Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Day 4 Skagway and the White Pass Railroad

The wake up call came early for our train ride up the White Pass. We fueled up with a hearty breakfast and went prepared wearing our winter coats knowing we'd be climbing nearly 3000 feet in elevation in a 20 mile train ride. The excursion brochure said there were steep grades of up to 3.9% with cliff hanging turns of 16º and dark tunnels through some of Alaska's most rugged terrain.

We disembarked the ms Zaandam and climbed into the famous narrow-gauge vintage rail car. Being as we were the first ones on board we took the best seats beside an old fashioned pot bellied heater.
This 116 year old railroad is truly a world wonder and an international historic civil engineering landmark. It shares the honor with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

The tour guides announced the points of interest including Bridal Falls, Inspiration Point and Dead Horse Gulch. They told stories of the Klondike Gold Rush, some were sad, some were funny and most were tales of a hard life in the search for gold in the northwest of Canada and Alaska.

On July 17, 1897 the Seattle newspaper had broadcast the headline Gold! Gold! Gold! The news spread like wildfire and the country in the midst of a depression went gold crazy and tens of thousands people headed north to Alaska to make their fortune. The gold-crazed men and women steamed up the Inside Passage waterway and arrived in Skagway to begin the overland trek of 600 miles to the Klondike. The travelers found passes and trails filled with hazards and harrowing experiences. Some were not prepared for the weather and some saw the opportunity to make their fortune by making and selling warm clothes, medical supplies and other misc. necessities along the way to the unprepared stampeders. Many sideline opportunities rose to the occasion; ie: they needed tools so a tool business was formed. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police stood guard at access points to ensure that each traveler brought enough staples of food, tools, firearms and warm clothing to help ensure their survival in the wilderness for one year. Each and every person had to have at least 2000 lbs. of supplies or they couldn't go. That's when horses became involved and eventually it became known that 3000 horses had died that first year on the White Pass. The stampeders were inexperienced and many had never owned a horse before. They loaded their horses too heavily and the weight broke their backs while other horses broke their legs on the narrow jagged trails.

People began to think of better, easier, ways to travel and in 1898 Mr. George Brackett built a 12 mile long toll road up the canyon.The toll was ignored and the stampeders went through without paying so the toll idea was a failure. Brackett moved on to plan #2 and the White Pass & Yukon route idea was discussed with a stranger he met in a saloon late one night. Together their plan of a narrow-gauge railroad became a reality when within two months the first four miles were constructed and the narrow gauge railroad went into service. The rails were  3 feet apart on a 10 foot bed and they found construction costs were very low as they employed the men who got that far and ran out of money to finance their quest for gold. An additional 110 miles of track were laid despite the 60º below zero winter.
The workers reached the summit, ten million dollars worth of gold was found and removed in the first year. Two years later another 38 million dollars worth of Klondike gold had been recorded; the result of the largest gold rush the world has ever known.

My honey
 Graffiti on an old avalanche at the dock and RR station. How they painted that high i don't know.

 Notice how the trees grow wider at lower elevations

 We are going up to that trestle and tunnel through the mountain

 Trees are still tall but growing skinnier
 Trees grow lush when they have enough soil and water

 There's a road and a tour van across the valley
 Way down

 The trestle is coming up and we will be in the dark for awhile
 Then there was the spooky trestle
 even spookier
 down in the mist
 The Trail of '98
 Avalanche on parts of the trail. Imagine the fully packed horses who had to walk here.
 Turn around point. Elevation 2888 ft. and it's 20.4 miles back to Skagway
 it's don't look down time again
 Same spooky bridge to nowhere
 that's my train


 the train is pretty level now.
 Down in the valley

 and there's still gold in them there hills!

 My honey and i love old trains
 Some of the graffiti appears to be done by individual cruiselines.
 Back to our ship
 But first we cause a traffic jam by sitting on the RR crossing for awhile
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The White Pass &Yukon Railroad used to run year round in it's freight hauling days but when metal prices plummeted in 1982 it closed until 1988. It then reopened to operate as a narrow gauge excursion railroad that runs early May through September to coincide with the cruise ship season.
If our excursions to Alaska are an example of experiencing a great trip....our last visit was the first Alaska cruise of the season in early May 2010 and we had perfect weather with no rain at all. Now in 2014 this was the Zaandams last Alaska cruise for the season and it was perfect timing as this day was also perfect. We were lucky with our travel time once again.

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