Friday, June 24, 2011

White Pass, Skagway

Today we took a 3 hour round trip train ride from Skagway to White Pass, which lies on the border of Alaska and Canada.
The weather was perfect, the scenery was beautiful, and we got to see a bit of history that is unavailable from the highway.
This area was a major overland route in the Alaskan gold rush of 1898. The gold strikes were in the Dawson City area, but there were limited ways for "Stampeders" to get there -- overland through the Rockies was mostly impossible, so the next best alternative, merely extremely difficult, was to hop a ship to Skagway, cross the mountains using the Chilkoot Pass or the White Pass, and then build a raft for floating on the Yukon river for the 600 miles to Dawson City.

Sound tough enough? It actually was worse. At the top of the pass the Stampeders would reach the Canadian border. The Canadian government, in an attempt to keep the miners from starving in the harsh winters (and to control criminal activities), required that each person have enough supplies to last them a year. A year's supply was roughly a ton of food and goods. So each person had to haul at least a ton up the mountain before they could cross into Canada. Most carried this ton by hauling 50-60 pounds on their back, leaving it on "their" pile at the top, and going back down for the next trip.

Here is a small part of the trail they used:

When we got near the top of White Pass, we stopped on a siding to let another tour train pass on its way back down. Our guide told us to give them the "Moose Wave" -- put our thumbs on our temples, and wiggle our fingers as if we had antlers. Of course, the guide on the passing train told their riders the same thing. So, as we passed, we all "Moose Waved" each other:

We finally reached Summit Lake. We were technically in Canada, but since we were not allowed to disembark the train, we did not have to pass through Customs.
Before we started back down, the engines were moved from the front to the back of the train (which became the new front), we flipped our seat backs so they faced the other way, and the passengers on the right and left sides of the train traded seats so everyone got the "good" views on one leg of the trip.

When we got back, some of the cars were separated so the cruise ship people could disembark at the port. For a moment, there was this image of new and old -- the horse, which was the first transportation in the West; the train, which allowed goods and people to efficiently move into the west; and finally the cruise ships, which finally found a way to make the west profitable.


Sharon Del Rosario said...

That was a great report. You saw some things we didn't, and wrote from a different point of view on the same story. Unbelievable how those stampeders accomplished anything, given the hardships and requirements.

Anonymous said...

So glad John took you on the Skagway diesel train. the scenery is spectacular and just the imaginery feelings come to thought of the OLD WEST era....birdladyd & different seating going on there too....