The Dempster Highway, the Road to Resources, North Americas most northern all weather highway and the only all-season road to cross the Arctic Circle. A road of beauty, diversity and challenge that for the most part floats on top of perma-frost and meanders through some of the most interesting eco-zones on the planet, Climbing two massive mountain ranges (Ogilvie’s and Richardson’s) snaking through miles of amazing Tundra landscapes, witness to over 1000 species of plants, over 160 species of arctic birds, and if your lucky you may encounter the largest Caribou herd in the world.
More about the Dempstrt: http://www.yukoninfo.com/region/dempster-highway/
The Dempster a Highway steeped with history, folklore and mystery; the Lost Patrol of 1911 (RNWMP), “In 1911, four men and fifteen dogs set out for the winter patrol from Fort McPherson, to be swallowed up by the bitter cold, deep snow, and raging winds. The members of the “Lost Patrol” were found dead, after enduring 53 days of hardship on the trail, located only 40 kilometers from their starting point.”
The man-hunt for the Mad Trapper in 1932, Albert Johnson. The Mad Trapper at Rat River. The troubled man who shot a NWMP constable and then ran, evading his pursuers and leading them on a 150 mile foot chase in the dead of the Arctic winter, eventually injuring 2 more men, Johnson was shot at Eagle River Feb 1932.
First Nations and Inuit people have lived in the Dempster region for generations; the Dempster travels through traditional territories of the Han and Gwicth’in First Nation and Inuvialuit peoples. All along the route, mountains, rivers, and important sites in both Yukon and the Northwest Territories have original (hard to pronounce) First Nations names attached to them; these names have interesting stories that include important information about the land and its people.
Day 1 had been seasonably warm, reaching plus 12 just 30 k south of Dawson City, I was down to wearing a light jacket by the time I reached Klondike corner. The next 50 k although somewhat muddy were very enjoyable, little wind, very little traffic and loads of interesting scenery.
My first camp was in a small clearing just short of Tombstone which had been partially plowed out providing me with a safe spot to pitch the tent and boil some rabbit tracks and have supper.
As I lounged in my tent south of Tombstone Park at the end of day 1 with a belly full of gourmet MEC freeze-dried Chicken Marinara, warm and comfortable in my -35 mummy bag, I reflected on the great day, anxious for the new dawn to begin. Hoping for a dry road and blues skies.
Day 2 dawned cloudy with a light blanket of wet snow and temperature sitting just below zero, for the first 30 40 k the road was a mud bath, clogging up my gears, derailleurs and making for a slippery slow ride. I passed by the Tombstone Interpretive center in the shadow of tombstone mountain without seeing much, the weather was completely socked in. I ended up pushing my mud-plugged bike up the North Fork Pass summit (highest point on the Dempster) and over the Watershed Divide – all waters along the highway to the north of this location flow into the Beaufort Sea, streams to the south empty in the Bering Sea far to the west. In the flats below the Divide a met up with the Fritz Mueller family from Whitehorse who treated me to some chocolate and encouragement. Fritz is a world class photographer and he and his wife and two girls were camped out in their motorhome on a photo shot,(check him out here) http://fritzmueller.com/
At Two Moose lake I saw no moose but did meet up with a group of folks from around the globe who took turns having their pictures taken with my bike. At about km 120 I came across the RCMP Commemorative sign for the `Lost Patrol’ in 1911. : ” On 21 Dec. 1910 Fitzgerald left Fort McPherson with three other constables. From the outset, the patrol was slowed by heavy snow and temperatures as low as −62°. They were unable to find the route across the Richardson Mountains. Nine days were wasted searching for it. With supplies dwindling, Fitzgerald reluctantly had to admit defeat and return to Fort McPherson. The patrol now faced a desperate struggle. As food ran out, they began eating their dogs. In the last entry in his diary, on 5 February, Fitzgerald recorded that five were left and the men were so weak they could travel only a short distance. Within a few days all four died, three from starvation and exposure, including Fitzgerald, and one by suicide.
I had hoped to get over Windy Pass Summit before making camp but that didn’t happen, I soon realized that my projected 80 to 100 k per day was a bit ambitious given the 135 lb. bike and muddy road conditions. As the temperatures dropped I pitched camp just north of Tombstone and enjoyed another gourmet freeze-dried dinner, (not really)