Final Episode of Trip Report
Skagway – Whitehorse
We had booked tickets on the White Pass Yukon Train and set off from our B & B around 6.45 a.m. The station is situated at Centennial Park at the entrance to Skagway where the cruise ships and ferries arrive. We had time to buy a couple of souvenirs in the adjacent railway shop and also a coffee and cookie in the station café. A small shuttle took us to the area of the railway workshops where we joined our train. It consisted of a steam engine and three carriages: one for luggage; one for hikers and general passengers; and a third carriage for passengers like us travelling to Carcross and beyond.
This trip was something we (hubby in particular) had wanted to do for a very long time and, like all dreams, it’s hard to believe you are actually realising it when you finally make it happen.
Some of the landscape around Skagway was familiar to us as we had travelled along the Lynn Canal on the ferry and had visited Dyea as well. We followed the line of the coast mountains and the Tongass National Forest, crossing the east fork of the Skagway River at mile post 5.8 (Denver). There are excellent views down the valley to Skagway at Rocky Point, with Mt. Harding and Harding glacier forming a dramatic backdrop. At milepost 8.8 our conductor pointed out some large, hand painted words on the far wall of the canyon. They read “On to Alaska with Buchanan”. They had been written originally by the Buchanan Boys Tour Group from Detroit who visited Skagway each year around 1929-30. Needless to say, the paint has been refreshed over the years since then!
In 1898 a blasting accident killed two railroad workers who got buried under a 100-ton granite rock. There is a black cross to mark their resting place at milepost 10.4. Just a mile further on, on the opposite of the canyon, the Bridal Veil Falls cascade 6,000 ft. from the glaciers on Mt. Cleveland and Mt. Clifford. The train snaked its way along the track before disappearing into Tunnel Mountain 1,000 ft. above the floor of the gulch.
Although the windows of the train afforded excellent views, I preferred to stand outside on the small viewing platform in order to take my photographs. At mile 17 there is a stunning view of the Lynn Canal, Mt. Harding and the Chilkat range. About ½ mile further on, Dead Horse Gulch serves as a reminder of the thousands of pack animals who met their end either through neglect or as a result of the stampede in 1898.
At milepost 18.6 we passed the original steel bridge built in 1901 and last used in 1969. We then entered another tunnel (675 feet long) that had been blasted through the mountain. As we emerged from the tunnel, our conductor pointed out signs of the original trail of 1898 which had formed the main route from Skagway to the goldfields.
As the train climbed high into the mountains, the scenery took our breath away. At certain points, the gradient was 1:3 and we climbed so high that we were almost level with the mountain tops. At one point, from my position on the viewing platform, I could almost reach out and touch a small waterfall. I certainly felt its spray.
During our train journey, we travelled over trestle bridges with only a few inches to spare. We passed crystal clear, fast flowing waterfalls that cascaded down the mountains on one side and ran under the railway track via a culvert. The water then continued to flow on the other side into pools and lakes. There was plenty of snow and the water was a glacial blue. Without a road access, no humans had camped or visited here, leaving a pristine landscape which rendered us spellbound. On the lower slopes, we saw a juvenile brown (grizzly) bear and further down the line a lone black bear that ran along the side of the train.
When we reached milepoint 20.4, we were at the White Pass Summit and the U.S./Canadian border. Customs officers boarded the train and removed our US travel permits from our passports. Apparently, it was here that their predecessors had checked the gold seekers to make sure they had the ton of supplies needed for a year in the north. We were now entering Canada, British Columbia. The elevation at this point was 2,865 ft.
Seven miles further along at Fraser, is the transfer location for motor coach connections to the Klondike Highway. From there, we travelled another 13 miles to Bennett where we stopped for a lunch break. It was just before midday. The train pulled up alongside a large building on one side and the start of the beautiful Lake Bennett on the other. Lunch consisted of a hearty bowl of beef stew followed by apple pie. The portions were considerable and second servings were also offered.
We went on a short walking tour of the derelict town that had once been established here during the gold rush boom years when the stampeders had completed their trek over the Chilkoot trail and waited for the ice to melt the lake. One of the hotels had been built by Donald Trump’s grandfather. We came across a beautiful church completely constructed of wood. It was named St. Andrews Presbyterian Church and the stampeders had built it themselves. Half-length tree logs had been arranged to form a feathered pattern on the side walls.
We re-boarded the train and several hikers also got on. They used the other carriage and we were light-heartedly told this was because they hadn’t had a shower for 5 days since walking the trail! The next stage of our journey was between Bennett and Carcross (originally named Caribou Crossing but later shortened).
The railway hugged the shores of Lake Bennett between mileposts 40.6 and 67.5. As we neared Carcross, the mountains and snow receded into the background and we passed into the very different landscape of the Yukon Territory. We saw sand dunes and escarpments and the temperature rose to 80 degrees. It was 3 p.m. We were now in the world’s smallest desert (the sand being the remains of a glacial lake from the last Ice Age). We got off the train for the last time and left our luggage in the station. The bus to take us to Whitehorse was not due to leave until 5.15 p.m. and so we had a couple of hours to explore Carcross.
We walked down to a beach area where people were swimming in the clear waters. We stood on the bridge watching people fish and observed a family whose children leapt off their motorboat into the water before swimming ashore. Everywhere the ground was sandy and the town resembled a beach resort. It was quite a contrast from the scenery we had witnessed coming over the White Horse Pass. Yet, as we walked along the beach, the snow capped mountains were clearly visible in the distance.
We called in to Matthew Watson’s General Store. Just outside, you can have your passport stamped. They also serve a delicious ice cream which was very welcome in the heat of the afternoon. We had time to look round the train station visitors’ centre and also the steam engine Duchess which was housed nearby.
The bus to take us to Whitehorse was a little late and by the time the stragglers had been rounded up, it was 5.45 pm before we drove away from Carcross. The scenery consisted mainly of pine forests with occasional open areas. We stopped at a couple of RV sites to drop people off and the rest of us (8 people in total) carried on to Whitehorse. The driver stopped at the old Yukon and White Pass Railway Station, no longer in use due to the lack of passengers travelling from Skagway to Whitehorse via this route.
And so, patient TA readers, this ends the Alaskan section of my report of our wonderful trip last year. For those of you who might be interested, I will (at some time in the next few days) try to type up the details of our stay in Whitehorse. I will post this on the Yukon forum.
I’m so glad that I took the time to write up a journal each night as there is no way in the world that I would have remembered everything that happened. I have tried to make this as interesting as possible and have therefore omitted some trivia…..went to the store, bought a bottle of water, sent a postcard to so-and-so, etc. etc.
For general information, we are in our mid 60's, we are not intrepid campers or great hikers/skiers etc. but we do love walking and getting to the heart of the people and places we visit. We were a little hesitant at first as to whether we could accomplish this journey on our own (and without a vehicle) but we had a lot of very good advice from the people on the Alaskan forum. We had a great time and would have no hesitation in returning in order to explore further afield (probably with a car).Edited: 29 January 2013, 00:57