July 5th skagway rising at dawn (which ...

Trip Start Jul 06, 1999
Trip End Jul 11, 1999

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Tuesday, July 6, 1999

July 5th, Skagway

Rising at dawn, (which means 5:30 up here) I was pretty bleary. There had been a lot shorter period of darkness than I was used to, I'd had to get up at 3:00 am to cart my bags up from the lobby (explained in the previous entry), I was adjusting to a four-hour time difference from Ottawa and the hotel's windows opened barely at all - I presume for security reasons - resulting in stiflingly little airflow. Add to this the fact that it was the fourth of July in the States which is a pretty big, noisy holiday and people were up late, despite its being Sunday. Actually it was interesting how they handled the city fireworks display. Since the sun doesn't set until 11:30, it doesn't get dark until about midnight. This means that if they'd had the fireworks on the night we were there, they wouldn't have been able to set them off until it was technically July the 5th. Not only that, it would have been very late for a Sunday night. What they did instead was set them off at midnight the night before i.e. early Sunday morning, as soon as it became July the 4th. This meant that people could stay up with impunity and the fireworks were on the correct day.

At 6:00 am the shuttle left for the 7:00 am ferry. From the shuttle window I peered out at the area we were passing through. The only real outward difference I noticed between buildings in Ontario versus buildings in Alaska was that they all seem to be covered with siding here. Even the small malls we passed, which would have been bare concrete blocks at home, were covered in siding. Obviously I was working from a small sample size but this certainly seemed the case in the area around Juneau. I don't know if siding is better for insulation value, if it makes the most financial sense here, if it's hard to get brick or stone or if these are too fragile for the climate or what, but there it is. Oh, it also seemed that quite a few people made their homes earth-toned, presumably to blend in with the scenery.

The ferry takes a total of about six and a half hours to get from Juneau to Skagway and it's an all-time good deal for foot passengers at $32 a person. For this meager sum you sail the same coast that people spend thousands to view from fancy and expensive cruise ships and it is quite comfortable and has a reasonably-priced cafeteria. I particularly liked the top deck where there are reclining deck chairs and a glass roof with heaters mounted underneath covers half. This means you can recline there in the fresh air even when it rains or is a bit chilly.

On the ferry we met another person planning to hike the Chilkoot (hi Jay) and we whiled away portions of the trip chatting. His friends were flying in on a commuter flight from Juneau. We'd been told this was possible but opted for the ferry ride as being both more interesting and less expensive. It was also more reliable since Skagway is often fogged-in and planes can't land or take off.

Arriving in Skagway we were picked up by the shuttle of the Westmark Inn where we were staying the night. We were told that we couldn't check in until 3:00 pm but that they'd store our bags for us until then. That was fine as we had to go pick up last-minute supplies (perishable foods and gas for the camp stove which you can't bring onto an airplane) and our documents.

People can't just pick up and hike the Chilkoot - you have to get a permit and they only allow 50 people a day. Not only that, of those 50, 42 are for people who reserve them and only 8 are for "walk-ins" and all permits have to be picked up a day in advance. Having been warned of this, we'd reserved months earlier and were mighty glad we did as we saw one couple get turned away because they had no reservation and all permits had been issued that day. We also picked up bear bells (no not "barbells", "bear bells") while we were there. These are round bells such as you might find on reindeer harness. The idea is that you wear them on your boots as part of the strategy for avoiding bears along the trail. The other parts include clapping and yelling out something like "HELLO BEARS" every few minutes as you're hiking, cooking in or near the emergency shelters rather than at your tent site and hanging up your food and garbage from "bear poles" provided at all the designated campgrounds. We already knew from the pamphlets that we were only to camp in these campgrounds and that the aforementioned bearpoles and emergency shelters were available along with (drumroll please) outhouses. That being the most primary misgiving of mine when it comes to wilderness camping, I was relieved to hear of the availability of some sort of facilities and made it a personal goal to never have to resort to "the alternative" (i.e. in the forest or behind a rock above the treeline) if at all possible...

Skagway itself (also spelled Skaguay) is a charming town. It's old-fashioned, quaint and has been restored to a better-than-original state than it had been in when it sprang up during the Klondike Goldrush days (1898-99). It was also packed to the gills with well-heeled tourists off the cruise ships docked in the harbour. Tourism is its main source of revenue and it appears business is booming. Skaguay is also nine miles from the trailhead of the Chilkoot trail but I have some doubt that the 50 hikers a day make much of a proportional impact on the town - with two cruise ships in dock, the number of people in the town quadrupled during the day.

We had a fine dinner of (what else?) fish at a local restaurant, organized our packs for the start of the hike the next day (we were each storing a bag of non-hiking clothes etc. at the hotel while we were on the trail) and got some much-needed sleep.
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