Arctic Circle Expedition : March 18, 2007

Stranded North of the Arctic Circle



March 18 – Inuvik to Inuvik?


At the halfway point in the trip we made our goal and now we’re heading back.  Given the assorted delays, the revised plan was to head back down from Inuvik to Eagle Plains, then on to Carmacks and across the Campbell Highway.  I suppose since we’re getting good at “rolling with the punches” we should have expected that today would be no different.  Today was different only in the cause…


Inuvik to Eagle Plains is a reasonable 4hr drive.  We spent a leisurely morning in Inuvik – a good breakfast, a stroll along the main drag and we were fuelled up and heading out by 1pm.  We were making good time and we were all looking forward to whatever good, hot, dinner Rene, the chef at Eagle Plains, had prepared that night.  Perhaps a little St Paddy’s Day celebration in the bar was in order.  


Arriving in Fort McPherson, we were greeted by the flashing lights of the “road closed” sign.  The Dempster highway was shut down due to high winds and blowing snow.  And trust me, when they shut down roads out here, it’s for a very, very good reason.  The weather can change on a dime, and with it, the road conditions.  Mike placed a call to Stan, the manager at Eagle Plains to ask for advice – do we wait here in Fort McPherson (a tiny, tiny spot on the map with few amenities), or return to Inuvik?  How long is this going to last?


There are no predicting things at this point – the road could open in an hour, or five days.  And how long it will remain open is also in question.  A group conference and the decision was made to press on through the Wright Pass and on toward the James Creek Highway Maintenance Camp.  The Camp marks the border where the Northwest Territories and the Yukon divide responsibility for the Dempster highway.


As we made our way up the increasing grade into the Richardson Mountains the wind and blowing snow began to increase significantly. By the time we neared the Yukon border we had slowed to a 10 MPH crawl avoiding larger and larger snow drifts. Finally, 5 to 6 foot snow drifts ended our push for Eagle Plains. Discussions with the lone maintenance crewman were not optimistic . The crews that were dispatched from the Yukon side, from Eagle Plains, had given up and were likely enjoying that dinner we’d hoped for and the green beer in the bar…


Back we go to Inuvik, where we roll into town around 10pm…  But… the day isn’t over yet.  Mike radios:  “I think we have a problem”.  Some strange noise from his truck seems to be the latest in a series of cold weather related failures. The group ate a late meal and then visited the Mad Trapper Pub to try to wash away a day of disappointment.  


All told: 325 miles of travel and we ended up back where we started. Kind of depressing at $7.20 a gallon of gas. 


Sunday was spent awaiting the opening of the Dempster Highway, reorganizing our vehicles and staying inside the hotel avoiding the continued freezing temperatures. We have not seen positive Fahrenheit numbers in 5 days and temperatures have dipped to negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit overnight.  Mike’s truck was repaired, we removed the cooling fan as the fan clutch had seized. Given the frigid temperatures and lack of parts available we decided the truck should be fine without it.  Just one more mechanical failure directly attributed to the extreme temperatures. 


We retired early to attempt to leave at 4am Monday morning for the trek back down the Dempster- assuming it is passable….


Stay tuned to see if we make it out of the Arctic Circle.