Quest to the Pacific Northwest - Skagway, Alaska
August 11, 2015
In Brief: Tuesday we docked in Skagway, Alaska which is tucked away in the fjords of Southeast Alaska. We split up today, with Tom and Carl ziplining in the morning, while I explored the gold mining town, and then everyone but Carl went kayaking in Canada and then took a scenic train ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railway back across the border. Carl did rock climbing and rappelling in the afternoon, and we all met back at the ship to attend an art lecture on Thomas Kinkade and dinner.
Southeast Alaska is known for milder weather than the interior, but with that comes lots of rain. We got to experience that first hand - thankfully it didn't rain all day. Skagway was founded just before the gold rush and was used as an entry point for the 500 mile trek into the Yukon Territory where gold was found. Miners had to bring 1 ton of supplies such as flour, feed, beans, etc. by Canadian law to enter the Yukon as proof they could survive. The town itself is very quaint with a few original, but mostly rebuilt houses in bright colors. Instead of sidewalks, they have wooden boardwalks along the shops. I walked around the town in the mid morning when it was misty and a little rainy.
Met up with Tom, Pete, and Ellen to do our kayaking and rail tour. We were picked up in a small van and then drove about 40 minutes north, up through the White Pass and crossed into Fraser, British Columbia, Canada. The mountain pass was completely covered in fog so you could not see into the gorges we crossed. As we passed into Canada, the fog broke and we arrived at Glacier Lake with mist, but no ground fog. Our guides got us into paddle jackets, skirts for the kayaks (think suspenders with a short, elastic hoop skirt that you pull tight around the hole of the kayak so water doesn't go in). The paddles had wet suit gloves attached to keep your hands warm too. We paired up for the double kayaks and set out. We paddled around the lake for over an hour, staying close to the shoreline to see birds, shrubs, and other plant life. The kayaks are very stable, and even had a rudder that you control with your feet to make steering easier.
After kayaking, we warmed up in the snack tent and then boarded the White Pass and Yukon train to return to Skagway. The train was originally built to carry stampeders and their gear, and then went into disuse for many years before it was restored as a scenic railway. We traveled for 1.5 hours down the mountains, back to sea level. All the tunnels and cuts were made with black powder. As we did the switchbacks, we caught glimpses of the wooden trestles we had just crossed and the architecture is incredible! Pictures from a moving train could not capture the beauty so here is a great shot from a professional via instagram
After arriving at the depot in Skagway, we browsed the shops and made our way back to the ship. Ran into Carl in town who had been rock climbing all afternoon, and loved it even if his hands were roughed up and he could barely move the next day. Tom particularly liked the train vehicles that were on display outside the depot. See pic of the huge snowblower car that can be pushed by 2 engines to clear the tracks. Exhausted, everyone took a nap before dinner. Ellen is getting over a cold and Pete appears to have picked up something, so we are all trying to get some extra rest when possible.
We dined in the Grand Princess main dining room after attending a lecture on the work of Thomas Kinkade, an artist known for luminous landscapes. The lecture talked about how his childhood influenced his paintings and explained the lithograph (aka print) process he used, since he never sold his canvases after his first art show. Dinner was Italian themed and very good. After dessert we called it a night since we dock in Juneau at 630 am on Wednesday.