The Lynn Canal heads north from Juneau for 86 miles to the small towns of Haines and Skagway. Both towns are places we have wanted to visit and with no cruise ships this year it seems the perfect opportunity. This can be a very treacherous body of water. With its north- south orientation, winds funnel through the steep sided mountain ranges which flank both sides of the canal. Because of this, very few pleasure craft make the long journey up this waterway. Reports for the last two days were ugly with 6-8 ft. seas and 30 knot winds. After biding our time in Swanson harbor for two days, we ease Idyll Time into Icy Strait to check today’s conditions. There are still 3 ft. seas but forecast seem to indicate things will lay down this afternoon. Tomorrow would be an even better day but our plans are to be in Haines for July 4th. With the weather trending towards improving we decide to push on. A lone whale breaches just in front of our boat. A great way to start the day.
A few miles after entering the canal, we pass the notorious Vanderbilt Reef. Here the Pacific steamer , Princess Sophia, met her demise on a stormy night in October 1918. All 364 people aboard lost their life after the ship ran aground at full speed. It is the worst maritime accident in the history of Alaska.
Just as forecast, the seas calm down to glassy smooth for our passage. The Lynn Canal is the deepest fiord in North America. The high jagged mountain peaks are stunning with several glaciers peaking out from the steep granite walls. Many frothing white waterfalls cascade down the vertiginous cliffs. This is some of the most stunning and spectacular scenery that we have seen while cruising in Alaska. It continues to amaze us the father north we go. Words don’t do it justice.
After entering the Chilkoot Inlet, the water turns milky green where the Katzehin River empties several glacier run offs into the northern Lynn Canal. The change in water color is quite dramatic. The water temperature drops from 60 to 48 degrees.
After 80 miles of travel, the small town of Haines appears at the base of several jagged granite peaks.
Hanes is home to about 2000 people. Unlike most towns in SE Alaska reached only by water, Haines can also be reached by a road system through Canada. We rent a car and drive to the border. We would like to continue into the Yukon but with the borders closed, that will have to be saved for another year.
Our travel takes us along the Chilkoot River which is home to the 48,000 acre Chilkoot Bald Eagle Preserve. Each fall and winter more than 3500 Eagles congregate here to feed on Salmon.
Back in town, we enjoy the small 4 th of July Parade. Due to the corona virus, the town holds a “reverse” parade. The parade vehicles are stationary and the town turns out in mass to drive their own cars in a serpentine route passing by each parade vehicle. A marching band at the entrance and a native dance group provide additional entertainment.
Haines is also home to the historic Fort William H Seward. This was Alaska’s first permanently established Army outpost built in 1902 due to border disputes with Canada. It was decommissioned in 1947 and now houses a few shops, restaurants, and rental homes.
15 miles north of Haines up the Taiya Inlet is the town of Skagway. In most years, three to four cruise ships arrive here daily with thousands of passengers flooding this small Alaskan town. With no cruise ships coming this year due to the Corona Virus, it is the perfect time for us to visit. It is astonishing to see the streets completely empty. Skagway has become a ghost town due to the corona virus. During a typical year there would be 20,000 tourist each day disgorging from the cruise ships. Skagway relies one hundred percent on tourism. The 800 permanent residents now receive town assistance to keep the lights on and food on the table. Most shops are shuttered. The hardware store, liquor store, grocery store, and two restaurants are the only businesses open. The town has done a great job in controlling the virus. Unlike the rest of the U.S., no cases have been recorded and everyone wears a mask.
Skagway is called “Gateway to the Yukon Gold Rush of 98”. Being the northern most port of the Inside Passage, miners flocked to and traveled through Skagway in the 1890’s during the Klondike Gold Rush. We rent a car for the day and drive the 15 miles to the ghost town of Dyea. Now just empty flats along the Taiya River, the small Tlingit village once rivaled Skagway as a supply depot for the miners flooding north.
Here we hike part of the infamous Chilkoot Trail.
This 33 mile long footpath took miners over the Chilkoot Pass and into the Yukon. Until the WhitePass Railway was built, this was the only way to travel into the gold fields. The Canadian Mounties required each miner to carry at least a years supply of provisions which amounted to over 1000 pounds. Many miners and pack animals perished during this long journey. Hikers continue to make this arduous trek today. We enjoy a short 6 mile hike along the trail keeping a sharp eye out for bears. Thankfully none are spotted.
We have now traveled as far north as possible on the Inside Passage. We are 980 miles north of Seattle. It’s time to point Idyll Time’s bow south in our continued search of whales, bears, halibut, and Salmon. Thanks for following along.