August 6: Skagway

When we arrived in Skagway we knew exactly which excursion we wanted to take; the combination of a bus to Fraser, BC and then returning on the White Pass & Yukon railroad.

Alice and Larry head out for our excursion A costumed guide The bus for our excursion

Here we are heading out for our excursion. One of the tour guides was all gussied up in a period costume. Too bad she wasn’t with our excursion. But, we have to hurry, here’s our bus and driver now.

Crossing the Skagway River Map showing our route to Fraser, BC Waterfall on a tributary of the Skagway River

The first photo shows us crossing the Skagway River. The highway to Fraser, BC is to the north-west of the river while the White Pass & Yukon railway is to the south-east. The Map in the middle shows the Klondike Highway (dark red) to Fraser and the White Pass & Yukon Railway (dotted line). Note that we will be crossing from the US into Canada and back. The third photo shows on of the many tributaries of the Skagway River as is cascades down the steep slope.

Closeup of the falls Goat Lake Hydroelectric Project Road markers in snow country

The first photo shows a closeup of the falls in the previous photo. The second photo shows the 4.0-megawatt Goat Lake Hydroelectric Project. Note the pipe on the right of the photo that carries the water from the glacier-fed lake down to the turbine. The last photo shows how they mark the edges of the highway for the snowplows that keep the highway clear in the wintertime. This is BIG SNOW country.

Nan and Gerry at Bridal falls Bridge over active geologic fault Delicate wildflowers

Here we are at “Bridal Falls” right along side the Klondike highway. This is an interesting bridge. It spans an active geologic fault. The bridge is firmly attached to only one side. The other side can move and shift a considerable amount without causing any damage to the bridge. Despite the harsh climate and short growing season there are many delicate, beautiful wildflowers growing in this region.

Nancy and Gerry at the Alaska/BC border Plaque commemorating the Gold Rush Centennial in 1998. The summit of the pass where no trees grow

When we reached the border between Alaska and BC we had to pose for the obligatory “Welcome to Alaska” photo. Nearby is a plaque commemorating the centennial of the gold rush in 1898. The area around the summit of White Pass has no trees. The climate is so harsh and the winds so strong that any growth that sticks up above the surrounding terrain is killed off in the winter.

Description of the Fraser area. Map of the Fraser area Canada Customs and Immigration

We eventually reached the town of Fraser, BC. There were signs describing the region and a map of the area. Even though this area is several miles from the border with Alaska, this is where the Canadian Customs and Immigration post is located. The weather is just too harsh closer to the summit.

Tour buses waiting for the train Train arrives at Fraser On one of the restored passenger cars

There were several tour buses in Fraser waiting for the White Pass & Yukon train from Skagway. When the train arrived most passengers disembarked and got on one of the tour buses for the drive back to Skagway. Then those of us who had taken a tour bus up to Fraser, got on board the train for the trip down to Skagway. The passenger cars were either restored vintage cars or reproductions of cars used during the early 1900s.

One of the streams that become the Skagway River A lake near the summit of the pass. A railway bunkhouse and water tank.

As we started our trip towards Skagway, we passed several streams and lakes that eventually feed into the Skagway River. Since the railway does require maintenance, there was a bunkhouse with water supply for track maintenance workers.

Stunted growth near the summit of White Pass 873 m (2,864 ft). North West Mounted Police outpost Border between Alaska and BC

The first photo shows the stunted growth caused by the harsh climate near the summit of the pass. On the Canadian side of the border on both the White Pass and Chilkoot trails was a North West Mounted Police outpost. There were set up in February, 1898 and began collecting Canadian customs duties and ensured that all gold seekers had a ton of goods that were necessary for a year’s survival in the harsh Canadian North. Note that it would take a man many trips up the trail from Skagway to haul up the requisite ton of supplies. At the summit of the pass we crossed the border from BC back into Alaska.

The original White Pass trail. Crossing the Skagway River A small stream cascading down the mountainside.

The original White Pass trail was narrow and steep. It was closely controlled by the Chilkoot Indians and was unknown to non-natives until 1887. William Moore did a rough survey of the new pass and decided he had found the route for a wagon road. The trail began in Skagway and ended at Lake Bennett, where the prospectors built or purchased rafts or boats to float down the Yukon River to the Klondike gold fields near Dawson City. Moore guided the first group of prospectors up this crude trail over the White Pass. However, once the Gold rush started in earnest, he lost control of the trail. George Brackett made the lower part of the trail into a wagon road and tried to charge a toll but the prospectors hiked around it. So many horses died during the Gold rush that the trail became known as the “Dead Horse Trail”. The White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad was built 1898-1900 through White Pass and the original trail was no longer used.

Railroad conductor and hostess The train stopped to pick up a group of hikers Heading over a bridge over the Skagway River through the fog.

The train crew was very amicable and regaled us with stories about the railroad and surrounding area. At one point the train stopped to pick up a group of hikers who had been on a hiking excursion to Laughton Glacier. It wasn’t much further to the end of the line in Skagway. Since the fog was pretty heavy, I didn’t take many photos until it was time to board the Celebrity Millennium for the trip to Icy Straight Point.
Hiking back to the ship in the rain.

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