We’re back in Perth after a few days away in the south west region of WA, our first break since we got back from overseas last May. It was such a lovely feeling to travel again, even over a relatively short distance. So I’ll intersperse our WA travels over the next few weeks in between the historical write up of our North American trip in August 2018.
We intended to book tickets for the famous White Pass train following the Gold Rush route of the early prospectors. However, after talking to the local guide Chris, whom we met in Juneau (see below), we opted to try the Skagway White Pass and Dog Mushing Tour.
We weren’t too sure if this was the right decision as it meant trusting that a tour bus would be waiting to pick us up at the quay when we docked in Skagway the next morning. However a nice luxury bus was duly waiting for us and we successfully checked in for the tour. The bus route follows the White Pass north out of Skagway but it’s a longer ride than the train taking you further into the wild countryside beyond the pass across the Canadian border into British Columbia.
Apart from the highlight of visiting husky dogs at their summer training centre, Chris told us we would be more likely to see native wildlife from the bus than the train, which frequently sounds its horn and scares the animals away. Only about 15 or so minutes out of town we were rewarded with a close bear encounter from the safety of our bus window.
Amazingly an unsuspecting father had just got his young toddler out of their car and was walking towards the bear until the yelling of our bus driver finally alerted him to the potential danger!
The black bear seemed quite unperturbed and sauntered leisurely on up the hillside.
The landscape became progressively wilder and bleaker as we headed north east towards the US/Canadian border. The actual border point is situated on a major earthquake fault line so for safety reasons both the US and Canadian border patrol points are set up a few kilometres away on either side of the border. The border itself is in no man’s land.
We skirted the southern edges of the Chilkoot Trail Historic Site and Lake Bennett where the Gold Rush prospectors, assuming they had survived the arduous trail up the White Pass, would organise boats and supplies to float upstream to Dawson City, the central point for the Yukon goldfields.
Instead our bus took the highway leading east to Tagish Lake. This lake, 100 kms long and 2 kms wide, straddles the border of British Columbia and the Yukon. It felt very remote and somewhat desolate even in the height of summer and the wind was howling when we got out of the bus to take photos.
We reached the main object of our journey, the Tagish Lake Kennel, in time for lunch.
This remote husky dog training camp, run by an incredible lady called Michelle, was found serendipitously one day whilst out driving by our tour guide. Subsequently the company came to an arrangement with her to run tour parties out here. We bought sandwiches and other snacks from their cafe, purchased souvenirs and were able to mingle with the puppies and find out about their amazing lifestyle.
Before I went to this part of the world I had no idea what dog mushing was nor had I heard of the (very famous) Iditarod Dog Sled Race (see here and here for more information). Basically mushing is a sport involving dogs pulling carts or sleds mainly on snow sometimes on dry land in summer months. There is far more to it than this simple explanation of course – more on dog mushing here.
The Iditarod is held annually in early March and goes from Anchorage to Nome on the western coast of the main part of Alaska. Michelle has competed in it several times and it involves incredible endurance and stamina plus superb animal handling skills on the part of the musher.
The dogs are treated like royalty with the best food and treatments available. The mushers sit on a tiny sled and must take care of the animals before themselves. The huskies have a complete affinity for the freezing wild terrain and insatiable energy. We’d never seen anything like it!
We were allowed into the training yard with strict rules attached. Initially the dogs seemed relatively quiet but when they got wind that there was a sled ride coming up they couldn’t contain their excitement. Don’t be fooled by the pictures – they were only docile for a short time even the puppies!
We were divided into groups and about 8 of us at a time got into a jeep harnessed to a large group of dogs who took us on a dry sledding ride. It was incredibly bumpy and the dogs bounded round the track at high speed.
At one point the leader decided to take a break and they all raced over to the small lake and guzzled away enjoying the fresh water.
Back at the camp site we had an interesting talk from one of the dog handlers and learnt more about what it takes to undergo an endurance race such as the Iditarod (there is a Canadian National race too).
I was glad not to be the audience participant for trying on the equipment as it was quite warm by this point and the layers of clothing required for an Alaskan winter are extensive.
Afterwards we were free to wander through the kennels and pat some of the dogs. It was amazing to see them resting reasonably quietly after the excitement of the dog sledding excursion!
There were also retired dogs in the kennels including at least one who had become a beloved family pet. They can apparently live till 15 years or so.
After making a few purchases in the shop it was time to head to the bus for the return trip into Skagway. We did head up the road for a few miles first though to pose for photos at the Yukon border sign.
Once we can, hopefully, all travel again I’d highly recommend this particular tour out of Skagway – it was a priceless experience and fascinating to hear about the way of life in this remote corner of the earth.
Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved