Alaska-Tracking the Gold Rush Railway

The mere mention of Alaska conjures up visions of vast landscape, freezing sub zero temperatures, wild bears, whales and challenging nature. But it also home to stories of human endurance and greed when it comes to the glitter of that precious yellow metal?. Gold.

Another of the bridges to cross

Another view of the steel bridge

The Klondike Gold Rush, also called the Yukon Gold Rush, the Alaska Gold Rush, the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush and the Last Great Gold Rush, was a migration by an estimated 100,000 American and other prospectors to the Klondike region of the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1896 and 1899. Gold was discovered here on August 16, 1896 and, when news reached Seattle and San Francisco the following year, it triggered a “stampede” of would-be prospectors. The journey proved too hard to many and only between 30,000 and 40,000 managed to arrive. Some became wealthy; however, the majority went in vain and only around 4,000 struck gold. The Klondike Gold Rush ended in 1899 after gold was discovered in Nome, prompting an exodus from the Klondike. It has been immortalized by photographs, books and films.

 As we approach Skagway again…wild streams make their appearance in the lower reaches simply put it

This Gold Rush had its effect on the city of Seattle on the North West of USA which benefitted immensely since it was the main transit of Gold miners and main source of their supplies on the way to the Klondike and for selling gold on their way back! With the result Seattle boomed as a city and during the city tour one gets to visit several sites linked to the Klondike gold rush including even a ?Gold Rush? museum!

Newspaper reports of the gold fuelled a nation-wide hysteria in USA, where many left their jobs and set off for the Klondike as prospectors. These in turn were joined by traders, writers, photographers and others trying to make a profit from them.

Crossing one of the numerous bridges on the way

Entering tunnel no. 1

Engines our train detached and reattached in the last stop in Canada for return journey

In harbor…with the Cruise ship looming behind us

In the final stop -American, Canadian, Alaska and British Columbia flags

Leaving the plains the snow makes its appearance in the higher reaches

Leaving tunnerl No. 2

To reach the gold fields most took the route through the ports of Dyea and Skagway in Southeast Alaska. Here, the Klondikers could follow either the Chilkoot or the White Pass trails to the Yukon River and sail down to the Klondike. Each of them was required to bring a year’s supply of food by the Canadian authorities in order to prevent starvation; in all, their equipment weighed close to a ton, which for most had to be carried in stages by themselves. Together with mountainous terrain and cold climate this meant that those who persisted did not arrive until summer 1898. Once there, they found few opportunities and many left disappointed.

In order to provide an easy access to the gold prospectors an easy transportation from the port of Skagway to the Klondike gold mining area, the White Pass Yukon Railway (WP&YR railway) was built in 1898, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. The WP&YR railway was considered an impossible task but it was literally blasted through coastal mountains in only 26 months. The $10 million project was the product of British financing, American engineering and Canadian contracting. Tens of thousands of men and 450 tons of explosives overcame harsh and challenging climate and geography to create “the railway built of gold.”

Alaskan splendor

On the Canadian side

Photo opportunities ..everywhere

Seem to be heading into nowhere

Sign board -It was named so for obvious reasons…always covered in snow

The WP&YR climbs almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles and features steep grades of up to 3.9%, cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees, two tunnels and numerous bridges and trestles. The steel cantilever bridge was the tallest of its kind in the world when it was constructed in 1901. The 110 mile WP&YR Railroad was completed with the driving of the golden spike on July 29, 1900 in Carcross Yukon connecting the deep water port of Skagway Alaska to Whitehorse Yukon and beyond to northwest Canada and interior Alaska.

The WP&YR suspended operations in 1982 when Yukon’s mining industry collapsed due to low mineral prices. The railway was reopened in 1988 as a seasonal tourism operation and served 37,000 passengers. Today, the WP&YR is Alaska’s most popular shore excursion carrying over 390,000 passengers during the 2012 May to September tourism season operating on the first 67.5 miles (Skagway, Alaska to Carcross, Yukon)

Snow and more snow on the higher reachers

Some rugged Alaskan landscape

Spectacular views of White pass

The Classic style coaches of a bygone era

The steel cantilever bridge…though not used anymore..preserved as a heritage monument

The steel cantilver bridge was considered as a Civil Engineering marvel in those days

The Steel cantilver bridge.constructed in more used these days

This steam locomotive also does the same route 

To egg the gold miners to slog on and on…perhaps

  Three diesel locomotives are required due to steep gradient..reminds of Khandala ghat where similar arrangement is used 

Together…on board the cruise ship..with ossum views

Me and my wife had a chance to retrace the route of gold miners by taking the ride on the WP&YR on 17 May 2013 from Skagway harbor during a Alaska Cruise on board cruise ship ?Carnival Miracle?. It was worth every penny spent. The train starts from Skagway in Alaska in a station located right on the harbor, passes through some of the most rugged and spectacular natural landscapes one can imagine and reaches Yukon. It actually crosses into Canada for a brief while and stops. No one is allowed to get down, while the engines change position for the return journey back to the Skagway harbor.

US flag and Canadian flag and a small borderpost in the center marking the international border

Inside the White Pass and Yukon Railway coach in Skagway harbor station

The initial barren and green landscape gives way to snow covered peaks, misty valleys, occasional rainfalls, glaciers and plenty of photo opportunities. There are two options for tourists-One is the steam powered locomotive and other one is the diesel locomotive. But all the coaches are reminiscent of the Golden era gone by and retain the old world charm. The charm of travelling by train is all apparent throughout the journey. Though it is not possible to narrate the glory of this ?Golden  Ride? as the journey on WP&YR was once called, some pictures which we clicked during the journey will give some idea of the nature?s greatness and also human ingenuity and endurance in the face of nature?s might, all just for the lure of Gold!.

Acknowledgements: Wikipedia for history of White Pass and Yukon Railway

About the Author

Commander GP Mallya (retd) is a native of Kinnigoli and alumni of Pompeii Junior College, Aikala, Mysore University (NIE, Mysore) and Pune University. He served in the Indian Navy for 22 years as Marine Engineering Officer until premature retirement in 2007 and moved to South Korea to work for Samsung Heavy Industries, where he continues till date. He stays in Korea with his wife. His interests include Travelling, GK Quiz, writing, photography and music. He also contributes travelogues with regularly. He can be reached at .




Author: Commander Giridhara P. Mallya (Retd.)