Yesterday I happened across a photo from the late-nineteenth century Klondike Gold rush of the part of the Chilkoot Pass that was known as the Golden Staircase. You can see why the photo caught my attention:
Here’s one that’s more of a closeup, to see what they were carrying up that mountain staircase:
I’m not quite sure why that was called a pass. Looks an awful lot like a mountain to me, but I guess it’s a low one. People were awfully tough back then. Here’s more about the Staircase:
The twenty-six mile trail over Chilkoot Pass was steep and hazardous. Most stampeders who gave up did so attempting to cross the mountains.
In the winter, stampeders struggled in blizzards, snow, frigid temperatures, and avalanches. The trail shot up about 1,000 feet in the final half mile. Stampeders climbed the “golden staircase,” 1,500 steps cut in the snow and ice, and used a guide rope for support…
Travelers did not always fare better in the summer. Stampeders struggled in rain, fog, boulders, and bogs. Without its covering of snow and ice, the trail to the summit led over giant boulders over which people literally crawled.
To move one outfit over the pass, stampeders packed and cached their goods up to forty times and hiked up to 1,000 miles. The terrain on the last four miles of the trail was too rough for pack animals. Discarded supplies littered the trail as stampeders cast unnecessary items aside. Many took three months to move their goods from Dyea to the summit.
The name “Golden Staircase” quite obviously describes the goal at the end of the arduous journey: gold. The staircase itself was made of ice and snow. But the phrase jogged a memory for me of a song lyric, and Google helped me find the sources. It’s a common metaphor for the route to heaven, in the Salvation Army hymn called “Climbing Up the Golden Stair” as well as the one with which I’m familiar, Peter Paul and Mary’s rendition of “Early in the Morning” (second verse, “won’t you guide me safely, to the golden stair”):