Palm Sunday Avalanche!

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View taken from Scales, a small tent town along the Chilkoot Pass trail. Clearly visible in the photograph is the long single-file line of stampeders carrying their goods up the "Golden Stairs" and over the Chilkoot Pass.
Photo courtesy of David Sundman

The Chilkoot Pass trail ascended fairly gently from Dyea through the first portions of the trail. But a little over 12 miles along the trail, between Sheep Camp and Scales, the trail begins to rise, heading up over 1600 feet in just 2 1/2 miles. In the spring of 1898, warm weather had made that portion of the trail extremely treacherous. Few stampeders heeded the danger signs except the Chilkoot Native packers, who finally refused to work the trail. This was their land, and they knew how deadly the conditions had become. Dreams of golden wealth kept most of the stampeders on the trail, even after the packers had withdrawn.

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Miners digging for survivors and bodies after the worst of the avalanches that struck the Chilkoot Pass trail on April 2-3, 1898. Photo courtesy of Yukon Archives, Gillis collection
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A large tent in Sheep Camp was turned into a temporary morgue. It housed the bodies that the stampeders were able to retrieve from the avalanche. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

The avalanches began on Saturday evening, April 2, 1898. The first apparently was not severe enough to cause much concern. Early Palm Sunday morning, a snow slide buried 20 stampeders along the trail. At 9:30 a.m., three more people were buried under another avalanche. Fortunately in both cases, all were rescued from the snow.

The early morning rumbles convinced the stampeders to withdraw from the hill. As over 150 people were making their way down the hill from Scales to Sheep Camp the mountain pack gave way and tumbled down over the front portion of the group. The massive avalanche covered about ten acres of land with snow in some areas as deep as 50 feet.

Hundreds of stampeders rushed up from Sheep Camp to dig out survivors. Some were brought out alive - but over 60 people could not be rescued in time. Men and women worked for four days to dig out the bodies. A tent in Sheep Camp was turned into a temporary morgue. Some bodies were identified. Many were men known to none but their families back home.