Day 15 – Skagway

Today was a day to visit the town of Skagway. Even though I have been to this town twice before on cruises I have enjoyed its atmosphere. So sleeping in a little bit and eating a leisurely breakfast I drive into the city that is 20 minutes away. Parking just before going over the Skagway River I walk across the bridge and then follow Alaska Street toward the old Gold Rush Cemetery and Lower Reid Falls. It is surprising the number of individuals in the graveyard and is interesting to walk around and read the gravestones.

 

 

 

Continuing toward the town on State Street I arrive in downtown at the waterfront.

 

 

 

Skagway is a small city in southeast Alaska, with a population of 920 residents as of 2010  that is set along the popular cruise route, the Inside Passage. Due to the cruise industry the small little sleepy town of Skagway has become a major tourist destination. Most of the town is included in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park due to its importance as a port of entry for the miners during the Alaskan Gold Rush in 1897 and is home to many gold-rush-era buildings. This was the way north to the Dawson City gold fields via the White Pass Rail Road or, if you couldn’t afford the passenger fee, the Chilkoot Trail.

 

 

 

This town of about 1,000 people boomed to about 10,000 in a little over a year and maxed out at about 30,000 people during the gold rush. After the rush was over Skagway lost population to 3,117 by 1900 and becomes the first incorporated city in Alaska in that year. Invaded by the U.S. army in 1942, tiny Skagway again became a major port on the supply line of materials for the construction of the Alaskan Highway. Taking over the White Pass Rail Road that was built in 1898, the Army hauled supplies and personnel over the White Horse Pass. With 3,000 troops stationed in Skagway it became a rather large town during the war years. The first Marine Ferry arrived in the early 1960’s thus providing another route for people to get to and from Skagway. Although a vehicle road did not get completed until 1978.

I was surprised at the lack of people on the streets on this visit. The 2 times I have been here before there were 3-4 cruise ships passengers disembarking from the boats and it was a little crowded. This visit there was only 1 cruise ship in port and the streets seemed empty. It was so pleasant to experience the city in this state.  I enjoyed walking around town seeing things that I hadn’t had seen in this detail before.

 

 

 

Going into the Visitors center I talked to the ranger and visited the exhibits in a comfortable uncrowded environment.

It was finally lunch time and I decided to eat at Skagway Brewing Company. Having an Alaskan Sandwich of an ale-battered Alaskan Halibut on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion and tartar sauce and to wash it down I tried the local Chilkoot Trail IPA. Very filling lunch and also very good. Getting a little tired after the hike the day before I took my time enjoying the ambiance of the upstairs dining room.

It was getting to be mid afternoon and the grocery store will close at 4 so I walked into a newsstand, got a local paper and went to the store to pick up a few food items. Carrying them back for almost 2 miles to the car I drove back to the campsite.

Arriving at camp I walked over to the Chilkoot Trail Outpost to use their showers and get cleaned up before the next stage of the adventure. Walking back to camp I make dinner and sit back to relax and read the newspaper. I ended up walking 7 miles (11.25 k) today and decided to go to bed a little early as it was a travel day to get to the next destination.

Day 14 – Day hike on the Chilkoot Trail

Chilkoot Trail

A 33 mile (53 k) hike along the historic Chilkoot Trail is one of North America’s most fabled treks. The trail crosses the international boundary between the United States and Canada and is co-operatively managed by Parks Canada and the US National Park Service.

When news of a gold strike in the Klondike reached the ears of the world, tens of thousands of hopeful gold seekers arrived where they encountered their first obstacle, the Coast Mountain Range. Following old First Nations trails they found a route through the mountains that is now known as the Chilkoot Trail.

Klondike Supply List

150 lb. bacon, 400 lb. flour, 25 lb. rolled oats, 125 lb. beans, 10 lb. tea, 10 lb. coffee, 25 lb. sugar, 25 lb. dried potatoes, 2 lb. dried onions, 15 lb. salt, 1 lb. pepper, 75 lb. dried fruits, 8 lb. baking powder, 2 lb. soda, 1/2 lb. evaporated milk, 12 oz. compressed soup, 1 can mustard, 1 tin of matches, stove, 1 gold pan, 1 set granite buckets, 1 knife, 1 fork, 1 spoon and 1 plate, 1 frying pan, 1 coffee and teapot, 1 scythe stone, 2 picks, 1 shovel, 1 whipsaw, pack strap, 2 axes, 1 spare axe handle, 6 – 8″ files, 2 taper files, 1 draw knife, 1 brace with bits, 1 jack plane, 1 hammer, 8 lb. of pitch, 200 feet 3/8″ rope, 10’x12′ tent, canvas, 2 oil blankets, 5 yards mosquito netting, 3 heavy underwear, 2 pairs heavy mackinaw trousers, 1 heavy rubber-lined coat, 1 doz. heavy wool socks, 2 heavy overskirts, 2 pairs heavy snag proof rubber boots, 2 pairs shoes, 4 heavy blankets, 4 towels, 2 pairs overalls, 1 suit oil clothing, several changes of summer clothing, and small assortment of medicines.

The list above shows the required equipment and supplies needed by prospectors before they were allowed entry into Canada at the summit of the Chilkoot Pass, 1897–1899. Total weight: 1 ton. This was to provide them with the supplies needed for 1 year of survival in the Yukon. Many round trips were needed to haul this over the trail and past Canadian Customs.

Today, hikers can retrace the rugged trail from Dyea, near Skagway, to the shore of Lake Bennett. The beautiful route  along alpine lakes and century-old gold rush artifacts takes three to five days to complete.

What a wonderful day, the weather was perfect and the trail was in great condition. Starting early from camp the start of the trail was only about a 1/4 mile (0.4 k) jaunt from the campground. The trail starts off with a pretty healthy climb up from the river then just as quickly back down to the river.

This first section really got my lungs working hard even though it was at sea level. The rough ground of rocks and tree limbs made a great workout. I thought if the trail was going to be this rough the rest of the way I’m not going to make it very far.

Well as soon as you pass this short section the trail becomes a nice stroll through the forest. I can not imagine the prospectors back in the day carrying all the equipment noted above with many trips back and forth. I had a small backpack that carried my food and water for the day, camera, and rain jacket. Not all that heavy.

Passing along one section of the trail were some old buildings and equipment with an informational sign. This section of the trail was an old logging road built during the 1940’s. This homestead is the sawmill of Edward A. Hosford who began operation of this mill in 1948 and continued operation until 1956.

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Edward A. Hosford Sawmill

Finnegan’s Point Campground was the turn around point for me. I enjoyed a nice rest and lunch while a group of 3 female through hikers stopped for a snack /rest and we chatted.

Returning to the trail head was wonderful until I hit the dreaded hike over the hill for the final push. I again rested and snacked at the trail head catching my breath as I contemplated what I should do. From the campsite to Finnegan’s Point campground and back to the trail head was 11.9 miles (19.1 k) and my walking average speed was 3.1 MPH (5 km/hr).

It was only 4 PM and the sun was still to be up for many hours. I had caught my breath and decided to hike the 2 miles (3.2 k) or so to the original abandoned townsite of Dyea.

Arriving at the townsite I walked along paths in the forest that were once the streets of the town. Long abandoned there are not many structures left, only 3 cemeteries and the remains of the wharf remain. Most structures were taken down and moved to the nearby deep water port of Skagway once the Gold Rush had subsided. Interesting fact is that one of the cemeteries holds almost every person that died in an avalanche on the trail and the grave markers all have the same date of death.

An interesting walk but on the road back I noticed my legs were getting a bit heavy. Upon arriving at camp about 7PM I looked at my satellite tracker and noticed I had walked 15.8 miles (25.4 k) that day. Resting for a bit, I then made dinner, had a hot sponge bath at camp and then just put my legs up resting until an early bed time and a very sound nights sleep.

 

Day 12 – Steamboat graveyard and south on the Klondike Highway toward Whitehorse.

It was agreed that we should again reroute due to incoming harsh weather and the ferry strike going on The Marine Highway. The original route was to go across the ferry at Dawson City and follow the Top of the World Highway and the Taylor Highway to Tok, Alaska. Go south along the Alaska Highway along the Haines Highway to Haines, Alaska and take the ferry to Skagway. With the ferry strike it was decided to go south to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada and directly to Skagway, Alaska via the South Klondike Highway.

Waking up early we drove into town and ate breakfast at Belinda’s Restaurant for some good ole pancakes and eggs.

After breakfast we parked along Front Street and walked to the ferry crossing of the Yukon River and crossed to walk to the Sternwheeler Graveyard located past the campground on the west side of the river. Tucked into the trees you will find the wooden remains of seven paddlewheelers. Once the primary mode of transportation in the region, these were abandoned when other transportation options became more popular.

 

Scuttled off the side of the river this graveyard hulking remains of wooden paddlewheel ships are broken and damage hulks that looks as though they were crashed onto shore. Most of the wrecks have collapsed but a few of the ships are still intact enough to explore, and many of the paddlewheels remain thanks to their metal skeletons.

After this interesting exploration of the ships it was time to walk back and head south toward Whitehorse. An interesting trip we are now doing in reverse from a few days ago on the way to The Dempster Highway.

 

Arriving back in Carmaks it was time to stop for gas and pickup a few things at the adjacent store. After shopping it was time for a quick lunch in the parking lot before continuing on to the destination for the night, Lake Leberge.

 

Lake Laberge is a widening of the Yukon River north of Whitrehorse. At 31 miles (50 k) long and from 1.25 to 3 miles (2 to 5 k) wide its water is always very cold, and its weather often harsh and variable. Its English name comes from 1870 commemorating the first French-Canadian to explore the Yukon in 1866, Michel LaBerge. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries winter sternwheelers carrying goods early in the shipping season on Lake Laberge regarded the lake as trouble, as it was one of the last areas of the river to thaw of ice.

 

Entering the campground it was signed as full but we continued around to see if there might be an empty campsite and to see the lake. Luckily a husband and wife were packing up to leave and asked if we wanted the campsite. We said thank you yes and waited 20 minutes as they packed up. What a wonderful camping spot, very close to the lake with a beautiful view from the site. Now for a nice dinner and to sit by the lakeshore and enjoy the scenery with peace and quiet.

 

Sa far this trip has just been outstanding and I suspected it would continue on this way.

 

Day 11 – Dawson City

Close to 100,000 prospectors set off over the Chilkoot Trail in Dyea/Skagway, Alaska on foot then sailed up the Yukon River to find their wealth in the gold fields surrounding Dawson City, Yukon. With a population of only about 1,900 residents this National Historic Site and UNESCO nominated town has many restored buildings and sites to explore. A few of the places to explore and enjoy a trip back in time are a walking Tour of town, the Palace Grand Theater, the Jack London Museum, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s to join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club by having a shot with an actual toe in it at the Sourdough Saloon in the Downtown Hotel (the toe must touch your lips), see the SS Keno the last steamer to run the Yukon River, discover the areas history at the Dawson City Museum and just outside of town explore the grand old Dredge #4, Discovery Claim National Historic Site and the steamship graveyard.

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First up for a bit of vehicle maintenance, the vehicles needed a complete cleaning with all the mud buildup from the drive yesterday. It took about 30 minutes each to get most of the dirt removed from the outside.

After the cleanup it was over to Dredge #4 to investigate. A guided tour is available to explore the inside of the dredge. An interesting informative tour is provided but it is not inexpensive, although I felt well worth the cost.

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Dredge No. 4 mined gold from 1913 to 1959. This wooden-hulled bucketline sluce dredge  is now located along Bonanza Creek Road about 8 miles (13 k) south of Dawson City along Upper Bonanza Creek road. This the largest wooden-hulled dredge in North America was designated a National Historic Site on 22 September 1997.

Designed by the Marion Steam Shovel Company it was hauled in pieces to Dawson City at a cost of $134,800 for shipping which was then built by the Canadian Klondike Mining Company on site at Claim 112 near Ogilvie Bridge, the current location of the bridge over the river along the Klondike Highway to Dawson City. It moved to its current location along Bonanza Creek by digging a path and filling in the area behind itself in its own pond.

Excavating gravel at 22 buckets per minute with 72 large buckets that processed 18,000 cubic yards (14,000 m3) of material per day. In use from late April or early May until late November each year, and sometimes throughout winter, it captured nine tons of gold during its operation.

Continuing along the dirt road we made a stop at the Discovery Claim National Historic Site where gold was first discovered in the area for a short walk around the displays explaining the mining operations of the area.

Stopping by a small tourist stop with a souvenir shop, old buildings and quite a lot of old mining equipment I explored the old buildings and equipment having a fun time with my camera.

Back in town I dropped the car off at the hotel and wandered the rest of the afternoon and evening around the streets, shops and museums of Dawson City. First up was the Dawson City Visitors Center to look around the exhibits and get an idea for a much needed very late lunch. Leaving there with several ideas I strolled across the street to the NWT Dempster Highway Visitor Center to see what was missed during the previous few days. This would be a good stop if you are going up the Highway after your visit here in Dawson City.

After talking to the very nice informative person working there I continue my wandering to the Triple J Hotel and restaurant for my late lunch. I had the tasty Wild Salmon Burger with a caper aioli and an iced tea. Sitting on the outside porch I enjoyed my meal watching the activity happening on the street it was a very good relaxing meal.

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I sat on the porch on the left for lunch. What a wonderful place to have lunch.

After lunch I continue on to the Dawson City Museum where I explore the exhibits on 2 floors of the old Territorial Administration Building discovering the natural history of the Klondike Gold Fields through exhibits, displays, dioramas and informative shows. You explore the history of Yukon’s First Peoples and early explorers. Experience the Gold Rush through the stampeders and entrepreneurs, and the visionaries. I was fortunate enough to see a live demonstration of a sluce shaker box in action and how gold was recovered from the river and stream beds.

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Walking to the outskirts of town I visit the Robert Service Cabin. Service was a British born poet referred to as the “the Bard of the Yukon”. He was one of the most successful poets of the Twentieth Century. who arrived in the Yukon as a bank clerk turning vivid tales, told to him by veterans of the great gold rush, into classic poems. Robert Service arrived in Dawson City in 1908 continuing  to write about his northern adventures until his departure from Dawson, and the Yukon, in 1912. Sadly the cabin was closed for the day so I couldn’t get a glimpse inside to see how this gentleman lived.

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Just down the street was Jack London Museum and Cabin. This museum and cabin shows the time Jack London spent a year in the Klondike. Trying his hand at mining he still spent most of his time writing stories that would make him a well known author. It again was closed due to the late time I had passed there.

Just west is a pedestrian-bicycle trail along the Klondike and Yukon rivers that I followed back to my tent cabin  for the evening. Stopping at the store for a few items I continue to the cabin to shower, due some laundry and relax for the evening. Another travel day in the morning so must rest up.

It was amazing that just before the grocery store I noticed a large European based adventure RV turning into a parking lot. I had to get a closer look and hopefully talk to its drivers. I met a wonderful couple, he from Luxembourg, a small European country surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany and his wife from France. I talked with them for about an hour listening to their adventure so far and where they are going on their long trip.

As a side note, they stopped by my house when I returned from the adventure for dinner and the stayed the night on their trek to Mexico and Central America. I wish them well on their journey.

Day 8 – A short drive to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada

Not in a hurry to leave as it was only a 3 1/2 hour drive to our next destination, Inuvik, it was time for a nice breakfast and to visit with 2 other travelers on the road north. Leaving about 10:30 we passed through Fort McPherson again and marveled at the natural beauty surrounding this road.

In a short 41 miles (66 k) you arrive at the ferry crossing of the Mackenzie River (Tsiigehnjik,. a river named a Canadian Heritage River in 1993. This ferry actually has 3 stops on its sailing, the southern route of the Dempster, northern route of the Dempster and the small town of Tsiigehnjik. This town has no roads built to it due to the river and permafrost conditions of the area.

Stopping 23 miles before Inuvik we visit Titheqehchii Vitail Lookout trail head for a short 10 minute walk to a beautiful over look of Cambell Lake.

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Arriving in the town of Inuvik (The Place of Man) the entire town is constructed on permafrost. Population is at 3,243 as of 2016 this small planned village has unique utildor corridors carry all the water, sewage and heating systems between the buildings. This is also the first Canadian town built north of the Arctic Circle that provides normal city services to its residents. Inuvik has 2 gas stations, repair shops, lodgings, campgrounds, restaurants, fast food, groceries, and clothing stores. This was the farthest north a year round road reached until the current road to Tuktoyaktuk was built and opened last year, all access to Tuktoyaktuk was by plane or the Winter Road.

Setting up camping at Happy Valley Territorial Park right in town was within walking distance was a wonderful place to eat, the grocery store and the Visitor Center. The campground has toilets, showers (free) and laundry facilities (at an extra cost) available. The tent platforms were welcomed.

Walking across the street it was time for a late lunch, early dinner at Alestine’s, a converted bus that filled the tummy.

Continuing the walk it was to the grocery store to see what was available, this store is not just a grocery store but an outdoor equipment shop as well. Then off for the visitor center across town, we were disappointed to learn it was closed for a couple of hours for lunch. Heading back to the grocery store to pick a few items up it was back to camp for laundry, showers and relaxing before our day trip tomorrow to Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean, 86 miles (138 k) north along Highway 10 The Inuvik-Tuk Highway (ITH).

Day 7 – Up the Dempster to the Arctic Ocean and Tuktoyaktuk

From the junction of the Klondike and Dempster Highways, it’s 456 miles (734 km) to Inuvik, North West Territories and then an additional 86 miles (138 km) north to Tuktoyaktuk, North West Territories beside the Arctic Ocean.

The Dempster Highway is only paved for the first 5 miles (8 km) from the Klondike Highway and the last 6 miles (10 km) into Inuvik. The road is open year round but it is a hard road on vehicles and tires, its gravel surface has sudden changes, potholes, becomes boggy and slick in wet weather and is made of crushed shale, which is very damaging to tires. You will need to use 2 free ferries on your drive to Inuvik. Calcium Chloride is used to stabilize the road during wet conditions so it’s advisable to clean the vehicle as soon as you can after traversing this road.

Woke up the next morning and there was a light rain falling. It lasted for a few hours in the morning then cleared up.

Making our way up the Dempster we pass Engineer Creek Yukon Government Campground at mile 120 (193.8 k) where it was decided a short break was needed. We drive around the loop of campsites to explore the possibility of this being a stop on the way south. It was fortunate that we went through as I noticed a gentleman’s vehicle I knew from Instagram that was also making the trip north. He had already been to Tuktoyaktuk and was making his way south. Stopped for about 30 minutes exchanging tales of our adventures so far. The campground is full and very quiet although quite soggy from the rain and has many mosquitoes swarming about, no doubt from the rain. This was an area with he most mosquitoes experienced on the trip.

You must go all the way to Eagle Plains for gas, food, and lodging. This small outpost is located 229 miles (369 k) form the the gas station at the intersection with the Klondike Highway. Remember to fill up with gas when available along the Dempster, there might be long distances between services.

At 252 miles (405.5 km) from the Junction with the Klondike Highway you arrive at the Arctic Circle.

At 289 miles (465 km) you pass into the Northwest Territories. This Territory has approximately 519,734 sq mi (1,346,106 km2 ) with a population of only 44,420 residents (estimate for 2019).

Just a short distance takes you to the first ferry crossing at the Peel River. We are the only vehicles on this northern crossing of the ferry.

Video by H. Berge

Video by H. Berge

One mile past the ferry crossing we arrive at our camp for the night, Nitainlai Interpretive Center and Territorial Park Campground. The center has very nice exhibits and displays of the Gwich’in culture. The adjacent campground has water, firewood, toilets and wonderful warm showers. It is a nice respite after a days driving.

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Before settling down for the evening gasoline is required in the vehicles and as tomorrow is Sunday the stations won’t be open till about noon. It is a short drive north into Fort McPherson, a town of a population of approximately 791 people with a Café, 2 grocery stores, 2 gas/diesel stations and an 8-room hotel 342 miles (465 k) along the highway.

 

Day 6 – Campbell Highway, Klondike Highway and onto the Dempster.

After an easy breakfast we left camp about 8:30 to continue along Canada Highway 4, The Campbell Highway following old fur trade routes. This 362-mile (5983 km) paved but mostly gravel road will lead to Highway 2, the Klondike Highway,  for the adventure to the far reaches of the Northwest Territories and the Arctic Ocean along the Dempster Highway.

The highway is named after the first white man to explore the Yukon area, John Campbell, this all season road leads from Watson Lake to just north of Carmacks on Klondike Highway (2). This rougher road is shorter in distance than continuing along to the junction of the Alaskan Highway and the Klondike Highway but it is much slower. Services are few and far between along this highway.

Stopping at several overlooks of the Yukon River we noticed several small dots moving along the river. Canoeists were floating and paddling with the current, their boats loaded down with camping gear. Now that looks like a great adventure to make (another bucket list item).

We are now in a landmass named Beringia stretching from eastern Siberia, through Alaska, and to the Yukon. This area was not covered in glaciers at the time of the Ice Age but was an area of dry, dusty, treeless Steppe where you could see Bison, wild ponies, Wooly Mammoths among other animals. During the ice age the water level dropped 425 feet (130 m) creating Beringia, the land bridge between Russia and North America.

Making it to the the Klondike Highway I stopped at a scenic overlook and made lunch. What a delightful place to eat.

It was decided early that this day would be another drive day to make it to the Dempster Highway quickly as a storm was moving into the area. Wanting good weather in Tuktoyaktuk we pressed on making it to the start of the Dempster at about 4:30 in the afternoon. Filling with gas at the intersection we continued about 70 miles to stop and camp at the end of a emergency airstrip. Pulling far off the end of the runway and completely off the marked airstrip we set up camp at 7:00.