Majestic. God-inspired awesome. Breath-taking.
Neither pictures nor words can fully describe the unfathomable beauty of what our family beheld in Skagway, Alaska during the 17th day of our epic journey from Miami to Alaska.
A Helicopter Ride for the Ages
The seeds for a great day took root last night when we learned at the last moment that a slot had miraculously opened up for us to board a helicopter in Skagway for an extraordinary excursion that involved flying to and landing on a remote gorgeous glacier.
I’m no helicopter novice. In my lifetime I’ve done some flying over the Grand Canyon (three times), Mount St. Helens and Maui but nothing compares to our Skagway helicopter ride/excursion aboard Temsco Helicopters, Inc.
What made this helicopter ride extraordinary was not only that we flew through wonderful vistas of stunning, powder white mountains, trees, lakes and rugged rocks but the fact that our pilot flew so close to everything that we could see them in great detail I’ve never experienced before.
Twenty minutes later the cool factor of our excursion rose to even higher levels as our helicopter landed on top of on actual glacier, the Meade Glacier.
We were almost fully prepared for this part of our excursion with outfits that included jeans, sweaters and even ice boots. The only problem was that we were missing one thing and it’s a sacred article of clothing: gloves.
My normally hyper prepared wife paid for this omission dearly. The moment she got off the helicopter she slipped on the glacier and sliced part of her right hand open on the ice. Our poor guides rushed to pull out the First Aid Kit and tend to my wife’s bloody hand as the kids and I simply looked on and laughed at our tendency to get constant medical attention by land, sea and now glacier ice!
As soon as my wife got patched up, we started walking gingerly on the glacier, a sensation that felt exactly like walking on chunks of shifting ice cubes and not like walking on snow. A persistent cold breeze from the valley carved by the glacier combined with our lack of gloves to make us feel extra cold but what we were seeing was so beautiful it even enthralled our toddler to resist the freezing conditions.
Crystal Clear Water
One of the nicest part about being on top of a glacier is also that they are packed with springs of flowing, crystal clear water. Angela’s injury reminded us that walking on top of a glacier requires care not just because you can slip and cut yourself on a glacier but because some of the places you might accidentally step on could open a sudden hole, hundreds of dangerous feet deep.
One of the most enjoyable things we did during our allotted 40 minutes atop the glacier was to put our frozen hands in one of the glacier’s frigid springs in order to sip some of the crystal clear water. The water tasted as crisp and clean as it looks.
Of course no visit to a giant glacier ice field would be complete without some good old fashioned Plankiando so my son Jonathan and I got straight as a log, dropped to the ice and pulled a plank right in the middle of arctic Alaska. Our female guide had absolutely no idea what she was seeing which made this plank stunt especially mischievous for us.
The White Pass Railroad & Yukon Route
Our day began with a train ride aboard the White Pass Railroad & Yukon Route.
Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
When it was being built the WP&YR railway was considered an impossible task to construct but it was literally blasted through coastal mountains in only 26 months.
If you’re an aficionado of historic trains or you simply want to get a quick preview of the vistas surrounding Skagway this is a nice quick ride for the family. (If you’ve got a hyperactive toddler you may want to make baby sitting arrangements or skip the ride).
The two-hour train ride is Alaska’s most popular shore excursion carrying over 360,000 passengers during the May to September tourism season operating on the first 67.5 miles of the original 110-mile line.
The WP&YR climbs almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles and features cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees, two tunnels and numerous bridges and trestles.
Skagway is a tiny so-called boom-bust town that is so small you can see the end of its streets from the bow of the Disney Wonder. The port town folded almost as quickly as it rose in early 1890s, during a brief gold rush in Alaska. Between our helicopter ride and our train ride we had virtually no time to visit Skagway but the town is packed with terrific jewelry stores (a common thing in Alaska), a gold rush museum recounting the town’s rough history and even has two Indian restaurants. We only had time to dine at one of them and take a couple photos before reboarding our ship.