Gateway to the Klondike

The ship arrived in Skagway in the wee hours of the morning or maybe it was night.

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It’s getting harder and harder to tell with the late sunsets and early sunrises the farther north we go.

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Skagway is located at the northern tip of Alaska’s Inside Passage.

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As we roused ourselves for the day’s adventures we looked out on a busy dock with a rock wall to hold the bank in place.

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Above the rock wall on the boulders embedded in mountainside we saw logos and ship’s names painted. The story is that when a crew likes the captain they come ashore and paint the ship’s ID on the rocks, the higher and more dangerous, the more the captain is esteemed.

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After breakfast, with the all clear to go ashore, we headed down to find the excursion bus that would take us to the White Pass and Yukon Railroad.

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We needed our passports because this adventure would take us into the Klondike region of Canada.

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The train would take us through the White Horse Pass. During the gold rush in 1896 there wasn’t a train. The stampeeders ( prospectors) had to either take the Chilkoot Trail which was shorter but steeper or the White Horse Pass that was longer but summited lower at 2885 ft.  Both ways were challenging and deadly. The Canadian Mounties waited at Lake Bennett to check supplies. Anyone without enough to survive was turned back at the border.

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I can assure you the train was much easier but even today it was easy to see the challenge.  We passed huge gullies and mountainsides as the train wound its way to the summit.

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We passed over trestle bridges and passed into and out of fog banks and clouds.

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Water poured down the mountainsides  in everything from torrents to trickles as the snow on the peaks began its spring melt.

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Pretty soon we had reached the snowline but even though we were traveling through snow the water continued its downward path. At times we were so close to the mountain side that a foolish person could have reached out and touched the rocks as they flew by…and lost a hand or arm had they been so careless.

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At times we could see across the “gulch” where another train ahead of us was already traveling upward or maybe returning downward.

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We could see where we would soon be. More than any place else that we’d been, this train ride captured the true wildness of the Alaska mountains.

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I admit, I stood in the cold outside the car in an attempt to capture some of the fantastic wilderness that surrounded us. My efforts fell far short of what we actually saw. The fog or clouds (depending on who you ask) only added to the drama of the ride.

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Once we arrived at Lake Bennett we had to wait for the Canadian Customs Agents. We were told not to speak unless spoken to, to have our passports out and open and to NOT TAKE ANY PICTURES!

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2 Agents boarded and made their way down the aisle. They never smiled. They were quite intimidating. The only time they spoke was to ask a foreign visitor for his visa as well as his passport. He had the visas for his whole family so they checked all of them then left the train.

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The bus was waiting to take us to the next stop, a suspension bridge. Everyone headed to the lake to take pictures but the bus driver rounded us up with promises that we’d be back and we could take pictures then. He said we had a schedule to keep.

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0 Responses to Gateway to the Klondike

  1. We were tempted to take this train, but it was so far from the rest of our adventures, making it a costly excursion just to get there. What amazing will power it must have taken for those gold miners to make that trip, with all the hardships that came with it. Such a wealth of history.

    • Dusty Roads says:

      It was a truly mind-boggling accomplishment. According to the guides most of the prospectors had to take the trail many times to get all of their supplies and gear to the top. And then they told us about the thousands of horses and pack animals that died because it was so rough and they weren’t cared for properly. Made me want to cry. But the train was great fun.