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They discovered a cruel wilderness that defeated most of them.
To retrace the journey attempted by the gold seekers, Dan Snow is joined on the one-month expedition by the polar explorer Felicity Aston and remote-environment medic Dr Kevin Fong.
But Anchorage resurfaced to provide the most obvious of titles for a post on my London to New York blog four years ago and wormed its way onto a number of playlists which have helped it into the top 20 of the most played tracks in my i Tunes collection (currently ensconced at number 17 which, must admit, came as a bit of a surprise).
And boy did she – or, to be more accurate, her letter-writing friend – get it right. Over the course of a little more than two weeks, we clocked up mile after mile (more than a thousand at one point without hitting a single traffic light) into the heart of the 50th state and a brief detour over the border into Canada and it is huge. Locals will proudly tell you that you can cut Alaska in half and it would still be the two biggest states (“Pissing off Texans for 50 years” was a popular slogan as they celebrated half a century as part of the union) and such were the natural wonders on display around every corner, you can (almost) forgive them for giving the world Sarah Palin. Surrounded by some magnificent countryside (but that’s pretty much a given up in that part of the world), the state’s largest city is designed to withstand the harsh winters and supply those working all around it.
Three very different songs simply titled America kicked things off – by Howler, Laura Veirs and Simon and Garfunkel’s finest moment, which is saying something, and provider of another blog post title on that trip from sea to shining sea.
In the first of three one-hour programmes, they take on the Alaskan Coastal Mountains, a forbidding wall of snow and rock.
About 100 nautical miles from the open water of the Gulf of Alaska, Dyea (pronounced “die-ee”) still displays the skeletal remains of what was once one of North America’s busiest ports.
The latest BBC2 travel spectacular, “Operation Gold Rush with Dan Snow”, follows the adventurer tackling the Deep North, on a gruelling 600-mile journey from the coast of Alaska to the gold fields of the Klondike on the edge of the Canadian Arctic.
In August 1896, gold was discovered near Dawson City in the Canadian province of Yukon.