The Prize

Four Pontiac latitude records are in the books—two here, one here and the most recent, from 2016, here. The fifth latitude record will be the last. I’ve long dreamed of driving to the shore of the Arctic Ocean; as of last Wednesday, that dream can become reality.

The coastal village of Tuktoyaktuk was previously accessible to drivers only from late November through April via an ice road which begins in the town of Inuvik. You don’t have to be a mechanic to know that this LeMans was not built for driving in the Arctic winter, and there is no way I would ever attempt such travel with this car. Now, with the opening of the all-season gravel road from Inuvik to Tuk, many motorists, myself included, are looking forward to making that long drive to the top of North America. (Here’s an excellent CBC article about the new highway.)

Tuk sits just short of 70° north latitude—over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Yes, I could take the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse, Alaska to crack the 70° mark and get about 52 miles farther north, but I’m not interested in making that drive. Why? Because the Dalton ends at Deadhorse, about seven miles short of the Arctic coast. This is where the Prudhoe Bay oil field begins, and private vehicles are not permitted in that area. The only way to see the shore at Prudhoe Bay is to go on a tour bus. Carl doesn’t do tour buses.

Driving to Tuk is not a journey to be taken lightly; it will require a lot of planning and preparation. The round-trip distance from my home will exceed 8000 miles, and more than 1100 of those miles will be logged on gravel roads, beginning at the Dempster Highway near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. The Pontiac will need a lot of maintenance before the trip in order to get through successfully. Still, I expect at least one flat tire on the Dempster, and likely some more windshield damage. I rarely use the back seat on my excursions, so I plan to remove it for this adventure and use that space for the recommended gear—two full-size spare tires, ten gallons of gasoline and other additions beyond my usual assortment of tools, fluids and spare parts. And you can bet I’ll be buying a satellite phone before I head out.

Aside from the latitude record and a view of the North Coast, I’m looking forward to my first visit north of the tree line and seeing actual tundra. I’m expecting an overdose of visual splendor on this journey; can’t yet imagine how many rolls of film I’ll burn through. As for the departure date, I’ve been following the weather up there and early September looks promising. 2018, 2019, 2020? One of those, hopefully. A little early to make that call, but I will let you know once I know.

So Many Trees

During my final day in the Northwest Territories, I pulled over and parked on this piece of high ground to gawk at the sprawling and seemingly endless boreal forest. These shots were captured with my infrared DSLR.

My trip as a whole was virtually bug-free, with the exception of the area around Fort Providence. When I stopped to photograph the narrow forest road seen below, the sand flies came after me with great enthusiasm. Fortunately, I was prepared with gloves and a mosquito-netting hat. The dark blobs you see are just a few of the hundreds of sand flies swarming around my head. They didn’t get my blood, but they photobombed every shot taken in this area.

A Last Look at the Boreal Forest

Before we head back to lower latitudes and enjoy the scenery of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, here are some final images from the far north:

Old wood, being reclaimed by the forest…

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No shortage of abandoned mines in the north country…

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Some of the forest’s smaller residents…

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Something with wings…

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Speaking of wings, the ravens were everywhere, and always on the lookout for a free meal. Though I never fed them, they stalked me constantly, and I couldn’t wander far from the car if the top was down; I could tell that this one was just waiting for me to turn around so he could hop in and steal my crackers…

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Another waterfall: Alexandra Falls, on the Hay River…

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The gorge below…

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Nature’s masonry skills on display…

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So many trees…

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Hiking the Cameron River Falls Trail

Once my journey to the end of the Ingraham Trail was thwarted, I drove back a short distance to the Cameron River Falls trailhead. It was an excellent morning of hiking through some truly beautiful terrain in the Northwest Territories. The photo above shows the section of the Cameron River just below the falls.

Starting up the trail…

No shortage of large stones in this region…

A curious spruce grouse running up the trail ahead of me; some of her friends were close by, just off the trail…

A view from one of the highest points along the route…

The falls…

The bridge to the other side…

Frost on wood: Always fun…

The river above the falls…

The trail on the north side allows you to get right up close to the action. This is the uppermost part of the falls. You can watch video of this scene by following this link.