“Are we going anywhere?” was the question of the night during the premiere of “Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail”. It came as the four hikers began the part of their journey that required boats. On day three, their canoes headed north on Bennett Lake with a 35 mph wind in their faces and snow falling. That was their reward after making it up the Golden Staircase, a 45 degree climb to reach 3,300 feet.
While the special series is called “Parker’s Trail”, it might have been titled Parker’s Quest. The trip, an ode to Grandpa John was Schnable’s dream to tread the trail of the 19th century prospectors. The four-person team of Parker, crew foreman Rick Ness, filmmaker James Levelle and wildlife guide Kara Ann managed to make it to their cold weather equipment and canoes stashed at a cabin near the water’s edge.
The boats could have been motorized, but Parker wouldn’t hear of it. They had gotten to that point without major injury. The only tumble occurred when James got tripped up by boulders covered in snow, some of which were loose. It was trial and error as they traversed the rock field that got them to the base of the Golden Stairs.
Even Schnable doubted Rick’s ability to withstand the punishing conditions and the physical strength it would take. His legs needed a rest only two miles into the journey, but he persevered. The night before they left, Ness was still pounding down beers. He’s a big guy, weighing in at a solid 245 lbs., but might have made it a bit easier on himself if he’d gotten some training for the conditions.
The canoes couldn’t make any progress with very choppy waters and the wind that wouldn’t let up. Parker and Karla Ann in the lead canoe decided that the conditions were too dangerous to continue. This would be only the first of four lakes they’d encounter on the trip. The order was given to return to shore. Unfortunately, James and Rick in the second canoe were less than adept at working in concert with each other and by the time they joined the others on land, Rick’s hands were numb and he was in no mood for Parker jawing at him.
They waited out the wind, but after four days of sitting, with the gusts down to “only” 26 mph, Parker decided they’d need to create a catamaran of sorts, by lashing the canoes side by side and using material for a sail. The DIY came out in them and with tools and wood they made it happen. They took the chance that if the wind changed, their makeshift boat could double the speed up the lake.
With luck, it would take two days to get to the Yukon River. Unfortunately, the best laid plans….they had to turn back. “Every day we sit here at Bennett Lake, the Yukon River’s freezing up,” Parker muttered. “I hate not being in control,” he said. The next day James raised the delicate topic of putting an end date on their stay at Bennett Lake. There is a train they could use, but Parker’s Quest did not include it.
“No,” was his answer to James’ question. “We’re in the same boat they were in over 100 years ago,” Schnable grumbled. “That’s not what my grandpa would have done. It’s not what the pioneers would have done. I’ve just got to figure out a way around this stupid lake.” Walking on the train tracks, talking with Rick as they brainstormed, he spotted a flatbed cart on the rails. It moved effortlessly and there was jubilation once again. Up went the catamaran and their packs on the cart, for a farewell salute to Bennett Lake. After being stuck for five days progress was being made, as they walked beside and behind the cart. To be continued….
“Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail” continues next Friday, April 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Discovery. Image credit: Discovery Communications, used with permission