Diamond Princess Day 5 – Skagway

Today, we got up early and successfully uploaded our photos for the past couple of days onto the gallery on our website.

Once again we had breakfast in our cabin while we watched the ship arrive in Skagway, which was the gateway to the gold fields for the thousands who flocked to Alaska and the Yukon with the hope of striking it rich. Skagway may have boasted the shortest route to the Klondike, but it wasn’t the easiest. Over 100 years ago, the White Pass route through the Coast Mountains and the shorter

but steeper Chilkoot Trail were used by countless stampeders. Many a would-be miner perished on the treacherous Chilkoot Trail.

Today, Skagway has less than 1,000 residents but it still retains the flavour of the gold rush era.  The population expands to 2,000 in the summer when people come in from other places to work the tourist time.  There are three other ships in Skagway today so that would add another approximately 8,000 visitors to the area.  Interestingly, Skagway is accessible by road, whereas Ketchikan and Juneau can only be accessed by sea or by air.

Today’s excursion was “Yukon Expedition and White Pass Scenic Railway”, which started off in a bus at 8.30am when we left the dock and headed for a quick tour of Skagway before heading up the steady climb of the Klondyke Highway.  Once again, today, we have experienced some absolutely stunning scenery with a significant amount of snow and frozen lakes and rivers.  We stopped at each of the following places for a short while to take photos:  the Black Lakes, Denver Valley, Deadhorse Gulch, Pitchfork Falls and William Moore Creek Suspension Bridge (a single span suspension with a drop of 180 feet).

Next stop was at Tormented Valley – aptly named because the stampeders had to struggle through this vast valley with their 1 ton of mandatory supplies in winds of up to 80 – 90 miles per hour and sub zero temperatures of up to -60 degrees fahrenheidt.  We stopped at an Innukshuk area where hundreds of people had built little Innukshuks from rocks beside the road – it was very picturesque as there was a frozen lake behind them. We then crossed the boarder into Canada at Fraser – a Border Security Officer came onboard our bus to check our passports.

We drove along beside a beautiful lake called Lake Tutshi (pronounced too shy), which is 30 miles long and 500 feet deep – it was still partly frozen but in the sections that had thawed out, Richard got some beautiful mirror image photos.

We stopped at Lake Tagish before arriving at Carcross, a native village with a population of 450 and was named because the caribou cross at the narrow part of the lake – we didn’t see any as they have gone north already!

We went to the Trading Post for lunch and had free entry to the Wildlife Museum, which was very well done, with numerous animals that had been authentically stuffed – they looked so real!  They had  animals of Yukon’s past and present that include steppe bison, grizzly bears, monster moose, wooly mammoth and the world’s largest mounted polar bear. They also had a training camp for huskies involved in the Idatarod Race.

We returned to Skagway via the White Pass Rail, which is a narrow gauge rail from Fraser To Skagway, taking one and a half hours to travel 27.7 miles down the mountain, hugging the cliff face and traversing deep valleys on very narrow bridges.  The White Pass Summit is 2 865 feet above sea level and at times the train’s brakes screeched as it inched its way down steep sections.

The scenery was breathtaking and some of the highlights are:  The Bridal Veil Falls, which cascade 6,000 feet from the glaciers on Mt Cleveland and Mt Clifford;  the Steel Bridge constructed in 1901 that was the tallest cantilever bridge in the world but stopped being used in 1969 when a safer bridge was built; Dead Horse Gulch which is a very deep ravine, approximately 1 000 feet, that claimed many horses’ lives in the gold rush era; and the Trestle Bridge built  to carry the railway, to name but a few.

We arrived back in Skagway at the Rail Depot just after 4.30pm and walked the short walk back to the ship.  We passed many names of ships painted onto the cliff face beside the Diamond Princess and were told that the first time a ship comes to Skagway, the crew climb up the cliff face and paint the ship and the captain’s name onto the cliff.  After putting our things in our stateroom, we went up to the Sky Deck to the Outrigger Bar to have pre-dinner drinks with some of the rest of our tour group.

We have really enjoyed our excursion today, spending it with Fay and Ray, two of our fellow APT tour group and we are currently about to leave Skagway.  Tomorrow is an “at sea” day, exploring Glacier Bay, which we are looking forward to.

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