While we had already been to the Yukon and Alaska in 2018 we wanted to retrace a few of our steps and fill in some of the missing pieces. On the previous journey we had flown into Whitehorse to start our exploration, but this time we wanted to drive the entire route from Vancouver including, of course, the famous Alaska Highway and the infamous Dempster Highway. The Alaska Highway, however, doesn't start until Dawson Creek so we decided to get there via a stop in Jasper and, managing to bypass all the wildfires, we headed up the Coquihalla/Yellowhead Highway in our rented Jeep. While most of the roads are paved, having a Jeep would prove to be invaluable when we came to roads that weren't.
As per the terms of the original agreement the U.S. had to pay for the construction of the highway but 6 months after the war ended the Canadian portion, which was over 2,200 kilometers, would be turned over to Canada. Over the years the highway has been rerouted and straightened in many sections with the result that it's now nearly 500 kilometers shorter. The Alaska highway has also been completely paved making for a safe and comfortable drive.
Stopping only to check out the rest areas at Duhu Lake and Andy Bailey Park we enjoyed a leisurely ride to Fort Nelson. Considered the real Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway since there was already a road from Fort St. John to Fort Nelson, the town was once a bustling service centre to the gas industry and local sawmills and is the hub between Yukon and Fort St. John. But with collapsing commodity prices it has fallen on hard times. Its principal attraction now is the colourful heritage museum.
Kluane National Park and Reserve is bordered by the Alaska Highway to the northwest and the Haines Highway to the southeast. On our first day we headed out on the Haines Highway, and our first place to stop for a pleasant stroll was the pretty Kathleen Lake.
Next on the list was Rock Glacier which gave us a little elevation and a nice view of Dezadeash Lake. It was also an interesting display of trail building with the way rocks had been placed in order to facilitate walking through the glacier debris.
Quickly flying up one of the glacier fed river valleys we soon came across the sight of some slow moving glaciers etching their path through the mountains. Higher and higher we climbed as we followed them to try and view the icefields at their source. At 10,000 feet above sea level we could see the mountain peaks rising above the icefields that never melt but continue to feed the various glaciers including the immense Malaspina and Hubbard Glaciers.
The dredge's location in Bonanza Creek Road is just down the road from where Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie, and George Carmack made the original gold discovery on August 17, 1896.
Decided to go for a drive on the Top Of The World Highway, an alternate route that connects Dawson City to the Alaska Highway and is only open for a few months of the year. First step was getting on the free ferry shuttle across the Yukon River. Once across the river the road climbs steeply and the mountainside seems to slip away very precariously on one side or the other. As you climb higher the trees disappear and you seem to be in the middle of the clouds. With the wind blowing it gets very cold, but there is a strange other world beauty to being up on these windswept hills where you really do feel you are on top of the world. At the closed border we turned back and took in a view of Dawson City from another angle.
The bar had a colourful collection of historic photos and various stuffed animals from the area, and was a warm inviting refuge where everyone gathered to share stories and count their blessings if they didn't receive the Dempster gift of a free flat tire. It also offered hearty meals for the hungry and an opportunity to take stock for the next phase of the journey.
After a great night's sleep we were on our way the next day to complete the Dempster and our first stop was the Arctic Circle.
The vast expanse of the colourful empty tundra reminded me of the African Serengeti for the reason it also performs a vital role in the annual migration of thousands of various ungulates. In this case it's the Porcupine Caribou herd, one of the largest migratory barren ground caribou herds in North America, numbering between 100,000-200,000 animals, that winters here.