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.
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.
Not long after stopping at the Arctic Circle sign I arrived at Eagle Plains, my resting point for the night.
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.
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.
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.
The weather of the last 24 hours has consisted fog and virtually non-stop drizzle making me appreciate the fact it has been pretty favorable for most of my trip. Leaving Tok I headed NE on the Alaska Highway until I reached the turnoff for Chicken and the Top of the World Highway.
Not long after the pavement ended I pulled into Chicken, a town that has a population of 6 during the winter according to the Milepost! Swelling to a party sized 21 during the summer, I asked the person serving me tea in one of the three trading posts if she was one of the six. The reply was “no” but was informed that the woman in the Post Office was one of the year rounders.
Leaving Chicken I continued to the turnoff for Eagle which was about 65 miles due north and situated on the Yukon River. Milepost recommended visiting Eagle so I meandered along the dirt road for a couple of hours until I reached the small town stopping at the one cafe there for lunch. A tour bus was just leaving, I suspect to drop people off at the boat that transports tourists to and from Dawson City. The cafe was akin to a roadside “greasy spoons” in England and it struck me as strange that there appeared to be no desire in the one eatery in town for some quality food! Perhaps it is lack of competition, few visitors and a short season, I’m not sure. I suppose that as with most frontier towns, most food arrives by way of the distribution system rather than relying on a locally cultivated cuisine. May be I just missed the more exquisite menu items.
Passing through Canadian Customs on the Top of the World highway fog engulfed the vista. I asked the officer about the view and she said it is usually spectacular and maybe if I waited for a few hours I would see it. She then said it had been like this all day. Despite my suspicion that it would be in vain, I pulled over a few hundred yards on and waited.
A couple of hours later and my skepticism was born out. As I began descending toward Dawson City the cloud cleared and I at least got some idea of the views I had missed at the top. Once at the Yukon River I drove on to the ferry that still makes the Alaska Highway the only true overland route between Canada and Alaska and entered Dawson City where I would spend the night before beginning the Dempster Highway in the morning.
Today I leave Anchorage behind and begin the journey south back to the lower 48. With that being said, I will be first traveling north in order to tackle the Dempster Highway and cross the Arctic Circle one more time.
After breakfast I had a new windshield fitted, bought food provisions and sought out a tire shop to have my tires rotated and wheels balanced. With clear glass in front of me I left Anchorage stopping in Palmer to visit Bob & Rhonda who I met during my time at McNeil. A few hours later I set off for Tok, about a five hour drive.