Arctic Circle Expedition : March 17, 2007
Farthest point north by road
Today’s the day, the final leg of the trip. We were all up at 7:30 a.m. getting organized for the thrill of driving on the McKenzie River and the Beaufort Sea to get to our final destination, Tuktoyaktuk!
Tuktoyaktuk is the anglicized form of the community’s Inuvialuit place-name meaning, “resembling a caribou”. It’s only accessible by road in the winter once the river and sea ice becomes thick enough to support a vehicle’s weight. One other strange fact, even though our GPS unit knew where Tuk is it couldn’t provide a route since there was no regular road going to it!
After gassing up we turned down to the river and drove onto the ice and headed for the sea. The 101 lead the way being the heaviest vehicle, the theory being that if the ice supported its weight then the others would be safe. Within a few minutes a tractor-trailer passed and everyone visibly relaxed although it was a strange sensation driving down the middle of the river. Thirty minutes into the trip, Mike tested the 101’s center of gravity by fishtailing and driving into the snow bank at the side of the road. No harm and we were on our way within a couple of minutes.
The weather was overcast and visibility was poor and as we moved northwest the weather started closing in. The wind seemed to find every crack in the trucks and, at time, snow was forced into the cabs. Once out on the Beaufort Sea, visibility dropped to less than a hundred feet. Luckily the ice road is well defined and following it wasn’t particularly difficult. Another peril though arose, pressure ridges and large cracks in the sea ice. A bit disconcerting when you hit a crack that is 2 to 3 feet wide! Luckily they don’t go down into the ice very far otherwise we might have a different story to tell.
By the time we entered Tuk it was snowing but it wasn’t expected to last. We headed to the most northerly point to get some photographs. After being out in the cold for 15 minutes one had to wonder how the early explorers like Amundsen and Scott managed their feats out there in the wilderness that is the Arctic.
After the school visit, which you can read about elsewhere, it was time to start the long trek home. Mike closed the door on the 101 and the metal holding his wing mirror to the door fractured giving an indication of how the cold affects metal up here in the Arctic. Within 30 minutes he loses the other one! We tried to rig something up but the cold was so brutal that we decided to do without them and we headed on. Luckily the rest of the journey was uneventful and we made it back in time to go dog sledding. You can read about that in tomorrow’s bulletin, which will be posted a day late as we will have no Internet connection on our first leg homewards.