Rail Trip to the Summit of White Pass

August 2, 2011

We boarded the train in Skagway for the 10.5 mile run to the summit of White Pass along the old goldrush trail. The view above is near the summit of the Pass. The train ahead of us is shown at the high trestle bridge on the mountain.

The map from the tourist brochure shows the route of the train up to the White Pass summit. The road follows the opposite side of the valley.


This was the headline of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on July 17, 1897 telling about the discovery of gold in the Canadian Klondike. The story of 68 rich men arriving in Seattle with "Stacks of Yellow Metal" sparked the Klondike gold rush of 1898.

The options for getting to the gold field were the steeper and shorter Chilkoot Trail or the longer but less steep White Pass. The Klondike gold field was some 600 miles from the sea, and these were the only two practical paths from the sea to the interior lake country.

The White Pass and Yukon Railway began building this narrow-gauge railway on May 28, 1898. The workers finished this 20.5 mile segment to the White Pass summit on February 20, 1899. The building continued from north and south and on July 29, 1900 the two construction groups met at Carcross, Yukon Territory. 35,000 men worked on the construction of the railroad.

We were seated in large comfortable old-style passenger cars and eased out of town. It didn't take long to clear the town, and then we were looking at green mountains.

The trip out of town was partly museum as we passed this old snow-plow-equipped steam locomotive from on the order of a hundred years ago.The black-clad conductor and the hand-operated track switch reinforced the sense of history.

Old steam Engine No. 52 was on display. It was the first locomotive to arrive in Alaska. Built in 1881, it arrived in Skagway in 1898. It was retired from service in 1936.

At right above is a collection of track inspection and repair equipment. At the front of the column is a Casey Car used for track inspection daily. Behind it is their ballast regulator for distributing the ballast and brushing the track afterward. Behind it is a Tamper that picks up the rail as metal teeth vibrate into the ground to pack the right-of-way gravel (ballast). It also uses a laser level to align the tracks.

The steam locomotive Engine No. 73 is described as the "pride of the fleet" and is still in service for special steam excursions. It is a fully-restored 1947 Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado class steam locomotive.

The train runs next to a high rock wall at Clifton, 8.5 miles from Skagway.


Skagway to Glacier Bay


Inside Passage
  Nave Album Go Back