The Dempster Adventure

Published: July 20th 2008
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Hey hey!

We left the story in Dawson City. Now we are in Inuvik, Northwest Territories where the only way to get here from Dawson is...THE DEMPSTER HIGHWAY....that's right: A one way road, 750 kilometers of gravel and mud and pot holes! And oh yes, let us not forget the unforgettable: MOSQUITOS.
In addition to the challenges, we saw some unbelievable views. Beautiful mountains, tundra, and boreal forests and wildlife accompanied us on the way. We hope that our return trip brings more sunshine so we can see even more! (we hit a lot of rain along the way).

Our first stop on the Dempster was Tombstone Territorial Park where tundra meets mountains. We did some very picturesque walks to the frozen ice sheets on the North Klondike River and some guided walks with very knowledgeable people up the Goldensides Mountain Trail. The Gwich'in people help run this park and it is their land of claim. They still track the caribou for their food and still catch salmon. As you have already heard, salmon is being protected this year so the Gwich'in people are holding off fishing for the moment. Caribou numbers are dwindling and the government and the
Tombstone ParkTombstone ParkTombstone Park

on our walk up the Goldensides trail
Gwich'in people are monitoring them closely. We waited out the rain at Tombstone, playing Yahtzee at downpour times for 2 days, but managed to get a couple of walks in. The logs holding down our gazebo floated in the huge puddle and the gazebo was leaning pathetically to the southwest in the morning.

Some of the animals we've seen are: Tundra wolves, ptarmigans, arctic hare, arctic ground squirrels, an arctic fox, moose, a jager (bird--not a rolling stone), an owl, peregrine falcons and many other birds including the mighty raven.

We spent 2 days waiting out the rain at Engineer Creek Campground and in the cooking shelter equipped with dodgy screens and a wood stove, we began to bond with the most unlikely wildlife...Aussies and Cannucks! Betty and John from near Sydney, Australia, and Marie and Gary from Nakusp, BC. We've learned some new dice and board games as well as many new techniques of mosquito annihilation!

Just when we thought the rain would stop, the evenings gave us more of the water stuff. The creek rose an entire 2 feet in 2 days! The road inside the campground flooded with mosquito ridden swamp water. (builds character,
North Klondike RiverNorth Klondike RiverNorth Klondike River

The ice sheet is formed when the water freezes to the bottom, causing a dam and water flows over the top forming layers like an iceberg.
doesn't it?) We learned that permafrost does not allow the ground to drain very well!

Since we couldn't wait out the rain much longer, we drove further up the highway (which was now made out of porridge) and amongst the hopeful sunny breaks we crossed the Arctic Circle at latitude 66'33"!!! The views were absolutely stunning with the tundra allowing us to see forever to the horizon lined with rolling hillside.

We settled at Rock River Campground. There wasn't a SINGLE mosquito! They were all married with a bagillion offspring!!!! Everyone was wearing their bug jackets and bug nets. We actually lit mosquito coils in the van after opening the doors to get in and wore our head nets until it was safe. Just when we thought the rain would let up, it just bucketted down that night. As we heard the familiar sound on the van rooftop, Dave looked at me and we just started laughing hysterically!

The next day we crossed the Northwest Territories border and turned our clocks forward to mountain std time. We had 2 ferry crossings, the Peel and the Mackenzie Rivers then continued through the taiga forest to Inuvik!

And here is where we are still! We are enjoying the Great Northern Arts Festival where there are workshops and displays by many of the amazing artists up here (including my cousin, Francois (T-BO) Thibault, carver and silversmith). We attended the opening ceremonies with the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit dancers and drummers, and two Inuvialuit elders who did some throat singing. One special thing about this art festival is that all the artists have set up their work tables and are actually working on things the entire week. You can watch them work and ask questions. Or you can sign up for a workshop and do some hands on. Love it!!!!!! Or you can just admire all of the finished pieces they have for sale in the gallery. There are some amazing sculptures, carvings, jewelry, felting, moccasins, paintings.....

We are still enjoying our friends' company although Gary and Marie have left us. They are continuing their journey back down the Dempster. Meanwhile, our other friends, John and Betty, have become family now. We flew to Tuktuuyaqtuuq (Canada's most northerly mainland community) together on Friday and did our own self guided tour. The first thing we saw were the remains of beluga
Top of the mountain 2500 mTop of the mountain 2500 mTop of the mountain 2500 m

amongst the cloud, Dave hiked to the top of Goldenside Mountain before it rained (again). He also experienced a hail storm, half way up. (Tombstone)
whaling from the day before. We saw some beluga meat hanging in a smoke shed along the coast as well. The day in Tuk was cold and windy (5 C with a wind chill of about zero) which is contrast to the week before of 30 C. Just a reminder of the fact that we are in the Arctic. Some kids playing outside were dressed in t-shirts and shorts as we were bundled up with layers and toques. A hardy bunch, up here in Tuk! No doubt about it!

Dave did the touristy thing of dipping his feet into the arctic ocean and I opted for a swish of my hand into the cold waters. The town is 900 people, with 1.85/litre for diesel and 1.75/litre for gas, and $15 for a 4L of milk. As we walked around town we saw that every building was built on stilts (to protect the permafrost), every house had a dog or more, a snow mobile, plus or minus a quad bike. Everyone was very friendly. In the Northern store, Betty had her things bought for her by an elder named Eddie, who was honoured to pay for them (as the daughter
Engineer Creek CampsiteEngineer Creek CampsiteEngineer Creek Campsite

A nice muddy layer from the highway
translated to Betty after a bit of a tug-o-war).

We could see across the channel to Tuk Island that there was someone hanging fresh beluga blubber onto hangers. Fresh Beluga blubber and meat is called Muqtuq. Gary and Marie have tried it and said it was rubbery.

The highlight of our trip to Tuk was seeing the community freezer. With the assistance of a local tour guide (David) and after signing waver forms, we climbed down into the permafrost via a 30ft ladder into a series of hand-carved tunnels. The temperature in the summer is about minus 10 C and in the winter, the door is left open at times to lower the inside temp even more. We saw some frozen caribou, geese and fish being stored by the locals for the winter to come. David told us of having left Tuk for some time and had to come back because he had missed his food up here so much. As soon as he returned, he pigged out on Muqtuq.

The surprising thing about the permafrost was that it was mostly frozen water with a few layers of frozen mud. This was absolutely shocking as the consequences
Richardson Mountain RangeRichardson Mountain RangeRichardson Mountain Range

This section of the Yukon was unaffected by glacial activity. Beringia was the home of the woolly mammoth, mastodon, saber tooth tiger and the giant beaver.
of permafrost melting really hit us at that moment. The ground would collapse into a swampy mess and large lake, rather uninhabitable. The moisture in the tunnels had crystalized into lovely geometric designs. When you brushed it off, a nice tinkling sound would result.

Our flight back was beautiful. We could see the McKenzie Delta which looked like a maze of river activity. Tundra pools everywhere, we saw the pingos from the airport that were kilometers away across the tundra. Pingos are large hills formed when the permafrost pools underground freeze and thaw, causing expansion of the ground above.

Today is the last day of the Arts Festival as well as the last day of the 50th anniversary of Inuvik. There have been lots of events in town for everyone to enjoy. We tasted Eskimo doughnuts and reindeer soup the other day at a free BBQ. The doughnuts were cooked in whale oil. They tasted like normal greasy doughnuts.

So here we are, still in Inuvik. We are waiting on a part for the van to come in so we can continue our journey. We have had such great help from local people (thanks to our connections to T-BO) and our family, John and Betty, as we wait out our repairs. Also, we are now known as the couple from Ontario with the transmission problem (the whole town knows, of course). We've even had a potential buyer if we have to sell due to a large bill (but we are hoping for the $3.90 part to work). We are currently sleeping on an angle in the van which is on ramps, awaiting repair. All is well! We are lucky to be in Inuvik and not stuck on the Dempster!
Bye for now, everyone. Enjoy! and we'd love to hear your comments!

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 27


Fireweed in full bloomFireweed in full bloom
Fireweed in full bloom

on either side of this section of the Dempster Highway
welcome to Inuvikwelcome to Inuvik
welcome to Inuvik

sculpture outside the tourist information centre
towing the van back to the campsitetowing the van back to the campsite
towing the van back to the campsite

we just need a wee little part for $3.90 which has taken almost a week and $12 shipping. Hoping it comes in on Monday!
love the plates!love the plates!
love the plates!

all plates in the Northwest Territories are polar bear shaped.
artists at workartists at work
artists at work

Harrison Tanner working on his clay piece
TBO at workTBO at work
TBO at work

Silversmith and carver

3rd August 2008

Hello from Sioux Lookout!
In this week's Bulletin is your photo holding an old Bulletin at the Arctic Circle. Your blog address was printed so I just had to check out what you guys have been up to. Sounds like you are having a fantastic adventure! Take care and thanks for sharing your travel stories!
5th August 2008

Thanks, Joanne! Glad you are enjoying our blog. Great to hear from you!

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