To the Arctic Circle We Go!
As you may know, we spend our summers in the far north, in places in British Columbia, the Yukon, & Alaska, in search of cooler temperatures and wild places. Thus far, it never fails to deliver on these prospects. On our latest voyage we decided to go as far north as we could – the Arctic Circle and beyond! We planned to dip a toe and a paw in the Arctic Ocean. On the infamous Dempster Highway in the Yukon, known for its potholes and mud, we began a 24 hour dirt road journey.
August Snow, Windy & Cold at the Mountain Pass
Stuck in the Arctic! | Closed River Crossing Causes Us Big Delay
So here we are, sitting in the car at a random roadside pull off. Luckily, we have 1 fluctuating bar of service depending on where we stand. This spot is not quite as awesome as our typical random discoveries. Earlier today we had sunshine and took a random road to check out a neat rock outcrop. But this one tonight is a bit more obligatory. We were looking for a place to sleep. It needs to be close to the river. Why there? Because tomorrow morning we’ll be making a trek back to the river and we want it to be a short back in forth. Why would we drive back and forth to this river, you ask? To go see if the river ferry crossing is operating. As of now, it’s not. And we are stuck. Stuck in the Arctic. No joke.
There is literally no way to cross the river. There’s no bridge. No narrow strip to venture through. It’s ferry or nothing. Problem is – the water level is running too high. It’s the Peel River in the Northwest Territories, and apparently sometimes it’s impassable. Here on the Dempster Highway, a bumpy dirt road starting in the Yukon and consisting of about 18 hours of bumpiness to the Arctic Ocean, there are two spots where the only way to cross the river is via ferry. You drive your car onto a boat and head on across the river. In between, along the dirt road, there is little of anything but wilderness. There are moose and grizzlies, lakes and forests, snowy mountains, tundra landscapes, interesting towering rocks, volatile weather, and a possibility of northern lights when the midnight sun starts to sleep. We’ve had too many clouds for the lights that are supposed to be active now (its currently midnight). Otherwise, it’s total quiet at night.
The estimate on when the ferry will reopen is: unknown. Some folks we met said they heard it could be several days! If we turn around on this road we go several hours north until we hit the Arctic Ocean. That’s literally our only other option, with a few small Arctic towns in between. There are no other routes southward.
Judging by the seeded & wilted Fireweed we saw around Whitehorse, Yukon (about 24 hours south of here!), the strong fall colors of plants in the tundra, and all of the empty berry bushes, I’d say winter is right around the corner. So, getting a bit further south is becoming critical for us. Now, we wait.
Once the river crossing happens, whenever that will be, the fun isn’t over. The next adventure will be getting over the mountain passes safely along the rest of the Dempster road, which is currently in varying levels of condition. On our way up, we hit a snowstorm over the pass and the road conditions were quite poor. It would be rough to stay up at the pass for too long to wait out a storm. The road is unlikely to improve and the horizontal ice on the signs show just how windy it gets. The car or tent would be a very cold place to sleep for too long there. And I imagine the battery would give up on us too. So, here’s hoping that it goes smooth – as smooth as ice!
Updates to come soon! I’ll also be adding some helpful information here for any folks attempting this route in the future. We didn’t know there was a source of information regarding the ferry closure. That would have been nice to know.
So, We Crossed the River
The Good, The Bad, & the Muddy | Popped Tires on the Desolate Dempster
Links (coming soon!)
Ferry Status & Dempster Highway: see NT DOT
Fire Maps: for BC, Yukon, NWT, US