Large rock throws wrench into Skagway’s cruise ship schedule

A mass of rocks on mountain slope with a cruise ship docked below.
A view of a large rock mass above the Skagway railroad dock in 2022. (Photo by Mike Swasey/KHNS)

Some cruise lines have misgivings about tying onto part of a Skagway dock because of the danger posed by a large rock high above it. One solution would still allow all scheduled ships to come to town this season, but it would mean shorter visits for some passengers.

Last summer, rockslides from the hill above the railroad dock in Skagway caused cruise lines to cancel some dockings there through the end of the season. Borough Manager Brad Ryan says the cruise companies seem mostly satisfied with new mitigation measures in place to catch falling rocks. But one large rock, known locally as ship rock, could fall — and that scenario has cruise lines reconsidering their docking schedules.

“We have dual monitors we are going to have on it so we are comfortable,” Ryan said. “But some of the cruise lines are not.”

The large rock looms over a short section of dock close to town. The remainder of the dock is long enough to accommodate two cruise ships, provided one of them is relatively small. But on some days, both scheduled ships are too large to fit together. Ryan says the cruise lines have decided that on those days, each ship will spend half a day in port.

“The cruise lines have indicated that there are certain days that they are going to hot berth,” Ryan said. “Which means one ship will come in early, be here for about six hours or so, it will pull off, and then the second ship will come in and  be here from about two o clock until the evening.”

This arrangement might be necessary about fifty times this season, but Ryan says the cruise lines are looking at ways to fit the longer ships into the shorter space.

“They are ordering more bollards, trying to slide the ships back,” Ryan said. “They are talking about coming in and flipping around so that the port side goes to the dock. There is a whole bunch of conversations trying to cut those hot berths down — nobody wants it.”

The borough administration says the slopes above the docks will be monitored closely. The municipality is hiring people spend the summer living in wall tents east of the slide area, where they’ll spend eight to ten hours a day watching for rockslides. They’ll be equipped with radios so they can alert traffic handlers below if they see or hear rocks starting to move.

“There is about twelve to twenty seconds from the time you notice a rockslide up there before it would reach the docks,” Ryan said. “And so that would be enough time for a bus to pass through, and obviously, if we started to hear one we’d stop the busses beforehand.”

Ryan says these measures are redundant, as a series of nets and barriers are being set up on the slope to slow down and catch any falling rock. He says those systems are on track to be ready by next Tuesday, when the first cruise ship of the season will dock.

KHNS - Haines

KHNS is our partner station in Haines. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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