The Last Frontier: Day 4, Skagway
Updated: Aug 27
Skagway became the first incorporated city in Alaska on June 28, 1900, beating out Juneau by just one day. Skagway is the northernmost point of Alaska's Inside Passage and one of only three cities in Southwest Alaska accessible by road. Driven by the prospect of finding gold, people flocked to Skagway, which was once a booming town with a population of nearly 10,000. Today it is home to about 1,000 year-round residents and not a single stop light.
It is also home to the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway - "The Scenic Railway of the World." This narrow gauge railway was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. It is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a prestige also given to the Eiffel Tower, the first New York City subway and the Statue of Liberty.
I boarded a train and got ready to climb more than 2,500 feet over a 20-mile span. Our ride began in downtown Skagway, which is at sea level. Being in this flat, wide-open space, it was hard to imagine that I was getting ready to ascend on a tortuous track that was precariously built into the side of a mountain.
Our goal was to climb a total of 2,888 feet to reach White Pass Summit. Just ahead of this turn, was the first bridge that we crossed.
We kept climbing, while making several cliff-hanging twists and turns and venturing through dark tunnels.
Standing on the outside balcony for almost the entirety of the journey, I found myself looking directly down, thousands of feet from the edge of a cliff, on numerous occasions. (If you read my last post, you'll know why this was challenging.)
We soon crossed over our third bridge and went through another tunnel. I kept reflecting on the fact that it took many thousands of men and many tons of explosives to build this railway through solid rock and steep gorges. At least 35 men lost their lives in the endeavor.
At 2413 feet, we reached Inspiration Point, from where the view of the valley, Mount Harding and the Harding glacier was astounding.
Bridge to Nowhere
We got ready to cross our third bridge, but encountered a slight problem. I'm just kidding. The bridge pictured above was once the tallest cantilever bridge in the world, but has not been used in over 50 years. (This bridge conjured up images of childhood cartoons where the characters are about to fall off a broken bridge unbeknownst to them.)
We finally made it to White Pass Summit, where the U.S. and Canadian flags flew side by side, alerting us that we had crossed into Canada's British Columbia.
From that vantage point, the valley filled with a rich profusion of trees, seemed to stretch on and on. At that, we turned and made our way back to downtown Skagway.
For lunch, I stopped at the Skagway Brewing Company which opened its doors in 1897 to welcome those who came to Alaska with hopes of striking it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Spruce Tip Blonde Beer
Spruce tips are the buds that develop on the ends of spruce tree branches. They are full of Vitamin C and are therefore used by the Tlingit (the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast) to make teas, medicines and balms. There is also a legend that Captain James Cook concocted a spruce-tip beer in the late 1770s, when he visited Alaska, in an effort to prevent scurvy among his sailors.
Given all of this history, and wanting to ward off scurvy of course, I ordered a spruce tip beer with my lunch. Incidentally, based on my very limited knowledge of beer production, I would assume that boiling and fermentation removes any health benefits, but maybe I'm wrong. Regardless, this beer was delicious, with a sweet, citrus and "piney" flavor.
Locally Caught, Hand-Dipped, Ale-Battered, Alaskan Greenling on a Brioche Bun.
This was the first time I tasted greenling, which has a flavor similar to halibut. All five ounces were incredibly moist and the batter was crunchy without being oily. This may be the best fish sandwich I have ever eaten.
After lunch, I went on a hike to take in the views from Skagway one more time before re-boarding the ship.
For dinner I joined new friends at Onda by Scarpetta, the Italian restaurant on board the ship.
Mozzarella, Sausage, Spicy Sopressata, Parmacotto, Truffle Oil, Ricotta Stuffed Crust
San Marzano Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Basil, Olive Oil
Lobster, Tomato, Spring Onion, Spicy Bread Crumbs
I was pleasantly surprised by the sizeable and plentiful lobster chunks that were well-seasoned and tucked between the folds of pasta.
Coconut, Guava Syrup, Caramelized Pineapple, Coconut Sorbetto
After another walk on the deck and some karaoke, I closed the books on day four of my Alaskan adventure.