Getting in Shape in Skagway

Skagway today is still a gold rush town, only these days the local sourdoughs are mining the tidal flood of tourists that wash in from the Lynn Canal. If it’s a “four-ship day” as it was when I arrived, you can be sure that the boardwalks on Broadway will be shoulder to shoulder with people filling their bags with t-shirts, gold nuggets, coffee mugs and magnets.

When the cruise ship blows the all-aboard signal at 5pm, summoning their passengers to the all-you-can-eat buffets, the streets become a ghost town. Slowly the town’s more permanent residents venture out to the local watering holes or head out to enjoy the 6 hours of lingering daylight on the many trails that surround the town.

Yesterday, since the sun was shining for the first time in weeks, I ventured up one of these local trails to see what I could see. I figured it would be a good chance to test out some of my gear in the feild and start getting my body used to carrying a pack up steep terrain, so I packed up my camera, art supplies, a few snacks from the local bakery and a full sack of water and headed to the trailhead. The trail started out pleasant enough, with a gradual incline winding through mossy woods spotted with wildflowers and the occasional creek. I soon came to a viewpoint overlooking Skagway where I could see the bustling cruise ships unloading their passengers for the day. I was glad to be out of the hustle.

Soon after, the trail began to steepen and my pack began to feel inexplicitly heavier. It wasn’t long before the trail turned into an intermittent creek and I was ducking through thick brush and pulling myself up by roots and rocks in some places. For a good while this is what I was going up (and down): no kidding.

I wasn’t too phased – from what I have been told, this is what most trails in Alaska are like. Why cut a bunch of switchbacks when you can just go striaght up the hill? I was regretting bringing all my gear though, and as drinking as much water as I could to lighten my load. Eventually, I got above the bush line and the trail opened up onto a long ridge. It was still steep and in places quite snowy, but at least the views were distracting. I continued on for another hour over what seemed to be an endless number of false summits. Over my shoulder, I could see some darkening clouds down the Lynn Canal. I figured I only had about an hour before they were over me, so I decided to leave the summit for some more hard-core hikers and stop where I was to take some photos. It was a good decision:

The troublesome thing about landscape photography is that the most interesting photos happen when the conditions are getting sketchy. Photographers are alway right on the edge of storm and I am no exception. After lasting as long as I dared, I headed down, stopping a few more times to capture a bit more of the moment. Here’s a short video of what it was like on the top with the clouds creeping over the ridge. I was a bit too rushed to pull out the tripod and mic for this so my apologies for the wind noise and slight camera shake – but you get the idea.


The rain started as I got to back to the bushline and after that it was just a matter of scrambling down the waterfall aka trail back to town. So in addition to testing my camera gear I got to test my new rain shell and quick-dry pants, both of which I can say are working brilliantly! After going up and down 3500ft with a fairly loaded pack, I was about ready to collapse when I got back to town. But I made it, and everyone tells me that the Chilkoot Trail is 10 times easier (imagine that!). I have a new appreciation for the stampeders shuttling their one-ton of gear over Chilkoot Pass, 50lbs at a time. I have to admit, I’m very happy that I will only have to do it once!

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