South on the Dempster Highway

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South on the Dempster Highway

As I began the journey south the weather hadn’t improved. With the prolonged rain the road became more muddy by the hour and on the hilly sections it was noticeable that some vehicles were beginning to struggle. In particular one vehicle pulling a trailer was sliding all over the place on one downward section.

Once I had made the two ferry crossings things started to look up and the drizzle relented for some of the second half of the days drive although the low cloud meant poor visibility in the higher sections once again. I forgot to mention that I had spotted a bear on the drive up to Inuvik crossing the road but didn’t have an opportunity to take a picture. Today I was more fortunate. Not only did I see one but rather than run into the bushes he stayed in the open and I was able to photograph him. While doing so, a truck pulled past me and on noticing the fact I had my camera pointed out the window stopped as well. Strangely, the occupants not only stopped but decided to get out and take pictures as the bear crossed the road! As you can see, it looks like they had been hunting based on what is protruding from the back of their truck.

Bear crossing Dempster Highway

After watching the bear for an hour or two and taking the picture that heads this post, I continued on and with the weather appearing to clear still further, by the time I crossed the Arctic Circle the views were good and things were looking quite promising.

Arctic Circle
Not long after stopping at the Arctic Circle sign I arrived at Eagle Plains, my resting point for the night.

Dawson City, YT to Inuvik, NWT

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Dawson City, YT to Inuvik, NWT

My Location

Today I made the long drive north on the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, once again crossing the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately the weather of yesterday continued and much of the journey was fraught with blanketing fog and drizzle. The road was muddy and slippery in certain sections, particularly where construction teams had been working, and I thought what a contrast this experience was becoming when compared with the conditions I had experienced on the Dalton. The redeeming feature of today was the sighting of numerous caribou framed by the gray skyline creating a mystical feeling in the dreary conditions.

Crossing from Yukon into Northwest Territories

Originally I had planned to camp somewhere north of Eagle Plains, where I stopped for fuel, but with the weather looking unlikely to abate I pressed on to Inuvik, crossing into Northwest Territories and making two “on demand” ferry crossings, the first being at the Peel River, close to Fort McPherson and the second at the confluence of the Mackenzie/Arctic Red Rivers next to the town of Tsiigehtchic (“mouth of the iron river”), a Gwichʼin community. During the winter, these ferries are replaced by ice bridges and it reminds me how locals say driving the Dempster is often easier in winter because the ice packed road is more forgiving than the muddy or dusty summer conditions, all of course assuming you have the correct tires. Further more, in winter you can travel beyond Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean on the ice road across the delta.

The first picture below is from the Peel River ferry crossing and the second is from the approach to the ferry at the Mackenzie/Arctic Red rivers confluence. The white church is in Tsiigehtchic which lies between the two rivers just before they merge.

Peel River Ferry
Approaching the ferry across the Arctic Red and McKenize rivers

Although I was well north of the Arctic Circle, it struck me how lush the vegetation was compared with the tundra at the same latitude on the Dalton. There were even trees! I later discovered that this is due to the Mackenzie river delta, the relatively warm waters of which keep the permafrost at bay allowing for more top soil in which life is able to flourish.

Beaver Creek, Yukon to Tangle Lakes on the Denali Highway, AK

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My Location

Leaving Beaver Creek I crossed back into the US/Alaska at Port of Alcan feeling that I had really arrived given that Skagway and Haines are not connected to the rest of Alaska by road without passing through Canada. However, my sense of arrival in Alaska made me feel somewhat complacent with respect to distances. Everything after all was still a long way away! After reaching Tok, the only town you have to pass through whichever way you enter Alaska by road from Canada, I headed SW on the Tok Cutoff Highway to Slana where I made the 80 mile or so side trip along Nabesna Rd through the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve. I need to make sure I don’t start taking the spectacular scenery for granted. Back to Slana and continuing SW I passed through Gakona where I would need to turn north on the Richardson Highway to Paxson in order to reach the eastern end of the unpaved Denali highway. I continued on to Glenallen where I refueled and given the wonderful evening light headed back north to Paxson turning onto the Denali Highway for the first time. It was now after 11.00PM and after stopping a couple of times to take in the late light views I stopped at the Tangle Lakes campground which lies shortly before the second highest highway pass in Alaska, MacLaren Summit, the highest being on the Dalton Highway on which I expect to be traveling in a few weeks time. As with previous campgrounds I was one of only a few braving the early season. In this case there appeared to be one other tent although a French couple appeared to have registered at the entry point earlier. In actuality it wasn’t as cold as the 2 nights I had spent camping in Colorado earlier in the month and at least the wind was calm compared to the pass at Summit Lake in Canada.

Skagway,AK to Beaver Creek, Yukon

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My Location

Leaving Skagway behind at 7.00AM I watched the humpback whales spouting in the harbour from the deck. Unfortunately they barely emerged from the water hence no picture. There were now 4 newly arrived cruise ships docked at Skagway. A number of my fellow passengers were on their way to various adventures in different parts of Alaska their activities hinted at by the various equipment carried by their vehicles.

What a contrast Haines was to Skagway. The town that turned down the cruise ships may have paid the price in terms of the ‘spick and span’ effect but perhaps it has been left with more substance. Its real. On reflection, Haines is to Skagway as Crested Butte is to Aspen. North to the eagle preserve where more than 3000 bald eagles gather during the October to Dec late salmon run. That must be a tremendous spectacle. Today I was told there are a couple hundred pairs or so in the preserve. During my time there I spotted half or dozen far away on their lofty perches. Even with a long telephoto lens they were still tiny in the frame. This is a place that would certainly be worth visiting for a few days during autumn.

Onward and a long drive through more spectacular Yukon country stopping the night at Beaver Creek just before the Alaskan border. This Beaver Creek is very different from the one in Colorado! As with many of the roadside service towns it is only just awaking from its winter slumber – the restaurant there was opening for the first day of the season and staff had arrived from various parts of Canada for their summer stint. The lodge/restaurant/campground staff here have their own “hotel” because they are only here for the summer months. I quoted hotel because from what they told me about the standard of their accommodation hotel is probably not an apt description!

Atlin, BC to Skagway, AK

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My Location

It appears that waking Atlin in the morning is akin to rising the dead! Although the inn was supposedly full, there was still nobody about by 10.30AM so I left my key in the room and drove back north to the junction with the Alaska highway before heading to Carcross and then Skagway. The drive south to Skagway was amongst the most spectacular so far crossing White Pass. You can still take the train used during the gold rush from Skagway to White Pass.

Cloud reflections on the Atlin Road

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Cloud reflections on the Atlin Road

Atlin, British Columbia

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Atlin, British Columbia

“Alaska will be great but you won’t see anything quite like Atlin” is a quote from a local woman when I arrived in Atlin. Another town founded during the gold rush it has survived by being located on the largest natural lake in BC nestled amongst spectacular mountain peaks. Boating during the summer and heli-skiing in winter is now the towns life blood. I decided to stay at the small inn located on the shore where the current proprietors were ‘townies’ from that metropolis Whitehorse! One local fellow in the bar told me he had been in Atlin all his life and made a living gold panning. The gold rush may be long gone but with the price of gold where it is today perhaps a few more people will return to places like Atlin in the years ahead.

Summit Lake to Atlin, British Columbia

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My Location

An early departure after a windy, sleety, noisy night at Summit Lake and I stopped for eggs at Toad River Lodge, Toad River where I deposited a hat – number 7433 with the collection they started many years ago.

Crossing into Yukon I arrived at Watsons Lake where I visited the information centre, watched the film about the construction of the Alaska highway and read a few of the many thousand signs displayed outside the visitor center. Do I spot a trend here?

West to Jakes Corner and I made the turn south for a side trip of 100km each way to Atlin. The road was paved part way but a good portion of it was gravel/dirt.

Today was quite prolific in terms of wild life sightings – 3 black bears, a bull moose, mule deer as usual, buffalo, porcupine all beside the road. Photo wise not a great day because all of the animals ran as soon as they saw the car.

Squawking to my arrival at Watsons Lake

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Squawking to my arrival at Watsons Lake

This fellow squawked to my arrival at Watsons Lake visitor center where the staff were more than enthusiastic in their promotion of the Yukon. Perhaps unfairly, I suppose the Yukon loses out to BC and Alaska much of the time.

Grand Prairie to Summit Lake…

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Grand Prairie to Summit Lake...

Having arrived late at Grand Prairie I set off mid-morning the next day for Dawson Creek, mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, crossing into British Columbia along the way.

Side note: it seems that everyone rides around on ATVs and Quad bikes in these parts.

After driving through what seemed like days of forest I stopped at Fort Nelson for fuel and a well prepared piece of Halibut (surprising in a place like Ft Nelson!) Rather than stopping here for the night, I pushed on and the scenery soon reverted to the familiar Rocky Mountains as I passed into Stone Mountain Provincial Park. Its strange how you have to actually visit these places in order to discover their existence. Although it is covered reasonably well in Milepost I suppose my mind had been consumed with other preparatory matters until now. As I passed through Summt Lake I noticed a provincial campground nestled at the top of a pass between snow covered peaks and decided to stop for the night. That decision turned into a test of the Technitops wind resistance capabilities! Although you can’t tell from the picture which was taken late in the evening, the wind was already picking up which is why the fly sheet isn’t fully extended. During the night I learned a lot about the tents design for dealing with wind. Basically it moves around like a suspension bridge which while seemingly effective isn’t exactly quiet!

My Location

Icefields & glaciers

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Icefields & glaciers

Through the icefields and on to Grand Prairie

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Waking up to the sound of glacial melt flowing in the nearby stream with the sun rising over the snowy peaks around me is what makes camping in places like this worth while. I would have posted a photo of the view from my tent but couldn’t bring myself to get out of my sleeping bag to fetch my camera! Pictures and words can rarely capture the real essence of experience anyway.

A quick breakfast of steak, spinach and eggs cooked in my cast iron skillet and it was time to pack out. Passing from Banff to Jasper Nastional Park I briefly took in the ice fields before heading east on 16 and then west and north to Grand Prairie via Grand Cache.

View from my spot at Mosquito Creek campground

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View from my spot at Mosquito Creek campground

Calgary to Banff

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After waiting at the Toyota garage for a couple of hours while they gave the Land Cruiser its first service I picked up some provisions, fixed a loose antenna fixing with a washer (probably loose because it clipped the height restriction at the bank) I set off for Banff National Park. A quick stop at Banff with its many visitors and I took the less busy 1A to Lake Louise where I planned on camping at one of the grounds due to open for the season today. About 20km out of Lake Louise I came upon a stranded cyclist who was having cramp problems. After supplying him water and food the bike was strapped to the roof and I dropped him off in Lake Louise village passing his fellow riders on the way.
Unfortunately, as with the US Rocky Mountain parks most of the campgrounds are not yet open and although the one at Lake Louise was supposed to be open it was only open for hard sided campers. They say it is to protect the bears! After a brief stop at the still frozen over Lake Louise, I headed for the more remote and higher Mosquito Creek campground about 23km north of Lake Louise. This was open to all and was more akin to the National Forest campgrounds in Colorado. i.e toilets only and “no trace” camping.