Inside Passage Blog

By Linda Lewis



August 23, 2007 – Skagway - Part Two: the Train Ride and Gold Rush Trails


Skagway - part two.... The train ride and the story of the gold rush trails
I love trains so this was a must. This train goes up the White Pass Trail route. Only those who back pack and actually hike the trail themselves get to see the Chilkoot trail. The rest of us go up White Pass by train or car.

The White Pass and Yukon Railroad is a narrow guage railroad.

Here is the coupling area between the cars.

There were many twists and turns and steep grades along this 20 mile stretch of track.

Lots of narrow trestles over steep gorges.

And two very dark tunnels through the mountain side.

And here is what I really came to see and learn more about. The trail itself. Or - I should say - the trails. This is the White Pass Trail marked "Trail of 98" which I saw during my train ride. All of these pictures are of the White Pass Trail.

The Chilkoot Trail (that only hardy back packers get to see today) started in the town of Dyea (west and north of Skagway) and was the original choice of most Rushers. It started farther north and was about 21 miles long (making it shorter than the White Pass Trail). But the Chilkoot was very very steep. Pictures of the Chilkoot at the museum reminded me of a black diamond ski run. That's how steep the angle looked. 
Every person on the trail was required to bring certain items (weighing up to one ton) that would make it possible for them to live once they reached their destinations. All of those supplies had to be packed up this steep, long grade - by humans, horses, dogs. At one point in time a huge avalanche killed many people on the Chilkoot.
As a result of the avalanche, the White Pass Trail out of Skagway became more popular. Political and economic interests also pushed for making Skagway the hub of activity. Although the White Pass Trail was longer (about 30 miles) it had a much easier grade.
The path in these pictures is only three feet wide. We were told that the entire length of the trail was this width.

During the height of the stampede the trail was so packed with people and horses that if someone stepped off the trail they would have to wait up to six hours to elbow their way back onto the trail.

My mind just reels with the thought of the hardships endured due to the terrain and the weather. And the trail to the summit was only part of the gold rush trip. Once the summit was reached, there were many many more miles to go both by boat and on foot to reach the Yukon and the promise of gold.

I had lots to think about on the way back down the mountain to Skagway.

It was a great trip. I'm so glad I visited Skagway and tasted its history. I'm still thinking about it.

Linda & Dave
M/V Royal Sounder



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