As we drove back south, we observed steadily deteriorating sections of road. I remember thinking that we hadn’t seen any maintenance trucks or anyone dealing with the water and road conditions. Then we came around a bend and there was the heavy equipment. The road had flooded. There were landslides. There were sections of the elevated road completely gone.
“Mark had the passenger’s side wheels barely on the road surface and the driver’s side wheels as far over on the shoulder as he dared to go.”
We came to conclusion that we needed to get out before the rivers crested. With our truck camper rig, we squeezed around the eroded road areas. We would never have driven where we did with a trailer or motorhome.
That must have been a stressful experience.
Mark: We saw a dump truck go through an area where water was half way up on its wheels. I slowly inched across that same area. We didn’t know how deep things had eroded under the water, but my tires stayed on firm ground. As we drove through the water, I could actually feel the washed out rock under the truck.
The reassuring part of this experience was that there was another truck behind us, so we would pair off. He would watch us and we would watch him. That’s how we got through several fords.
Above: The mud on the camper after driving the Dempster Highway
Phyllis: It was terrifying. There were so many wash outs. During the first one Mark had the passenger’s side wheels barely on the road surface and the driver’s side wheels as far over on the shoulder as he dared to go. Trees were floating down the river and rocks were rolling. It was so noisy and scary.
After the last wash out, they let two vehicles go behind us and then the Royal Canadian Mounted Police closed the road for three days.
Mark: It’s important for your readers to know that, as a Park Ranger, I’ve had a lot of experience fording rivers and driving in remote areas. I wouldn’t recommend that most people do what I did. It was a skill learned early in my career. I recommend that most people find a high spot and wait it out.
Phyllis: I trusted Mark’s driving, but I wouldn’t have driven it.
Some of the camping spots in your photographs look really remote, especially the ones labeled Yukon boondocking. How did you find those spots?
Mark: The Yukon boondocking photos weren’t from the Dempster Highway. They were actually from the Alaska Highway. We are constantly on the lookout for parking areas and roads that go off on the side. We’ll see something, stop, and check it out. That’s how we found the place in the pictures. If we like a boondocking spot, we mark it in our log-journal.
How do you plan for a trip like the one you took up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik?
Mark: Aside from the time it takes to do it, driving to Alaska and the Yukon is not that difficult. The roads are generally in good shape. Despite what many may tell you, there are not big long stretches without fuel stations, but you do need to think about logistics and where you can get provisions.
There are stories about busting out windshields and going through tires. We did not experience any of these issues, but I strongly recommend you have 10-ply tires. Gravel roads will puncture tires. Also make sure your camper is well matched to your truck. You’re more likely to shred tires and break axles if you’re overloaded.