Whitehorse to Tuktoyaktuk


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North America » Canada » Yukon » Dempster Highway
August 15th 2018
Published: August 16th 2018
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DAY 11 – 360 KM – WHITEHORSE TO MOOSE CREEK CAMPGOUND, STEWART CROSSING

We were all up early, hitched up and out of the park before 9:30AM. The day is a little cooler and cloudier than we’ve become used to but so far, the predicted rain has not begun. Today’s route took a right turn soon out of Whitehorse, north onto Highway 2, the North Klondike Highway . Our scenery throughout the day was along rivers and lakes surrounded by thick forests across rolling mountain tops, while we drove along a bit of a rollercoaster highway.

Our first stop was at the information and viewing site for the Fox Lake wildfire site near Little Fox Lake. This huge fire in 1998 was started from a campfire that was not extinguished. It burned through the fall, lay quietly burning underground over the winter, then started up again in the Spring. In total, over 45,000 hectares burned.

Back on the road for a little while more we then pulled in to the Braeburn Lodge , home of the famous and HUGE Cinnamon Buns. We bought only one of these $12 giants to share amongst the 6 of us, later after lunch.

Our lunch break a while later was at the Tage Cho Hudan Cultural Centre . After lunching at their picnic table in a roadside gazebo, we toured the centre and the forest paths set up behind it. We learned about the lifestyle, past and present, of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Northern Tutchone people.

Driving on from here, the highway gradually became rougher and the increasingly seriously bumpy areas marked by red flags became more and more common as we drove further north.

Our next stop was at the Five Fingers Rapids Recreation Site . This dangerous waterway posed serious challenges to the boats and rafts of the 1898 Klondike strampeders. Sternwheelers enroute to Whitehorse had to winch themselves overtop of a 60 centimetre drop in the channel until the underwater obstacle was finally blasted away. There is a series of 5 flights of stairs to take you down the hillside to the forest below from where you could follow a trail to the riverside. There are very good information and interpretive signs on each stairway landing, providing a bit of an incentive to keep going further down, even though you inevitably have to climb back up again.

The threatening skies finally began to sprinkle and before long our windshield wipers kept pace with the steady light rainfall. After another 130 km or so, we finally reached the small village of Stewart Crossing only to find the tiny Visitor Information Centre closed. With no camping sites reserved for this night, we crossed our fingers and continued on for another 20 km before reaching Moose Creek Campground . This very nice Yukon territory campground was similar in design to the BC Provincial ones that we’ve become accustomed to. Even though it was after 4:00PM, we pulled in to find the campground nearly empty.

We chose the first three sites, which were close to bathrooms and garbage cans, and backed our trailers in and leveled them very quickly in the drizzle. We discovered that the bottom of Chris’ bedside closet had fallen out and her clothes were scattered over the bed.

We each stayed in our trailers for the evening, having our first indoor trailer meal of the trip. I was able to repair Chris’ closet, greatly reinforced over the original construction, while Chris made us dinner.

DAY 12 – 170km – STEWART CROSSING TO DAWSON CITY

The skies were clearing this morning and the campsite drying. With only 170km to drive today we were in no great rush to leave, so Gord and I decided to try our luck at fishing for some Arctic Grayling in Moose Creek. We collected our gear and set out for a short hike into the forest along the creek. We came across some fresh moose tracks which reminded us to be watchful for bears. Gord had a bear bell and bear spray and I had a big knife; what could possibly go wrong? Luckily, nothing did, and we had a fun morning trying out various pools along the creek but neither of us had even one nibble on our tasty lures and flies. Meanwhile, Christine and Joan were off on a short hike along the park trails and came upon a Lynx. Although a bit startling, it was likely more concerned about them than they were of it, and it walked away into the forest.

We were on the road again around 11:00AM which had thankfully dried overnight. The road continued to grow rougher with numerous areas marked with red flags to warn us of particularly bad bumps. There were also several sections “under construction” which were gravel, as long as 10km. in one of these sections, a car driving towards us at higher than recommended speed for gravel, spun up a shower of stones at our car with one rock smashing into our windshield. A crack zig zagging down from the top about a foot long instantly appeared. I fully expected to need a new windshield by the end of this trip but was P.O.’d that it had happened so soon. Luckily the crack isn’t obscuring my field of vision (yet) so hopefully the windshield will last for the whole trip.

We made a stop at a rest area and view point for the Tintana Trench . Some 8 million years ago, a fault line separated the earth’s crust here, creating this long valley, or trench. It also had a dramatic effect as a continental divide, totally changing the course of several rivers.

The rest of today’s journey was uneventful and we reached Dawson City around 1:00PM as it began to rain again. We set up our campsites at Dawson City RV Park . We are side by side in a field but with full services. Gord set up their dining tent over top of two small picnic tables.

We piled into two cars and drove into town to begin exploring Dawson. After a short drive around this historic town, we parked and paid $9.00 each to wander around the Dawson City Museum . We found it be very interesting with lots of displays and information about the gold rush days.

All that reading made us thirsty so we headed off to the Billy Goat Pub and the Drunken Goat Taverna for some refreshments and dinner. I shared a platter for 3 with Gord and Ruth. It included a giant Greek salad, 3 servings each of ribs, chicken, and lamb along with potatoes, spanikopita, prawns, and a few other Greek items that I’ve forgotten.

As we finally had cellular service again we were able to call our nephew Greg for his birthday. We were also able to email back and forth and make a few phone calls to close a deal on selling one of our houses in Mexico. DEFINITELY a good day!

After dinner we drove up the Midnight Dome , a high hill at the edge of town with a fantastic view over the town and along the Klondike River in both directions away from town, nearly a 360 degree view.

Back at the trailer, as we unloaded our car, we discovered that our cooler bag full of drinks and ice had been leaking all day and everything in boxes was ruined, pillows and blankets were soaked, camera bags, etc., all were drenched. We emptied and discarded all the wet cardboard, brought all the material items to the laundromat to dry, and hung up and spread out everything else inside the car and trailer. Definitely a nuisance but not a disaster.

DAY 13 – DAWSON CITY

After raining all night, the day appeared somewhat brighter this morning. Gord and Chris made a quick trip into town to visit the NWT and Dempster HWY tourist info then we had a group meeting. With all the rain we’ve been having, they strongly recommended that we do not take our trailers up to Tuktoyaktuk. Apparently there was a bad motor home accident yesterday on the Dempster. This gravel highway gets muddy and extremely slippery when wet and the new portion from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk is particularly bad. Last November when it was built, they just poured gravel on top of the ice, sediment and permafrost. When it gets warm or rains, the ice and permafrost start to melt, making it into a mud highway.

So the decision was made to leave our trailers here in Dawson and make the 8-day round trip just with our three cars. Luckily this RV park had space available for us to leave the trailers right here, and we were able to find a few hotel rooms to book along the Dempster. But we will still have at least 3 nights in campgrounds sleeping in our cars. We all agreed this was the best plan so we agreed to go ahead with it. After the extra nights here were paid for and Gord called back the various hotels to reserve our rooms, we had a quick lunch then we were ready to start our day of tourist adventures here in Dawson.

A short drive out of town brought us to Dredge No. 4 , a National Historic Site. This huge, floating, digging machine was the largest wooden dredge in North America. It took only 4 men to operate it but dozens more around it to slowly winch it forward. It floated in it’s own pond, digging in front and depositing the tailings out back, and gradually moved it’s own pond forward and, keeping any gold inside. Moving extremely slowly, in one 8-month season it only moved forward 0.8 km.

Back in town we walked around a bit, viewing the old and restored buildings. The town still has dirt streets with boardwalk sidewalks. We stopped in at the Palace Grand Theatre to watch the 1-hour production of The Greatest Klondiker. This amateur theatre group put on a 4-person play with extensive audience participation. It was funny and informative. Just a couple blocks away was the old Downtown Hotel where we had dinner in the saloon and read up on the times and rules so we could return at 9:00PM for a Sourtoe Cocktail . For our after-dinner entertainment we drove a couple blocks away to Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall . All the short drives seemed a good idea as it continued to rain off and on and the road and boardwalks were getting quite muddy.

This is an old fashioned dance hall and saloon with more modern slot machines and gambling tables. We grabbed a table for 6 not too far from the stage and took turns playing the slots a bit until Diamond Gertie came out and entertained us with her singing while a chorus of 6 can-can girls danced. It was very well done and a fun evening.

We had downed just enough drinks at Diamond Gerties to provide some bravery for our next adventure; kissing the toe in a Sourtoe Cocktail. Back at the Downtown Hotel Saloon at 9:00PM, people were already lined up to join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. We bought our tequila shots at the bar (they were sold out of Yukon Jack whiskey!) and joined the line up to take our turn sitting across from the Sourtoe Captain. This is not the original toe as a few years back someone swallowed it, paid his $500 fine for doing so and then quickly left town. Luckily another toe was “donated” and the fine raised to $2,500 to deter others from doing this.

When my turn came I sat down and stuffed $5 into the jar. The Sourtoe Captain recited the oath, “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe.” She then held the dark, wrinkled, leather-like toe out for me to kiss and then dropped it into my tequila. I quickly drank it down with the toe falling against my lips before slamming my glass down and she handed me my certificate and membership into the club as the 82,178th person to do this. Joan and Chris Wilson and Gord Wiebe also joined the club.

DAY 14 – TUESDAY, AUG. 7 - DAWSON CITY

Initially clearer skies and a bit of sun helped dry off our outdoor carpets, dining tent, chairs, etc., allowing us to get everything cleaned up and packed away before the black clouds rolled in and the rain dumped on us once again.

Today was dedicated to packing our cars with all the supplies that we will need for the next eight days as we drive the Dempster up to Tuktoyaktuk. We all bought some groceries, filled up jerry cans to carry extra gas, and I bought a tow rope as recommended in the Dempster Hwy information office.

We met a couple at our RV wash, towing a little T@B trailer. Their vehicle and trailer were initially unrecognizable, totally covered in mud. We made the correct assumption that they had just returned from Tuktoyaktuk. Their trailer lost its floor and the inside was as full of mud as the outside. The entire route was muddy and slippery and the last 138 km from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk on muddy ice had to be driven at walking speed. We all felt much better about our decision to leave the trailers here in Dawson but also confident about being able to reach this bucket list destination in our convoy of three SUVs.

DAY 15 – DAWSON CITY TO EAGLE PLAINS

It rained steadily all night, heavy off and on, and was still drizzling all this morning as we packed up our cars for our trip up the Dempster Highway . The corner was back 40km along the direction we had come from and the Dempster turned to gravel within minutes of starting on it.

The first 70km was muddy gravel covered in rain-filled pot holes; more holes than road actually, so it was a very slow and rough ride. It rained constantly and the low cloud and fog obscured what should have been spectacular scenery. We had soon climbed over 500 metres and even through the haze, it was clear that the mountains were covered in fresh snow. No surprise as it was barely above freezing at our road level.

Our first stop was at the Tombstone Interpretive Centre . This large, 2-storey building provided a wealth of tourist information and local animal and nature exhibits. All of our cars were beginning to get very muddy. We quickly ate our lunches in our cars then continued on. The road was no longer constant potholes but had numerous areas that were extremely rough or a series of potholes that we would have to suddenly slow down for or try to straddle.

I took advantage of our time at a rest stop at the site of The Lost Patrol to take some shots of the scenery, the mist giving everything a beautiful but also unsettling feeling to it. Already our cars were completely covered in mud and it was impossible to stay clean just climbing in and out of the vehicles.

We made another short stop to take some photos of a creek that the road was following, reddish-brown from minerals and with a strong sulphur smell.

We reached our planned end of this day’s drive at about 3:30PM, at the 11-site, very lovely, heavily treed Engineer’s Creek Yukon campground . There is free firewood provided and a large cook shack with a huge wood stove. But it was very cold and still raining steadily so the thought of staying there for the next 16 hours and sleeping in our cars was suddenly not at all appealing. We agreed to push on and drive all the way to Eagle Plains, hoping that our hotel would have rooms available one night early.

The road quality varied, now a little drier with less rain and fewer potholes so we were making better time. We took another short break at the Ogilvie Ridge rest stop, looking towards the Ogilvie Mountains while standing on the escarpment of the Eagle Plains .

Driving on, we saw a Black Bear mom and two cubs walking along on the tundra. FINALLY some wildlife, but we didn’t stop. After seeing black bears all the time around our home, this didn’t interest us as much as it might other travellers. And, it was still raining with a slippery road and no shoulders.

We came upon a sign that other travellers had warned us about, that from this point on, the road was now being taken care of by Eagle Plains highway maintenance. The road immediately deteriorated and became more of a wet, muddy road with little or no gravel in site. We passed two cars changing flat tires while Chris read to me from the highway guide that this section was built with poor gravel made from shale. Because of this, there were many rocks sticking out of the road that were sharp enough to slice through a tire! I began watching the road ahead of me more carefully and trying to steer around any stones in the road except for many areas that were completely covered by imbedded and loose stones.

The rain finally stopped and the road actually became very dusty with huge clouds billowing out behind our cars until we suddenly came to a hill covered in wet mud filled with deep tire tracks. I sped up and headed up the hill, somewhat stuck in Gord’s tracks at first but then sliding around the road left and right even though my car’s All-Wheel-Drive was engaged. I was very thankful at this point that we had chosen to leave our trailers behind. Reaching the top of the hill safely, it was only a short drive further until with a sigh of relief, we pulled into the Eagle Plains Hotel around 7:00PM.

A busker greeted us as he played a yukele, sitting on his bags just outside the door. He said his name was Axel and introduced me to his dog Platypus. He had just returned from Tuktoyaktuk, apparently the 5th ever busker to entertain there they told him. I gave him $5 to take his photo and he told me a bit of his story, hitchhiking around the country. He said he had been in Eastern Canada before but was thinking of going back, trying to touch all three of Canada’s oceans in one year. He hitchhiked everywhere and played and sang for money. He said that he usually got rides fairly easily, although it was a bit of a problem around here as there were so few vehicles going by.

Luckily, the hotel had rooms for us but were reluctant to cancel our reservations for the following night. At about $200 per night it seemed a little high, but we all agreed that we could use a good rest after this very long day so we decided to stay for two nights. The rooms were basic as was the coffee shop but the bar was great; filled with taxidermy, antlers and old framed photos from when the Dempster and this hotel were built. Earlier photos followed a time when they herded reindeer from Alaska into the Yukon. Other photos were of the Mad Trapper and many photos had stories printed below to explain the sometimes bewildering events.

We were all happy to sit down to a warm meal in the bar then enjoy long, hot showers and crawl into bed.

DAY 16 – EAGLE PLAINS HOTEL

We awoke to brilliant blue skies and a sun that we hadn’t seen for several days. Although it was barely above freezing, we all headed outside after breakfast to explore the grounds. The hotel is placed just before the Arctic Circle and along the ridge above the Tintanic Trench. The mottled lighting on the hills and escarpment made for some interesting photography.

Although there is a “car wash” here, they were apparently out of water, so the cars stayed covered in mud. They were barely recognizable at this point and I actually opened a stranger’s car door and nearly climbed in, as they now all looked the same!

The rest of the day we all took it slow and easy, napping, reading, watching TV, and walking around the hotel looking at the scenery. There is a spectacular ridge of Richardson Mountains to the north that was really beautiful when the sun hit them and we couldn’t get enough of taking photos as the light kept changing.

We all gradually met up in the bar after it opened at 4:30. We played some crib and pool then had a wonderful meal before turning in for the night. But not our last night here as we were luckily able to reserve three rooms again for our planned return date on the 14th.

DAY 17 – EAGLE PLAINS TO FORT McPHERSON

A beautiful, sunny day greeted us and sent us on our way this morning around 10:00AM. Similar to the road leading up to Eagle Plains, the road beyond was a mix of shale rock and dirt so the drive was slow. The scenery across the tundra was spectacular and within half an hour we had pulled over to shoot some photos. Climbing steadily as we travelled further north, we gradually left the trees behind as we became surrounded by wide open tundra mountain slopes. Then at 10:54AM, we arrived at the Arctic Circle. It was hard to believe that we were actually here, and even more so that our journey was continuing on well beyond this point.

Along with several other people in cars, motor homes, motorbikes and bicycles, we all took turns taking each other’s photo in front of the Arctic Circle sign.

Another 2 hours down the road we pulled in to the rest stop at the NWT border. The temperature was still above zero but the strong wind was bringing the windchill temperature down well below freezing so we snapped our photos quickly and ate lunch in our cars.

Starting out again, now driving in NWT, the roads were immediately wider and in MUCH better condition! They were constructed with actual, real gravel, fairly smooth with hardly any pot holes. And we even had to slow down for some highway construction and maintenance, a VERY welcome delay for a change.

As we drove through the NWT, the trees gradually returned and the forests thickened around us with Spruce, Poplars and Willow.

We soon reached the Peel River cable ferry crossing. The river was high and lots of debris was floating by at high speed including huge trees! The ferry coming in towards us adeptly maneuvered around the garbage and made it to shore to pick us up. Front end loaders were working both sides, rebuilding the dirt ramps destroyed by the high waters.

A short drive after reaching the far side of the river, we pulled in to the Johnny D. Charlie Visitor Centre, and learned a little about the First Nations people in and around Fort McPherson, who call themselves Tetlit Gwich’in , or “people at the head of the river”. Robert, the First Nations host of this centre told us that there were 20 to 40 travellers a day stopping in to see him. This is apparently double the number that drove by last year, which he attributed to the new summer road to Tuktoyaktuk. He advised us that Fort McPherson gas was much cheaper than Inuvik, which was true. He also suggested that we load up on firewood if we needed it as the trees would soon come to an end.

Another half hour drive brought us to our accommodation for this night, the Peel River Inn in the small town of Fort McPherson . The Inn is located at the beginning of town, next to the Co-op gas pumps.

We paid our $200 per room then got checked in and entered to find the cleanest accommodation of the trip so far. Beautifully kept up, each room has a small fridge and a Keurig coffee maker. There are no restaurants in this town but we had access to a huge, commercial kitchen and dining room so we were able to cook dinner and all eat together.

We drove around the town, stopping in at the Visitor Centre which offered free coffee and information displays about the area and the people, plus brochures for anything we might like to know about. Right behind the visitor centre is the St. Mathew’s Fort McPherson Anglican Church . It is worth going inside to see the beautiful stained glass windows including one winter scene of a local, probably First Nations, dog-sledder. The cemetery next to the church is also worth exploring, in particular as this is the resting place for the “NWMP Lost Patrol”.

DAY 18 – FORT McPHERSON TO INUVIK

Soon after leaving the Peel Inn, we boarded another small car ferry to cross the Mackenzie River by the small town of Tsiigehtchic . The day was a mix of sun and cloud so far but with rain clouds in the distance. The road continued to be fairly good, switching back and forth from packed gravel, to loose gravel and hard-packed dirt.

Coming down out of the hills to only a few metres above sea level, the wide open plains of the McKenzie Delta stretch to the horizon ahead of us and to the sides, rivers and small lakes as far as we can see.

We stopped at the Cariboo Creek Oxbow picnic site for lunch and I tried for a few minutes, unsuccessfully to catch some fish for dinner. Arriving at the end of the Dempster Hwy into Inuvik shortly after 2pm, we found the Nova Hotel easily, at the beginning of town. This was a larger hotel than we had seen so far and slightly cheaper rooms at $159 seemed great especially with breakfast included! The hotel was comfortable but badly in need of a handyman. Curtains falling off, cracked and broken up floor tiles, towel rods falling off the walls, and a finicky elevator are just a few of the many maintenance issues at this hotel.

We drove around town, checked out the visitor centre and filled up the gas tanks to prepare for tomorrow’s drive to Tuk. As it was Sunday, almost everything was closed including Our Lady of Victory , their famous "igloo church", But we did visit the Tourism Visitor Centre and Origins gift shop, and a young woman at each location recommended we have dinner at Alistine’s .

Alistine’s turned out to be a great, very funky family restaurant run in a small log building in their back yard with the kitchen inside of an old school bus! One of the first families to inhabit Inuvik, Alistine McDonald was the original owner. Her son Brian and his wife Pam live there and run the restaurant today. We arrived around 4pm, hoping for drinks, only to find Pam busy cleaning fish for tonight’s dinner that she had just received from a local fisherman. We all returned just before 5pm and enjoyed a white fish dinner with fries and their famous Piece of Tail, Eskimo Donut for dessert.

Short on tables, Pam sat a couple of New Yorkers at our table and we exchanged stories and notes from our road trips. Along the way, we are running into many people that are taking exactly the same road trip that we are. The new summer road to Tuktoyaktuk has not only opened them to the world, but the world is coming to them and stopping and spending money at every little town and business along the way. We have also been enjoying seeing some of the same people repeatedly and are enjoying hearing their stories and news of the road ahead.

One thing I haven’t talked about yet is the 24-hour daylight up here. I am wearing an eye-mask each night as none of these hotels, or our trailer, have black-out curtains. Falling asleep, or even realizing that it’s time for bed, can be difficult as even at 11 pm it is far from dark, with the sun still up! Although it has not been much of an issue for us as it is usually so dark from the rain clouds.

DAY 19 – INUVIK TO TUKTOYAKTUK AND BACK AGAIN

After finishing our hotel’s basic Continental breakfast this morning, we embarked on the most northern leg of this journey; to the end of the highway at Tuktoyaktuk .

As we haven’t had any rain for a couple of days, the road was in pretty good condition. Completed just 10 months ago, this is the first ever summer road to Tuk, replacing the winter ice road of the past. It was constructed by pouring gravel over existing ice, over sediment, over the permafrost. Although there were a few soft spots and some sections that were more dirt than gravel, overall it was a pretty good road and we had no difficulty driving the 140 km in about two hours.

The trip was exciting within a few minutes as we spotted a beautiful Red Fox along the side of the road followed by a Lynx that crossed the road then walked very slowly away from us into the bush. FINALLY some wildlife has appeared!

The trees disappeared early on and the rolling, fairly flat landscape was covered in short bushes and lots of moss and lichen in various shades of green and yellow. The road twists left and right, up and down, winding between the various streams and pools of the Mackenzie Delta and inlets from the Arctic Ocean. There are no rest stops, only small pullouts for slow vehicles to let faster ones go by.

Our first glimpse of Tuktoyaktuk was of a few houses on the distant horizon and Canada’s largest Pingo (2nd largest in the world), soon followed by several huge barracks type buildings on stilts around a number of large petroleum storage tanks. We then drove by a DEW post, one of Canada’s Distant Early Warning stations. And then we arrived at the Welcome to Tuktoyaktuk sign.

We pulled over to take a selfie and some other helpful tourists stopped and took our photo for us and I returned the favour for them. We drove on, making our way through the small hamlet of about 765 mostly First Nations Gwich’in people.

We drove on, to the what the locals call the North Point, where a few campers were located; a small tent, a camper-van and a truck and camper. We all walked down to the shore on the point and I stuck my hand into the Arctic Ocean while all the women were braver and got their bare feet submerged. It was hard to believe that we were all standing here on Canada’s most northern drivable point of land, now touching our third ocean.

The Trans Canada Trail monument is also located here. Actually it is the End Marker for the most northern point of what is now becoming known as The Great Trail. Our Lady of Lourdes Schooner is also beached nearby amongst a group of the community’s four churches.

From here we walked over to the nearby Tourist Info shack where a local young lady helped us with directions and advice on finding some arts and crafts. She also told us that the abandoned large barracks type buildings at the edge of town were left there when an oil company had operations there a few decades ago. When they shut down, they simply abandoned all of their buildings and other structures there. This has been more recently added to by the highway workers from last year, leaving another fairly large area of abandoned buildings and equipment.

We headed over to Gramma’s next, a beach-side restaurant and arts and crafs shop. Unfortunately, this being Sunday, everything was closed so we were out of luck as far as shopping went. So after we drove around the hamlet for a while, we headed back out of town to return to Inuvik.

The clouds cleared as we drove and the day grew warm and, the road grew soft and slippery. In one section a compactor was rolling the gravel down as mud spewed out the sides, kind of like squishing a Smore! The ice was apparently melting below the top layer of gravel causing our tires to sink into the soft, sliding surface. Although it was an uneasy feeling and slowed us down a bit, it didn’t really cause us any problems. However, our advice to anyone wanting to visit Tuktoyaktuk would be to come on a weekday, in dry, cold conditions.

Back in Inuvik we headed over to the larger McKenzie Inn for drinks in the lounge and dinner in their restaurant, only to find both closed. Luckily Alistine’s had our table for 6 available so we had her great White Fish and Chips again.

DAY 20 – INUVIK TO FORT McPHERSON

Rain started again this morning, forecast to continue all day and night. After enjoying our free breakfast at the Nova Inn, Chris and Ruth headed out to the Gwich’in Band Office where they also sell some local arts and crafts. While they were shopping I paid a quick visit to my cousin’s husband’s nephew, meeting him for the first time. I didn’t even know he existed until my cousin contacted me through facebook a couple of days ago. While I was there, he mentioned that a large herd of cariboo were sighted along the Dempster in the area we would be driving today.

We all loaded up our cars quickly in the steady rain and headed back down the Dempster Highway for the 185km drive to Fort McPherson. The rain continued and the many potholes filled with water and in between the holes the mud got deeper. But the road surface was very solid and most areas had enough gravel that we had no difficulties at all.

At the Mackenzie River Ferry we took a short detour and had the ferry drop us off at the small First Nations Gwich’in Village of Tsiigehtchic. The ferry travels between 3 stops; landings to go up and down the Dempster north and south, and Tsiigehtchic. Gord had an old friend living there that he was unsuccessful in locating. We also hoped to visit the Tourist Information office but it was closed for an hour for lunch. Rather than sit and wait in the rain, we headed back down the muddy road, onto the muddy ferry entrance and continued on our muddy way towards Fort McPherson.

The rainy day and muddy, bumpy roads continued all the way and we never did see any cariboo. But we’re checked in to our hotel now, warm and dry again and ready for another day on the Dempster tomorrow.

DAY 21 - FORT McPHERSON, NWT TO EAGLE PLAINS, YUKON

We woke to a rainy day at near zero temperature with snow in the forecast along our route. On our way by 8:30AM, we arrived at the Peel River ferry crossing in time to be the first vehicles loaded. They had been shut down for 3 days as the high river washed away their dirt landings. The muddy, under-water approaches we used this morning didn’t really look like they should have even opened today, but we were happy they were operating for this first sailing anyway.

The gravel and mud road beyond the river was very wet but mostly in good condition until we climbed to higher elevations as we drove south. The tundra and surrounding mountains were soon covered in a few inches of snow. Our road became covered in slush which grew gradually deeper. Luckily, all of our vehicles have good all-season tires and all-wheel drive. As the slush became snow, I switched the car into full-time 4-wheel drive and we all continued, slowly but surely up into the mountain pass. The scenery was beautiful and I kept stopping to take photos along the way. I had just jumped back into the car from shooting scenery on the left side of the road when Chris spotted a grizzly on the right side of the car. I jumped back out and grabbed a few shots as it ambled off.

We stopped for a short lunch break at the Arctic Circle signpost then continued onward and our road now turned to thick, solid ice as the winds whipped the snow across the roadway. Although the conditions kept us at slower speeds, we really had no difficulties and the snow and ice soon disappeared leaving us with the usual bumpy shale road full of potholes. Two km before reaching Eagle Plains we came to a very narrow, slippery, deep muddy section that was down to one lane as a fuel transport semi was upside down in the ditch with emergency response personnel looking after it. Back into full-time 4-wheel drive, I slowly chugged up the steep hill on the single slippery lane with deep muddy ruts. I felt lucky that nobody was coming down towards us, then as we arrived at the Eagle Plains Hotel we saw that the highway gate was closed going north. It felt wonderful to be warm, dry and safe, in a familiar hotel, tucked into our cozy rooms for the night.

Day 21 - EAGLE PLAINS TO DAWSON CITY

It was only -2c as we started out today, a welcome temperature for a change as the many muddy road sections would be much firmer than usual. Although it rained a bit off and on, our 400 km journey went by quickly with no difficulties. We stopped to shoot some photos of a herd of wild horses along the Blackstone River, about 16 km before reachiung the Tombstone Viewpoint. The sun was peeking out a bit between rain clouds as we pulled into the viewpoint. The various shades of red and green on the tundra and mountain faces glowed in the bright sunlight while the mottled shadows gave the mountain ranges almost an impressionist painting look.

The final 70km of the Dempster was completely covered in potholes a week ago. But today, a road crew was rolling down newly graded gravel making our final leg a little more comfortable and faster.

Pulling into our campsite finally, after 8 days away, my first stop was the car wash. My Nissan Pathfinder was unrecognizable, totally covered in caked on mud. At $3/5 minutes, it took $12 to get most of the mud off before it was clean enough to unpack without getting covered in dirt.

The past 10 days was an incredible adventure that we will never forget. The scenery, wildlife, harsh living conditions and warm, friendly people have all left their mark with us. Some final notes and recommendations for travelling the Dempster and Tuktoyaktuk highways:


• Buy the best, rugged tires you can get and bring 1 or 2 full size spares on rims.
• Bring extra gas, small air compressor, extra fluids of all types for your car.
• Pack food, blankets, warm and waterproof clothing.
• Expect poor conditions as the weather changes quickly and to extremes.
• Bring extra everything (one of my two cameras broke down).
• Travel slow, stop a lot, meet the people.



Additional photos below
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21st October 2019

total driving distance
Hi there, thanks for all the information. I was wondering what your total driving distance was- I am planning the drive from Whitehorse to Tuk and back this summer (plus some of Alaska) and was wondering about total km. Getting unlimited on my rental (doing a truck with camper on top) is expensive and was curious if there is a lot of driving outside of the main roads. We plan on camping along the way. Also- how were the bugs in August? Thanks!
21st October 2019

Mileage and bugs
Hi, Our total return mileage from southern BC was 8,600 KMs, but return mileage to Tuk from Whitehorse is only about 2,800 KMs. We had heard all of the bug horror stories so brought along bug nets to wear over our heads, upper bodies, arms, and lost of various mosquito repellents and even shirts with a repellent built-in. NONE of it was needed. There were only a couple of times on the whole trip that we noticed many mosquitos at a couple of campsites and barely used any repellent even then. But always better to be prepared just in case.

Tot: 1.852s; Tpl: 0.041s; cc: 16; qc: 72; dbt: 0.0259s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.6mb