Farther 2019. Road to the Arctic, Part 1

The Dempster Highway has a reputation as a rough but epic journey to the Arctic.  There’s a lot of info about how remote and rough it is.  From the junction with the Klondike Highway in Yukon, it is 730 km to Inuvik, NWT.  The new highway to Tuktoyaktuk goes 149 km further, making the distance almost 900km.  The longest distance without services is 370 km.  The entire road is gravel or dirt.  They recommend you have at least one full sized spare tire and extra gas.

Why travel it?  The Dempster crosses the arctic circle and was the farthest north you could drive in Canada.  With the addition of the road to Tuk, it is now the only public road in North America that goes to the Arctic Ocean.

Somehow the great beauty of the road is often overlooked.  The scenery is constantly changing, and as you get further north you will see things that you cannot see anywhere else.

I spent 4 days making my way up the road.  I stopped for so many pictures I was actually getting tired of stopping for pictures.  It’s overwhelming.  So here’s my shot at sharing the journey.

Typical view at the beginning of the Dempster

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I was in Tombstone Park and turned back, down to Dawson due to the cold, snowy weather. (read about that here)  After a few days in Dawson, the weather was looking good, so I set out once again down the highway.  Tombstone is actually near the beginning of the Dempster, so I had already seen some of the scenery.  Some of the brilliant yellows were fading into brown, so I am glad I got the photos I did the first time.

The road through Tombstone.

Tombstone is definitely one of the most jaw dropping parts of the road.  Many come up at least this far as that part of the road is decently smooth.   Towards the north end of the park the land opens up with wide plains of tundra, surrounded by smaller mountains.  The colors were amazing…but also the scale of it all, which is so hard to capture.

The tiny SUV on the road gives an idea of just how deep this scene is.
Headed into more mountains.

Across the plains were the Ogilvie Mountains.  They got bigger and bigger until the road was passing right through them.  The trees made an appearance again.  All along the way, the mountains had snow on them.  Snow that isn’t normally there…but had freshly fallen days before.

There was kind of a stark beauty to it all.  It really felt more remote.

It should also be mentioned that all these pictures were taken from the side of the road.  The beauty of the Dempster is incredibly accessible that way.

There were some interesting rock formations along the way.

The road through the pass followed a river. In this case the road curves around the bend by those rocks across the way.
Looking back on the mountains that I just drove through.

Leaving the mountains behind, the road ran through a flat area with stunted trees.  Ahead I could see a raised plateau.

The road eventually worked its way along the side until it was riding along the top, with the valley below.  At this point the road started getting rough, and it stayed rough for quite a while.

From the top I could see the mountains, stretching out as a snow capped line to my left.  To my right was rolling hills.  The mountains were amazing, and I can’t imagine them being the same without that fresh snow on them.  The road stayed up top for quite a while. Curving, climbing, descending.  But oh, those views!

There were some large burned areas that cast darkness on an already cloudy day, but the green trees always came back further down.

Apparently this is one of the early areas that they were searching for oil up here and they did find some small wells.

The road is definitely rough.  In several ways.  Sometimes it’s full of potholes or just rough surfaces that can get vehicles bouncing and out of control if going too fast.  Sometimes the underlying rocks are poking through.  If there’s been rain, the dirt turns into this crazy muck that clings to everything and is very slippery.  So it’s slower going than you might think, but so worth it.

More to come! (and it only gets better and better!!)


One Reply to “Farther 2019. Road to the Arctic, Part 1”

  1. Did the Dempster in 1973 and 1975 on a 10-speed pedal bicycle. In 1973, went to mile 135. In 1975, went to mile 236 to the banks of the Peel River, Only survey stakes on the other side. River was choked with slush ice in October. Temp was -15C. Planning to return on a bicycle in 2021 or 2022 to ‘finish old business’ by pedaling through to Tuk.

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