RubiKon Adventures

Tales and travels of "GrizzLee", "Looksha Lori" & "Yukon Johann"

Friday, August 28, 2015

Solo Beyond The Northern Hinterlands 2015: Bears, the Dempster Highway and A Hard Decision

Bears, the Dempster Highway and A Hard Decision

Only 2 roads penetrate the arctic in North America, the Dempster Highway in Canada and the Dalton Highway in Alaska. Of the two roads, the Dempster Highway, is the most beautiful on a mile-by-mile basis. It stretches beyond the Klondike gold fields to the Mackenzie Delta. It snakes a path of over 450 miles long through the mountains and the arctic lowlands. Words and pictures alone cannot describe this part of the world. The sun shines not for a day, but for an entire season. Wildlife abounds, unfettered by the ever expanding domain of man and his propensity to plunder everything in sight. The road is like no other, and to call it a highway is somewhat misleading. It is a gravel ribbon spread over a vast wilderness frontier.

The start of the Dempster Highway
I left Carmacks on the Yukon River and headed over to Frenchman Lakes. Fortunately, the rain subsided and the following day was splendid. Frenchman Lakes is a chain of lakes that are north of the Klondike Hwy. They are beautiful and not widely publicized. As a result, I saw only 2 other groups out there. It was nice relaxing ride on good gravel roads.

I exited north of the infamous 5 Finger Rapids on the Yukon river and proceeded to head north.

I stopped at Minto to eat my lunch and enjoy the sunshine along with a nap. From there I proceeded northward toward Pelly crossing where I encountered another rider who recognized me from my YouTube Videos. He was traveling with his sister and his mom. They were in a van and he was on his bike... a brand new R1200 GSA, nice and light.

I decided that my trip wouldn't be complete without taking a trip up the Dempster Hwy and spending the night in Tombstone Park. It was a cold night in the park campground, but the net day ... HEAVEN!! I stopped in the visitors center to get a road and weather report. I had visions of possibly riding all the way north to Inuvik. While I have been here 3 times prior, I have never been on a motorcycle, let alone, solo.

Something was missing, so I got into the picture...
The prognosis was that the day was supposed to be warm and wonderful. However, the next few days didn't look so good. I met a couple of folks who had just returned from Eagle plains, the 1/2 way point up towards Inuvik and told me the road conditions just before Eagle Plains were a mess. It had rained heavily and there were deep ruts with lots and lots of mud. They stated that even in their Subaru with 4wd it was very slippery.
Looking into the heart of Tombstone Park
I decided that I would at least head up to the Black Stone uplands. On my way, I ran into a couple of riders coming back from Inuvik. They confirmed the road conditions and said it was tough going because of the mud. One of them did state that the warm day may actually make the road conditions more favorable. Hmmm... I still proceeded north ward. The weather was so nice that I proceeded beyond the Blackstone uplands and began having thoughts of skipping the Denali Hwy and doing the Dempster. The decision was getting harder mile by mile. A pair of KLR riders (husband and wife) passed by and I followed them for a spell. The weather north looked dark and gloomy, but where I was at, it was paradise, the road conditions were excellent.

I passed through the Blackstone uplands, traditional lands of the Takudh Gwich’in and Teetlit Gwich’in people. There is a memorial on the roadside dedicated to two of the most beloved natives int eh area, that being Joe and Annie Henry. Both lived beyond 100 years and had a trap line off the Dempster hwy near Wolf Creek. Most folks traveling this area are likely to miss their cabin and even the memorial at the place that was once known as Black City in the Blackstone uplands.

Views from the Dempster
From there I proceeded north through the Olgivie mountains after passing Two Moose Lake and Pilots Peak. A note about Pilots Peak, my son and I climbed this peak in the summer of 2007. Magnificent territorial views are had from the summit. A little known fact is that some of the coldest temperatures in Canada are observed here in this area. Even colder than the northern end of the highway.

I was about 20 miles into the Ogilvie mountains when I came across a blonde grizzly mom and her two cubs in the middle of the road.

From there I ambled amilessly, stopping for water and a power bar.... just really soaking up the views. I eventually turned around about 30 miles north of a place called Engineer Creek. My heart was torn. Even though I saw the rain clouds north, I really wanted to press on, but that would mean sacrificing another part of my trip. Since I had traveled up the Dempster Hwy 3 times before, I decide to turn back. I nearly used up all my fuel and I pulled into Dawson City on an empty tank.

Tired and hungry, I got a room at the famous Downtown Hotel. I showered and then ordered some Back Alley Pizza. I sat alongside the Yukon river and enjoyed my dinner in the warm peaceful glow of the northern sunshine.
There are several Thermokarsts (or thaw lake) within
the Ogilvie mountain range. Pools of melt-water that happen
on permafrost soils of the arctic

Email acct (complete with grammatical and spelling errors...)
Bears, the Dempster and A Hard Decision
From: Grizz Lee <>
Date: Fri, Jul 10, 2015 at 10:44 PM
Subject: Bears, the Dempster and A Hard Decision

I made my way up 150 miles up the Dempster highway today.  I was torn about continuing or turning around and continuing my planned route to travel to new places. I’ve traveled the Dempster hwy 3 times already. I’ve experienced it on a level that few ever get to experience. Yet, I find myself drawn to her. Without a doubt the most beautiful place in the Yukon. The best road to travel up here IMHO when the weather is good.

The weather was supposed to deteriorate as the day wore on. It was also supposed to dip to the freezing levels. Yes, it was a cold night during my stay in Tombstone Territorial Park. I also wish to ride the Dempster with another, to share in the experience and provide an element of safety comfort. Perhaps, more heavy on my mind was the intel I received from travelers heading south. They all said the road was full of ruts, muddy as heck, and slippery for several kilometers before Eagle Plains, the halfway point on the Dempster. One fellow BMW rider said it was very hairy. His bike and his body were covered head to toe with thick mud. Not just any mud, Calcium Chloride. A nasty binding agent for gravel that is very corrosive and sticks to anything like a magnet. He said that he got sprayed down at Eagle plains with a power washer before they would let him in the restaurant.
I made a compromise and decided to ride up past Engineer Creek, up to the first major road rehabilitation crew. A good move IMHO as the there were thick clouds up ahead. Along the way I had an experience that was magical. I came across a beautiful Blonde Grizzly mom and her cubs, also blonde. They were the most beautiful bears I have ever seen. They were in the road when I came upon them and I scared them as I came around the corner on my bike. Initially mom stood her ground in the road and growled at the cubs and they scattered up a rocky slope. Mom soon followed. I watched them and after a bit, mom found a grassy rest spot and began nursing the cubs. I watched a bit and then moved on. When I returned 2 hrs later, mom and cubs were asleep in the same spot. They blended in so well, that passers by would never notice them.

In any event, I arrived in Dawson and was able to secure the last room in the Downtown Hotel. Piano playing in the bar, adventure bikes parked out front..  I was able to order some Back Ally Pizza just before they shut down for the evening. Damn good pizza … the best I’ve ever eaten. No trip to Dawson is complete without it. I also ran into a familiar face … Jurgen, a retired East German man. A quirky old man and very comical to encounter on the river.  Lori and I met him in our 2012 paddle adventure trip down the Yukon River. His cotton shirt and blue jeans, combined with his bag of potatoes and rubber slicker were something to see in the cold rain on Lake Laberge.  He even got lost that year. He told me that he paddled the river again this year on a homemade raft. His English is very poor, but when I inquired about his trip in 2012, where he was to travel to the arctic ocean. He told me he got in trouble when he crossed into the US. From what I gathered, he was sent to Skagway where he was bused to Whitehorse so that he could fly home. He said he isn’t allowed to come back to the US for a few years. I couldn’t understand from his poor English as to the exact reasons. But we gave each other a hug and wished safe travels for both of us.

Tomorrow I wash the bike and travel the Top of the World Highway to Tok, Alaska. Along the way, I will pass through Eagle and Chicken Alaska. I hope to have an Alaska Burger and a beer at Fast Eddies. Then off towards the Denali Hwy.

Enjoy the pics from the Dempster... Heaven on Earth.
The scenery looked fake

Pilots Peak in the background. I climbed that peak in 2007.

Joeseh Henry, a native who helped determine the route of the
Dempster Highway when it was being constructed

Living nearly 105 years in the north. WOW!

Anjnie Henry (Joes wife)

101 years. Unbelievable!

Engineer Creek

Large Blonde Grizzly Sow and her cubs

So damn cute

Engineer Creek again

Sapper Hill in the distance. Great views from the top in 2007

Limestone peaks lined the highway

Another view of Pilot's Peak

Looks like a pyramid

Until next time....

No comments:

Post a Comment