I've been really blessed by the hospitality of people I've met along the road. Through Instagram I've been able to meet up with people in different cities creating new opportunities to learn more about the surrounding areas and getting the insider scoop on cool places to sleep. So far I haven't needed to use a laundromat and have enjoyed a number of hot showers, a true luxury on the road.
Shortly after writing my previous blog I met up with Andrew Smith from Whitehorse. After a bit of time spent at his place we left off for the Yukon back country just outside of Whitehorse. We traveled for about an hour on a gravel road of varying levels of bumpiness hemmed in by poplar and pine trees then popped out beside a beautifully calm lake backed by an iconic Northern landscape. Camp was quickly set up, beers were cracked open and a fire stoked. Mid morning the next day we had camp broken down and were on our way to the next trail. Andrew hadn't exaggerated when he said there'd be a lot of water and mud along the trail. The road we traveled was built years ago when the prospect for an Alaskan pipeline traveling through the Yukon to Kitimat was being considered; since then the road has been avidly used by hunters and off-roaders. The trail turned out to be a lot of fun. It was the perfect level of difficulty to give a little thrill but not too difficult that I was concerned about getting severely stuck or breaking my truck. As we approached the outlet it began to rain and the solid clay that we had been driving on turned to slippery slime which resulted in Andrew having to winch himself out of a sticky spot.
When we returned after our excursion I was again in search of a camping spot for the night. Four years previous I had hiked Grey Mountain with Alison so I knew of the road leading up to the top. I asked Andrew if he thought I'd have any problems camping at the top of the mountain. He assured me there'd be no trouble and I might get cuddo's for doing so, that was all I needed...cuddo's. An hour later I was setting up camp at the top of Grey Mountain, completely socked in by cloud. If it was a view I had been looking for, I wasn't going to get it.
Turns out sleeping on Grey Mountain wasn't a great idea. I woke up with a soaked mattress from the driving rain that had come through that night. There was no sun to speak of in the morning so I packed up and left Whitehorse in search of sunshine as quickly as I could.
The next stage of the journey was the Klondike Highway leading from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Though it's beautiful in it's own way, the Klondike Highway offers little else than trees for the first large section. It was only shortly into the trip that I was beginning to nod off as I drove. A lot of short stops to stretch legs kept me awake and Willow from complaining. One of our stops was Five Finger Rapids, an interesting section of the Yukon River with a history tying into the Klondike Gold Rush and sternwheelers used in the day.
Camp was found just South of Carmacks in a gravel pit. There is little cell reception along the highway and if you forget to plan your route on your google maps app then you'll wind up SOL for finding a campsite via satellite image. So gravel pit it was. When I opened my tent I found a sopping wet mattress. When I say sopping wet I mean SOPPING WET, like 'press-your-hand-into-the-mattress-and-water-gushes-up' wet. So, out came the mattress and on top of the truck it went. I managed to catch a few rays before the sun hid behind some clouds which did little to dry it out so I was forced to string it up under one of my awnings over night in hopes of further drying. I slept in my tent on a thermarest which I found out an hour later had a hole in it. Sweet.
Then next morning I packed still-wet mattress into tent and set off for Dawson City. A few hours later I arrive in the gold mining town. Dawson is a neat little town, full of history and still marked by age. I walked the town and planned my itinerary for the night. First, eat at the Sourdough Saloon and wait for 9pm when I could do the Sour Toe Cocktail then go to Diamond Tooth Gertie's to watch one of the shows. All three experiences were a lot of fun and definitely added to the fun of Dawson City. If you're ever there be sure to do all three!
As I made my way out of town that night after the show I spotted a cool Toyota Sunrader Overland set up sitting in a parking lot and immediately swerved off the road and parked beside them. Hopping out of the truck I caught the eye of one of the owners and gave them a wave drawing them out of their home on wheels. Charles and Kim of www.homeonwheels.ca with their two dogs Oliver and Lenney are currently doing the Northern portion of the Pan American Highway and will be traveling with their parents (in a Tiger adventure vehicle) for the next two years all the way to Argentina. I talked with them for a while before asking them if they'd like a traveling buddy as we'd all be traveling up the Dempster the next morning. I guess I'm not a threatening or obviously irritating person because they agreed to meet me at the start of the highway the next morning. I ended up traveling with them in a convoy for the next four days passing the arctic circle and reaching Inuvik.
The Dempster. At 737.5 km's the Dempster Highway sits at 71.2 km's longer than the 666.3 km Dalton Highway. There was a day when I thought the Dalton was the ultimate highway, now, perhaps not as much. The Dalton may give you access to the furthest North point that one can reach by car but what the Dempster has in scenery FAR outweighs the Dalton. The first mountain range you encounter on the Dempster is the Tombstone Mountains, I needn't say much about the highway, you can just look at the pictures; however, after we passed through the Tombstones I thought that we were passed all the mountains and that we'd be seeing arctic tundra in no time at all, oh was I wrong. Mountains continued to pop up and we continued to pass between them until eventually the high peaks turned to rolling tree-covered mountains as we approached Eagle Plains. We stopped at Eagle plains for the night, it had taken us from 10:30 am till about 6:30 pm to drive approximately 360 km's...that's a lot of picture stops. Luckily for me the rain stopped and I was able to dry out the mattress a little before bed.
The next morning it was an early start for the crew and we all rolled out around 8:30. Fast forward 40 minutes and we find ourselves at the Arctic Circle, this will be the first time during this trip that I cross over the arctic circle. Shortly after our AC stop we find ourselves stopped again at the border between the Yukon and North West Territories. This is about the point at which I start getting giddy and jumping up and down while laughing maniacally to myself as I snap pictures outside of my truck looking out onto vast expanses of uninhabited land. I'm going to get a little mushy here but I was actually drawn to tears while driving along the highway in the portion of after the NWT border. I consider myself extremely blessed to do the things that I do and see the places that I've seen. It doesn't get boring, I don't get jaded to it. There is a great big world out there that is so incredibly beautiful and I love exploring it.
Not long after the NWT border you pass out of the mountains and begin to get into the true arctic tundra lands and it begins to flatten out. Before and after you pass Fort McPherson are ferries crossing first the Peel River then the Mackenzie River. After the Mackenzie it's a straight forward drive remaining to make it to Inuvik.
That night I found a camping spot just inside the city limits along the greater Mackenzie delta. After finding my campsite around 1030 pm I stayed up a while longer attempting to dry out my mattress with the help of the midnight sun, it also happened to be sweltering hot and sleep wasn't going to come easily.
The city/town of Inuvik is an interesting place, it's very unlike what we are used to as Southerners. Businesses don't appear as businesses, the city layout is a little confusing at times and the buildings are obviously meant to withstand extreme cold, not to mention almost every home is built on stilts. After some exploring of the city we turned our compass back South and set out again. Our travel was a little quicker this time and after leaving Inuvik at 12:30 pm we arrived back at the Arctic Circle where we'd stay the night. Unfortunately for me, after waiting out the rain cloud that passed over us, it was about 11:30 and I was in bed when the "Bro's" that had arrived in their RV about an hour after us decided it would be cool play racket ball just outside my tent till 1:00 am, just because they could.
The next morning at almost six I was woken up by strong wind against my tent, soon after I heard the rain drops. Considering my previous experience with driving rain I was quick to get dressed and begin to take down my tent; however, when I went to open up the side door of my tent a received a face full of water. So, I closed my tent door and proceeded to wait it out for another 1.5 hours. At just about hour 2 I became restless and exited out the other side of my tent after tentatively retrieving my shoes from my boot bag on the rainy side of the truck. I then turned my truck into the wind and managed to close my tent, but not without getting quite wet. The decision was quickly made to high tail it out of there and race back to Dawson as quick as I could...but not without getting out of my truck every 5 minutes to take pictures.
I'm back in Dawson now, my friends and their parents arrived many hours later after suffering some minor/ major break downs on the highway. I've cleaned the truck and dried out my mattress and will be leaving to Alaska tomorrow. I'm feeling excited and have much anticipation for the Top of the World Highway.