A Bitterly Cold Drive to Skagway, Alaska

December 17th was the perfect day for a drive from my home near Whitehorse, Yukon, to Skagway, Alaska - very cold with high north winds at Skagway but clear all the way.

This is a shot of the temperature gauge in my car as I was about to turn onto the Alaska Highway at 9:24am. It only goes to -30°C (-22°F) - when that's what it reads the temperature could be anything lower than that. It was actually about -34° at Mary Lake but probably got a few degrees colder a few miles south.


This is one of my favourite views along the South Klondike Highway, though I'm not sure exactly why. Perhaps it's just the first reminder of what an incredibly beautiful drive this is.


Emerald Lake at 9:49. Whenever we go south (not just "South to Alaska" but waaaay south) it's a shock to have light and dark happen suddenly at sunrise and sunset - here dawn and dusk, sunrises and sunsets go on and on and on....


From the Emerald Lake viewpoint I could see fog hanging over Lake Bennett - a sign that despite the cold there is still a lot of open water.


Dawn colours are often like this - no filters or other camera tricks were used to get those colours.


The classic view of Carcross, still at -30° or lower. I stopped for a minute at Carcross to phone Cathy, to tell her that we have to make this drive over the holidays, so that we always keep these views clearly in our minds when we're tempted by warm places. :)


Windy Arm was all frozen solid, but the temperature started to rise slowly as I drove along it, and when I went over the low pass that separates Windy Arm from Tutshi Lake, the open-water-fog beside the highway was heavy.


The fog creates some wonderful scenes as it freezes on the trees.


There was a slight breeze from the north at my usual stop on Tutshi Lake, just enough to keep the fog off the beach.


At 10:48 the sun started to show above the peaks...


... and was lighting up the mountain ahead at Log Cabin. The official sunrise, 4 days from the shortest day of the year, was at 10:07 - the sun will set at 3:47. It will be a strange concept to many of you that the sun provides light here but virtually no warmth - the temperature on a day like this will typically only rise 3-4 degrees.


The peaks of the Sawtooth Range above Goat Lake. Just south of Fraser the wind had started to pick up. The further south I went the stronger it was, and the more snow and ice there was in the air.


The view to the west from the ferry terminal. It had warmed up to -14°C (+7°F) but the wind chill was bitterly cold, well below zero even in Fahrenheit.


I drove the length of the Railroad Dock to see the ship signatures, and noticed that the Regent Seven Seas Mariner had been added last year. She's one of the most luxurious of the cruise ships that visit Skagway in the summer.


The wall provides quite a history lesson on Skagway shipping. This sign from the Regent Sun is hidden by vegetation in the summer. She visited Skagway until 1994 - the following winter, her owner, Regency Cruises, went bankrupt. The ship never sailed commercially again, and sunk off South Africa in July 2001 while en route to India to be scrapped.


After freezing over at the Railroad Dock for a while I went to Glacier Smoothies for a warm-up sandwich and coffee lunch, then over to the mouth of the Skagway River, where there were lots of seals feeding...


...and a few ducks. While sitting here I heard on the radio (KHNS) that the ferry docked a few miles away at Haines wouldn't be sailing due to gale-force winds.


I don't recall seeing this restaurant before, but it's now on the list for next year.


The Skagway News Depot decorated for Christmas.


This photo was shot from the viewpoint on the Dyea Road at noon (Alaska Time - 1:00pm Yukon Time). There are perhaps 20 homes in Skagway that have the potential to get sunshine even on the shortest day. People living downtown have the sun hidden behind the mountains for a few weeks each winter.


Some of the more impressive peaks, seen from Mile 3 as I headed up the hill. In the summer there's too much traffic to stop and get this shot, but on the 2-hour drive south I had only met 3 other vehicles, so felt that I was quite safe stopping to get it. :)


Looking back towards Skagway from half-way to the summit. The halo around the sun is caused by the ice and snow in the air.


The outhouses just north of the summit aren't gettting much use lately - nobody seems to want to "stop for a cold one"!


The view to the north from the outhouses.


Summit Lake.


Approaching the Canada Customs station at Fraser, British Columbia. As usual, it was a quick and simple crossing.


The caretaker at the Venus Mine property has decorated a Christmas tree beside the highway. If I had known that I would have left a present for her beside it :)


Frozen Windy Arm, shot at 2:23pm. I've read in newspapers from 100+ years ago that people used to skate from Carcross to the silver-mining boom town of Conrad but I think this was the first time I've ever seen Windy Arm in a skateable condition. It's usually either covered in snow or has been broken up too much by wind.


By 3:30, a few minutes before sunset, I was home. Toss a couple of logs on the fire, pour myself a glass of shiraz and settle down on the couch with my dogs - aaahhhhh..... Yes, life is good :)

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  • Wow, loved this! And it makes the cold we're having this week in Wisconsin seem like nothing...

    Thanks for sharing these great pics and captions!

  • Thanks for the tour - enjoyed it~!
  • owao Nice Picture

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