The Dempster Part 1

We left Dawson about noon and back tracked down Yukon Highway #2, to the junction of the Dempster Highway………734km/456miles of washboard gravel roads.

We had heard many conflicting stories about the condition of the road, but we were about to find out for ourselves.

First stop on the way was Tombstone, an interpretive centre, information centre and starting point for many hikes on the lower portion of the road. There is also a campsite at Tombstone, where we had thought we might stay, but having only set off at noon, felt we hadn’t gone far enough, just 74km/46miles, so we continued along.

The next point of interest was Two Moose Lake, however there were no moose to be seen the day we were there.

We did however see some wild horses. As the road wound up the hills we did encounter some bumpy spots where frost had heaved the road, but so far the roads weren’t too bad. The one really good thing about the gravel road, is in dry conditions there is so much dust you can see oncoming traffic from miles away, we would joke somebody was coming from days away. Moving along at a much slower pace than normal, between 70 and 80kph (45-50mph), as that was the safest speed, as you never knew when you might hit a bad bump or hole! The road crews do a great job of keeping the road in good shape, grading daily and marking significant bumps or heaves with flags. There is a pull-off for viewing Elephant Rock, but not with the naked eye you either need binoculars or a telephoto lens. There have been all kinds of Mammoth remains in varying degrees of decay found in the Yukon and NWT so it’s kind of neat that nature has left a monument to remember them!!!

At one point we smelled sulphur, when consulting the travel guide we had been given, it seems sulphur in this area was coming up from the ground and getting into the river causing the rocks and water to be extremely orange. Best not to enter the river.

Further up the road we came upon a still smoldering forest fire. We had heard there had been a fire, but had no idea it was still burning. Unlike the fires in BC, this fire was left to burn itself out. We had heard conflicting reasons why the government choose to take no action, one reason was because there were no lives in danger, but the other reason, which we believe is the real reason, is the first nations have had ongoing legal disputes with the government, which they had just won another injunction and the government was not happy.

Still smoldering weeks after the fire went through!

Although the population may be sparse, there is never an accurate count of people in the north as it is so remote and people venture off the beaten trail for hunting, fishing, camping, berry picking and solitude. After travelling over 250km/155miles on the Dempster we finally saw our first bit of wildlife…..a very slow moving black bear, lumbering up the road and into the bush.

We finally decided to call it a day when we reached Eagle Plains, km371/231miles. Not much there, a place where you could buy gas, a motel and restaurant/bar with a very rudimentary campsite. I don’t think they had power and I know there was no water or sewer, not that we required any of those services. Being we had to pay for the campsite at the bar, we decided we would have a beer, mark the milestone and take in some of the local history, lots of animal heads, newspaper clippings and artifacts. The bar was more of a sitting room museum, than a bar.

We were off early the next morning, wanting to reach Inuvik by midday, however Mother Nature had other plans, the weather had turned over night, the clouds had settled in and it was pouring rain. We set off at a much slower pace as we were now in the clouds and visibility was almost zero, our advantage of gravel dust gone and mud coating the truck.

At km421/262miles we reached the sign marker indicating the Arctic Circle!! We still had a long way to go.

Further along we crossed the Yukon/North West Territories boarder.

Up, down and around the mountains, coming to our first ferry about 8km/5miles south of Ft McPherson. Here we filled up with gas and looked for somewhere to have a bite to eat, but as we were coming to learn, bring your own food, as there are no tourist amenities!!

On our way to Tsiigehtchic to catch our second ferry, we passed through Midway Lake, which is renowned for their summer Music Festival, Aug 5-6 this year. As the day progressed the rain eased and the sun came out. We made our way up the highway, stopping in Jak for a short hike to a lookout point and into Inuvik for about 2pm.

The truck was so filthy Stewart headed directly to the car wash to get some of the dirt off, an impossible feat to completely get it clean, but after $20 and over half an hour of spraying and washing it was time to find somewhere to stay.

Klondike Campsite, run by the territory government is right in town and was convenient for us to get around on foot. Once we got Domo settled we set off on to discover some of the town and grab a bite to eat.

We also called in at the information centre where they gave us certificates for crossing the Arctic Circle.

Dinner was at Aletha’s, a converted school bus, serving local delicacies………Stewart had the halibut and chips and Catherine had fish tacos, both meals were excellent, you will want to go there if you ever make it to Inuvik. Upon returning to the campsite we meet our neighbours who hail from Switzerland, Pam, Andy and their dog Kalea, they too are Overlanders on a four year journey through the America’s, they had already travelled through South and Central America and were on their northern leg, in their VW van.

The next day was spent visiting local attractions and museums as well as gathering information about a day trip to Tuktoyaktuk. Since the inception of this trip, Stewart’s goal was to drive to Tuk, we knew the road was complete, but not sure if it had been opened to the public yet. We sadly learned the road would not be open until Nov 15, 2017, so an alternative method of getting to Tuk needed to be sourced. We talked to several tour companies, who offered several different options and decided to wing it and just book a regularly scheduled flight on Aklak Air. As we were to learn Aklak Air is owned by the Inuvialuktun people, along with many other financial interests, through a foundation set up after their settlement with the federal government in 1998. The Inuvialuktun were the first native peoples to make their land claim with the Feds. Our flight left Inuvik at 9am, a 25 minute flight, having us arrive into Tuk about 10am, nothing seemed to happen on time, but it did happen. Nice to see people that aren’t always in a hurry and enjoying life. When we arrived, we had no plan, so hung around the airport to see what others were doing, everybody had a ride but us! While hanging out we noticed a poster offering local tours, so we called to see if we could possibly get a tour later in the day, we connected with one of the local tour guides, Eileen Jacobson, who agreed to meet us at 1pm.

We walked the very long 1km/0.6mile into town while being swarmed by mosquitoes, a quick stop to ply ourselves with repellent and off again. We had no idea what to expect, we had seen several documentaries on National Geographic TV, but what we found was nothing like what we had seen.

The town is home to approximately 1000 people, there are two grocery/hardware, everything you might need stores in town, one is Northern, formerly Hudson Bay and sold out to a company in Winnipeg and Stanton, another Inuvialuktun corporate holding.
Of course we had to check out the stores, so we went into the Northern store…..yup they had a great big end display of Tim Horton’s coffee. We did some price comparisons and found most things to be reasonably priced, but others way out of line.

There were several abandoned restaurants and hotels from the 70’s and 80’s when several oil companies were busy drilling for oil.

Presently there are no restaurants or hotels in Tuk, there are 5 B&B’s. The community is discussing how they will handle the influx of visitors in the coming years with the completion and opening of the final 187km/116miles of the Dempster, this section of the highway may yet be named by the local people in Tuk. Out on the spit there is a picnic area, which will most likely be converted to a small campsite. By now we had reached a coastal area of town and the breeze had come up and the pesky bugs had subsided. At a small docking area we noticed a fair sized sailboat with a German flag, so we ventured over to talk to the people. They had sailed up the coast of Alaska through the Bering Sea and were waiting for permits to continue east to Greenland.

Next we decided it was time to dip our toes in the Arctic Ocean, as that was a must do item on our bucket list for the trip, off came the shoes, we rolled up our pants and waded into the ocean, to discover it wasn’t as cold as expected, thank goodness.

Mission accomplished!!!

Next: Dempster Part 2

7 thoughts on “The Dempster Part 1”

  1. Hi Catherine and Stewart!
    Congratulations for achieving your travel objectives.

    Remember us? We met first time at Dawson City and thanks for your Gone tripping cap.

    Met again at Exit Glacier road near Seward. Just came back home to Toronto.

    We tried driving the Dempster but only got a bit beyond Tombstone before our home made RV trailer bit the dust. The left tire was shredded to bits by the sharp gravels. As it was so bumpy we were not aware of this. So the wheel rim got broken off as well and the wheel hub was dragging on the road. At this stage a driver in a pickup behind us overtook us and waved me down to look at the damage done to my trailer. I was agast!

    This was 100 km out of Dawson City. A long drive to buy replacement tire, wheel rim and wheel hub.

    We decided to turn back and camped the night at the road workers camp where we were stopped. Next morning after installing the hub and wheel we drove back down the Dempster. 20 km later, the right tire went. Same thing with the wheel rim and wheel hub.

    Unhitched the truck and again long drive to Dawson City for replacement parts. No stock of my 5 studs hub! 3 days delivery from Whitehorse. I couldn’t afford to leave my trailer on the roadside this long and so I bought the 4 stud wheel hub for replacement!

    Drove back to Dawson and went across to Chicken Alaska with fingers crossed. It wasn’t until Anchorage before I could buy the correct 5 stud wheel hub and spare wheels and spare tires! Then, I could heave a sigh of relief!

    1. Thye,
      It was good meeting on the road, sound like you had some adventures of your own. We are So glad you made it back home in one piece, that’s quite the trip you did. We will be heading down to Baja later this year, probably December, if you going to be in the area drop us a line as we would enjoy seeing you and Betty again.
      Stew & Cat

      1. Got back in one piece alright! Have to give my trailer new coat of paint to hide the minor scratches. Our trip took us 73 days and 19,380 km to be exact from doorstep back to doorstep.

        Amazed all the doubting Thomases back home that my design and built of the trailer could give us such comfort and convenience and stood up to the rigours of such a long and rough trip (save for the Dempster Highway where the tires failed us so badly)!

  2. Will keep in mind if we are to go south this winter to visit Baja as well. Ex-colleague of mine snow bird in Mexico and I might just visit him this winter!

    Keep us informed of your travels and where and when you gonna be in Baja.

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