Klondike or Bust 2022
A late-autumn road trip across Canada in the other direction; north and south rather than east and west.
There's also a photo gallery.
The north has been on my ToDo list for a very long time. When I was finally ready to depart, I quickly discovered there is no best time to visit. The long distances traverse climate zones, making planning difficult. In September the fall colours are beautiful, but other things kept me in Vancouver then. If I went too much later, much of the scenery would be buried in snow. Spring was just too far away.
November seemed my best option, when there was just a bit of snow around to provide contrast in the landscape. Photography is always a high priority for me, but was particularly so on this trip as I'd just bought a new camera (a Nikon Z9 with a 50mm f/1.2 prime lens). Unfortunately, going in November meant I would have to end my trip at Dawson City and not carry on up the Dempster Highway to Tuktoyaktuk. The river ferries might be running that late in the season but if they shut down while I was there, that could leave me stuck in Inuvik for weeks.
I quickly discovered another problem with travel in November: most everything touristy was closed, including hotels and motels. When combined with the short days, that meant that I found myself driving in the dark for a few hundred kilometres I'd rather have seen properly. Nevertheless, the scenery didn't disappoint and I decided to post on the expedition anyway. If nothing else it'll make a good contrast with the return drip I have planned for spring 2023.
I timed my departure perfectly to get caught in a winter storm and cold snap. This was not a problem for me personally; I literally learned to drive on icy snow-covered roads and my Honda CR-V is a veritable little snow tiger. However, it was also only semi-winterized when I departed. I ran the windshield wipers heavily to flush out as much of the old fluid as I could, and top it up with low-temperature stuff. More than once ice encrusted on the front grill to the point it blocked the car's radar sensing.
By the time I reached Prince George, the storm had abated and left behind simple snow and cold. I turned west on highway 5 then north on Cassiar Highway 37. A quick stop in Stewart sufficed for me, although I did quickly drive down the main street of Hyder so I could say I'd been to Alaska. While the scenery here was less dramatic than other parts of BC, it did turn up some pleasant views. The early morning fog on Dease Lake was particularly picturesque.
The terrain flattened to rolling hills near the Yukon border, with clear views as the forest there had burned. Carrying on up the Alaska highway, I saw little worth note. The most remarkable thing about the highway was the very long distance between service stations. I rolled into Whitehorse around sunset, with a definite feeling of returning to civilization.
The scenery improved slightly on the Klondike highway north from Whitehorse, becoming interesting again near Dawson City. Wildlife became more common, and I saw my first silver fox. Passing Dempster Corner, I was sorely tempted to turn north but resisted the urge. Finally I arrived in Dawson itself... and found most of it closed for the winter.
I'm not big on standard touristy stuff at the best of times, so this didn't ruin my visit.
Still, I'd hoped to at least see somebody else drink a Sourtoe Cocktail.
The scenery around town offered up enough to keep me busy for a couple days.
I had hoped to photograph the northern lights, but between cloudy weather and a lack of solar activity never got the chance.
Instead, I had to make do with a few shots of the night lighting around town and the hypnotic sight of the ice drifting down the river.
Starting back, it was again hard to resist the urge to turn up the Dempster Highway. Rolling back through Whitehorse and on down the Alaska highway, the road remained unremarkable as far as Watson Lake. The Sign Forest there also marked a turning point scenery-wise. Heading south from there back into BC, the landscape improved and I saw much more wildlife. Wood Bison particularly abounded. I realized my new camera wasn't enough and that I'd have to get a decent long lens to capture the wildlife properly.
Muncho Lake's rocky scenery proved the high point of that stretch of road. I probably should have stopped there for the night but pressed on to Fort Nelson. The Peace country looks quite different from the northern reaches of the highway, but has its own charm. At least, it does until you reach busy industrial Fort St. John.
Turning west again at Dawson Creek, I headed back into the more familiar country of the interior. Chetwynd looked to be the star of the area. Continuing south, I made it handily to Prince George.
From there I returned almost the way I'd come, except that I diverted for a couple hours early in the morning to see the ghost town of Barkerville. The effort they put into preserving this is impressive, and it must be impressive at the height of tourist season. I liked it quiet and empty, though; it fits my image of a ghost town more.
Another snowfall hit on the last leg home, but ended upon entering the Fraser Canyon. I returned better informed on northern travel, somewhat more familiar with my new camera, and with a checklist of things to do next visit. That will not be far in the future.