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Skagway, Alaska, United States

Laughton Glacier

Set foot on a glacier on an excursion from Skagway, Alaska

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Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 22 miles / 35 km
Duration: Full day
Family Friendly
 
Overview: This is an opportunity for day-tripping outdoors enthusiasts to set foot on a glacier, in the context of Alaska cruise ship excursions. No doubt more intensive experiences are available without the 6-9-hour time frame of cruise ship port stops; this is the only available excursion on Carnival Cruises that allows actual feet on ice without paying for a helicopter or dog-sled ride, and includes a White Pass Railway ride and an expertly guided hike through Alaskan wilderness rated as moderately strenuous, requiring a degree of physical fitness. I assume the more independent traveler could do this without a guide, with good advance planning. On the guided tour, you will be well fed and secure. The route enters Canada, so passports are required.

Tips: Comfortable hiking boots or shoes, windbreaker, camera and maybe binoculars should be all you need. Temperatures average 50-70 degrees, but it can be windy. The tour guide brings snacks, water in bottles, fanny packs, crampons, rain gear, hiking poles,even a camp stove for hot beverages at the glacier. Watch for mountain goats, moose, bear, Amanita mushrooms and various edible wild berries in season (but ask the guide before eating!).

Points of Interest

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Skagway

Historic entry point to the Klondike for Gold Rush prospectors, who had to qualify by importing a minimum grubstake and getting it over White Pass, usually by horse or mule team. Historic background is discussed on the rail trip up to Warm Creek by your well-informed guide. Skagway boasts tourist attractions including a museum, restaurant, shopping venues, 49ers bordello -- but if you are cruising you must choose; this tour takes 8.5 hours, returning just in time to board the ship. Skagway is the railhead for the White Pass Railway.
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White Pass Railway

Perhaps Skagway's most popular tourist attraction, a 2-4 hour round trip if you go to the pass, with nonstop panoramic views of snowy cloud-wreathed mountains, rushing creeks, boreal forest, trestle bridges, and the occasional waterfall. You ride less that an hour if you get off after 14.5 miles to hike to a glacier. On board your guide orients you to local history and colorful characters, gives tips and precautions on the hike, and distributes fanny packs and water bottles, with snacks for the hungry. Google Earth has dozens of photos of this route.
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Warm Creek bivouac

Departing the train and commencing the hike; the guides maintain a supply depot with rain shelter, hiking gear including crampons for ice hiking, rain ponchos, etc. A well-maintained trail goes gradually uphill through the forest along Warm Creek, with at least one creek access point. Our guide, Skagway Whitey, frequently oriented us to the surroundings and to safety considerations, identifying local flora, edible and medicinal herbs, and points of historical interest, while carrying a 70-pound pack containing lunch and safety gear. There are lots of tasty berries in late summer to fall, and you may see critters; we saw mountain goats away up on the slope.
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Uphill to the glacier

Where the trail to the glacier departs Warm Creek, the tour stops to rest in a clearing with outhouse, and most have a snack. The rest of the hike is less shady, passing treeline, hugging the creek branch fed by Laughton Glacier. Toward the end there are more rugged moraine ascents/descents, finally with icy footing and graced by the constant tinkling of melt-water falls.
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Laughton Glacier

Laughton is a relatively small glacier but its ice is as blue as any, and the locale is big and wild. We stood on its flank and saw clear ice between our boots. The meltwater carves blue arroyos, or moulons, which might be explored. The little stove provides hot beverages, and most folks have lunch. We took pictures, walked around, and got better acquainted with fellow travelers before starting back down. Back at the railway, normally a short wait finds you back on the train to Skagway. En route you may enjoy a dinner of smoked salmon pate, crackers, sandwiches and crudites (provided on our tour) -- delicious, especially after a long hike!
Pictures in this guide taken by: Mike_Cravey

Laughton Glacier Trail Map


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About the Author

Mike_Cravey
Mike_Cravey
1 guide
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gardener, grandfather, sailor, family physician

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