One of the more unique aspects of the Valdez Glacier Trail were the temporary tent towns that sprang up on the glacier. Prospectors hauling their goods the 23 miles from Valdez to the Summit camped at Valdez, Glacier City, Five Mile Camp, Twelve-Mile Camp, Foot-of-the Summit, and Summit Camp. All but the first two camps were on the ice.
Glacier City was 4 miles from Valdez at the foot of the glacier. Joseph Bourke described Glacier City in his Diary: "In speaking of this as a city it must be borne in mind that it is all under canvas and constantly changing but the change is not noticed for as one tent is moved out another takes its place."
Five-Mile Camp was atop the Third Bench. From here, the prospectors had their last glimpse of the ships arriving in Port Valdez and the long line of newcomers hauling their supplies up the glacier behind them.
Once atop the third bench, the prospectors faced a long, gradual haul to Twelve-mile Camp at the foot of the 4th Bench and at an altitude of 2500 feet. In good weather conditions, they could make a round trip hauling 150 to 200 pounds of supplies from Five to Twelve-Mile Camp in one day.
After ascending the 4th and most gentle bench, it was five miles to the Foot-of-the-Summit Camp. When they saw the steep summit " a white wall like a gigantic dam," many became discouraged and turned back. But after relaying their goods up by block and tackle, the prospectors finally stood on the summit. Here, they could buy a cup of tea at the restaurant while looking out over "the promised land" and feeling a well-deserved sense of achievement.
(Jim and Nancy Lethcoe are the authors of Valdez Gold Rush Trails, 1898-99, available in local stores).