The Chilkot Trail - our Skagway adventure
Shelby met the ten of us at the dock and from the minute we encountered her till the moment we parted, she exuded enthusiasm and energy.
She drove us the few miles to the trailhead and signed us in at the start.
This tour - The Chilkot Trail Hike and Float Adventure” - had been marked as "including 2 miles of hiking over uneven terrain that is very steep and narrow in spots with 350ft elevation gain" and the first stretch of steep climbing was enough to sort the sheep from the goats. We waited a while until those who instantly recognised themselves as having overestimated their ability were guided by Shelby back to the minibus...it always happens, however well described the activity is.
Agreed, however, that this was no picnic. The path was indeed scrubby, with tree roots and rocks here and there and attention was needed at all times to make sure of a secure footing.
We’d each been issued with a walking pole - first time I'd used such a thing and it was incredibly useful. I was very glad of it indeed.
Steep uphill climbing then, for about half an hour, stopping from time to time to notice things and have Shelby explain. The lichens in particular were amazing.
The uphill section was followed by another half hour of up and down, following the trail the gold prospecters of the Klondike gold rush had left behind them in the 1890s.
Throughout, Shelby guided us to the best footings, gave us tips on getting over tricky sections and when I slipped and promptly sat down on a nearby rock, shared the fun and did what the best leaders do - smiled and reminded us how well we were all doing. There was always something to look at - interesting fungi or some little berry or shoot.
Then came the downhill section; for me, tougher than the climb. But we were a supportive group, no-one raced ahead and everyone supported one another, lending an arm to steady or simply being patient when one of us needed more time to negotiate a particular section.
We crossed a couple of bridges and finally reached the river. We'd made it! By the river there was evidence of recent beaver activity. How sharp must those teeth be?!
The eight of us might have been able to take a break now and look forward to a float down the river, but Shelby's work was far from over. First thing was to kit everyone out in rubber boots and lifejackets, before issuing instructions and safety information for the raft.
Being the obedient souls we are, we followed the boarding advice to the letter, "sit and swing" our legs over the side and hang onto the rope.
Meanwhile, Shelby had loaded all our bags, our shoes and other equipment she'd been carrying into the storage locker on the raft and we were off.
But it was far from a simple float! Not only had this young woman just led eight middle aged amateurs over a tricky woodland pathway, she was now rowing and steering this yellow raft downstream to avoid the shallow areas and the overhanging branches. It was clearly a strenuous task - she'd spoken of one of the plants in the forest being a "salve for broken skin" and had told us how she used it on her hands, which became sore from the rowing. No wonder!
It was magical. So quiet, the only thing to disturb us was the call when someone spotted a(nother) bald eagle and on this sparkling day, the surrounding snow mountains and glaciers were an idyllic backdrop.
40 minutes later, we were hauling ourselves out of the raft feeling exhilarated. Shelby was unloading it all and with the assistance of the five chaps in our group, hauling the raft out of the river ready for it to be transported back upstream.
Back in our regular shoes and released from the snug lifejackets, we climbed into the minibus for the journey back to the dock. As we said our goodbyes and thanked her for her non-stop enthusiasm and physical labour, Shelby laughed - "It was nothing", she said. "I'm off to the gym now".
What a woman!