My thoughts about the Dempster highway.
The road that leads to Tuktoyaktuk is via the Dempster highway. I love saying this name and writing it. Microsoft Word has no auto correct for Tuktoyaktuk, so I have to be careful when I type it. Driving the road requires two things. Firstly, patience. You will not be able to drive as if you are on a normal road for extended periods of time. The potholes, the mud, the washboards all conspire against the thing drivers covet which is of course speed. At some points in our drive our travel speed doesn’t even register on the speedomemeter. “We are going zero km/h said Alyssa earlier.” She said this not as a complaint, in exasperation or any other emotion. She was merely stating a fact. You have to stick to the rule that the driver, in addition to choosing the music, also is in charge of the route around all of the potholes and washboards. I try hard to refrain from saying “slow down, go left, watch out!”. Instead, I opt for “nice moves, yeah good one!” to acknowledge driving excellence and on the fly decision making. The second thing you require is the complete and total removal of any expectations that you will be driving on anything that resembles what you have come to know as a road. The Dempster highway, except for what it looks like on any map, is unlike any road you will ever experience unless perhaps you are involved in forestry, resource extraction or road construction. Once you have these two things firmly embedded in your psyche you will be amazed at the landscape, the people you meet and the idea that you are able to travel through one of the least inhabited and utterly beautiful parts of Canada.
10 Tips for Driving the Dempster Highway
Things they didn’t tell you in the pamphlet…
- Drive with patience, awareness and ninja-like nimbleness
- When it rains the roadway is as slick as ice
- You will not run out of gas unless you fail to top up at appropriate stops
- Your windshield will take a beating and will most likely sport new chips
- You should be courteous and slow down when passing approaching vehicles in order to reduce the amount of gravel you spray onto their windshields
- Food is very expensive along the Dempster. It’s nice to shop locally, so spend your money on arts and crafts instead of groceries.
- In some spots the highway serves as an airstrip?! I have no idea how that works.
- Leave your vehicle in Dawson and rent a car. The road is punishing on a vehicle. If I were to do this trip again, I would spare my camper van and rent a SUV.
- Bring a tire repair kit, spare tire and an electric tire pump. Above all, know how your tire jack works in terms of where it attaches to your vehicle and that your spare tire is at the correct pressure.
- The road is advertised as well-maintained, but I think a better description might be, maintained as best as possible given the resources available.
Added note. We made it up to Tuk and almost all the way back to pavement, when we discovered that we had a flat tire when we pulled into the Grizzly Lake Trailhead parking lot at Tombstone Territorial Park. We were so close to making the 1700km (1056miles) journey incident free, but fell short a mere 70km (42 miles)!