Skagway: Recreating Gold Rush is no picnic

Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2002

The sight of the Canadian flag blowing in the alpine breeze of the Chilkoot Pass was a welcome sight for the five Canadian stampeders participating in History Television's "Quest for Gold."

Their arrival to the pass signifies that the remainder of their 500 miles to Dawson City's gold fields will be downhill. It also means they have crossed the international border into Canada, the homeland of the hearty cast members.

The homecoming will be short-lived, though, for it means bureaucratic red tape.

"The rangers on the American side seemed to be more helpful than the Parks Canada wardens," said Don Young, director for the historical reality-based television show scheduled to air in Canada in January 2003.

Parks Canada is not allowing the historically accurate cast members to set up their canvas wall tents in either Happy Camp, four miles beyond the summit, or Deep Lake, nearly seven miles past the summit. Instead, the next camp after Sheep Camp, mile 13 on the Chilkoot Trail, is Lindeman City, mile 26.

The stampeders, who began their journey in Dyea on June 5, have been hauling their 3,000 pounds of goods from Sheep Camp, just under 1,000 feet in elevation to the 3,525-foot summit of the Chilkoot Pass, where they have cached their goods.

On July 7, two officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived at the summit via a TEMSCO helicopter equipped with a scale to enforce the weight the team is required to haul for entry into Canada.

Now that all of the provisions are at the summit, the camp is being moved from Sheep Camp to Lindeman City. The four men of the group will then make daily treks from their new camp to the summit until all of their goods are in Lindeman. They will then relocate to their last camp within the Klondike Gold Rush International Historic Park at Lake Bennett, where a boat will be built to haul the argonauts to the gold fields of Dawson.

While the menfolk haul their daily loads, the only woman in the cast, Andria Bellon of Whitehorse, stays in camp to cook, organize loads, and entertain the occasional tourist who wanders curiously into their period-appropriate camp.

Bellon said food has become a serious issue for the latter-day Klondikers. While director Don Young said, "They are eating like they are at a buffet," Bellon states otherwise.

"We are on strict rations - one tablespoon of sugar each per day, one teaspoon of butter, one slice of bacon, three pieces of bannock, and eight pieces of dried apple or apricot slices."

That food is supplemented with porridge for breakfast, beans for lunch, and peas with rice or barley at night.

Due to the gaseous nature of their diet, Bellon said she is "glad to have her own little wall tent to sleep in."

The food dilemma could be solved upon arrival into the Yukon River system. The five cast members all have Yukon hunting and fishing licenses. They are hoping to catch many fish as well as grouse, a smallish game bird that yields about a pound of meat per bird.

As difficult as problems with food, camp locations and personality conflicts may be for the cast members, they do, however, make for good television - and good television is the goal for any director.

"The worst thing that could happen to me," said Young, "is for everything to go smooth."

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