Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tuesday June 23, 1998 - Dempster Highway

Richardson Mountains

It was a windy clear day when I woke up in the gravel pit, and cold. The wind was so strong that a raven just floated over my truck. The view was fantastic, the Richardson Mountain Range lay to the north of me. The highway goes through a broad pass that has never been glaciated.


I set out right after breakfast and thought I would be in Inuvik in the late afternoon, I was making good time. The highway crosses treeless mountains and valleys to the NWT border, and you don't start seeing trees again until you approach the Mackenzie Delta. There's a time zone change at the Yukon/NWT border.

There are two ferry crossings, Peel River and Arctic Red River, before Inuvik and when I got to the first one, Peel River, there was a long line-up of vehicles waiting to cross. It is a cable ferry and both the wind and the current in the river are very strong today so they did not want to chance a crossing until the wind died. The river flows north and many of the trees that came down in the rain the day before were floating down the river, driven by the strong current.

The semi truck that I met the day before was in the line-up a ways ahead of me. I greeted the driver as someone I knew and we chatted. His name is Norm and he told me that he drove the route between Edmonton to Inuvik on a regular basis.

I asked what he was carrying in his truck and he said, "Oh, I'm an essential service in the North. Chips and pop."

He said the highway washed out and was closed just south of Eagle Plains this morning. It was still raining down there. So we were all stuck between the Peel River ferry and Eagle Plains, no one could go south, no one could go north.

I waited all afternoon, there were about twenty vehicles in the line-up and I met people from Montana, Saskatchewan, Vancouver Island, and Alaska in the line-up. The wind would probably not die before evening.

I tried to take a look at the river but you couldn't get close to it because of the sand in the wind. There are sandy cliffs up river and the wind is blowing the sand down. It stings the skin and you have to keep your eyes closed. There is a tiny native village here. I talked to a ten year old boy who doesn't go to school but hunts moose and wolf and fishes too. There are a few native cabins, and one entrepreneurial type who sold hotdogs, chips and coke from a tent.  One cabin has a komatik in front of it.

There are no bugs thanks to the wind, except if you have to go into the woods to pee. It is mostly treeless taiga tundra here. I picked some really bright blue Arctic Forget-Me-Nots on a hillock. All kinds of tufts of tiny flowers, white, yellow and blue.

Around 6 pm the shift changed on the Peel River ferry and the new skipper decided to cross. Around 6.30 he started ferrying people across and I crossed around 6.45 pm. I drove straight through to the next ferry at Fort MacPherson, only stopping once to feed Yohan. 

The Arctic Red River ferry does a 3-point route: from the Fort McPherson side to the Inuvik side to Arctic Red River and back to Fort McPherson. There was a hitchhiker at Fort McPherson who was picked up by the car behind me, a white station wagon with four guys in it. He was from New York and was kayaking across the country. His kayak was at the ferry landing. While we waited for the ferry he set up his tent there.

After getting off the ferry I drove to Inuvik. I stopped just before Inuvik to look at a campsite, Caribou Creek, which appeared to be bug-free but there was no one there. I continued to Chuk Camp, on a hill 5 km before the town, arriving around 11.30 pm. This was the campground recommended by Al and Mick. The owner was nice, I talked to him for a while debating whether to stay there or at Caribou Creek. Caribou Creek was free, Chuk Camp was not. Regardless of what I decided the owner said I could have a shower at Chuk. 

A couple I met at the Peel River ferry, Clem and Liz, they had a Wild Rose camper. Clem said something I kind of liked while we were waiting for the ferry. We were talking about Yohan's breed. Clem thought he was a collie, I told him that I always thought so but some people where I worked thought he was a Nova Scotia Duck Toller, and that after all he was from Nova Scotia. Clem said, No he was definitely a collie, so he called him a 'Cajun Collie'. So I think that's what I'm going to tell people from now on, he's a Cajun Collie.

I decided to go to Caribou Creek but discovered that it was now very buggy so around 1 am I returned to Chuk Camp and registered. The owner only charged me $10 even though the fee was supposed to be $12.

The clock time means nothing, this far north the sun does not set but just goes round and round, so it never gets dark at all. There are no stars and no moon, just the sun. I picked out a site and went to bed.

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