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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

ALASKA, SKAGWAY, AND THE KLONDIKE! (Part I)



Let's switch back to Alaska for a bit. Time for the Coral Princess to dock at some really cool Alaskan towns. Our first port of call is Skagway at the northernmost point of the Inside Passage. Birthed in a wild labor of gold-crazed miners, Skagway began as a boom town full of barrooms, crowds and train whistles. Men sought their fortunes in gold or in commerce born of gold. To fully enjoy the Skagway adventure, do as we did and find ways to see the White Pass and Chilkoot trails that 30,000 men used as their pathway to riches. For those who never made it up to the Klondike fields, relive their adventures in the brothels (not literally) and barrooms of Skagway for the downtown area, a seven-block-long historic district is part of the 13,191 acre Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park where turn-of-the-century shops and saloons are open for business.

Rob and I took a 7 ¼ hour Klondike Scenic Highlights tour. This was my first challenge of the vacation as I’d heard of the harrowing moments of the railroad ride aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad. It’s known as the “Scenic Railway of the World,” and it is outstanding as it climbs the White Pass Trail. It also hugs the edge of mountains and overlooks the valleys below reminiscent of the mule rides down the Grand Canyon!
White Pass Railroad

While it’s sometimes difficult to stop staring at the beautiful scenery, I tried to imagine this route from a climber’s point of view. The rise from Skagway to White Pass is 3000 feet. Imagine. Parts of the trail are still visible, and its narrowness attests to the single file line one sees in photographs of the men making this climb. It seems impossible to come up these mountains, packs on backs, men to the front and to the rear, some falling by the wayside, some barely making it to the top. That was the beginning of the trip. Dawson City on the Yukon River, their destination, is 550 miles north of Skagway. In this photo, I am shooting down from our train to the one following us. This shows the steep mountains the miners had to climb.
Heights of the White Pass

We pass some spectacular waterfalls, and our train goes through tunnels and makes cliff-hanging (and very scary) turns. We pass historic sites—like the cross on the huge boulder. It marks the spot where two railway workers were crushed beneath a boulder as it came down the mountain. There was no heavy-duty equipment to move the boulder, so a cross was painted on this unusual tombstone, and it remains there to this day.
Railroad Bridge

on the White Pass
There are hikers who get off at Glacier, a stop on the route. There is a saying one might heed, “If you get off here, you become part of the Alaskan food chain.”
Glacier, Alaska
Hikers

The thin green path in my photo is the ten-mile long White Pass Trail of ’98 that the miners climbed single file to reach the crest at White Pass before heading on to Dawson. Imagine.
White Pass

As we cross into Canada, the topography abruptly changes. We see rocks and glacial ponds, tiny spruces, red lichen, and delicate white flowers called caribou moss. This beautiful but hard land, too, had to be crossed. This valley is known as Tormented Valley.
Tormented Valley

Then this rough, rocky ground gives way to moss and then to grassy, almost Alpine fields. The miners had to cross this area in order to get to White Pass!


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