SKAGWAYMay 31 in the United States
Another 6.30 am alarm needed for our Skagway experience. Unfortunately, we were informed yesterday that the ride on the White Pass train was cancelled as there had been a rock fall on the line so we were transported up to the White Pass by bus. Fortunately it was another fabulous sunny day with blue skies and a wonderful clear view of the mountains. The road route is in sight of the train track most of the time so we didn't feel so bad about not going by train especially as we were told again how lucky we were to have such a great weather day in Alaska.
Our guide filled us in on some of the details of the 1897 to 1899 Klondike Gold Rush. In July 1897 the ship, Portland, docked in Seattle with over a ton of solid gold on it bought back by some early stampeder. Tens of thousands of stampeders headed for Alaska to make their fortune in the Klondike goldfields (or so they thought!). There were 2 possible routes either from Dyea, once a Tingits village, using the Chikoot Trail a 33 mile trading route to the interior. This route involved the Golden Staircase, a hellish quarter mile climb gaining 1,000 vertical feet. Alternatively stampeders could arrive via Skagway and take the White Pass Trail, which was 10 miles longer, either with a native guide or pack horse. This route was advertised as "all weather" but sharp rocks and bogs earned it the name of Dead Horse Pass as 3,000 horses died there over the 1897-98 winter. Once the stampeders had completed the initial trail they were still 550miles from the gold fields but by the time they reached this lake area at the beginning of the Yukon river it was winter and they had to camp out until the spring and build boats for the treacherous journey along the river and category 5 rapids. The Canadian police were very concerned about the number of stampeders arriving with insufficient provisions to sustain themselves for the journey and a law was enforced that every person wanting to enter Canada had to have a ton of provisions to sustain them for the journey. Consequently men often had to climb the golden staircase 20 to 40 times to shuttle their goods up to the lakes. Of the tens of thousands who set out many didn't make it, some turned back, some were killed in avalanches on the Chilkot Trail, some drowned in the rapids. The men who did make it to Klondike found there were no claims left and of the very few who did strike gold most still died broke as they gambled away their money or spent it on drink and women!!! In 2 years the Klondike Gold Rush was over.
Back to us, less intrepid visitors to the area. We stopped at the summit of White Pass were kitted up and given our bikes and started our 15 mile, very scenic decent into Skagway with photo stops en route, a great ride with amazing views.
In town we grabbed a coffee and huge cream puff - well, we deserved it and it was our 38th wedding anniversary. We visited the National Park visitors centre and watched the introductory film which gave us more information on Skagway and how in its gold rush days it was a lawless city full of bars, brothels, and con men and was once described as hell on earth. On that cheery note we headed back to the ship to change out of our cycling clothes and join our next tour called "Ghosts and Good Time Girls", we were schooled by our very amusing and quick whittled host (a working girl!), how to be street walkers, then progress to plying our trade in a "crib" ( a sort of small shed, often shared by 2 girls and clients with a curtain between the beds for privacy!) our final goal was to 'rise up' (carefully chosen words of our host) to working in the Red Onion Saloon (brothel) charging $5 for 15 minutes - 50% to the madam, 25% to the bouncer and 25% the service provider. In these days it cost $6 a day to live in Skagway and an 'honest' job only paid $3 so 'what was a gal to do?' obviously this 'profession' was the only answer. Our guide had us all role playing crossing the street (several times) to get ourselves noticed - all very amusing. We ended up being told some ghost stories and learning about some notorious residents including 'soapy smith' a mafia style gangster who 'ruled' the town, of course he ended his days in a gun fight, famous 'madams' and some more honourable and kind hearted residents such as Molly Walsh. We visited The Red Onion, drank champagne and went to look at the 'business' area of the establishment. A very entertaining tour giving a real flavour of the rough old days in Skagway.
We finished off in town by having another coffee and cake and a self guided walking tour of the historic buildings in the Gold Rush National Park.Read more