An Icy Drive to Skagway, Alaska

I needed to go to Skagway to deal with a couple of things, and yesterday provided a tiny break between a couple of storm systems that have been and will be dumping a fair bit of snow there and in the White Pass.

I was away from the house at 10:00, 5 minutes before sunrise – this is the street we live on. With the shortest day of the year just 5 days away, sunrise was at 10:05 and sunset at 15:47. The next 5 days only reduce that by a couple of minutes.

Sage Place in Whitehorse, Yukon
It was -18°C (0°F) when I left home, and all the lakes along the South Klondike Highway were frozen until I reached Tutshi Lake. There, the temperature had climbed to -3C (27F) and the lake was still open. This is the spot where I usually run the dogs, but I’d left the whole pack at home this time.

Tutshi Lake in December
After visits to the post office and bank, I had lunch at The Station, one of my regular stops. It was great to see that their new premises are now seriously under construction – for some reason it got stalled for many months after the foundation was poured. When I walked into the restaurant, one of the most incredible uses of a cell phone I’ve ever seen was going on. A guy was being interviewed for a long time (for a job maybe, but sounded more like a magazine/newspaper article) – loudly and on speakerphone for the benefit of his buddies at an adjacent table. Just smh. But the food and service were excellent as always 🙂

The Station restaurant and bar
A major building is finally going up on a prime piece of real estate that was vacated several years ago when part of the Westmark Hotel burned. It’s located across the street from the White Pass & Yukon Route railway depot. It was interesting to see that a large turret is being built on the ground and will eventually be hoisted to the top floor by a crane.

New building across from the WP&YR railroad depot in Skagway
One of my common places to go in Skagway during the winter, the Railroad Dock, is now blocked. There’s a nice short hike up at the far end of it, with lots of ruins from the coal station that used to be there.

Railroad Dock in Skagway
Last Sunday and Monday, Skagway got a heavy dump of snow, but rain has washed away most of it over the past few days. What isn’t obvious in photos is the ice – it’s hard to walk in many places, and I couldn’t get my car parked close to the sidewalk at the post office because it kept sliding sideways on the sloped ice. It was 0°C (32F) when I was there, so nothing more was melting.

Snow at the WP&YR railroad depot in Skagway
I’ve been seeing some incredible prices being asked (and sometimes paid) for old trailers at Makes me wonder what some of the vintage trailers around Skagway might be worth – rather than “vintage”, we usually use the term “junk” for them 🙂

Vintage trailer in Skagway
Speaking of trailers, here’s what the Garden City RV Park looks like in the winter. These trailers are used by seasonal employees – some are owned by individuals, but many are owned by companies and used as staff housing.

Seasonal staff housing trailers in Skagway
Across the road from the RV park is another group of seasonal staff housing units, these ones owned by the Jeep rental company.

Seasonal staff housing cabins and trailers in Skagway
By 1:30, I was on my way home again. The highway was all quite icy, and the only traffic I’d seen south of Carcross was 4 semis and a couple of pickups.

Semi on the South Klondike Highway in the winter
This fairly large waterfall at Mile 10 is a very popular stop during the summer. Most tour buses stop here and let their people out for a few minutes, often encouraging them to drink the pure, icy water. In the winter, it’s pretty quiet 🙂

Frozen waterfall on the South Klondike Highway
Ruby and I love roads like this, even when the view is minimized by clouds. Any road trip is a good road trip.

Cadillac CTS on the snowy South Klondike Highway
I was amazed to seen an airplane on skis low over the highway just north of Fraser (the plane is marked by the arrow in the photo). He was southbound but certainly had no way of getting through the clouds to Skagway. I heard on the radio that an important meeting had been cancelled because no flights could get in with the people speaking at it. Being on skis, there are a couple of lakes he could land on, though, and even the highway could be a runway in an emergency.

Airplane low over the South Klondike Highway
I hadn’t mentioned Windy Arm on the way south. It was frozen, but was smooth and snow-free. This sort of freeze used to happen often historically, as I’ve read several newspaper reports from 1905-10 about people skating from Carcross to the long-gone mining town of Conrad, but I’d never seen this happen until about 5 years ago, and this is the third time it’s happened since.

Smooth ice on Windy Arm, Yukon
This year must be busting records for how little snow we have, as well as for the relatively warm temperatures. Snowmobilers aren’t happy, but you’ll hear no complaints from me.

Very little snow along the South Klondike Highway in December 2015
This little half-frozen waterfall just south of the Venus mine got me to stop for a few minutes.

Half-frozen waterfall on the South Klondike Highway
The waterfall above really needs a short video to show you how beautiful it was, both visually and in sound.

Some of the patterns formed in the ice on Windy Arm were wonderful. The area shown in this photo is about 150-200 feet across.

Ice patterns on Windy Arm, Yukon
The ice pattern seen above, in context so you get a better idea of the scale.

Frozen Windy Arm, Yukon
North of Pooley Creek, snow started to accumulate on the ice and it was soon not skateable. I thought about climbing down to see if it was thick enough, but didn’t want to be away from home too long and push my luck with our new puppy, who I had left free in the house, though a gate and door blocked off some areas.

Frozen Windy Arm, Yukon
Although I didn’t go down to the ice, and don’t have skates to try it out anyway, here’s a video showing people skating on Windy Arm in similar conditions on December 21st, 2011.

I got home just after 3:30, pleased with the day, and even more pleased that Tucker proved once again that he is the most amazing puppy and I had no messes or damage to deal with 🙂


An Icy Drive to Skagway, Alaska — 5 Comments

  1. As always, majestic when seen through your camera lens. Miss the land, beautiful scenery but most of all the people. Don’t miss the winter weather, however.

    • Thanks, Gwenyth. I have a love/hate relationship with Father Winter. Although I often hate him, I’d sure miss him if he didn’t visit for a while every year. Maybe just not for so long 🙂

  2. Fabulous…so much nicer than +30c>. I do imagine (with difficulty I stress ) it might get a little trying at times but seriously, I smile continually looking at these pics.

    Compliments of the season Murray to all members of your family and I hope 2016 brings good health and contentment. Looking forward, very much, too following your travels and posts next year.

    Cheers, John

  3. Two new posts to brighten a dreary few wet days here at the edge of the Atlantic.

    No winter here, yet.

    Enjoyed your wintry travels and your great pics as always.

    Happy holidays to you, Kathy and the furry kids.