Back Then, Moving to Alaska was Backbreaking!

May 9, 2011 by Editor

Times were hard, and the hope of striking it rich was irresistible. 

The U.S. remained in a severe recession following the burst of an economic bubble inflated by land and railroad speculation. Businesses went bankrupt and banks closed. The rate of unemployment shot up to as much as 20 percent. Into this backdrop, headlines of gold strikes in the Klondike landed like a bombshell. On July 17, 1897, when the steamship Portland docked at Seattle, a crowd of 5,000 watched 68 bedraggled but jubilant miners unload one million dollars in gold. 

Within six months, hoards of clerks, farmers, adventurers and unemployed workers stampeded off to the Yukon Territory in the Klondike Gold Rush. Almost overnight, an entire industry supplying Klondike prospectors sprang up. The fevered gold seekers were showered with advice, maps and equipment lists. Seattle boomed as merchants made fortunes outfitting the miners. 

To avoid shortages in the harsh interior, the Canadian government ruled that a yearʼs worth of supplies were required to enter Canada. Each traveler had  2,000 lbs. of household goods moving to Canada and Alaska, including food, clothing and equipment. The Mounties turned back anyone who came short. 

The Chilkoot Trail took the stampeders from Dyea (about ten miles from Skagway) to Lake Bennett, where they would build boats for the 500-mile trip on the Yukon River to Dawson. Some prospectors walked nearly 1,000 miles to move their household goods and supplies into northern Canada and on to  Alaska  by way of the 33 miles from Dyea to the waterway. 

For many of those that eventually turned back, the last straw was the 1,000-foot climb up icy “stairs” cut into the Chilkoot Pass. For even the strongest men, it would take 25 to 30 trips up the mountain to get all their goods to the top. Each man would cache his goods at the bottom, take a load on his back to the top, cache that and then slide back down the mountain. Then he would strap on the next load and wait to get back into the endless line of fellow gold-rushers moving to Canada and to Alaska. 

Of the estimated 100,000 who set out for the Klondike, only about 30,000 got there, and only about half of those actually did any prospecting. Probably no more than 4,000 found any gold at all. 

Very few of the stampeders got their chance at a claim, but the gold was there. “The British Yukon Navigation Company received over 37 tons of gold for shipment ʻoutside,ʼ” in the year 1900, mining inspector G.W. Gilbert wrote in a Canadian government report. At todayʼs gold prices, it would be worth over a billion and a half U.S. dollars—$1,678,142,400. 

Opportunities still abound in the Last Frontier. Hi-Line gets the household goods moving to Alaska, the easiest and most economical way, for the start of new Alaskan adventures. Hi-Line Moving specializes in moving crated or wrapped household goods overland to Alaska every day of the year.
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