Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Dempster Highway
Being Caribou On Wheels: The Trip Up
One of only 2 roads to penetrate the artic in North America, the Dempster Highway in Canada and the Dalton Highway in Alaska. The Dempster Highway, we’ve heard is the most beautiful of the two. It stretches beyond the Klondike gold fields to the Mackenzie Delta. It snakes a path of over 450 miles long through the mountains and the artic lowlands. Once part of Beringia, the northern Yukon and Northwest Territories were largely unglaciated, with Wolly Mammoths and Saber tooth cats roaming the tundra alongside prehistoric man. Words and pictures alone cannot describe this part of the world. The sun shines not for a day, but for an entire season. Wildlife abounds, unfettered by the ever expanding domain of man and his propensity to plunder everything in sight. The road is like no other, and to call it a highway is somewhat misleading. It is a gravel ribbon spread over a vast wilderness frontier, which was inhabited first by nomadic tribes and then trampled by fur traders and avoided by the Klondike gold seekers. We drove this road up to the upper boundaries of Canada to a native village, Inuvik, and back again -- over 900 miles of gravel. In a period of 2 weeks we hiked, backpacked, climbed and interacted with the descendants of the first people to live in this land. It was an adventure like none we ever experienced. We were sad to leave.
After spending 3 days at Tombstone Campground, with day hikes along the Klondike river valley and Harts Pass, we wanted to do a pack trip into Tombstone. The day started out ok, but once we got to the high ridges the weather went bad.
Unfortunately, we got caught in the middle of a long ridge when a deceitful thunderstorm came in all of a sudden. We were in the midst of lightening, ear splitting thunder, torrential rain, less than 10 feet of visibility and all kinds of mean and nasty things that scared the @#!! out of us. We hunkered down in a low gully for the day and the rest of the night.
During breaks in the rain we tried to make light of the situation hoping that mother nature would see that we could take anything she could throw at us. In the end, however, she won. It rained hard for 3 solid days and we couldn’t really see a darn thing. We got out of there without a stitch of dry clothing and off route and we literally fell onto the road out of the buckbrush and tundra. Fortunately for us, 3 gals were driving by and and had pity on us. They gave us poor weathered souls a lift back to our Toy house… which was sitting under water up to the door panels in a newly formed pond.

After this traumatic experience,, most folks would probably turn around and go back. Not us. We decided that we would be better off driving north and trying this again on the way back. After some clam chowder and warm clothes, we were feeling much, much better all snug in our bunks.

The next day we headed north. Whoa!!!! This drive is awesome.
It got better as we did some hiking off the beaten path and up through the muskeg to Sapper Hill. We saw some nesting Gyr falcons, came across an old bear kill of a caribou carcass and had an evening of splendid views. The road was merciless with our adventure vehicle.

We took great comfort in knowing that everywhere we camped, we were never alone. Hiking in the mountains was awe inspiring. Arial views of the Dempster can’t be beat, especially at 11:00 pm with a passing thunder storm. Rainbows come for free and sometimes they come in pairs. Look closely.It's even better with a buddy.This lonely Inukshuk showed us the way as we got high on Eagle Plains.

Sunset at Eagle Plains.

The Artic Cricle. We made it... so far… The adventure vehicle is running as expected, no flats either. Just filthy dirt mixed with calcium chloride.

The land before Wright's pass was incredily beautiful. We found a set of Caribou Antlers.

Crossing into the NorthWest Territories was another landmark in our journey in paradise.The Mackenzie River and the village of Tsiigehtchic. Just moments before arriving, we almost plowed into a huge black bear crossing the road. It was a close call for all of us.

The end of the road at Inuvik. We could drive no further north. The Mackenzie delta spread out in the distance and all around us.

A long stop at the vistior center in Inuvik is a must!!!

On Sunday, we decided to go to church and see if the indoors were any holier than the outdoors. The Igloo church was something to see... inside and out.

That night we stayed up beyond 2:00 a.m. watching the sun set in the North! And then rising again just a few degrees farther. Incredible!!

That is a breif summary of our trip up to Inuvik. The trip back was just as fun. Stay tuned for part two with more pictures and a possibly a re-cap of our adventure crossing a river with ice and climbing up Pilots peak, bears and other wild things. Our adventures up in the artic were like nothing we've ever experienced. It is truly a magical place that must be experienced. Words and pictures cannot capture the feelings nor the magic. Driving the Dempster is like no other road on earth.

Greetings from Moose Lee and Yukon Johann. Until next time.