Thursday, 17 July 2014

Fairbanks to Skagway

We travelled on to Fairbanks by coach through some wonderful scenery, unfortunately this was when the rain started. It was still warm though but very soggy! We were scheduled to fly on from Fairbanks to Dawson by a chartered 727 the following afternoon leaving the morning free for some sightseeing around Fairbanks. However later in the evening we were told that the chartered plane had some engine trouble, so smaller Hawker turbo-prop planes would be used and also that this meant that we’d leave earlier in the morning. Saw little of rainy Fairbanks as, with about 30 of our group, we flew from there to Dawson City.

This is a picturesque little town whose population is currently around 800, but in the gold rush era of 1897/99 it reached around 30,000. All of those early gold-seekers faced an incredibly hard journey to reach the nearby Klondike goldfields. When they disembarked at Skagway, they had to climb up over the White Pass or the Chilkoot Pass through the heaviest snow for years. Not only that but Canadian law decreed that each person should bring 1 ton of provisions with them to enable them to survive a year in this wilderness place. This usually meant 40 trips up the Chilkoot Pass to ferry their provisions and 40 down the other side. Many died along the way and only a very small percentage made it to Dawson City and the Klondike goldfields, and an even smaller percentage found enough gold to become rich.

We had several days at Dawson City where there are many of the old buildings still remaining. Many have been restored, but many are still many waiting in a sad state of repair. One of the problems being that the permafrost quite often causes the buildings to sag or rise up on their foundations. This raffish, rough but pretty town is popular though, and with the influx of tourist dollars, more buildings will be gradually restored we hope. They have a great museum beautifully restored with extensive woodwork and wonderful artefacts. It still houses a courtroom which is used about once a month.

On our last night in Dawson City we visited Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Follies and later at another Dawson pub, witnessed brave (foolhardy?) folk attempt a Sourtoe Cocktail. This is a real preserved human toe in a shot of whiskey – the idea is that they drink the whiskey and that their lips touch the toe. The successful ones get a certificate. Needless to say we didn’t join this illustrious group.

From Dawson City we travelled on by coach to Whitehorse for a night and next morning at Fraser joined the Yukon and White Pass Railroad train with quite spectacular scenery up over the Pass and down into Skagway. Again this is a lovely harbour town from the goldfields era and although by now the weather had turned misty and rainy, we thoroughly enjoyed having a few days to explore the area. Peter discovered the local Fire Station and spent an hour or so being shown over the Station House - he was most impressed with all the equipment they had for such a small town. 

One of our excursions was to a Musher’s Camp with Sled dogs. We learnt more about the Iditarod Race, and experienced a ride with 16 wonderful, keen Alaskan Huskies pulling us up and around a  steep and curvy  route. These dogs are just wonderful and loved running and pulling the sled. During summertime they usually breed, and just take it easier, however large ‘treadmills’ have been set up and one unleashed dog was running in one wheel for at least fifteen minutes just for the joy of it.

So far we have travelled by plane, train and coach through the mountains and many kilometres of ‘the last frontier’ so far north that we have had almost continual daylight. We have had the good fortune to actually see Denali (Mt. McKinley) – earning us membership of the rare 30% club, a feat that few have accomplished. We have seen in the wild - bears, moose, caribou, reindeer, bald eagles and  ground squirrels. We have followed the route of those old-time Stampeders through the coastal mountains and the isolated forest and tundra of the Yukon Territory. It has been a wonderfully interesting trip.

Tonight we sail on the Holland-America ship “Volendam” and look forward to the four day cruise down to Vancouver.  

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