25 July 2017. Our next port of call was Skagway, a small town of under a thousand people, a population that doubles in the summer to work the tourist trade. Big cruise ships like ours are the usually visitors. And so, three to five thousand people stop by for the day. We docked with another big ship and we all flooded off our floating fortresses to walk the boardwalk streets and find adventure.
The center of town is only a few blocks long and fewer wide. It is well painted and well kept. One peculiarity of our two Alaskan ports was the number of jewelry shops featuring diamonds that each town held. Do people really buy expensive jewelry on vacation?
Julia and I had only a short time to see the town before our shore excursion began. We were met by a somewhat crusty, weather, older man who guided our hike along the Chilkoot Trail. This was one of two trails that prospectors used to get to the gold fields of Canada.
In 1896, gold was found in Canada’s Yukon Territory, and on July 29, 1897, the steamer Queen docked at Moore’s wharf with the first boat load of prospectors. Ships brought thousands and thousands of hopeful prospectors into Skagway to prepare for a 500-mile trek into the gold fields in Canada. A few years after the first prospector reached Skagway, the area’s population climbed 30,000. It is somewhat ironic that we tourists invade the town that was once inundated by boatloads of miners. According to our guide, few of those looking for gold struck it rich but fortunes were made by men and women who supplied the prospectors with the necessities of life–a hearty meal, a drink and a place to sleep on the trail, as well as supplies of all sorts to get and keep them going. Looking for gold was not a cheap or easy venture.
We hiked for about 2 hours along a very small part of the Trail. The hike was a bit more of a challenge than I expected, beginning on steep, uneven ground that ascended about 300 feet before proceeding, sometimes quite steeply downhill. We climbed over tree roots and rocks and crept carefully over some rather small ledges. I was grateful that our guide took charge of Julia. It was challenge enough for me to take care of myself. Julia did a great job, she did not complain and generally listened and obeyed our guide’s directions. I was proud of her. There was about a dozen of us on the hike and we listened to a running commentary about the history of the trail and some of the life story of our guide. He also instructed us on how to react if a bear appeared and took some interest in us although it sounded like he had not spotted a bear on this trail for many years.
We travelled through beautiful forested land–temperate rain forest, and we stopped often. Although it was a difficult, for us, hike, I am so glad that we did it.
When the hike was over, we climb aboard a rubber raft for what was described as “a tranquil float down the Taiya River.” This was not white water rafting by any means but the river carried us along quite quickly and our guide worked hard to keep the raft safe from big rocks and tree limbs. We saw river otters and a seal and many eagles, as well as two or three glaciers between mountains and a lovely waterfall.
We were grateful to get back to our soft, pampered cruise life, but we completely enjoyed our day in the woods and on the river. In each of our ports of call, I wished that we had two or three days to absorb more of the towns and surrounding countryside. Skagway was small but we hardly scratched the surface.