In 1898, prospectors of the Klondike Gold Rush toiled their way up Alaska’s Coastal Mountains and into the Yukon, in the hopes of striking it rich. Most saw their dreams evaporate, and many never even returned home.
Over a hundred years later, I (sort of) followed in their footsteps, ascending the White Pass, one of the two passes miners had to chose between (the other being the Chilkoot Pass) at that start of their journey to the Klondike, some 800 miles distant.
Back during the Gold Rush, in addition to their equipment, the Canadian government insisted that all prospectors take at least a year’s food supply with them, which together weighed roughly a ton. Most miners had to ferry this all the way to the Yukon on their own, making several trips up and down the daunting passes, often battling awful weather and criminals along the way.
In an attempt to improve the situation, between 1898 and 1900, the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad was constructed from Skagway on the Alaskan coast, up White Pass, and on to Whitehorse in the Yukon. Part of this route still runs today as a heritage railway, and during my time in Alaska a few years back, I got to ride the first stretch, up the pass from Skagway and across the border into Canada.
The track clung to the sides of the mountains, often veering away into side valleys, before heading back to the main pass. Along the way, the engines tugged the train through endless fog, rain, two tunnels and across several precarious-looking trestles up to White Pass Summit, 2865 feet above our starting point in Skagway.
While other passengers continued on to Bennett or Carcross, Fraser Meadows marked the end of the line for us. There we exchanged our comfortable, warm, and above all dry carriage for an altogether more exposed form of transportation.
To be honest, given the weather, I more than half expected our Sockeye Cycle Co. guide to tell us our 15 mile bike ride back to Skagway had been cancelled. But as he put it, if they called it off every time it rained, the excursion would never run!
I can’t tell you how glad I am it did go ahead. It was exhilarating to freewheel down this infamous pass along the South Klondike Highway. It remains the one and only time I’ve ever crossed an international border on a bicycle to date.
Although I was glad it was Rich doing the peddling the couple of times the road did a short climb, it was a sobering thought to imagine what the miners had had to endure before the highway and railroad were built.
If speeding down a steep, twisting mountain pass in the rain sounds like your idea of fun, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?
And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!