Choo-choo-choosing to camp in an old red caboose in the middle of the largest national forest in the United States was certainly very wet, but an experience I won’t forget.
During a visit to Skagway over the May long weekend, I had taken the White Pass and Yukon Route train to the White Pass summit. On the way, I learned about a little red caboose cabin sitting at the base of the Denver Glacier trail, in Tongass National Forest, just north of Skagway.
Of course, hearing this meant that I had to organize a trip in the summer to experience this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The week before I planned to go, I got together with some newly-made friends from the Atlin music festival and from hiking outings, to talk about renting the cabin for the weekend. Six of us decided to go, and met at a Thai restaurant in Whitehorse before setting out.
The drive to Skagway was similar to the one in May: fog, cloud and rain. I’m certain Skagway never gets sun.
We headed to the Thai restaurant in Skagway, called Starfire. The food was good; however, converting from Canadian to U.S. dollars meant for a very, very expensive meal.
During dinner, we discussed where to camp for the night, and settled for a brush dump site we had read about online. We drove to the site just outside the Town of Skagway, pitched our tents, and attempted to make a fire with wet wood (let’s say there was no fire).
However, we had a few drinks and stood around a non-existent fire and chatted until well past midnight.
We awoke with everything wet, as the rain hadn’t stopped all night, but since our tents weren’t needed for the second night, we headed to the station to board our train for the 9-km journey to our own hikers’ cabin.
The caboose is red and pretty old. We learned that it had been set up as an accommodation in 1994, with a few refurbishments. It had room to sleep six, and cost US$55 (C$75). The train ride was US$34 (C$43) return.
We settled our things and decided to head to the glacier. The walk was through a thick rainforest and I have never seen anything so green. The tall trees and large leaves protected us from the drizzling rain while we hiked an almost flat trail.
We arrived at the second viewpoint and what we believe may be the main trail end. This is where you would see the glacier. We did not see the glacier. The fog and clouds prevented any view, with only the base of some snow and water visible.
However, we decided to continue on, as the path indicated so.
This part of the trail turned into slippery, boulder-like sections. followed by bushwhacking through devil’s club; if you don’t know what this is, it is an evil plant. It has beautiful, large, green maple leaves and underneath lie stinging spikes that seem to strike in every direction.
Many of us were too sore and tired from slipping on the unseen rocks and itching from the evil devil’s club plant, so we turned around.
The hike took us about five hours, and we returned to the caboose grateful for a welcome shelter to sit and relax.
Making a fire took some time, since the wood – although under the caboose and protected from direct rain – was still damp from the humidity. But with a kerosene bottle left, we were able to get one going.
Our entertainment for the afternoon came from the railway track adjacent to the caboose. As each train approached, we would hear the whistle and run out to greet it. We probably waved even more eagerly than the tourists on board. We would hear the train whistle and come running out of the caboose to say hello.
After a few hours of sitting around a welcome hot fire, attempting to dry our boots, socks and ourselves, it was time to get inside as the drizzle started.
Only minutes later, the heavens opened and the monsoon began. The dry red caboose was our saviour and we enjoyed a lengthy, entertaining evening of bonding as a group, complete with games of dice and cards.
One of the most interesting aspects of our stay in the caboose was the notebooks previous guests had written in – dating back to the early ’90s.
Somehow, a bunch of Canadians who only recently met – and one Australian – had a great evening filling the time without electricity, as if it were a century ago.
In the morning the rain dissipated, but the cloud and fog still persisted. However, it was time to board our train back to Skagway.
Although we had never left the United States, we still had to get immigration checked on our return trip. It’s always lots of fun being the only foreigner amongst a group of Canadians.
The entire venture was a novelty, and I was happy to check another item off my life To-Do list: I slept in an old red caboose!