Dempster Highway

Named after a Royal Mounted Canuck back in the day who mastered this trail by dog sled. The route was built in the 1950′s to connect the South to the Arctic as Oil exploration boomed.   Apparently Dempster tackled this route more than 10 times in a single season by sled!

Today the route consists of layers of crushed rock, sourced from various distribution points along the route, so the composition (and roughness) varies as you progress. The primary reason for the rock vs pavement is due to the permafrost in the region. The crushed rock acts as an insulator to keep the ground from reaching melting temperatures due to road traffic (melting would result in water / mud washing away the road). I was expecting worse conditions, personally. Not much washboard and a few crews were out scraping and repairing. Note, the NWT sections seemed the roughest to me. Only ran into a couple vehicles with flats but was constantly surprised at the amount of road traffic. This route is way more traversed compared to say the Dalton. For any offroader, this is no biggie (just a bit desolate for rare parts / hard to find tires).

The geology and tundra seem to change every hundred miles or so. It starts with thick tree’s lining both sides of the road but quickly changes into flowing fields of arctic brush (deep reds, bright yellows and dark greens). Near the Tombstone Mountain range the views are spectacular panorama’s in every direction (there is an awesome panoramic picture in the visitor guide taken about 25m north, too far for me).  My destination for the first night is Eagle Plains, about midway on the highway. Once again, no wildlife to mention. Everyone keeps saying: ‘Oh wait till you get “insert random destination here”…’.  Argh.

Met another HAM (and expoPortal member) at the campground and we traded some freq’s.  He’s running a decent HF setup and was chatting with someone in California from Inuvik the day before.  Pretty sure I need another license and $$ for a comparable setup.  Maybe next time :).  As we’re exchanging stories a storm front starts slowly rolling in.  Being as dirty as the truck and trailer are, I get the rain cover for the trailer ready.  This thing is big, noisy and annoying.  I’m hoping it doesn’t blow away in the night.

Next posts will be about Inuvik, Tuk and the return trip. Oh, also had some minor damage just past Fort McPhearson North bound. My rear hatch glass shattered seemingly at random. No big bumps, no trucks. Speed freaked and before I knew it I had a 85lb dog shivering in my lap. Some garbage bags and gorilla tape are holding for now, I’ve found some junk yars down near Anchorage for replacements – but that will be a while.

P.S. Here’s a screenshot from my truck nav. Never a good idea to rely on technology, eh? Note, this cuts out before the Arctic Circle :)


Posted from Yukon Territory, Canada.

  • John Domingo

    Hey Greg! Just recently heard you left the Q back in July…and I didn’t know about it! Geeze…thanks for posting these updates…allows me to live vicariously through you! The funny thing is that I heard also a San Diegan was recently killed by a Grizzly bear up there in Denali…I was concerned it was you…turned out it was not…but another guy.

    Still an unfortunate incident…watch out for those Grizzlies! Enjoy your trip out there! Looking forward to more posts from you!


    • gregr401

      Hey John! Yes, sad indeed. I’m actually at Denali now, absolutely stunning with the fall colors in full effect. Haven’t seen any bears yet, but a few moose! Hope all is well back in SD!