From North to Eagle Plains and the Arctic

Following travelling, trade and hunting routes of the Gwich’in and Inuvaliut , the Dempster was constructed over a 21 year period (1958-1979). The permafrost of the tundra offered a unique engineering challenge for the road’s development. Permafrost is a mix of frozen plants and soil and can extend up to 450 metres below ground. In the southern Arctic, the surface layer above the permafrost melts. The Arctic is a desert due to the low precipitation—the cold keeps the snow alive but each accumulation is actually little.

There are no towns, no outposts nor services no settlements along the highway for almost 400 km. Throughout the North, we’d become accustomed to gas-stations for towns and towns that had been permanently closed. Our aim was Eagle Plains (population 8) which markets  itself as “Where the True North Begins.” Leaving Tombstone, we looked longingly at the sleeping RVs. While we can filter clean drinking water from a dirty puddle, washing in such is not really an option. So, having not had access to running water for a few days, we were itching for the showers as advertised by Eagle Plains.

Over the hours we travelled from -5c in Tombstone to +25c in Eagle Plains. Alone for much of the way, we used binoculars to pick up our future road aligning the mountain sides and emerging from distant valleys. Dusty and slippery in places, we took our time, stopping to marvel at the landscape and search the hillsides for grizzly and goat. Sometimes the road became our precipice over deep canyons and at one point Karen thought I was driving too fast and said, “I don’t think you realize the danger.” To which I replied, “Oh don’t worry, I’m actually quite terrified.”

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{Photos: Right- Karen throws snowballs at me. Below–the highway–note the dust from a vehicle ahead.}

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We pitched our tent in the Eagle Plains parking lot campground overlooking a tundra valley of endless rolling plains and distant mountains. Curious gray jays hopped alongside our roadmaps while ravens perched in pine called attention to the eagle passing overhead.

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We shower and dust streaks off our hands and faces in muddy lines. Our toes wary of the heavy plastic lattice base of the stall. I am reminded of standing on milk crates. Even through the duct taped shower head, the water is warm, strong and efficient. As we leave, the linoleum burps under our feet and we are pleased to retire the heavy road dust and make our way back to our tent for tequila before supper.

We treated ourselves to a reasonable dinner and visited with a few of the 8 inhabitants of Eagle Plains afterwards in the bar. With a saloon like feel to it, the bar showcased many animal heads and hides including musk ox and lynx, a piano, pool table and cribbage board table. We asked about filling up with gas and the bartender explained that after 8PM, she doubles as the gas attendant. Chairs stained with comfort and long familiarity, the side door open for local dogs and smoke coming in from cigarette breaks. We chatted with one man from Hamilton who has been in Eagle Plains for a decade and loves it. He explained: In the cities, there’s nothing there—just people. To him, north of 60 is the North. Another young man had just arrived and told us that his roommate in Edmonton had found him the motel job and called on his behalf. (There’s a story there, I thought…) Imagine living and working and surviving through long winters with 7 others.

3 thoughts on “From North to Eagle Plains and the Arctic

  1. Liza Hancock July 11, 2015 / 12:18 am

    I love you two
    Your adventure makes me feel so alive
    Lize

    Like

  2. Leslie Eckel July 11, 2015 / 9:51 am

    WOW! So majestically beautiful! I am thinking that your lives will be forever changed from the touches of this journey.
    Miss you guys, and wish I was with you. Thank-you for taking time out of your journey for sharing parts of the world I may never get to experience first-hand.
    Love you ☺

    Leslie Eckel MSW, RSW
    Knowledge Exchange Associate
    School of Public Health and Health Systems
    University of Waterloo
    519.888.4567 x 36736

    Like

  3. Clare July 16, 2015 / 3:02 pm

    ” itching for the showers” That totally made me laugh!

    Like

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