27 May 2011

Dempster Highway tour to Eagle Plains 28-29 July 2010

I got the chance to go to Eagle Plains on the Dempster Highway on Wednesday, 28th July. Olav was doing a shuttle for some natural resource scientists who needed to be picked up from Eagle Plains motel and brought back to Inuvik. They had been out in the field for the past five weeks doing research.

The purpose of my going was an extra pair of eyes that could scan area looking for one of our dogs that had run off into the bush. Three guys who were on a hiking trip borrowed one of our huskies to act as a bear dog. Rosco was selected as the said bear dog to go. However, once they were hiking Rosco decided he would be better off without the three guys so he took off on his own.

Since I knew the dogs and they knew me I went to help look for the dog. When Olav and I set of in the big tour van the weather was not on our side. It was wet and miserable with limited visibility. The gravel and mud road was like sludge in some places and Olav did well driving in those conditions, the van sometimes sliding in the mud.
The real "Dempster Highway"

When we got close to the area where Rosco abandoned the hikers we drove slowly keeping a constant eye out. We even came to a camp of some sort and Olav took some time to drive around the buildings which were actually trailers. We asked around if anyone there had spotted Rosco, unfortunately no one had seen any white dogs wandering around.

We continued our journey, when I spotted something white in the distant hills. Not sure of what I saw I used the zoom on my camera to take a picture. It was the shape of a dog and there was a high possibility that it was Rosco. Not too many white huskies running around in those parts.  Olav stopped the tour van and we got out to call Rosco.

We were calling Rosco and it looked like he was coming towards us but there was a dip in the ground so we lost sight of him. Olav set off climbing down off the road and onto the waterlogged tundra, it was raining pretty heavy at this point. I started to follow him I was wearing my blue rubber crocs. Since they hindered my efforts I took them off and ran barefoot. It must of looked pretty strange, an Irish girl sets off barefoot in the Arctic tundra. Fortunately the vegetation was soft and spongy due to being waterlogged, not unlike the terrain found on the mountain at home.

Similar to the Irish landscape.......

Rosco came to us as we stood and called him. I gave him some kibble I had in my pocket. He stayed pretty close to us as we made our way back to the tour van. When we got back we put him into the plastic travel kennel in the back and he lay down.  Olav and I got back into the van with the heat on to dry ourselves.

We continued our journey across the Arctic circle (66°33′44″) line and crossed the border into the Yukon. Even though the weather was bad we did manage to see a Grizzly bear running along parallel to the road.
The Arctic Circle & Jogging Bears
Further on we saw some Caribou but it was difficult to get a clear picture of them because of the weather.
On the Northern outskirts of Eagle plains you could see where the landscape was damaged by a forest fire. The whole place looked pretty desolate, similar to what you might see in an apocalypse/end of the world movie.

When we arrived at Eagle Plains we met the scientists, they had been expecting us earlier but the weather held us up. They had reserved a room for us because it was too late to make the return journey that evening. I had some soup and a sandwich while we chatted in the lounge before going to bed.

 The next morning we were aiming for an early start but by the time we had breakfast and got going it was after 11am. We were lucky because the Dempster Highway to the south was closed off and quite a few people were stranded at Eagle Plains until the road reopened.

The weather on the Northern route had cleared up and it was turning out to be a lovely day. We passed hundreds of Caribou all heading south. Olav stopped the van and we just watched as they wandered along. They did not seem to notice the van. Olav drove slowly with the van doors open and we were all mesmerised, taking pictures and videos. At one point we had to stop and let them cross the road. They crossed in single file, sometimes two or three at a time.  I took pictures but my little point and shoot camera didn't do them justice

The Famous Dempster Highway tourist shot

Rosco was pretty quiet all of the time on the way back. At one point we let him out of the van to stretch his legs at the ferry crossing, just to be safe I tied a rope to him. But contrary to what we thought, Rosco had a big adventure and was just as happy to stay in the van until he got home to his kennel.

We returned to the Arctic Chalet safe and sound on Thursday afternoon. Rosco went straight into his box full of fresh straw. He was tired for the next few days and kept off his feet as the pads on his paws were a little tender.

The tour van that took us there and back.

27 Jan 2011

Herschel Island Tour, August 4 2010

Herschel Island is an island in the Beaufort sea that used to be an old whaling camp. It is about a two and a half hour flight north of Inuvik.
It is one of the tours available through the Arctic Chalet.

Judi dropped three guests from the chalet and myself off at the North Wright float plane dock on Shell lake. The landing strip for planes on the island is a section of the beach that was uncleared so float plane was the only option for flying there.

I was lucky enough to meet an aviation celebrity, namely Bud Found a guest at the chalet who was also on the tour. Along with his brother he created Found Aircraft for manufacturing aircraft in 1946, becoming famous for the design and development of the bush hawk planes.

The North Wright staff were just fueling up as we pulled up onto the dock. So with a few minutes to spare Judi took some pictures of us with the plane. This was pretty exciting since it was my first experience on a float plane. When we were nearly ready to go we all took turns squeezing into the small aircraft. One in the back, two in the middle then including our pilot Travis, two in the front.

We taxied on the water for a couple of minutes before lifting off. We passed over the Arctic Chalet grounds before meeting the Mackenzie river, we followed the river onwards past Inuvik.
The Delta itself looks very impressive from the air especially on a clear day which we were lucky enough to have. As we continued towards the coast in our little plane we could see some mountain peaks to the west. I'm pretty certain they were in Ivvavik national park since they looked similar to mountains we saw on our trip to Babbage falls a few weeks earlier.

We flew across the Mackenzie Delta until we hit the coast then followed the coast past Shingle and Kay points then on to Herschel island. We passed the Distance Early Warning (DEW) line stations and some old oil rigs that were visible from the coast.

At one point the pilot pointed out some Muskoxen below us, I got a quick glimpse of them from the window on my side of the plane as did the passenger behind me. I was closest to the land on the left side of the plane. We continued on our journey and not long after that the island itself came into view and we got ready to land.

After landing we pulled up alongside what looked like a big plastic platform., this was a floating dock. As we disembarked we were greeted my some rangers and an ancient looking dog.
My first port of call, along with another guy was locating the restrooms. They turned out to primitive but clean outhouses on raised platforms.

Just behind them in the distance we could see wooden poles stuck in the ground close together in a circular shape. Apparently, the purpose of these contraptions is to act as a shelter from the strong winds coming from the sea. Since the island is above the treeline there is little to no shelter, so campers can pitch their tents inside, where they have some respite from the cold winds.

The Parks Canada rangers stationed there gave us a tour of the island and the buildings on it. Some of the buildings have been there since the late 1880`s and they are very well preserved considering how the island is unsheltered. It felt like you could step back in time to a different age. It does not even compare to anything I have seen to this point. I like history and have been to quite a few places that capitalise on their "rustic" and "authentic" feel. But even those places give themselves away with either modern toilet facilities or shops. On Herschel island this is not the case.

Well... except for a few solar panels on an old building. That was pretty much the only sign of two eras being melded together.

Starting at the old customs house which was built because of the islands close proximity to Alaska we wandered around the different buildings as the rangers told us their story. There was a man at one of the cabins that I spoke to who was from Alaska and was on Herschel to hunt Caribou. He pointed out the entry way to an ice house on the mainland where he stored the meat to keep it cool before bringing it back by boat to his family home in Alaska.

The old dog kennels that the RCMP used were still there, or at least what was left of them. The RCMP stopped being stationed at Herschel in the 1960`s.
There were plenty of old artifacts in the old buildings. Everything was labelled and set up like you would find in any museum, except even the building was part of the exhibition. Of course there were no shortage of animal remains and the tools they used to hunt them.

I was surprised by the number of scientists there. As we looked around the Herschel museum a couple of them were having lunch and chatting in one of the rooms. It turned out they were researching lemmings of all things. I'm sure lemmings deserve to be researched as much as any animal. But the only thoughts I had on lemmings were how to catch them and dispose of them, never mind doing research on their behaviour.

I nodded politely and thought rather them than me before signing the guest book and moving on to the next point of interest. The next place to explore was an old mission house set apart from the rest of the buildings. The only purpose it served now is home to a colony of Black Guillemots. The birds didn't take much notice of us as they flew in and out of the mission towards the water. It was great to see the birds so closely at their nesting area.

The whole trip took up most of the day so we all had some lunch with us. One of the guests and I took a walk out to the beach past the so called landing strip to take some pictures. While we were there we stopped to have our packed lunch. We could still see some ice on the land in the distance even though it was August and in the full height of summer.

By now are two hours on the island were nearly up so we made our way back towards the float plane. We said our goodbyes and thanked the Rangers before setting off back to civilisation and Inuvik.

This was a fantastic experience and I consider myself extremely lucky to of had the chance to go to Herschel Island. It was without a doubt one of the highlights of my summer above the Arctic Circle. Probably the best way to get there for a traveler is by taking a tour with the Arctic Chalet. Doing a private charter is pretty expensive so if your flexible with times then joining a tour is the best option.