The Dempster

For a brief shining moment, I had Wi-fi. I sent a message to our family, “We are in Eagle Plains, Yukon trying to get to Tuktoyaktuk, but the ferry is closed down because of high water. There are a lot of travelers stuck here. It’s supposed to rain and snow tomorrow, so we may have to give up and go on to Alaska.

The Peel River ferry line up, Day 2.

“We just drove 3 hours back up the highway to find a lodge with a shower because we have been camping in mud for days and we haven’t had a shower for a week. Last night we were in a gravel pit, down by the ferry landing. It was pretty, but cold, with hoards of hungry mosquitoes.”

The camp at the gravel pit. It was a bad idea to encourage Capi to swim in that pond. She still smells of pond mud.

“The caribou herd passed by a few days ago, just before we got here. There is a man with a camper waiting at the ferry, taking a caribou to distribute to the people of Fort McPherson.”

We were close to quitting altogether, but a hot shower, a roast beef dinner and a night in a building listening to the rain outside (although Eagle Plains sure ain’t the Ritz) gave us renewed drive. Literally. In the morning we got back in the truck and drove.

The Lounge at Eagle Plains

The parking lot at Eagle Plains, waiting for the ferry to run again

The Dempster is a bad road. The highway is just gravel piled on permafrost. In places it is potholes, washboard and more potholes. Other spots are rough shale. Many spots are loose wet sandy gravel. And you can’t take your eyes off the road, because nowhere is there anything that can remotely be called a normal rural roadway. The potholes and wet spots and shale bits and washboard and wash-outs keep coming at you, in any sequence. And to top it off it’s hilly and constantly under construction. And it is spectacularly beautiful.

There are some people traveling on motor bikes. A brave few are cycling. I don’t know how they handle the road conditions. We keep meeting the same people again and again as we travel. There are quite a few hardy souls, like us intent on getting to Tuk. The Dempster Highway Visitor’s Centre in Dawson City can give the latest road conditions and advises everyone to drive a suitable truck or SUV, carry extra provisions, warm clothing and at least one full sized spare tire. When we were at Eagle Plains contemplating giving up, a Japanese-Canadian family arrived. They had driven from Vancouver in their family car, dressed as if they were on an outing in Stanley Park, intending to go to Tuk. They didn’t have a reservation at Eagle Plains, and the lodge was full. I believe they finally got a room, but we didn’t see them after that.


The day we left Eagle Plains the road was slippery. The rain had turned it to a coarse sandy grease that was like driving in peanut butter mixed with sugar. As cars passed their tires threw up a fine sticky emulsion of mud that looked like dust. The truck wallowed and shuddered through the slop. We took it slow. The ferries were running again, and eventually we slid into Inuvik.

Inuvik’s weathervane

The obligatory photo op.




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