VAlaska08: Gold Rush
July 28- August 6, 2008
By LEWIS NOLAN
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Saturday, Aug. 2, 2008
I was up just before 7 a.m. and found that the ship was
already docked at the
Our sleep was interrupted about 2 a.m. by loud whistles and an announcement over the ship’s public address system. A calm voice said there was a fire drill underway following a report of a fire possibility in a cabin numbered 400-something. (We were in Number 336 so I suppose the suspected fire might have been on the deck above us.) We could hear that the ship’s company scrambled to their assigned emergency stations, an exercise they are trained for weekly.
Thankfully, it evidently proved to be a false alarm or just a minor nuisance as we didn’t have to evacuate our cabin or take any other actions. We got back to sleep in our oh-so-comfortable bed without too much delay.
Breakfast was delivered as ordered (by using with a doorknob hanger last night) about 7 a.m. I had the usual bacon with two scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast, hash brown wedge, slice of fresh orange, Diet Coke, tomato juice and a glass of ice water. Betty relaxed while I ate. She later repaired upstairs to Deck 11 for a good buffet at the Lido Restaurant of a fruit plate and a serving of a chicken dish.
I spent most of the morning working on my travelogue then had a satisfying lunch at the poolside grill of a cheeseburger, French fries, slice of vegetarian pizza, Diet Coke and a few tortilla chips served with avocado dip.
At 12:30 p.m., we de-boarded the ship onto the dock at
About a quarter-of-a-mile from the dock is the main train depot for the town of
The reasonably comfortable, padded seats were – like those
of trolley cars we’ve ridden on in
Construction of the railroad followed the 1897 discovery of
gold in the Canadian Klondike area to the north of
There is a marker at the bottom of a gorge that signals the death of 3,000 pack animals – mainly horses – that died in 1898 alone. The steep and rocky trail was so narrow that animals could not pass one another. So unless one prospector could be persuaded to make his horse walk backwards the way it had come from – which is nearly impossible – one animal would be shot and shoved over the gorge. The horses could carry up to 500 pounds in supplies, but it wasn’t long after too many trips that they died of exhaustion.
It was a wild, frontier town gripped by gambling, criminals
and more than 70 saloons. By 1900, the town settled down once the White Pass
& Yukon Railway neared completion and townspeople rallied against unsavory
elements. It wasn’t until 1978 that the
The town’s population is only 850, but it is
From the big windows on the train, we saw a stone marker
that calls attention to the days when a prospector was required to have one ton
of supplies in order to enter the Klondike Gold Fields and survive the bitter
winter. Most “staged” that quantity by hiking back 20 or so miles back and
Seeing the steepness of the trail and the demands of the steep ascent up the mountains with no safety rails to guard against miss-steps, I marveled at what must have been near-superhuman toughness of the prospectors who survived the climb. The railroad that was built later has grades of 3.99 percent and a roadbed only 10 feet wide because of the tight curves around the mountains.
Building the 110 miles of track up the mountains was a major engineering feat that has been enshrined and honored by professionals that also have codified praise for the comparable feats of building the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Statue of Liberty of New York Harbor and other major world engineering and construction projects.
The White Pass and Yukon Railway is the northern-most
railroad in the
Remarkably, only 35 men died during construction, and most of those deaths were due to sickness not falls.
The railroad was operated by steam engines until 1954, when it switched over to diesel locomotives. It suspended operations in 1982 after the gold mines were closed due to slumping prices. It reopened as an excursion train to haul cruise boats tourists in 1988.
A tour brochure says that 100,000 men sought their fortunes
in mining and panning for gold at the turn of the Century. But only
30,000-to-40,000 actually reached the gold fields of the
Our 20-mile excursion up to the
The only stop of the train was at the summit so the engineers could switch from one end of the cars to the other and the Parlor Car seats could be flipped to reverse settings. We were just barely inside the Canadian Border and were sternly warned of heavy penalties if we so much as stepped out of the cars even momentarily. But it was OK to stand on the observation platforms at the end of the cars to take photos and breathe the chilled air.
Notable spots we saw included:
After the train returned to the depot at
In comparison, the predicted high temperature for the day of our visit was 61 degrees, warm enough to bring out the Bermuda shorts for some townspeople. I wore a light sweater, wool cap and medium weight coat and was comfortable.
A fast-running stream on the day of our visit was partially lined by vacationers and townspeople fishing for salmon which were on their way upstream to lay eggs then die after 4-or-5 years of life in the ocean. We saw dozens and dozens of fish 2-to-3 feet long swimming up the rapids of the shallow stream.
Signage tells that during the peak of the Gold Rush,
At the headquarters of the National Park Service there is a monument marking the Klondike Gold Rush. It is a metal statue of two back-packing prospectors. Nearby is a historic steam locomotive that cleared the tracks of winter snow.
A Captain William Moore is credited with discovering gold in
Back on the boat that evening, Betty and I enjoyed a very good dinner in the Rotterdam Restaurant. I had venison with a sweet figs sauce plus a seafood ceviche and a Caesar Salad. Betty had chicken roulade for an appetizer, Indian wedding soup (hearty vegetable) and pork tenderloin. We both went for fresh strawberry cheesecake slices for dessert, served with
a chocolate teardrop slice of cake.
Just as we were finishing, Dr. Ulrich Bauer and his wife, Susie Brown Bauer, arrived at our table. They were just back from an all-day excursion tour of wildlife that evidently didn’t yield many good sightings. It was a delight sharing our experiences of the day.
I went to bed about 10 p.m., with tired legs from walking
around the town of