Escaping the throng in Skagway
“Get me out of here! Won’t somebody help me get out of here?”
I was in Skagway, Alaska, a perfectly delightful and historic town that was a focal point of the famous Klondike Gold Rush.
The problem was that I was sharing it with the combined passenger loads of four cruise ships, perhaps 10,000 people – make that 10,001, counting me.
Skagway is tiny. The resident population is just 9,000, and the portion of town that interests tourists is only about eight blocks long and five blocks wide.
It was a beautiful day. The morning was overcast, but dry. The clouds disappeared, and the temperature certainly exceeded the forecast of 66 – Alaskan summer at its finest.
I hadn’t booked an excursion to see the bald eagles at nearby Haines, and I hadn’t bought a White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad ticket to cross into the Canada.
I was just soaking in what I could of the history around me when I entered the visitor center of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park at Broadway and 2nd Avenue and made my “Get me out of here!” plea.
OK, perhaps my entreaty to the rangers wasn’t quite that dramatic, but that’s the way I felt.
What I really asked was their suggestion for a hike, something that would get me away from the masses.
A ranger handed me a map to the Dewey Lake Trail System and pointed me out the side door onto 2nd Avenue.
Not three blocks away was a footpath along Pullen Creek paralleling the railroad track, and a trail system signpost was 400 feet up the path. The signpost is on the opposite side of the track, and the map offered the delightful admonition to “be cautious of trains when crossing the tracks.”
The trail system offers a spider web of choices, and I chose a simple loop around Lower Dewey Lake.
“Don’t be discouraged by the first half-mile,” the ranger had told me. “It’s a steep climb – 500 feet, but with lots of switchbacks – and the lakeside trail is mainly flat.”
The ascent was up a ridge dense with alder, cottonwood, hemlock and Sitka spruce. About halfway up was a great view of Skagway’s harbor filled with cruise ships.
The lake is long and narrow, and the walk along the west side is a breeze. At the south end are an earthen levy and spillway and a great view of the lake and Twin Dewey Peaks (5,410 feet).
Completing the loop on the east side of the lake is a more challenging. It’s rougher and narrower and requires scrambling over rocks and studying your next foot placement.
The whole outing takes about two hours and covers about five miles.
More importantly, the climb to the lake weeds out about 99.9 percent of the visitors to town. I encountered less than three dozen people on my walk, and a third of them were hale and hearty dancers from one of the cruise ships.
Mind you, I actually did enjoy the town of Skagway – especially the Sitka fir beer at the Skagway Brewing Company that was a fitting reward for my almost solitary trek about Lower Dewey Lake.