come," Shouted Mrs. M---. There was a pell-mell rush and a kicking off of boots. Funny stories were told, which elicited peals of laughter from women as well as men. Someone commenced filling up the stove with wood, at which we shouted loudly in protest, and, finally, requested one of the men to stand guard over it. The laughter became almost hysterical; it seemed like a lot of girls at boarding school. At last all was quiet. We were just about to doze when Ivan stretched his weary limbs, giving such a grunt of satisfaction at being in warm quarters once more that there was a general shout and the laughter recommenced.
At 2 a.m. we were awakened by loud snoring from one of the men in the top berth. Movements on all sides showed that he had succeeded in arousing everyone but himself; finally there were shouts of "Pinch him." "Hold his nose." "Put a clothes-pin on his nose." "Wake him up." "Kick him out" - until, with a louder snore than usual, he awoke. There was a general peal of laughter. "What time is it? Time to get up?" Someone looked at a watch, "Two o'clock, go to sleep." So much noise awakened Ivan, who roused himself to stand, stretch, and shake. As I tried to reach him and make him understand that he was to lie still, the pole which partitioned Edith from me broke, and we rolled together into the pocket formed by the drooping canvas. We tried to cling to the pole on the edge, but our efforts were in vain, so we had to rob ourselves of one blanket and form a new partition. The temperature soon became freezing, and we were all shivering with cold. Some good soul got up at four and made a fire and we dropped asleep again to the sound of the crackling of the wood.
At five the alarm-clock, sounded, and the men began dressing. As soon as the last one was out of the tent we were making as much of a toilet as was possible without the aid of toilet articles, washing with one handkerchief, drying with another, combing our hair with hairpins, and arranging it without a mirror. Breakfast consisted of beefsteak, potatoes, coffee, bread, butter, and apple sauce, and then we were off on the trail once more.