Monday, September 30, 2019

Alaska 2019 - Part II - Skagway, The White Pass Railway, and a Hike on a Glacier

On Wednesday we have to get up early for our next excursion that begins at 7 am. We are going to take the famous White River Pass narrow gauge railroad from Skagway up to a trail and then hike to a glacier! One of our guides, Ryan, meets us at the boat and walks us to where we are to get on the train. 

Me and Our Big Ass Boat

There we meet our other 3 guides for a group of 20 people. Because this is a strenuous hike we are by far the oldest people in this group, except for one other person, and even she is probably at least 10 years younger than us.  We take the train up the track 14 miles to our starting point. The train goes about 100 miles, up into the Yukon Territories. Nowadays there is also a road, but in the past it was the only land based way in and out of Skagway. Skagway is an old gold rush town. Only 800 people actually live there now, but 15,000 people descended from cruise ships the day we were there. They don’t hate us or resent us, like I thought might be the case; we are their livelihood. 

The first part of the hike is very nice, through the rain forest. We see lots of flowers, trees, and ferns. There is some climbing, mostly rocky steps, but nothing bad. We stop frequently for snacks, potty breaks, short lectures on what we are seeing. The other three guides, Meg, Megan and Josh, are also friendly and very knowledgeable. There is always a guide somewhere close by, they don’t let anyone fall behind, so everyone can walk at their own pace. I’m not a fast walker, but Lee is, so sometimes we are together and sometimes not. I also have to stop and take photos of course!

Sometime between miles 3 and 4 it becomes very obvious that the other person near our age on this hike is not at all prepared for this amount of activity. This is another reason there are 4 guides. Josh stays back with her and we don’t see them again until the end of the trip. After around 4 miles we arrive at the base of the glacier. First we have to scramble over a bunch of sand and loose rock that the glacier has pushed out in front of it. 

Then we stop to put on ice cleats and get ready to step onto the glacier itself. Stomp like an angry toddler, they say! That's so that the ice cleats will work properly. Don’t wander off and fall into a crevasse! Yikes! I’m a little scared and uncertain. Ryan leads and the younger bunch tromp off rapidly across the field of ice and rocks. I can’t watch my footing and stay up with them, but Meg stays with those of us that are slower so it’s ok and eventually I calm down and start to enjoy the experience. 

The glacier is not exactly what I expected. Its cold, that part was no surprise. All of our layers go on, and both my hoods. I could have used my gloves but I forgot them in the cabin back on the ship so oh well! I thought the glacier would be a sheet of ice, but it is ice mixed with lots of rock and dirt, which makes sense. It’s moving but you can’t tell. There are lots of little cracks in it, and small beautiful holes where you can see the very blue ice below. 

We make our way to a rocky point to eat our lunch. The guides have given us so many snacks to eat, and lots of water, and while we were on the train we made ourselves sandwiches too. We were not going to go hungry, that’s for sure! They also had hot water and mixes for tea, cider and hot cocoa. I had the cider and it was delish, and warming too. 

Then it was time to walk back down, off the glacier, back through the forest, and back to the train. On the way we stop at a mountain stream and feel the glacial silt, so soft and creamy. It’s supposed to be great for facials and if I had had a container I could have taken some with me. 

We are tired but not in a horrible way. It doesn’t really hit me until we are back on the train and then I can hardly keep my eyes open. It has been a long, long day. The train ride back seems to take forever, and I really don’t want to walk at all any more, like ever. 

As soon as we are back on the boat we stop at the bar and get Old Fashions. Of course it knocks me silly but who cares? We’re on a boat! 

We go to Los Lobos, the Mexican restaurant, for dinner. It’s pretty good, especially the guacamole made table side. I like talking to the people that work on the boat. Our guacamole maker is from St. Lucia. She has worked on cruise ships for 14 years. It’s so much more lucrative than anything she could do at home, but they work very very hard while at sea.

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