A good definition of hiking is to take a long walk, tramp or march on a path or trail across a wild or unsettled region. In the early 1800s, lands in the vicinity of Gastineau Channel were basically wild, although not unsettled, as several Tlingit clans inhabited the area.
That was about to change in October of 1880 when Richard Harris and Joseph Juneau returned to the area for the second time in search of gold. They discovered quantities of placer gold in a valley Harris named Silver Bow Basin, which lies just inland from what is now the city of Juneau. Because of their discovery and the ensuing gold rush in the area, we are now blessed with many trails into the woods and up to the mountaintops.
The majority of trails in the Juneau and Douglas area originated as either a horse tramway, prospector's trail or a major "road" to extensive mine workings and served as a way into the wilderness. Many of the trails we use today still carry mining names such as Treadwell, Perseverance, Amalga, Nugget and so on.
Some of the trails gradually became overgrown or flooded by streams, and the timbers used for horse tramways and wooden bridges rotted and collapsed. Nevertheless, there was, and still is, a dedicated group of hikers, who hike and help keep the brush from taking over, no matter what the conditions.
One such group, the Shank, Ship and Shutter Club, was most active in the 1950s, while the current hiking program, sponsored by the city Department of Parks and Recreation and led by volunteers, is another. The organization Trail Mix, which represents various public agencies as well as the community at large, is currently taking the lead in preserving, upgrading and adding new segments to some area trails. Of course, there are also many individuals who prefer to hike on their own and who make improvements to preserve area trails.
One of my favorite areas, because of its openness and beauty, is the Granite Basin Trail, also called the Granite Creek Trail. In 1885, a group of lode claims in the area of Silver Bow Basin was consolidated and named Perseverance. A trail was started in 1884 to mines near Ebner Falls and extended in 1889 to the Perseverance mine camp and workings at the end of the basin. Thanks to this effort, we now have easy access to Mount Juneau, Granite Basin and to the end of the valley via the Perseverance Trail. Approximately two miles up the Perseverance Trail, the Granite Basin Trail branches off and climbs above Granite Creek, past a lovely waterfall, and after a short climb, offers a breathtaking view back over the first of the two basins.
In the background, one sees Olds Mountain, a 4,453-foot peak named after John Olds in 1902 and now called Mount Olds by most people. Olds was a pioneer hotel owner and miner whose descendants still live in the Juneau area.
Black bear and mountain goats can be seen in Granite Basin throughout the summer. You can climb into the upper basin and even access several lakes by going further up the trail. There were no major mining operations in Granite Basin, so it remains almost as pristine as it was at the end of the 19th century. The ridge of Mount Juneau can be reached from Granite Basin, but more experienced hikers prefer to gain access to Mount Juneau from a trail of that name that leaves the lower reaches of the Perseverance Trail.
The very real danger of snow avalanches in the winter and early spring make the Perseverance and Granite Basin trails off limits at this time of year. However, plan to take time this summer to explore and enjoy one of the most beautiful and easily accessed trails within easy reach of downtown Juneau.
On The Trails is provided by Trail Mix, a nonprofit trail maintenance and construction group on the Web at www.juneautrails.org/.