Tagged with " dempster"
Aug 21, 2010 -

Driving the Dempster: Klondike Corner to Eagle Plains

The first half of the Dempster highway winds and wends its way through the Tombstone, Ogilvie, and Richardson Mountains. I have many times heard people say that the section between the end of the mountains and Eagle Plains is boring and not beautiful. I don’t think we were driving the same road…

Having previously driven the first 150km of the Dempster twice, as far as Two Moose Lake, it wasn’t until after that point that I really felt that my adventure had begun. I still stopped to retake old photographs just to test out my new camera!

This first portion of the Dempster is the most isolated. There are really no services between the Klondike River Lodge and Eagle Plains, just a lot of wide open country, the Tombstone interpretive centre, and a highway maintenance camp.

It’s really a good idea to bring a spare tire or two, but I really don’t see the point of bringing extra gas unless you plan to zip past Eagle Plains when the gas pump is closed. I filled up at AFD Petroleum in Dawson for $1.12 when I set off and had nearly a half a tank left by the end of the day. It would have been the same had I been traveling with Miranda.

This first 400km or so was in reasonably good shape; dry and recently graded. I still had to watch out for pot holes, pointy bits of shale which are known to shred tires beyond repair, and speedy drivers throwing up rocks. All of this meant focusing more on the road than on the landscape; it might be nice to do this trip again as a passenger. 😀

I left Dawson City at about 11:45 am and, even though the drive hadn’t been that difficult, when the oasis of Eagle Plains came into view at quarter to seven, I was very grateful and more than ready to stop!

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Aug 20, 2010 -

Driving the Dempster: Prologue

In December 1910, four Mounties set off from Dawson for Fort McPherson, on dog sleds, to patrol and deliver mail. When they hadn’t arrived by February, a rescue party was sent in search of them. A month later, the frozen remains of ‘the lost patrol’ were found and the leader of the search party made it back to Dawson in record time with the news. This man, Inspector Jack Dempster, would be immortalized in a stretch of gravel that nearly parallels the old patrol route, a road that reaches far beyond the Arctic Circle and which links the western arctic to the rest of Canada. What a legacy.

somewhere on the NWT side of the Dempster

Driving this fabled route to the Northwest Territories was a childhood dream inspired by geography classes, movies, books, and tv shows. It was a dream much separated from that of making my way to the Klondike to the point that I sometimes forgot the two were even related. The Yukon isn’t in the Arctic except for a very narrow, inaccessible, sliver. It isn’t the land of barren rock and tundra where many Inuit still live according to the old ways. It doesn’t have the same remoteness factor, what with only one of its communities being of the fly-in variety. The Yukon and Northwest Territories evoked very different romances in me.

It was with trepidation that I set off down the Dempster. I’d done my research, spoken with many who had done it. I knew what the risks were and that my vehicle was inadequate. I left room in my budget for new tires and a replacement wind shield. I stocked up on supplies in case I became stuck in the middle of nowhere due to mechanical issues or bad weather. But I didn’t make a big deal of it, didn’t let the horror stories set a somber mood to my trip. I savoured every kilometre, paid attention to the road, and drove for the conditions.

The result is that even with several bad stretches, I have returned triumphant from the Dempster with nary a problem with the car–no flat tires, no windshield chips, no damage whatsoever. I slowed to a crawl whenever another vehicle passed me, which paid off when a rock hit the windshield and bounced off harmlessly. I drove defensively around pot holes at low speed. I inched my way onto the ferries. The point is made: slow and steady is the way to do the Dempster. If you’re traveling solo, slow even gives you a chance to admire the scenery. Just pull over to the side and let the locals roar past you!

Over the course of the next few days, I will share pictures and stories of the great big adventure of 2010 that took me right to the Arctic Ocean.

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.

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Jun 21, 2009 -

Into the Tundra

This post is a bit out of order as I have two other outings to write up, but this was the most exciting. 🙂 The internet has been misbehaving (a territory-wide issue), hence why I’m behind in my posting. Believe me, a lot has been going on and I’m making the most of my nightless summer in Dawson City!

Today is the solstice, the longest day of the year. Up here, the sun sets for just a short moment; it is the night where we come as close to 24 hours of daylight as possible. True 24 hour daylight is found further north, past the Arctic Circle.

Last year, I set as a goal that I would spend this solstice on the Dempster Highway at the Arctic Circle. I didn’t think it was a realistic goal, but it motivated me to at least be north of 60 by June 21st.

Sunday is a short work day for me, 7AM to 9AM, so I decided that a day trip onto the Dempster was in order. I drove 100km up the highway to Two Moose Lake and celebrated the solstice a ‘few’ hours early (I have to get up at 6 tomorrow!) at the southern limit of the tundra, 300km shy of the Arctic Circle. Wow! 😀

My original plan for the day was to just go hiking in Tombstone Territorial Park, but my manager told me to go 30km further north to Two Moose Lake so I could see the tundra. Great advice! I drove straight to the Lake, then did my planned hike on the Grizzly Creek Trail.

The Dempster has a reputation for being a very rough road, but the 100km I drove were easy. There were perhaps two sections with really bad potholes, but, otherwise, it was very smooth going on a road that was more dirt than gravel. My average speed was 70kph, but my return was more at 80 and 90kph since I knew what to expect. If the road is like that all the way to Inuvik, I am not worried about taking Miranda on it. I was disappointed that the first 30km or so are incredibly boring and that there are far too few turnoffs once you start to hit the incredible views! Small quibbles. 🙂

I only drove one seventh of the Dempster and was already struck by the sheer isolation of the land I was driving through. I saw a homestead or two that were obviously self-sufficient, but, otherwise, there is nothing but mountains and tundra as far as the eye can see. It was land a person could disappear in.

The Milepost guide has a section about the Dempster and includes the following helpful information about Two Moose Lake:

Moose can be seen at twilight.

What about the season when there is no twilight?! 😀

Even though I wanted to keep going after the lake, I knew I had a long drive home and an even longer hike planned, so I turned around and headed back into Tombstone Park. I stopped at the campground and information centre to get the latest trail report and to find out if there had been recent bear sightings on the trail (nope).

The day had dawned very grey with heavy clouds and they let loose during the time I was the information centre. By the time I reached the Grizzly Creek trailhead, the sun was out in full force. I always have ‘luck’ with the weather the day I decide to climb a mountain. Hopefully, that streak will hold up with the Chilkoot!

The trail leads to a backcountry campground, but my goal was the observation deck, about halfway. I hadn’t done any reading on the trail, so I didn’t know what to expect and was prepared for anything. My pack had everything I needed to take care of myself if ‘anything’ happened in the bush. I set off at 2PM with an ETA back at the car of 4 or 5 based on the little information the Milepost gave me.

The trail starts off gently, meandering through thick forest and lush vegetation, following the eponymous Grizzly Creek. The going is a bit treacherous as the trail is composed almost entirely of exposed tree branches, which are very slippery. The path slowly and sneakily starts to climb until you reach a staircase. From there, the slope is obvious and it’s a hard haul to the summit, with a patch of rock scrambling. Without exaggeration, the bit leading from the stairs to the top of the rocky area could be described in the same way as the trail from Sheep Camp over of the Chilkoot Pass is described in books, only in extreme miniature.

What impressed me the most was how the trail takes you up above the treeline to fantastic views of the valley below. Standing up at the summit was very humbling; I felt very small and insignificant, but, ironically enough, very much part of the world around me.

The hike down was much harder, jarring my poor knees. I would have twisted my ankles in a couple of spots had I not been wearing proper hiking boots with high tops. But what great practise this was for my next backcountry hike!

At the trailhead, there is a box with forms for ‘voluntary self-registration.’ The purpose is to find out how many people go into the park and for what reason so that the Yukon government can best manage the land. I filled in some of the info, such as where I was going and how long I planned to be there, but did not fill out the personal information as I am growing a bit paranoid in my older age ( 🙂 ). Upon returning to the trailhead, there is a second form to complete, which asks if there were changes made to the itinerary or length of journey. One of the last questions is “Did you encounter any wildlife?” I replied “Yes, mosquitoes.” Next question was “Why do you think this encounter occurred?” To which I replied “I didn’t wear bug spray.” I’m such a smart ass. 😀

I was back at the car by 4, where I inhaled a snack of yoghurt and a granola bar before heading back home, about an hour and a half away. I am very amused by the fact that I had to stop halfway and take a short nap! I haven’t had a real solid night’s sleep in weeks and have been surviving on catnaps, which explains my exhaustion. 🙂

What a fantastic day it was! I am so thrilled that I got a ‘taste’ of the Dempster this year; it will tide me over until next year, when I will finally go to Inuvik.

Click on the pictures below to see a larger copy.

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