July 28, 2010

Alaska Cruise: Skagway

For our day in Skagway we picked another hiking excursion. The description was to hike to Laughton Glacier and if time permitted hike on the glacier itself. We started on the White Pass Railroad which many people take as their excursion. There was about twenty people in our group. We met up with our three hiking guides from Packer Expeditions and then boarded the train. On the train trip we signed waivers and filled out emergency contact forms in case they were needed. The tour company provided us with lumbar packs for the hike which included two bottles of water, candy bars and assorted nuts. We were also provided with food to create our own sandwiches to be eaten on the hike. We took the snacks and water and used our own packs. On the train ride the guides provided us with great information about the scenery and there were amazing views and photo opportunities. We were dropped off near the trailhead while the rest of the people on the train continued on with their train tour. At the trailhead we were given a safety chat and were offered hiking poles and crampons. The guides each had a large pack that included safety equipment but also extra jackets, rain gear, gloves, etc. They also happily carried the groups extra clothing layers once they were shed.
We headed out on the well maintained narrow dirt trail. We started at a fairly quick steady pace with several stops along the way for information about the flora, the glacier and Alaska. After about one or two miles we took a very short detour to the only outhouse on the trail. After the quick stop we made our way back on the dirt trail that soon became very rocky. Much of the rocks were loose and unsteady and we were glad to have the hiking poles. Most of the rest of the trail was over loose rocks along the creek. Because of the unexpected great weather we got some early views of the glacier and mountain. It turned out to be a sunny clear day with minimal wind. We eventually reached a point on the trail where we could have either crossed the creek on a rock bridge that was recently created by one of our guides or take a long route around the creek. Since the long route would cut into our time to hike on the glacier we crossed the rock bridge instead. Some of the gaps between the rocks were large so one of the guides positioned himself on the bridge to help us along. Once on the other side of the creek, path of unsteady rocks continued and there were sections where we had to scramble up some fairly large stones. The air became increasingly cooler from this point on, as we got closer and closer to the glacier. Clothes layers that were shed earlier on the hike were now being put back on. Finer and finer rocks made up most of the rest of the trail and as we frequently slipped on the rocks we could easily see that there was ice just under the rocks, we were actually already on the glacier. We continued on a little while longer before stopping to break for lunch.  We ate our sandwiches and snacks and the guides also had Tang to add to our water bottle if we wanted as well as hot water for coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
After our nice lunch break we were given three options: 1. head back, 2. rest a little longer and then head back or 3. head up a bit further on the glacier then hike back. The larger group broke up into the three groups. We decided to continue on the glacier but put our crampons on before doing so. We hiked about another mile and were rewarded with much better views of the glacier. After admiring the great scenery we headed back. We retraced our steps over the glacier and over the rocky trail. The water level had swelled over the creek flooding a few parts of the rock bridge. Our guide rearranged a few of the rocks and we made our way across. We soon joined up with one of the other groups. We made a quick stop for some snapshots by the creek before continuing on. We made our way along loose rocky trail back to the detour near the outhouse again and met up with the third group. Another quick break before finding the dirt trail. We moved quickly from this point on to make sure we made one of the last trains taking us back to the harbor. We stopped only briefly for a few more picures of the creek and more stories by the guides. We made it back to the start with a few minutes to spare. We celebrated with nice cold Alaskan beer that the guides had brought in a cooler. They also had apple juice and water for those underage. The train came through and picked us up and we made our way back. It was a great hike and experience overall. It ended up being about an 8 mile hike for us and with the train rides and breaks it took us the majority of the day. The weather was great, we could not have asked for a better day.

Packer Expeditions