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Start of the
Dempster Highway

The Dempster Highway is well known for its beautiful scenery and rough driving conditions. They brave blowing snow, white-outs, ice fog, and creepy innkeepers on this stretch.

It seemed like everyone in Whitehorse had come to know that we were going to do the Dempster. And, immediately everyone was full of advice, even though I was very doubtful whether any had attemped a winter crossing. “With that car you’ll have no problems. No way you gonna make it with those tires. I go 80 kph the entire way. Go slow!! This is the fookin Arctic! I have a friend in… Hey, I love San Francisco, I was just there”.


The Arctic Circle

One can say that we drove here to do the Dempster, our first adventure on this trip. In the summer the shale highway is infamous for chewing up tires – one of the people we met takes four (!) spares with him when he goes on the Dempster. In winter the shale freezes and the chances of getting a flat go down greatly but other, more significant problems crop up. Howling winds blowing snow can swallow up a big-rig and if you slip off the road you’ll likely be waiting hours for help.

Gesu bambino

On entering the NorthWest Territories

Traveling with winter survival gear is essential. Extra food, water, warm clothing, and emergency candles to survive a night out in the arctic are carried by all prudent motorists. In addition to those we have two shovels, satellite phone, and full mountaineering down gear to keep warm.

We got on the Dempster at in total darkness at 8:30am. The first section was very slippery and the going was slow until the sun rose to illuminate the roadway so we could gauge the road conditions. Frequent brake tests further assessed the traction quality. The weather was good and we made the Hotel at Eagle Plains well before sunset.


Peel River Ice Crossing

Out of Eagle Plains the next day the conditions deteriorated quickly with blowing snow forming snow drifts that the FJ had to plow through. At the border to the Northwest Territories we were in a near white-out. Like the Saramago novel “Blindness” I felt like I had been dropped into an ocean of milk where it is hard to tell which way is up.

A new winter horror without a name greeted us – fog with super cooled droplets of water that freeze on contact with the windshield or the road. It was a fog that would have solidified into layer of ice if we hadn’t cranked the heater. So here we were, in the Arctic, and boiling in our car!

The Peel River had frozen and the Canadians had created an ice crossing. The weight limit was 3500kg, but there was no one around to check for Darwin Award candidates who would ignore this. After a tough journey we came to a warm reception from the Gwich’in government office, with warm coffee, smiles, and home-baked snacks…

sunrise fox-road dempster2

16 Responses to “Driving the Dempster in Winter”

  1. Eduard says:

    The pictures are just amazing! I am getting addicted…

  2. Fred says:

    In that last picture; is that a bank of freezing fog coming towards you? Spooky!

  3. Shreesh says:

    Fred –

    Yes, that is what it was, although at the time we didn’t know WHAT it was. We thought it was another pretty Arctic light effect! More than it coming towards us we drove into IT.

  4. Jan says:

    More pictures, please!!! Can’t get enough of this!
    BTW how is the FJ performing in these conditions? Seems like easy cruising so far…

  5. Shreesh says:

    The FJ has performed quite well. It starts up in below zero weather no problem and has been very steady on the ice. The VSC hasn’t even been activated yet, except for the braking tests.

  6. Trainer Bob says:

    Hey Mr. and Mrs. Nanuk,

    Just thought I would let you know that on Sat. Nov. 3rd my wife and I were sitting on our deck donning shorts in 80 degree weather drinking margaritas. Enjoy. Safe travels

    Trainer Bob

  7. shanta auntie says:

    Happy B’day, Neena. I don’t have enough words- nor the speed to type- to tell you how much we, espcialy shanta, are enjouing your trip, of course vicariously. If only you could see us turn green, with envy. With best wishes for your safe return—anant

  8. Paul Z says:

    Congratulations on making the Arctic Circle! This is a huge accomplishment. Safe travels…

  9. Pramod Taskar says:

    You two must be enjoying the beauty of Alaskan winter now. How about posting the pictures more frequently.


  10. Chris says:

    Man you guys are really getting into it now! I am so excited with how well the FJ is doing!

  11. Neena says:

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks! We couldn’t drive all the way to Inuvik as the McKenzie hasn’t frozen yet, but we did fly there to check it out. Driving in the winter wasn’t so bad at all. The snow carpets over the shale and there is less possibility of shredded tires…

  12. Neena says:

    Shanta auntie and Anant uncle,
    This blogging experience has been great for us. I didn’t realize how much fun we would have writing about our experiences. Lets hope the internet connections in S. America and Central America are just as good.

  13. Shreesh says:

    Daddy –
    The winter here is quite beautiful. The light, whatever little of it, is spectacular.

    Chris –
    We just came off the Dempster today. The FJ ate it up – nowhere close to the limits. Feel very safe and secure with this truck.

  14. sameer says:

    It’s been quite fascinating following your journey thru ur words and the pictures.Keep it up. Wishing You a Happy New Year & a Very Happy (though probably freezing) Wedding Anniversary! We had a blast at Shubha’s place(at Pen) on Bhau-beej yesterday and remembered you a lot.

  15. Alger from the Blackfeet Reservation says:

    Hi Folks,
    I was impressed with your FJ40 performance on the Looking Glass Road especialy when you passed the Road Closed sign You did good manuvering the boulders.
    Have a safe trip I will watch your travels

  16. Shreesh says:

    Sameer –

    Looks like Shubhu is using that place in Pen in style. Nice hearing from you!

    Alger –

    Thank you immensely for taking us up the back way. It was a bit nerve racking but such an adventure.

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