Our WBCCI Airstream caravan to Alaska includes a one-day side trip to Skagway. While in Whitehorse YT, we rode a bus to Fraser B.C. to catch the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad to Skagway Alaska. The rail was built in 1898, too late to serve the 100,000 stampeders determined to make their way to Dawson City.
Most of the stampeders took passage on ships from all over the world to Skagway to begin their hike up either the Chilkoot or the White Pass trail to the Yukon River where they would build a boat to travel downriver to Dawson City.
We had a gorgeous day for the train ride from Fraser to Skagway and could not comprehend how the gold rush stampeders were able to hike from Skagway up into and through these rugged mountains. The Mounted Police were waiting at the top of Chilkoot Pass to assure the stampeders carried sufficient gear and food for one year’s stay. This amount of gear weighed 2,000 pounds and required the stampeders to make the punishing 1,500 foot Chilkoot Pass ascent twenty to thirty times.
Had the rail been completed in time then the stampeders might have looked much like this group, riding comfortably if a little crowded. They would have been traveling the opposite direction from us. They would have been incredibly excited about the possibilities, very apprehensive about the difficulties, and anxious to arrive in time to stake a good claim and start digging for gold.
The rail wasn’t completed in time, though, for the successful stampeders. The most successful stampeders had already been in the Yukon for up to twenty years before the 1896 discovery at Bonanza Creek. Claims quickly were filed there and all about Dawson City. The 110-mile rail line required two years, ten million dollars and tens of thousands workers to complete. This picture is one small example of why this rail line was tough to build.
The Yukon and White Pass Route Railroad was completed and served many years until it was shuttered for six years, from 1982 to 1988. But the Brackett Tram Road was sold in 1897 after just one year operation between Skagway and White Pass City. He would never have been able to compete and sold it to the railroad.
Skagway today is picturesque with nicely preserved and brightly colored buildings, boardwalks, and many places to shop. You can tell, walking into most of the stores, Skagway is a cruise ship port town. The selection and the prices marked on stuff in the stores is not for frugal travelers.
McCabe College, built in 1899 of native granite, served as a school then a number of municipal functions before becoming a museum in 1961. The building is attractive and houses an interesting and varied collection of historical items from Skagway. Another interesting display in one of the National Park’s restored downtown buildings describes the stampeders trials and triumphs in 1898-1899.
Skagway Alaska is a nice town to visit for four or five hours. Everything in Skagway is walking distance to the cruise ships and railroad depot, suiting us perfectly. We enjoyed ice cream, fudge, and a great cup of coffee at Glacial Smoothies downtown.
We’re glad we could make the afternoon visit.
Jim and Debbie
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