Much has been written about the hardships and loss of life crossing the coastal mountains on the Chilkat trail or Valdez Glacier route, but the trip from west coast sea ports to Port Valdes, or Copper City, as the growing tent city was called during the winter of 1898, had its own dangers.
With the mad frenzy to reach the gold fields, all available sea craft were pressed into passenger service. Some, like the Valencia , were converted whaling ships. Others were old lumber barges. Some were long past their sea going days. But unemployed captains and eager gold rushers looked beyond the vessel's weaknesses, ignored or were ignorant of the severity of winter storms in the North Pacific, and set sail with their eyes on the golden north.
As prospectors waited in western sea ports for passage north, they began to hear not only of the fabled riches of the gold fields, but also of the risks. The Helen W. Alma broke up shortly after leaving San Francisco. All 40 passengers bound for the Copper River Route were lost. The Jane Falkenburg broke up off Vancouver Island's notorious west coast, while the Mermaid was lost at sea.
Reflecting on these losses he learned about while waiting passage north on the Valencia , Addison Powell wrote, "This was the significant beginning of a life where the loss of one's comrades, I afterwards learned, would be a common occurrence."
(For additional information on Addison Powell's ten years of adventure mapping and prospecting in the Copper River area, see his Trailing and Camping in Alaska , available in local stores.)