Friday, June 22, 2018

Monday June 22, 1998 - Dempster Highway

The Arctic Circle - rain

It rained all night and didn't stop in the morning. I got breakfast ready, packed up and ate in the truck cab on my way into Dawson. I stopped at both the Dawson and NWT visitor centres for water and information. At the NWT centre they gave me information about driving the Dempster and where to buy gas. My plan had been to stay in the Dawson area, drive the Top of the World Highway to the Alaska border and then start the Dempster the next day. But with the rain I thought there would be no point in driving the Top of the World as I would be unable to see the view, so I may as well go straight to the Dempster. And there was a rain warning for the Dempster too---50 mm---rain all day.

View of Dawson City from the Midnight Dome
But first I drove around Dawson up to the Midnight Dome and down to Bonanza Creek. On the summer solstice you can see the midnight sun from the Dome, you cannot see it down at the town level.

Giant dredge used to mine the gold, seen from on top of a huge pile of dredge tailings
Dawson is about the size of Whitehorse but most of the buildings are original. The roads are dirt because of the permafrost. I passed Jack London's cabin but didn't see Robert Service's place. On the road to Dawson are miles of tailings—long gravel worms spit up by the huge dredges they used to dredge the local creeks for gold.

Bonanza Creek

Prospector's cabin and antique dredge
I saw one old dredge at Bonanza Creek and of course the spot on the creek where gold was first discovered. Boy did those guys lay waste to the territory! I had this weird feeling abou the Gold Rush hype and now I know why. The history of the BC coast, the First Nations and later European settlements was interesting, but this is a history of wanton destruction.

After getting gas at a cardlock facility I set out on the Dempster. Even in the rain it is spectacular. Almost immediately trees disappear and you are surrounded by bare mountains and valleys. This is the Ogilvie Mountain Range

My truck at the base of the mountains
Ogilvie Mountains
I stopped at the Tombstone campground (named for Tombstone Mountain, which I could not see due to rain and fog) for lunch in a picnic shelter, where a group of German tourists were being guided by a German woman from Nelson. She said they come here for 3 weeks of hiking and canoeing in the wilderness. Tons of Germans come here; they live in a crowded country, have 6 weeks of paid vacation and a yearning for wilderness. Every week a flight of 300 Germans arrives in Whitehorse. Not a few end up settling here, the German guide was one who came as a tourist and stayed to become a guide. All the German tourists crowded to one end of the picnic shelter and I was at the other end alone, until the guide came over and struck up a conversation.

I drove on.

I saw this sign that said "scenic view", so I pulled in at the next turnoff, but all there was was a camper. It was pouring rain, and there were two grizzled heads at the door of the camper. I got out of the truck to ask them if they knew where the heck this "scenic view" was. They didn't have a clue, but one of them said "maybe it's us" and then invited me in for coffee. Seemed like a good idea, since there was too much rain for viewing scenes anyway. Mick and Al, and their dog Rosy. Mick is a teacher from Oregon (grades 6-8) due to retire in 6-7 years and Al is a geology prof from Tacoma Washington. They were on their way home from 5 days fishing in Inuvik.
Had a nice time chatting about all sorts of things. They recommended a campsite in Inuvik, and told me about a gravel pit just north of the Arctic Circle which was relatively bug-free for overnight camping and recommended a particular type of bug bite salve available only in Inuvik. I finally left there around 6 pm. They said I should be sure to stay in Inuvik till it got sunny again so that I could see the south part of the highway in its true glory. I finally dragged myself away from there and headed north on the Dempster.

At the Maintenance Camp I let a semi pass me, I didn't like having his big truck looming in my rearview mirror. A while later I passed Engineer Creek camp and the road by this time was extremely muddy from all the rain. Almost immediately I saw the semi with its flashers on parked on the side of the road. I pulled up behind it and walked forward. There was a huge mud slide with whole trees embedded in it across the road. The mud and rocks were still coming down the slope on the left side of the road, I think the mud slide was 2-3 feet deep and very wide on the road. There was a camper stopped in the road on the other side of the mudslide. The driver of the camper had a chainsaw and was trying to cut some of the trees, then the semi truck driver was chaining the trees to the camper and the camper guy was backing his camper away from the mud, pulling the trees out.

The semi, the camper, and the mudslide
Then the camper guy came across the mud and said to me, "Looking for adventure?"

After pulling the trees out the mud subsided a bit but was still pretty deep. The semi driver said he'd drive through first to make tracks and then the camper should go and finally me. The semi drove through and stopped on the other side, then the camper came through and continued south and finally I drove through. The mud was about a foot thick now but the mud in the semi's tracks was not as deep. I hit some stuff in the mud, probably tree debris, but no harm done. The semi truck driver told me to go ahead of him. I think he waited about a quarter of an hour before he set out, I never actually his truck but it was nice to know that it was there in case anything went wrong.

It was hard to see anything. The road was bad and I had to really concentrate but there was no visibility to speak of. At one point there was blowing snow. I stopped at a view point to use the outhouse, but there was no view. I passed through miles of burned trees in what appeared to be muskeg. Around 10 pm I began to see breaks in the clouds to the north. The coffee with Mick and Al was keeping me going, not to mention not wanting to stop due to the rain and mosquitoes.

Around 11 pm I pulled into Eagle Plains, the halfway point on the Dempster. There's a motel, a bar and a gas station. I got gas and then drove around behind the motel to park and feed Yohan. There was no rain but swarms of huge mosquitoes. When Yohan got out of the truck to eat the mosquitoes swarmed his eyes, there were dozens of them right in his eyes. I rubbed some bug dope on him and while I waited for him to eat I tried to put some netting up inside the back of the truck.

Shortly after leaving Eagle Plains I saw a pull-out and a sign for the Arctic Circle crossing. However I did not want to stop due to the mosquitoes. Mick and Al had recommended that just past the Arctic Circle there was a gravel pit that was good to camp in because it was very windy which kept the bugs down, so I was keeping an eye out for that. They said it was on the side of a hill, you have to drive off the highway and around the hill before you see it. I got there just before midnight. I could pull in and park out of sight of the road, up on a ledge with a view of the surrounding land. I could see the Richardson mountains in the distance, and it was very windy and relatively bug-free.

I wrote for a bit and didn't go to bed until almost 4 am. It is now daylight all day and all night so I have lost all sense of the time of day. I think I lost track of what day it is some time ago as well, so I feel quite disconnected from the usual measurement of time passing.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

Wow, what an adventure. Great photos. It almost makes me want to go there-- almost :) One of the RV/YouTube ladies has headed to Alaska but not sure where she's at there as she posts way behind where she is.