Sunday, 27 November 2011

Day 10 Haines, Alaska

Day 10
We arrived at Haines at 6.30am and after our usual hearty breakfast made our way at 9.00am for an adventure to Skagway and then onto the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. We had little time to appreciate the beautiful mining supply and fishing port associated with the Klondike Gold Rush before boarding a high-speed catamaran for a trip up the Lynn Canal to Skagway.
When gold was discovered in the Klondike in the late 1890s, steamboat captain William Moore founded Skagway as a gateway to the goldfields. Over 30,000 prospectors passed through in the first year, seeking supplies and entertainment. Now looking down Broadway towards a cruise ship at Broadway Dock the street is lined with shops dependent on the passing tourist trade.
The Red Onion Saloon on the left built in 1898 still has its bar from when it served as a saloon and brothel. You can have a  Brothel Tour guided by young ladies in dubious attire.

A somewhat more sober town today, Skagway works hard to extract gold from the pockets of cruise ship customers that consist to a large degree of wealthy pensioners.
Skagway's origins date to June 1887 when Captain William Moore and his Native Guide, Skookum Jim Mason, scouted the relatively unknown Tlingit route through the coastal mountains to what became known as White Pass. By 1888 the Moore's had built this log cabin, cleared 8 acres and began the construction of a dock and trail.

The Moore's maintained an early hold on the settlement they called Mooresville but it quickly grew beyond their ability to keep that control. Lawsuits followed that reduced the size of Moore's land claim as a proper grid plan was set out for the town which was now called Skagway. However by 1897 Ben Moore had completed the construction of a more suitable home. Although it included the original cabin this was later moved to its present site in 1900.
William Moore had always forecast that there would be a railway through to the lakes beyond White Pass. Some prospectors chose the shorter steeper route over the Chilkoot Trail via the famous "Golden Stairs", others the longer but less steep White Pass trail.
The White Pass & Yukon Railroad Company was a joint venture between Thomas Tancrede and Michael J Heney. They purchased the right of way on an old toll road and began construction in 1898 of a narrow gauge railway. Today the route runs from Skagway past vertical cliffs, over old trestle bridges and through tunnels for 20 miles to reach the summit of the pass. The railway runs for a further 20 miles to Lake Bennett where the lakes and rivers route to the Yukon begins.
This was WP&YR's first loco. Acquired in 1898 it operated as #2 within the Skagway Valley and later along the shore of Lake Bennett. Retired from service in 1936, damaged by a shed fire in 1969, it now rusts away awaiting finance for restoration.
 Many of the curves are very tight enabling photos like this showing the progress of our train as it ascends the mountainside into a blanket of cloud.
It was a great pity that the visibilty was so poor. There was little to see at the summit of White Pass, 2,865ft. After crossing the Canadian Border we descended to Fraser but even here we could see little of the beautiful alpine valley surroundings.
 At Fraser we transfered to a coach for the return along the Klondike Highway. On the other side of the Skagway River we could catch glimpses of a WP&YR train making its way down to Skagway.
After a high speed catamaran return our ship at Haines we found that our steward had been playing towel monkeys again. This time it was an elephant.

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