Monday, July 24, 17
Our train trip today was the Fraser Meadows Steam Excursion – four hours, 54 miles, departing Skagway at noon, climbing 3,000 feet in elevation (we started at sea level), and fully narrated by our coach attendant. The railroad was the White Pass & Yukon Route (WPYR) that was built from 1898-1900 just to service the Yukon gold fields.
Before that, getting to the Klondike gold fields was not for the weedy! One route left Seattle and followed the inside passage (just like we did) and got off at Skagway or nearby Dyea. From Dyea they had to climb the Golden Stairs, looking like worker ants as they trudged nose-to-butt, up Chilcoot Pass. Each man had to make the climb 20-40 times to haul their 1,000 pounds of gear up and over the Chilkoot Trail. If they didn’t have the required gear, the Canadian Royal Mounted Police would not let them through.
The other option was to leave from Skagway and negotiate the treacherous White Pass, often called “dead-horse-pass” because over 3,000 horses died on the trail in one winter. Whichever one they took, the miners swore they should have take the other!
We walked from our campground across a little path and over a stream, and landed on the train station deck at 11:00. Our train was going to be crossing over the USA/Canada border, and even though we would not be getting off the train, we had to show our passports along with the tickets. Several diesel trains were arriving back in the station and loading up to go out again, along with our little black steam engine #73 – all narrow gauge.
The first few miles were spent climbing out of sea level and skirting the Tongas National Forest coastal mountains and the Skagway River. Soon the train started winding around big bends to cross over a mountain stream, and then tunneled through two mountains to Dead Horse Gulch (that is where all the horses died!) and to the base of White Pass Summit. From here, due to the rise in elevation, short growing season, and 70 feet of winter snow, the vegetation thinned out and the stunted trees were only 3'-6’ tall -- but hundreds of years old!
Along the way we could see the original trail of 1898 that the Stampeders followed! At our highest point, White Pass Summit at 2,885', we followed another 7 miles to our destination of Fraser.
Fraiser was the end of the tracks for us. The miners hiked another 27 miles to Lake Bennett, where 30,000 of them settled for the winter of 1898-99 to build make-shift rafts to take them across Lake Bennett and down the Yukon River to the goldfields!
For us there was a turn-around at the Canadian Customs, where we let the two Diesel trains go in front of us, and then we followed them down. If you want to see views of the return trip – look through the pictures above – backwards!
Here is a picture of our route map today. Tomorrow we will be exploring the other route from Skagway to the gold fields -- the Chilcoot trail and the Golden Staircase.
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown