This is an excerpt from the post chronicling our cruise to Alaska. If you are interested in seeing many more photos, or reading about our additional Alaskan adventures, click HERE and you will be brought to my other blog, thefamilyblogs.wordpress.com.
Day Five – Skagway – June 24
This was a day of big adventure for us.
We reached the port of Skagway at 7:00AM. Dressed in layers, we disembarked around 8:00AM to cool temperatures and an overcast sky. Although Chris’s blister still bothered him, he wasn’t going to let it stop him.
To start, we walked around the town of Skagway. The shops were closed but we still found interesting things to see.
Around 11:00AM, we met up with Alex, our enthusiastic guide for the day. She brought us to TEMSCO Helicopters. After a short briefing, we donned inflatable life vests—a little disconcerting—then boarded a helicopter. This time Chris had a window seat and I sat next to him. I was still an apprehensive passenger, so he held my hand as we took to the sky and flew over Chilkoot Inlet. We soared over the beautiful peaks of the Sawtooth Mountain Range, the Skagway River and Goat Lake.
As we approached Laughton Glacier, the pilot slowed to 70 MPH while we circumnavigated the area.
He narrated throughout the flight and pointed out a cloud being formed right in front of us. Air was being drawn up the mountain, then reaching its dew point changed from air to vapor creating the cloud. He named the waterfalls dropping from the steep mountains, and spotted grazing mountain goats, a little yellower in color than the white snow on the mountains. After 15 minutes, he dropped us at Glacier Station in Tongass National Forest.
There we began an out-and-back hike through an old-growth temperate rainforest.
The trail skirted the raging river, water from the melting Laughton Glacier. Glacial silt colored the river a milky grey.
The forest was full of wildflowers. Some I recognized like monkshood, fireweed, cow parsnip and lupine.
Alex named the flowers that I did not recognize: devil’s club, goat’s beard, and dwarf dogwood.
She pointed out pixie cup lichen and old man’s beard lichen and spotted a red-backed vole near a stream.
At one point Chris decided to stop and wait for us because his blister bothered him. Alex preferred that he did not stop since there was abundant wildlife in the area, namely bears. The well-maintained trail showed signs of bear activity as we side-stepped several piles of dung along the way.
So we continued up the trail as a group, often times walking over the visible root system of spruce and fir trees until we reached the Laughton Glacier Cabin, a good spot to take a break. The cabin is 1,000 feet below the glacier and is located two miles west of the Canadian border. It can be rented through the National Forest. We sat on the porch for a few moments and ate a snack of nuts and candy, then took to the trail heading east.
We walked up to a lookout with a 360-degree view including what could have been a breathtaking panorama of Laughton Glacier, but it was concealed in fog. From there the hike continued to the glacier, but we retraced our steps back to the whistle-stop—a roundtrip hike of three and one-half miles.
At 3:30PM we boarded the caboose of the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad for a 14-mile scenic ride back to Skagway.
Along the way, the train slowed to a stop to pick up another set of hikers, and then again for a bear on the tracks. Back at the Skagway station, a stern-faced U.S. Customs Agent came aboard and checked our passports before allowing us to disembark.
Skagway was booming that afternoon, the streets teeming with tourists. “Andy”, Chris hollered to his brother from half a block away. We met up at the Red Onion Saloon, Skagway’s Gold Rush-era bordello, now a historic building.
After a short wait, we crowded around a small table in the noisy bar to reminisce about our adventures. Maria and Andy rode the rail to the Yukon, a 41-mile roundtrip journey. Not to be forgotten, we toasted to our son Michael who turned 28 that day.
I will always treasure the memories of the fun we had in Skagway and the extraordinary beauty of our first hike in Alaska.