The ice is over two feet thick
First thing in the morning after a hearty breakfast, Lee drove me down to the banks of the McKenzie River and out onto to the snow covered ice of the east channel. The McKenzie and Peel rivers help feed the vast McKenzie delta which is the largest fresh water delta in Canada and the second largest in the world. Once through the delta the ice road carries on the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk.
The Ice Road
The new all-weather road started construction early in 2014 and is scheduled to be complete sometime in 2018 , once completed it would spell the demise of the famous McKenzie Ice Road.
Road facts: CBC North
- The road will extend the Dempster Highway, which currently ends in Inuvik, N.W.T. The Dempster Highway, which opened in 1979, was the first all-season road across the Arctic Circle. It was named for Jack Dempster, a member of the Northwest Mounted Police in Yukon who played a role in the recovery of the Lost Patrol.
- The 137-km long two-lane highway will be packed gravel, with an anticipated speed limit of 70 km/h.
- Construction will only occur in the winter when there’s less risk of damage or disruption to the permafrost.
- The roadbed will be a minimum of 1.8 metres above the tundra.
- There will be eight bridges along the route, in total 68 areas where the highway has to pass over waterways larger than two metres.
- The GNWT expects about 150 people to work on the project annually, with crews split between the Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk ends.
- The cost of the project is currently estimated at $299 million. The federal government has pledged to contribute $200 million.The remainder will be paid by the GNWT. Annual maintenance work, including grading the road and clearing snow, will cost between $1.5 and $1.8 million each year.
- The GNWT anticipates construction will be finished by 2018.
Venturing out on the Ice Road
Lee watched I set off tentatively on the smooth but very cracked and thankfully mostly snow covered surface. I had been told that the ice was over 2 feet thick, but looking at some of the large cracks I was still a bit apprehensive. I turned to wave goodbye and my front tire immediate slipped out from under me, fortunately I planted my feet and avoided the fall, (this time) but before I carried on I released more air out of my studded 5 inch tires for added traction.
Reindeer Crossing, not far from Inuvik.
It was 195 k to Tuktoyaktuk and I planned to complete the distance in two days, meaning I would have to find shelter or set up camp half way. Mariam had told me she had stayed in an un-occupied Reindeer Herders shack and Lee had mention and abandoned oil workers camp on an island close to the road, either one would work just fine but if not I would be digging a hole in the snow and setting up camp beside the ice road.
Abandoned camp, about half way.
Later in the day the wind had picked up and the mostly snow covered road became polished ice so I stayed to side where the traction was better, despite that I managed to bail off the bike a few times, sometimes with the wind in my face it was hard to get moving again but eventually I got it figured out. It was less then two hours until dark when I arrived at the abandoned Oil Camp, I looked for a way to get to it but there was no trail or skidoo track anywhere, I tried to cross the 50 metre distance to the camp but the snow was to deep and unstable so I carried on, hoping to see the shack the Cycling Dutch Girl had stayed in! Little did I know that I had already gone past it.
And little did I know that my luck was about to change, up ahead a vehicle was approaching and dark SUV, as it got closer it slowed down and pulled over and out came Mervin Gruben, past Mayor of Tuktoyaktuk and owner of E Gruben Transport; one of two companies building the new road from Tuk to Inuvik. Mervin is also a friend of my brother Gordons who was Mayor of Yellowknife. Gordon introduced me to Mervin during the early planning stages of my trip and he helped me out with info and advise. Mervin was in a hurry to get to Inuvik but took a few photos and asked about my trip etc then was off leaving me on the Ice Road with only an hour of day light left to find a camp spot. The wind had picked up and the road was polished smooth I had my head down concentrating on not falling over, when from behind a white pick up pulled up to me, on the door was “E Gruben Transport”, the driver introduced himself as Tyron and asked if I needed a place to stay the night. Hell yes! We loaded the bike in the back and headed to Grubens Road construction camp . Tyron assured me he would be able to take me back to the exact spot first thing in the morning as he had to be back in Inuvik for supplies. He dropped me off at the camp and introduced me to the manager and the chef, two very important people; the manager set me up with a room for the night and the chef set me up with a full on gourmet dinner and invited me to breakfast the next morning,
Wow! Thank you Mervin! and Tyron etc.
Road construction Camp bedroom.
Camp kitchen, amazing food.