Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday: Bare Loon - Bennett - Skagway

Miles hiked: 4
Elevation: who knows

I rose at 4 am, early enough to see just the hint of pink on wispy morning clouds and the full moon. I sat by the water listening to the loons' soulful call.

After breakfast Mr. X and I headed out for the final miles of our trip. Two or three miles of the walk today was packed dirt with just a little up and down. The trees were thicker here. As we approached Bennett lake we found a grave yard and a prospectors cabin, and the trail became glacial flour. Everything seemed very dry and like a desert. We came around a corner and could see down to the lake and the very top of the church in Bennett.

We ran down the hill for the final 1/4 mile. I read the plaques about native uses of the lakes in the area and then headed to the train station...'cause they had flush toilets. We opted NOT to spend $30 for a bowl of beef stew and instead walked over to the Bennett campground to prepare our own Mountain House beef stew.

While there, we watched a helicopter land and drop off Warden Adam. Then we heard quite a ruckus as he moved the outhouse - and a woman ran out - to prepare for removal of the waste. Part of our trail passes cover the cost of helicoptering out the outhouse barrels since the alpine environment cannot breakdown the amount of deposits made.
Bennett lake is significant because it is the convergence of the Chilkoot trail and the White pass trail. In the winter of 1898, 30,000 prospectors on 7000 boats left Bennett on the same day, headed for Dawson City more than 600 miles away. They were just waiting for break-up so they could get through (some prospectors built boats in Lindeman only to have them broken up in the rapids).

At 1:00 the train arrived bringing the typical mature traveler that we often see in Juneau. At 1:30 we claimed our spot on the train in the "hikers only" car and at 2 we set off on the 40 mile trip back to Skagway.

The Yukon & White Pass Railroad is a historic railroad completed in 1899 and used for stampeders, overland transport (until the highway was built in 1981) and now tourists. To fit through the narrow canyons, the tracks are narrow gauge. This made for a bit of a jerky ride, but everyone seemed to stay on board. This was Mr. X's favorite part of the entire trip. We went through two tunnels and hugged the sides of mountain cliffs. We learned about the original White Pass trail, the vast numbers of horses that died there, the man from Detroit who helped children from his area make the trip to Alaska in the 1920s.

Our trip was narrated by a jolly old chap who told us that the Bennett area gets as much precipitation as Phoenix, Arizona - 2.5 inches. No wonder it felt like a desert. Just a few miles from there, however, there's 30 - 50 feet of snow every year. We also saw the Skagway river rapids which are class 7 - meaning they have never been successfully navigated.

We were back in Skagway by 4:30 and waited our turn to be inspected by US Customs. Then we grabbed our packs from the luggage car and snagged spots in the shuttle out to Dyea. While in the shuttle we got the lowdown from a couple of old codgers - stay out in the primitive campground, shower at the small boat harbor - save $20.

We followed their advice and were lucky enough to find and take a tour of the Skagway Public Library to boot. If you're ever in Skagway, I would recommend taking a look at the painting above the check-out counter. It's of a sourdough in his longjohns asleep in front of the fire - with a stack of overdue library books on the table. The librarians were pleased to tell us that they have a large expansion planned. Mr. X was enthralled by the child sized gliders in the children's room.

1 comment:

  1. So pretty! I am already planning (in the works) to get up to Alaska to see you guys and all the beauty around you!


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