Sunday, September 11, 2011

Alaska: Ride the White Pass and Yukon Railroad out of Skagway

We have already had two fabulous train journeys on our Alaska trip and now we add a third to the list. This one was on the historic narrow guage White Pass and Yukon RR.  It was built between 1898 and 1900 just after the main thrust of the Gold Rush that saw thousands of "Stampeders" trying their luck on the 500 mile overland hike to the Yukon from Dyea or Skagway.  Over thirty thousand men  worked on the line and thirty five lost their lives during its construction.

The route chosen to get to Whitehorse was up and over White Pass. 

For decades after its completion the line carried mining products down out of northern Canada to be put on ships in Skagway.  When the ore hauling business finally petered out in 1982, operations were suspended.  It re-opened as a tourist attraction in 1988 and is now the most popular single visitor attraction in Alaska.

The trackage up to White Pass and the Canadian border rises from sea level to almost 3000 feet in twenty miles and takes you through a dizzying series of twists, turns, sheer cliffs,  trestles, and tunnels.

A friendly conductor welcomes you on board and soon you are settled in the refurbished antique cars and ready to go.

You are barely out of town before you pass an old pioneer cemetery where some of the Gold Rush and Railroad construction fatalities were buried.

You also pass a little engine that couldn't and was left to rust some years ago. 

We move along the valley floor

Then we start to climb

At first the Klondike Highway keeps pace on the other side of the valley.

As you get higher the river cascades down in some good sized falls.

Above you the snow capped peaks beckon

Below the valley floor recedes.

Until the train seems to barely cling to the granite montainside

We passed by an abandoned trestle that has now been replaced by a newer one

Then into one of the two tunnels on the route

Skagway and the huge cruise ships anchored in the fjord are now only dots in the distance.

Closeup the fireweed seems to carpet the roadbed at times

The timberline beckons

And incredibly the old original White Pass Trail used by the gold prospectors in 1898 is still visible among the rocks.

Finally the Canadian Border appears

And we reach the top of the pass

Where the glaciers seem a whole lot closer

 This is the turn around point for the trip and as we arrive another train passes us heading back down.

From there it is back down to Skagway

Back in town our conductor bids us good bye.

 Then we hop back on the fast ferry to Haines

And return to the Zaandam

The sun is painting the tops of the mountains

and we steam back down Lynn Canal

Leaving Haines, Skagway, and the White Pass RR behind
Juneau is next.  See you in the morning

No comments: