Journey to the Arctic Circle
As we have traveled through North America I’ve realised how many people I know along the way, friends who generously take us in, offer food, showers, laundry, and good company. Whitehorse was no exception where we stayed with Audrey and Mike (my best friend’s brother who I’ve known since he was a baby). We enjoyed relatively mosquito free evenings outside under the midnight sun with them.
The population of the Yukon is about 36,000, and 3/4 of that live in Whitehorse. It is a small northern city sitting in a beautiful spot on the river. We wandered the streets, saw the old paddle wheeler that used to take supplies up to Dawson, and checked out some of the community events for summer solstice and Aboriginal day.
Heading north we found ourselves at the start of the Dempster Highway, a 766km gravel road that leads to Inuvik in the North West Territories, well above the arctic circle. We planned on taking 5-6 days to get there and back.
Our first stop was at Tombstone Territorial Park. It had been smoky for the last couple days due to fires in Alaska so we decided we would do some of the hikes here on the way back down and hope the skies had cleared up. We did stop at Two Moose Lake and found it stood up to its name, although we only saw one moose.
We got to Eagle Plains late in the afternoon, it is the only town between Dawson and the NWT border, the half way point to refuel. It has a small hotel and RV park, as well as a mechanic if needed. We asked about showers and were told they were free, and we saw why! But we were pretty dusty after 2 days on the road and it was good to be clean.
About 40km past Eagle Plains is the 66th parallel, the arctic circle. It was amazing to think that we had driven here. This far north the sun doesn’t set at all for around 50 days in the summer (and in winter they get about 30 days of complete darkness). It might sound nice to get so many daylight hours, but after a few nights of struggling to sleep the novelty wore off. We hung up towels and blankets to make the camper dark, but then there was a small problem of becoming too hot. I know, the problems we have! Don’t get me wrong, it has been absolutely amazing to experience the arctic, 24 hours of sunlight and all!
We crossed into the North West Territories after driving through some stunning scenery. There are strange stunted spruce trees here, part of the Boreal Forest, and sprawling arctic tundra with beautiful wildflowers.
We crossed 2 free ferries and suddenly found ourselves on a much busier road. We would hastily pull over for big trucks speeding by in clouds of dust. We’d only seen a handful of vehicles on the road up until now. As we came into Inuvik the road was paved again and a little town appeared. Inuvik has a population of about 3,600 and is a surprisingly developed place with a big hospital, research centre, 2 fuel stations, and a busy main street. The one campground in town was full of trucks and motor homes as filthy as ours, and road weary travellers eager to tell of their journey.
Inivik was a bit of a strange place though, and to us it felt like we were in a different world. We went into an ice cream shop that advertised 24 plus flavours, and were told they only had chocolate. The man at the campground told us that the toilets were locked at night to keep out the locals, but we could get the security man to open them if we needed. I wasn’t sure why the locals would want to use the campground facilities but decided not to get into it. Walking around the town people were very friendly and overall we really liked it.
Because the town is built on permafrost ground the houses are lifted up on stilts and there is a complex system of pipes going to and from each house to carry water and sewage and prevent it freezing. We’d read that if the permafrost is disturbed it turns into a lake, so much of the Dempster was built during the winter to prevent this. The town also has a large community greenhouse as they cannot plant anything outdoors.
After spending the morning wandering the town a bit more we found some diesel and decided to get back on the road. We had been hoping that the smoke would have cleared by now but it only seemed to be getting worse, which was so disappointing. We walked to a lookout just outside of town to see if there was a view, and could just make out the lake through the haze. The mosquitoes up here have been shocking, swarms that I have never experienced before. We feel like idiots wearing nets over our hats, but it saves our sanity when out walking! Day 5
The most exciting thing that happened today was that we saw a wolf! It came walking out of the mist on the road right in front of us. It stayed on the road and walked past our truck. It was pretty awesome. The rest of the day it rained, and turned the road very muddy. We stopped again at Eagle Plains for diesel and to brave the showers.
It finally cleared up and we had blue skies! The wind and rain had done the trick and we were relieved that we had seen some of this road in true summer sun. We passed through Tombstone again and hiked up to a great lookout. We also saw a moose diving for weeds on the bottom of a lake. He was quite far away so we didn’t get a good picture, but it was amazing to watch him splash his huge antlers under the water.
Overall this was an amazing journey to have taken in our little truck. We went to places that I never thought I would get, or never thought of going. There is something about seeing the wild places in my own country that has brought out my elusive inner patriot. Seeing the beauty of Canada from the Arctic is something I will never forget.