Parts of the Valdez-Eagle Trail can still be walked

In the wake of the Klondike Gold Rush, U.S. Army Captain P.H. Ray was sent to Alaska in 1897 to investigate rumors of unrest among gold seekers along the U.S. portion of the Yukon River. During his travels, Ray heard from prospectors clamoring for an “All-American” route to the Yukon gold fields that would bypass the Canadian-controlled White Pass and Chilkoot Trails.

Ray recommended that a military trail be built from the ice-free port of Valdez on Prince William Sound to the Yukon River Basin. In 1898, U.S. Army Lt. William Abercrombie came to Alaska to reconnoiter routes for the trail.

Abercrombie discovered horrendous conditions at Valdez. Unscrupulous promoters had convinced 4,000-plus Yukon gold-seekers to attempt a trail out of Valdez. However, the trail they promoted took travelers across the Valdez and Klutina glaciers. Only a quarter of those who attempted the Valdez Glacier trail made it as far as the Copper River, and only a handful pressed on to the Klondike. Many gold-seekers lost their lives on the treacherous glacier crossing. Most who made it back to Valdez ended up destitute.

The lieutenant returned to Washington, D.C., later that year to present his report. In 1899, he traveled back to Valdez to begin construction of a trans-Alaska military road from Valdez to Eagle (via a glacier-free route). Abercrombie hired many of the destitute argonauts as construction workers.

Workers built 93 miles of packhorse trail and blazed another 112 miles of foot trail that year. The military road, also referred to as the Valdez-Eagle Trail, was completed by 1901.

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