Saturday, August 3, 2013

North to Alaska! Part 6 - Skagway and the Klondike - June 27, 2013

Emerald Lake, Yukon Territory
This is Part 6 in my series about my recent trip to Alaska.  This installment will cover our visit to Skagway and the "Klondike" region stretching up to the Yukon.  If you haven't already done so, I suggest reading the first five parts of my series:

Part 1 - Background Info
Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway
Part 3 - Ketchikan
Part 4 - The Tracy Arm Fjord
Part 5 - Juneau

If you would like to view my entire collection of photos from Skagway, you can find them on Flickr here and here.

Skagway Basics

Distance sailed from Juneau:  94 nautical miles/108 statue miles
Distance sailed from Seattle:  1,014 nautical miles/1,167 statue miles
Time zone:  Alaska Daylight Time, 3 hours behind CDT
Today's weather:  Skagway - rain, mid-50's; Yukon - sunny, low-70's
Today's wildlife count - 1, a solitary black bear, plus a few false alarms
Cumulative wildlife count - 12
NOTE:  I now realize the distances reported in Part 5 were incorrect.  I listed the sailing distance from Juneau to Skagway, and not Tracy Arm to Juneau.  Our cruise guide didn't give a distance from the glacier to Juneau, unfortunately, so I'm not sure what the real numbers are.

The Charlie Brown Cloud that followed us around in Juneau the day before decided to pay us a visit again today.  The rain started up right as we walked off the ship to board our buses for our tour, and once again didn't stop until we sailed away around 4:00 in the afternoon.  Normally this would suck, but our tour would be taking us a long distance out of Skagway, and I had a hunch that the weather would be much better on the other side of the mountains.  Would I be correct?  Keep reading to find out!

The first part of our tour would be a short (literally less than a mile) bus ride to the train depot, where we would board the historic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad for a trip up the White Pass into Canada.  So, the rain wouldn't really be a problem since we would be inside.  This is what the train looked like (this was actually taken at the end of the ride in Canada; it was too rainy to get a good shot at the depot):

The WP & YR was built to accommodate the Klondike gold rush in the late 1890's.  Until the railroad was built, the only way for miners to make it from the port in Skagway to the gold fields in the Yukon was on foot, and thanks to Canadian regulations requiring that miners carry 1 TON (yes, you read that right) of supplies per person, it was a grueling, treacherous journey.  I want to say the tour guide said the construction of the railway cost a little over $10 million, which was a huge sum of money at the time.

Anyway, the railroad is now used only as a tourist attraction, mainly for cruise ship passengers.  The ride is scenic, though it would have been even better with good weather.

It became increasingly foggy as we headed towards the 2,865-foot White Pass summit.

We finally reached the end of the line in Fraser, BC; the fog and rain were gone at this point, and we were left with just plain overcast skies.  After a joke of an immigration check at the Canadian border, we boarded buses to take us the rest of the way to the Yukon.  Shortly after heading out, we saw our one and only wildlife sighting of the day, a black bear at the side of the road that I had to rush to get a picture of.

We made a brief stop at Tutshi Lake, BC for some photos.  The sun was coming out by this time - it turns out my prediction was right!  Maybe I should quit my day job and become a weatherman.

Our next stop was at the Yukon border sign.  The morning's gloom was but a memory by now, as it had transformed into a beautiful sunny day.  So not only did I get to cross off my 50th state on this trip, I also made it to my 6th Canadian province/territory.  Incidentally, this was also my first time crossing north of 60 degrees latitude.

We continued on down the road, first to Tagish Lake...

...and then the "Carcross Desert".

It's billed as the world's smallest desert, but it's really just a small collection of sand dunes.

Then it was on to "Caribou Crossing", our lunch stop/tourist trap.  The place is cheesy, complete with petting zoo, dogsled rides, and even two fake bighorn sheep on the hill behind the store to fool gullible tourists, but at least the barbeque chicken was tasty. 

We then headed a few miles further up the road to what would be the northernmost point on our trip, Emerald Lake, a fantastically gorgeous glacial lake.

We made one final stop before heading back to the ship, at the "town" of Carcross, where we could see Bennett Lake.  During the gold rush, prospectors would build boats on this lake to sail the rest of the way to Dawson City, the site of the actual goldfields.

As we headed back up the pass to Alaska, the rain and fog returned.  We were hoping to stop at the "Welcome to Alaska" sign, but the dense fog meant that wasn't going to happen, so I had to settle for a very fuzzy shot from a moving bus.

After a harrowing drive down the pass in zero visibility, we made it back in one piece to the ship.  We were treated to some terrific scenery for the next few hours as we sailed south through the Lynn Canal and Inside Passage...

...including the Davidson Glacier...

...and later the Herbert Glacier as we passed Juneau once again.

Serving Suggestion

The town of Skagway itself is pretty much a carbon copy of Juneau and Ketchikan, which is to say, a ratio of approximately 20 jewelry shops to each cruise passenger.  The bottom line is, make sure you take a high-limit credit card if you're taking one of these cruises, or an extra helping of self control.  I did wish we had more time to head all the way up to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, so we could at least get a taste of the Alaska Highway.  There are several shore excursions available where you can rent a jeep and drive yourself at your own pace, which is what I would do next time.  Just make sure not to dawdle and miss the boat if you do that, though.  IMPORTANT - if you take any tour, guided or otherwise, that involves entry into Canada, you need a passport.  Don't forget to get one before you leave for your Alaska cruise.

Next up - the final piece of my trip report, our brief stop in Victoria, British Columbia.

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