Sunday 14 August 2022 – Another eventful day beckoned, which meant, you guessed it, an earlyish start, for we had to be out and about by 0845 with our tourist faces on. The weather forecast was once again uncertain about whether it would rain, and the view at breakfast supported that uncertainty.
It was cool, but we were still able to sit outside for breakfast which was pleasant. We decided that we would laugh in the face of the prospect of rain, mainly because we would be spending almost all of our tourist minutes under cover: the morning was a train ride, the afternoon a trolleybus.
Rather conveniently, because Silversea had managed to get a good parking spot for the ship, the railway came to us, rather than us having to be ferried to it. A short walk took us to our train
and what seemed like a slightly longer walk took us to a carriage which we picked randomly. As carriages go, it was fine, but (from a photographer’s perspective) we should have taken a carriage near the rear of the train for maximum cute “here’s the train going round a bend” photo potential. And once we were in a carriage and a kindly gent dressed as a ticket inspector had, erm, inspected our tickets, we were enjoined not to move carriages, so we had to make do with where we were.
Where we were was towards the front of a train that would take us along the White Pass and Yukon Route. This is a railway that in its entirety goes to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory in Canada. We would not be going that far today – simply climbing nearly 3,000 feet to the White Pass summit, looping round and coming back down again, a distance of around 40 miles in total. The Silversea blurb described it as a scenic railroad journey, so I had high hopes of being able to take photos of some, you know, like, scenery and that.
The railway has a huge historic influence on the origins of Skagway, all bound up in the 1896 Yukon Gold Rush. Skagway (we learned later, as you’ll find out if you keep reading) has unique attributes – the furthest north deep sea port, and a convenient notch in the surrounding mountains to make access a fraction less than impossible. There had been two routes from Skagway to the Canadian Klondike: the ridiculously steep Chilkoot Trail and the longer but flatter White Pass. The founder of Skagway, William Moore, discovered the White Pass and busily set about creating an infrastructure to
exploit support the hopefuls who would rush there in their tens of thousands in the – faint as reality demonstrated – hope of getting rich. Part of that was getting a railway built; this started in 1898 and it took just over two years to build the route. For many years after the gold rush it was used to carry ore and concentrates to the deep sea port of Skagway, and then, after a period of disuse, it was reinvented as the tourist attraction it is today.
It is scenic, but in the early part of the journey those damned trees tend to get in the way of the view. Inside the carriages, a (rather stilted) commentary is broadcast, including alerts for things to look out for. However, the best place to be to take actual photographs is standing on the platform outside the compartment, where you can’t hear the commentary. So I spent practically the whole journey standing outside on the carriage platform, which was a bit chilly. I missed a few decent shots on the way up; but since the way down is simply the reverse, I made some mental notes of things I wanted to capture if possible on the return journey. There were gaps in the trees to capture the odd scene, though
(that’s Skagway in the distance – you can tell by the cruise ships) and Jane did a great job of passing on alerts from the narrator to give me the best chance of catching decent scenes.
Bridal Veil waterfall
a bridge higher up on the railway – looks dangerously flimsy to me.
Regrowth after a landslide, or glacial erosion
Going over the “flimsy” bridge.
A steel bridge, in use until 1969 and once the tallest cantilever bridge in the world.
Eventually, we reached the border with Canada, marked with an obelisk and the flags of each nation
and we looped around and headed back down again – stopping, somewhat bizarrely, for customs purposes when we reached the US border.
I caught some video on the way down
and also this scene, which was one I missed on the way up and wanted to be sure to capture.
The train duly delivered us back to the ship, where we snatched a swift lunch before heading out for Phase II of the day – a Street Car tour of Skagway.
Our driver and guide was Anna,
who was clearly a larger-than-life character and had a robust delivery to match, full of historical nuggets and pungent comment. She took us around Skagway, which is a very attractive little town, telling us stories about the buildings we passed;
the church, for example, was the first granite building in Alaska.
She took us to an overview point to give us a, erm, overview of the town
before taking us to the Gold Rush Cemetery, where many who died during the gold rush years are buried.
Two key characters in the development of Skagway were the villain, Jefferson Smith, who got the nickname “Soapy” by conning customers with bars of soap, and the hero, Frank Reid, who killed Smith. Actually Reid was a thief and murderer on the run, but that seems to have been forgotten because he was the cause of Smith’s death, as part of which, he himself was killed. Anna, as one might expect, milked this strange and sorry saga for all it’s worth.
Anna ended the tour back in town, which gave us the opportunity to go for a quick walk around it taking better photos of this attractive place than can be easily done from inside a bus. There are many colourful timber buildings, especially on Broadway along which the railway used to run
including the Skaguay News above, which used to publish the news regularly, once every month. (The original name of the town was Skagua, meaning “that windy place” in the Tlingit tongue, and the name has since been anglicised). There was the odd occasional mural or other quirky item,
an extraordinary rotary snowplough for clearing the railway,
and a statue of Skookum Jim, a Tlingit native, and Captain William Moore, representing their discovery and mapping of the White Pass.
This brought us back to the ship for its 4pm departure for our next port of call, Sitka. We’re due to go on a hike and much scenery is promised in the blurb about it. Therefore, in theory, there should be some lovely photos to look through tomorrow to distract you from my commentary. You’ll just have to check in to find out, won’t you?