THE SET UP The New Arctic Brotherhood was started in August 2005. Three best friends (and former college roommates) went far out of our comfort zones by committing to backpack the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska. Insanely, this was our first real attempt at backpacking.
The Chilkoot Trail was originally established by the Tlingit people as a trade route into the interior of Alaska and later became a major route during Klondike gold rush from 1897-1899. This 33-mile trail was the difficult land-portion of a total 600-mile adventure taken by an estimated 50,000 fortune-seeking Americans attempting to reach the Yukon gold fields. The trailhead begins a few miles outside of Skagway and ends at Lake Bennett, BC. The famous landmark on this historical route is the extremely steep Chilkoot Pass which marks the Alaska-British Columbia border. The popular trail is now part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and is managed by the National Park Service.
THE TREK Despite our best attempts to be in shape for the hike, our training program of jogging in Florida and two 3-nighters to the Smoky Mountains simply could not prepare us for the challenge we were about to undertake. On day 1, we ignorantly delayed our start from Skagway due to some light rain. We later found out that it rains everyday in SE Alaska and no one ever delays anything because of it. After an entertaining ride to the trailhead by Dyea Dave, the 8-mile hike to Canyon City was uneventful other than arriving late in camp. The second day went well too as we pushed through the coastal rain forest and settled in at Sheeps Camp. The trip highlight was tackling the wickedly steep Chilkoot Pass on day 3 of our trip. It took everything we had to get over the pass and weather was absolutely miserable. We collapsed at Happy Camp to recharge for day 4. At Bare Loon Lake we lucked into a great campsite. Our granite slab ended up being quite the social gathering for some of our new, fun-loving Canadian friends as we were the only ones crazy enough to haul cigars & single-malt whisky over the 33-mile trek. At Lake Bennett, we took the famous WP&YR train back to Skagway for a night on the town.
THE OLD & NEW ARCTIC BROTHERHOOD After 5-days of brutal backpacking and eating only dehydrated meals & damp GORP, we celebrated at the Skagway Fish House with a delicious dinner of fried halibut & chips and plenty of refreshing malt-based beverages. Feeling quite satisfied with the ample portions of great food & indigenous Alaskan Pale Ale, we made our way up Broadway Street back towards our room at Sgt. Preston’s Hotel. We stopped at the famous Arctic Brotherhood Hall building and reflected on what great challenges those original “stampeders” faced, and admired that they had the foresight to join together in an act of fellowship to help each other through a grueling & dangerous journey. As an honor to those adventurous “sourdough” pioneers and our own small (by comparison) achievement, we decided that we should start our own chapter of the Arctic Brotherhood and continue with our own annual big adventures.
According to historical records, the original Arctic Brotherhood organization expanded quickly with a total of 32 A-B Camps being established throughout the frontier of Alaska & British Columbia. Although this fraternal club’s history was relatively short-lived (the last one folded in the early 1930s), a few of their halls have survived. In Skagway, they left an behind impressive historical building with a driftwood facade that is today, the most photographed structure in the State of Alaska.
Windermere Camp No. 33 Induction Ceremony in Skagway (note the small & bewildered audience to the left)
If our new Camp was to succeed, it was clear that we needed a great slogan. The motto for the original Arctic Brotherhood was “No Boundary Line Here”, which was a now-obscure reference to the Canadian-American border dispute in the Pacific West that was not officially resolved until 1914. Since border skirmishes truly lack relevancy with our new chapter (unless you count the one with my jackass neighbor and his colony of f***ing cats that continue to piss all over my yard), we decided we needed to come up with our own inspiring tag line. In a very collaborative effort, we unanimously agreed on the adopting the following motto: “Ordinary men on extraordinary adventures since 1899”
Camp Windermeres roster has grown to 10 active members, two retired members and an impressive list of Honorary members. Initially it seemed like we were all attracted to these challenging adventures for the pure fun of it. But perhaps the cool destinations are only part of the appeal. The other attractive elements that seem to be at play are the experience of real physical risk and having the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a true team of men. One of our brothers explained that the level of physical & mental effort required to complete our exhausting trips brings on a state of catharsis that is hard to find in our soft, middle-class lifestyles. Perhaps we have accidentally tapped into something that could be deeply wired into our male DNA; circuits that have not been used since we stopped teaming with our tribal homeboys to bring down large, angry mastodons using only 5-foot spears, tipped with dull Clovis points.
Maybe there is something to that Robert Bly men’s movement of the late eighties. According to Bly, the mythology of manhood and development of the inner warrior has been documented in every ancient culture, yet is missing in modern times. Some believe that the domestication & feminization of our culture has almost entirely suppressed this important part of our male subconscious structure. Today we men have been “wussified” into our modern selves, just as a modern-day loaf of bread has been “Wonderized” down into a bland & listless puff of starch. Perhaps this New Arctic Brotherhood is our way to awaken our inner warrior and become real men, if only for one week a year. Of course, that would be right after I return from going the store to get my wife a box of Carefree Panty Liners.