Exhibition at Yukon Arts Centre

The launch of our 2014 Chilkoot Trail residency project at the Yukon Arts Centre!

Jessica Auer and Andreas Rutkauskas present “Out of Office”

December 8, 2016 – February 25, 2017
Opening reception, December 8th at 6pm (Jessica will be in attendance)
300 College Drive, Whitehorse, Yukon

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Created during the Chilkoot Trail Artist Residency, works from Out of Office deal with the social and cultural climate of a present-day wilderness experience. In 2014, we hiked and camped along the Chilkoot trail for fourteen days, from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia, making portraits of other backpackers with a 4×5” view camera. Originally used as a Tlingit First Nation trade route, the Chilkoot Trail saw major traffic and development during the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. Despite its relatively remote location and the technical challenges of 19th Century photographic technology, this significant world event was well documented. While referring to this photographic archive, our images speak directly to the experience of life on the trail. These portraits also show how landscape can bring a diverse range of people together. Like the photographs of the Stampeders who travelled this route during the Klondike Gold Rush, these backpacker portraits provide an anthropological perspective; yet also speak to the role of the participant-observer, in this case, the artists in residence.

Unboxing Sheep Camp – Video component
The term ‘unboxing’ refers to a particular style of Internet video whereby a typical consumer records and subsequently publicly posts the act of opening and unpacking an item. Typically the objects of unboxing videos are expensive and technology-related, however as the phenomenon continues to grow, so has the corresponding range of
items. Unboxing Sheep Camp borrows from the conventions of the unboxing video for our unpacking of a cache of extra food, workshop materials, and sheet film that was stored at a backcountry campground along the Chilkoot trail. Being afforded the luxury of hoarding supplies, which is denied to other hikers, we were able to enjoy extravagant items including a full jar of peanut butter, cans of rice pudding, and extra toilet paper.








Artist in Residence, do you copy? –  Sound installation
As an organizational method of communication and for safety, staff along the Chilkoot trail, including the artist in residence, are expected to report for radio call-ins twice daily at predetermined times. Artist in residence, do you copy? is an audio work made up of excerpts from these transmissions. Fascinated with how this procedure revealed
the operational logistics that remain out of sight for most trail users, we began capturing the daily routine using a portable audio recorder. While the majority of this communication involves relaying weather conditions, hiker traffic along the trail, and other notable events, the selected snippets in this piece are edited together to highlight the challenges of communicating in a remote and rugged environment.








Many thanks to Parks Canada, The US National Parks Service and The Yukon Arts Centre for their support, and to all the hikers and trail workers we met along the Chilkoot Trail, thank you for taking part in this project . To all the people who ever traveled this route, from the Tlingit First Nation traders to the Stampeders of the Klondike Gold Rush, we appreciate the traces left for us to follow.

Canada Day on the Chilkoot

It’s already been a year! On June 30th, 2014 we walked the final leg of the Chilkoot Trail from Bare Loon Lake, through a small patch of dessert sands, to Lake Bennett, where we celebrated with an enthusiastic crowd of fulfilled hikers and a large family of campers that had taken the train into Bennett for the holiday weekend. Just after the sun set on that last long day of June, I sat alone by the edge of the lake’s inlet, splashing fresh water on my face. As I was trying to wipe my eyes dry, I looked up to see a Grizzly bear swimming across the river, directly towards me. As I jumped to my feet, I luckily frightened the bear enough for him to turn around and dash back into the woods. The next morning, on our National holiday, we used our last sheets of film to photograph Edna, Bennett’s only resident, as she went down to the lake to collect fresh water.

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Edna Helm is the only resident at Bennett

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George and Neve set out to canoe the Yukon River from Lake Bennett

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Laëtitia came to the Yukon from France to work as an Au Pair

Looking through the ground glass on the trail near Bare Loon Lake.  With the view camera, the image appears upside down and inverted.

We wish to thank Parks Canada, the National Parks Service and the Yukon Arts Centre among others for the incredible opportunity, and to all the hikers that collaborated with us along the way. And all the best to this year’s Artists in Residence. Happy Trails!

Upcoming exhibitions of our Chilkoot project titled Out of Office will be announced on this blog in the coming months.


Jessica and Andreas

The Canadian artists at Happy Camp


Two weeks of garbage to carry out from the backcountry


Edna makes her famous bannock


Happy Canada Day 2014 from Bennett Lake


Bare Loon not Bear Loon

The advantage of backpacking 53km over 14 days is that we often got first pick at each campsite. But at the most beautiful campsite – Bare Loon Lake – any tent pad is a real pleaser. After a short jaunt from Lindeman City, we arrived at Bare Loon lake and awaited the groups of hikers that were mostly coming from Happy Camp. Some would be joining us for the night and others just passing through to Bennett Lake. The first group to come through were Chloe, Kyle, Marie and Richard, who were pleased to stop and have their portrait taken before regaining the trail towards their final destination. They were later followed by Rhonda, Sue and Hudson the dog. We had met Rhonda in Lindeman City a few years earlier when she worked for Parks Canada pioneering the first artist’s residency program in 2011. Even the big wild of the North can be considered a small world, especially after being joined by a father-son duo that had travelled all the way from Tasmania to hike the Chilkoot Trail.

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Marie and Richard

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Chloé and Kyle

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Sue and Hudson


Rhonda poses for a portrait

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Tazmanians Eric and Josh


We met this group of eight at Bare Loon and rejoined them for one final night at Bennett Lake

Lindeman City

Upon arriving in Lindeman City, we departed.  Our land journey turned into a boat trip as we were presented with the opportunity to cross Lake Lindeman much like those in the quest for gold. It was on the southern shores of this lake that the stampeder’s journey changed from one of foot travel to a nautical adventure.


Boarding the Parks Canada boat at the south end of Lake Lindeman

Many had never wielded an axe before, yet they chopped down trees and converted rough-hewn lumber into ramshackle watercraft that would hopefully stay together long enough to traverse Lakes Lindeman and Bennett, before being subject to the real test of the Yukon River. Staff at Parks Canada invited us along for a boat ride to the northern part of Lake Lindeman, where upon docking, we had only to walk a short distance to arrive at Lake Bennett. A train was coming in to the station, so we packed our camera gear and set out, hoping to capture some day-trippers. After a few hours, we met up with new staff, jumped back on board the boat, and returned to Lindeman City.


Photographing Matt, a law enforcement officer with Parks Canada, along with our new friends Caleb and Alison


David, conductor aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad


Jessica prepares to photograph George and his daughter Neve. They were getting ready to paddle from Bennett Lake to Whitehorse

During the boat-building operations of the 19th century, the forest surrounding Lindeman City was completely denuded. One hundred and sixteen years later, the effects are still visible, as the boreal forest remains stunted and thin. The Lindeman City of today houses Parks Canada’s summer operational headquarters, including a library inside of a canvas tent that is filled with books pertaining to the Chilkoot as well as the surrounding landscape and its histories.


Standing outside the Lindeman City Library


Interior view of the library


We donated some books of our past projects to the library’s collection (in the foreground)


Lindeman City has a great concentration of gold rush artifacts


It was a pleasure to read through the stories left behind by other hikers in the cabin register

Lynn, Alexandre, and Lori. A group hailing from Yellowknife, Whitehorse, and Ottawa.

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Caleb, a Parks Canada volunteer, takes a relaxing break in a bed of evergreen boughs

Well-fed and well-rested, we departed Lindeman City after three nights, destined for Bear Loon Lake, only a few kilometres distant.

Deeper into the Chilkoot trail

While the hikers at Happy Camp were crawling into their tents and drifting off to sleep, we packed up our things and moved along the trail to Deep Lake. This proved to be a good decision, since the increased tree cover sheltered us from a frigid cold; it dipped down to -8ºC at Happy Camp that night!


Arriving late at Deep Lake camp, we enjoyed a hot chocolate before drifting off to sleep

Poised at the junction of the subalpine and boreal forest, Deep Lake is a magnificent setting but a less popular place to camp. Only the most ambitious hikers can make the trip from Sheep Camp, over the pass, to Deep Lake in a single push. Additionally, it is one of the only sites along the trail without a warming shelter.

For avid orienteers, it is undoubtedly the best location on the trail for going cross-country and exploring. The ridges behind the campground, and adjacent mountains are accessible without much bushwhacking, and provide incredible views of the Chilkoot Pass corridor. We took advantage of the strategic location and good weather during our three days spent here.


Scrambling up the ridge behind Deep Lake camp gives an impressive view of Long Lake and the Chilkoot Pass corridor


The view from an unnamed peak adjacent to Deep Lake camp lends a magnificent perspective on the terrain to come. Here we can see Lake Lindeman in the foreground, with Lake Bennett behind, and Bare Loon Lake towards the right edge of the frame.

Deep Lake was also a great location to capture hikers in the morning, rejuvenated after a good night’s sleep at Happy Camp, on their way to either Lindeman City, Bear Loon, or even Bennett.


Photographing Kaylee, Tallan, and Forrest from Fairbanks, Alaska. It was their first time hiking the Chilkoot

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Laura and Cory from rural Alberta. They were planning on hiking the Great Divide Trail later in summer.

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We first met Charles at Happy Camp. He is an author and radio host working with Alaska Public Media.


Framing a shot on the edge of Deep Lake

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Bill, William, and Sydney from Vernon, BC

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Enjoying a morning coffee with our new friend Star

A Misnomer, if Ever There was One

“Just beyond the pass the trail, ‘plainly marked by scars left on the rocks by thousands of cleated shoes,’ descended to Crater Lake. After the backbreaking climb to the pass, most people were glad to descend. Martha Louise Purdy, however, remembered that portion of her July trip painfully: ‘Then the descent! Down, ever downward. Sharp rocks to scratch our clutching hands. Snake-like roots to trip our stumbling feet.’

Once beyond Crater Lake, the trail descended slowly to ‘a small desolate valley’ just south of Long Lake. The site was called Happy Camp, ‘a misnomer, if ever there was one’. Here in the alpine, treeless climate began to give way to the more diverse vegetation of the dry, boreal interior”.

– from David Neufeld and Frank Norris’ Chilkoot Trail: Heritage route to the Klondike


Full of energy, Jessica hauls her pack up the Golden Stairs

We left Sheep Camp early on June 23rd well-rested and full of energy, our bodies already becoming accustomed to the rugged terrain. This was our sixth day on the trail after all. The morning was overcast and cool, as we moved through the familiar route up Long Hill to the Scales, surmounting the Golden Stairs yet again. It was at the summit of the pass that we noticed the weight of our packs, and a sense of fear came over us when we thought about what we needed to add – two days worth of goods shuttled up on day trips from Sheep Camp, including camera equipment, extra batteries, clothing, and five days worth of food. At least it was all downhill from here!

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A group of hikers takes a break alongside the southern tip of Crater Lake


A break in the snowpack (and from dangerous avalanche terrain) marks a perfect location to remove our loads and enjoy the view

True to Martha Louise Purdy’s sentiment of the terrain north of the Chilkoot Pass however, downward did not suggest an easing of our burden. The temperature rose, and the hard snowy surface beneath our feet turned to slush. Each step slipped and slithered through half dissolved snow – it was a wet affair. Only two kilometres before Happy Camp things got desperate. We took turns removing our packs and collapsing into the heathery brush alongside the trail; we barely had the energy to pitch the tent and cook dinner once we finally arrived.


Smiles become decidedly more neutral as the weight of our packs beat us down


Arriving in the small patch of trees on the edge of the alpine, we have our choice of nearly any site at Happy Camp

Many hikers share this sentiment, arriving at Happy Camp tired and defeated. It was therefore no surprise when we were scheduled to present an artists’ talk two days later, and moved the time up from 7:30 to 6pm, that excited hikers welcomed the idea, then promptly crawled into their tents to be sound asleep by 8 o’clock.

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Matt and Hugh, engineers from Vancouver and longtime friends, were reading in the sun when we arrived

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Others began to arrive, including Connie, an artist / lawyer from Andreas’ hometown of Winnipeg


Meg from Vancouver is now a nurse in Whitehorse. We met her while enjoying a sunny breakfast at Happy Camp


Jeremy is a guide and porter originally from North Carolina. We came across him on our first day out of Dyea running a rafting excursion on the Taiya River, and now again, guiding a group of 6 for Alaska Mountain Guides

Up to the Chilkoot Pass! (and down and up and down and up)

The journey from Sheep Camp to the Chilkoot Pass is the most anticipated leg for many hikers. There is a dense concentration of artifacts here, due in part to it being the site of numerous tramlines during the gold rush, but also owing to the preservative qualities of a colder climate. Many of the iconic photographs were made along this stretch as well, and the heightened physical toil, which can be discouraging in the moment, makes for a great sense of accomplishment once the pass has been surmounted. Leaving the lush forest of Sheep Camp behind, one gradually makes their way into the subalpine, pausing at The Scales where the formidable ton of goods was weighed, before scrambling up the Golden Stairs towards the summit.


The Scales

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Elizbieta leading her SAGA team in the reenactment of a famous Chilkoot photograph at the Golden Stairs

Once hikers have summited the Chilkoot Pass, all of the major elevation gain is behind them, and the walk to Bennett Lake is literally all downhill. Another part of what made our Chilkoot experience unique is that we got up early each of the three mornings that we awoke in Sheep Camp, and rushed ahead of the hikers carrying only our daypacks and camera equipment. Having hiked the trail before, we knew what locations we wanted to use as a backdrop for these portraits, and one of the most important spots was the summit of the pass. Instead of going up and over as most hikers do, we went up and down, and up and down, and up and over the Golden Stairs and the Chilkoot Pass. More than any other experience on our two week residency, this put us directly in the shoes of the stampeders.


Parks Canada’s warden cabin, the warm-up shelter, and outhouse atop the Chilkoot Pass

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Carrying a special load, mother-to-be Stacey and husband Christopher at the pass

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Kyleigh, Tess, Georgia, Erika, Elle, and SAGA team leader Jane (in red) enjoy a beautiful day at the summit


In recent years it has become more common for runners to tackle the Chilkoot in a single day. We were fortunate enough to meet two of them.

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Tyler, Amber, and Shiloh the Dog – who contributed an excellent map to the project as well

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Steph from Parks Canada made us feel extremely welcome at the warden cabin

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Longtime hiking friends Tom, Frank, and Jurgen came all the way from Belgium to experience the natural landscape of the Chilkoot

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The pass was also a place where we parted ways with people we had shared campgrounds with for one or two nights prior. Dawna and Jason were from Juneau, Alaska

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It was also here that we said goodbye to Lynette, Keely, and Greg .. for the time being

No Sheep in Camp

It was becoming obvious that place names along the Chilkoot Trail are often paradoxical. We spent three nights in Sheep Camp and did not see a single sheep. In fact, stories conflict regarding the origin of the camp’s name. What is certain however is that Sheep Camp is often a busy place, as it is the last camp on the American side of the trail before crossing into Canada, and functions as a staging ground for backpackers gearing up to tackle the summit. Hikers partake in a mandatory briefing on avalanche safety here, and are strongly encouraged to depart camp before 5am in June and by 6am in July. It was also here that we presented our first artist’s talk to an enthusiastic crowd.

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Felipe (aka Flip), NPS maintenance staff, standing outside of the Sheep Camp Ranger Station

While we made friends with a number of hikers in this popular campground, we woke up early each morning and rushed ahead of them carrying only our daypacks and photographic equipment to capture their portraits along the trail or atop the Chilkoot Pass. Our images of camp life at Sheep Camp focused rather on two alternate groups of Chilkoot inhabitants – staff from the National Park Service, and youthful volunteers working as part of the trail maintenance crew.

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Ranger Liz took us on a journey through the forest to explore some remnants of old Sheep Camp

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Melissa and Emily Rose, tent mates who worked as trail maintenance volunteers for AmeriCorps.

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Thomas, a volunteer with the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association originally hailed from the Adirondack region of upper New York State; we compared notes on hiking and climbing in the Adirondacks

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Steph, another volunteer with AmeriCorps soaks her tired feet in Devil’s Club


A hand drawn logistics map outlines the U.S. National Park Service’s helicopter operations to Canyon City and Sheep Camp on the day that we hiked into Sheep Camp.

It is with tremendous gratitude that we would like to thank the volunteer trail crew from AmeriCorps and the South Alaskan Guidance Association for maintaining the Chilkoot trail and related infrastructure of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. And a heartfelt thank you to all the rangers working with the National Parks Service for their warm welcome, guidance and encouragement.

Canyon City: who hikes the Chilkoot anyways?

If you imagine wandering into a place called “Canyon City” you may expect to find yourself among a bustling urban community. A city after all should be larger than a town, and a town should be larger than a village. But if you walk into Canyon City early enough in the hiking season these days, you won’t even find a permanent settlement. The only signs of life that you stand to encounter are the mice bustling around a solitary log cabin. And it was exactly this scene that welcomed us to Canyon City for our first night on the Chilkoot Trail.


We pitched our tent by the Taiya River and cooked our dinner resolved to the fact that we would be enjoying our first meal in the company of small creatures, when a group of three backpackers marched into camp. The sole woman in the group flung off her pack in an elaborate gesture to free herself from the burden that most backpackers are quite familiar with. We were pleased to meet the first hikers of our Chilkoot experience.


After going through formalities such as “where are you from?”, proving in the process that there are only six degrees of separation between complete strangers, we quickly learned a lot about Mark, Joyce, and Richard, who had been attending an Air Cadet conference in Whitehorse. Now Mark, who had hiked the trail with his daughter a few years earlier, decided to introduce first-time backpackers Joyce and Richard to the wonders of backcountry adventure.

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Joyce and Richard, first time backpackers

The next day, the trio continued on their way and we settled in for another night at Canyon City. After all, we had fourteen days to hike a trail that would normally take four or five, so we patiently waited for more people to come along. Just as we thought we would be enjoying our bagel-and-cream-cheese lunch alone, we were surprised to see the next group arrive so early. When Lynette, Greg, and Keely strolled into camp, they seemed as enthusiastic to see us, as we were to meet them. After ten minutes of conversation, I wondered why they hadn’t yet felt the urgency to take off their backpacks. Indeed, this family hailed from Calgary and were no strangers to the outdoors. We later learned that mother and daughter were competitive biathletes, while dad kept in shape by grooming the cross country ski trails.

It was here at Canyon City that we had our first taste of the wide range of interesting people that decide to come and hike the Chilkoot Trail.

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Lynette and Keely, biathletes

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Greg, hydrologist

Skagway or Dyea?


Dyea waterfront in 1898. Photo by E.A. Hegg

After travelling from all corners of the earth in search of gold, cheechakos (newcomers to the North) were faced with a tough decision – to proceed over the White Pass from Skagway, or start up the Chilkoot Pass at Dyea. In Howard Blum’s The Floor of Heaven, one sourdough recounts “there ain’t no choice. One’s hell. The other’s damnation”. Despite the steeper terrain, the Chilkoot was the favoured option, as it was slightly shorter in length.

Both Skagway and Dyea prospered through 1897-99, however when the gold rush ended, and the last spike was hammered into the White Pass & Yukon Route railway linking Skagway to Whitehorse in July 1900, Dyea was abandoned.


Ruins of a rowboat in Dyea

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The Skagway Railroad Building, which now houses the NPS Gold Rush Museum

Today, Skagway continues to thrive as a destination for tourists and cargo. Its deep-water port can accommodate a number of large cruise ships, as well as ore and petroleum terminals. In summer, Skagway experiences a daily boom and bust cycle, as the town balloons to a population of 10,000 when cruise ships disgorge passengers during the day, leaving the roughly 800 local residents and visitors who arrived by other means to quietly walk the streets at night.


Cruise ship Norwegian Pearl at Skagway’s Broadway Dock

Remnants of the long pier required to unload boats in Dyea’s shallow harbour

Remnants of the long pier required to unload boats in Dyea’s shallow harbour

Dyea on the other hand cannot even be called a ghost town. Little remain of its structures, with the exception of the A. M. Gregg Real Estate Office false front, remnants of the former pier, and a few boards from the collapsed Vining and Wilkes Warehouse Ruin. It is an altogether wonderful place to enjoy a quiet break from the bustle of Skagway, and to imagine what this landscape was like over one hundred and ten years ago.

A.M. Gregg Real Estate Office false front in Dyea

A.M. Gregg Real Estate Office false front in Dyea

Grave marker in Dyea’s Slide Cemetery where victims of the Palm Sunday avalanche were buried

Grave marker in Dyea’s Slide Cemetery where victims of the Palm Sunday avalanche were buried

Today, backpackers set out from Dyea to hike the Chilkoot trail, and this is where our journey began.