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Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

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Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

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
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1. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

Thank you for your very detailed reports! After two trips to south central Alaska we are considering a trip similar to your in 2014. The ferry system has fascinated us and you really brought it to life. Thank you.

Edited: 29 January 2013, 01:26
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2. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

Thank you for your kind comment. The choice of ferry will largely depend on the places you want to see as you travel along the Inside Passage. We were obliged to start in Prince Rupert as we were arriving from Jasper on The Skeena train. We also needed to travel to Skagway in order to continue on to Whitehorse. Due to time restraints (I am still working), we selected 3 towns for our overnight stops: Juneau, Haines and Skagway. Should we return, we would not only choose to revisit these places but also to include others such as Sitka, St. Petersburg, etc.

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3. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your reports. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your trip with us. ( I'll link them to the 2012 reports.)

Greater Sydney...
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4. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

Having just read the final two instalments of your wonderful trip report for the Alaska leg I wonder what I will do of an evening here in the future. They were great reads, and I particularly like the in depth descriptions in the one above regarding the WPYR and towns you visited. Ah, memories. It gets cold on the carriage endplate though doesn't it!

I purchased a postage stamp from the General Store, which was also to PO, stuck it in my passport where it was franked with the Carcross stamp. Last June I was on a different trip on the eastern side and a Border Protection Officer, when entering Canada at Toronto, spotted it and observed that I had seen more of Canada than he had. :)

I will watch out for the Whitehorse report.

Once again, many thanks for taking the time and effort.

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5. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

Wonderful description of the train/bus ride to Whitehorse! Our family also did that trip last summer on our last vacation day and loved every minute. It’s a really great way to get to Whitehorse from Skagway - spectacular scenery! Thanks for the report – every detail brings great memories to me – and we too were told the same story about the hikers boarding the middle carriage at Lake Bennett :-)

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6. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

A great series of reports with such vivid descriptions of scenery and places I almost felt I was travelling with you.

Thank you for sharing your trip - you have inspired us to plan our own ferry vacation!

Alberta, Canada
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7. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

Thanks Pam for your detailed, interesting and well written report. We are in our 60's and traveling to the same ports; 3 days in Haines, 2 1/2 days in Juneau and 2 days in Skagway, Actually 8 1/2 days in the inner passage ;are traveling by AMH ferries and then flying from Juneau to Anchorage for the 2nd part.

I enjoyed your description of the White Pass train which we were debating. We would definitely go only to the Summit and back on the train, if we decided at all. We are trying to decide if it is a tourist trap or would we enjoy it. It is expensive!

We are hiking in all 3 stops and do love beautiful scenery. In your opinion would we regret it, if we did not include this train trip? Is the first 20 miles worth $115?

thanks

haines, alaska
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8. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

Hi Venus......

Since you are interested in hiking......when you are in Haines stop by the Visitors Center first thing.....pick up the pamphlet called "Haines is for Hikers" and a copy of the trail map.......

The White Pass Train is definitely a one of a kind experience, but there will be hundreds of folks traveling it everyday.......will you have a car in Skagway ?.......You could spend one day driving up into the Yukon and one day exploring Dyea and hike a bit on the historic Chilkoot Trail.......

Alberta, Canada
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9. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

Thanks Mombear,

Well, I have already received a wonderful pamplet with history of Haines maps and the "Haines for Hikers" in the mail so have got our hikes there planned. We will have a car in Haines which give us more flexibility. My husband is excited about the Sheldon Museum.

We will not have a car in Skagway, at least not in the plans yet. There are a few short trails and historic walks we can do close to or in town. We have 2 half days and one full day in Skagway.. My husband loves history so we should find lots of that there to keep us busy. I wander about a river float, but don't want to keep us so busy, we won't enjoy it.

haines, alaska
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10. Re: Final Episode of Trip Report Alaska 2012 Skagway-Whitehorse

Venus, I would not waste your short time on a rafting trip in Haines, the highway north of town follows the same river that you would be rafting, so you would see the same thing from your car and still have the chance to stop......since you will be here in late May or early June, I would suggest a hike down to Moose Meadows in Chilkat State Park.......the meadows will be full of wildflowers at that time of year.....the trail has boardwalk in some places, but there may be some muddy spots but I guarantee what awaits at the end of the trail will be well worth it.......