*A week-long tent camping trip that started with a stop in Chicken, AK for Chickenstock and included two hotel stays in Dawson City, Yukon.
WARNING: This blog entry is photo and commentary heavy!
PLANNING for a TRIP up the DEMPSTER
Last summer, Steve and I started talking about taking a drive all the way up the Dempster Highway in Northwest Territories, Canada to the town of Inuvik. The Dempster Highway is a 740 KM (460 miles) hard packed, but pretty well maintained, gravel road that winds its way through the Oglivie and the Richardson Mountain Ranges. It crosses the continental divide three times, and traverses the Arctic Circle on its way to Inuvik and the Mackenzie Delta where access to the Arctic Ocean is available.
In the Northwest Territories, the highway crosses the Peel River and the Mackenzie River. In summer there are free ferries to take you and your vehicle across the rivers. In the winter, there is an ice road. There is a period of time during the spring and fall when you can’t get across the river, as it isn’t frozen enough to support a vehicle, but it isn’t possible to run a ferry either. The ferry crossings are operational generally first week of June until the latter part of October.
There are services in Dawson City, and a gas station at the start of the Dempster. After that, there are no services again until Eagle Plains 370 kilometres (230 miles) north. Eagle Plains is a mere blip on the map, but you’ll find quite a few amenities there: gas, restaurant, lounge, showers, camping, hotel, repairs, etc.
Our initial plan was to drive to Dawson City, spend a night or two, drive up the Dempster Hwy to Inuvik and back (4-5 days of travel), spend another night in Dawson City and then drive all the way home the following day. After discussing our plans with friends Steven and Tracy, they decided to join us. It wasn’t until we started discussing dates and schedules, that we realized we could tie the trip into the annual Chickenstock Music Festival in Chicken, AK - a small town along the way.
Planning for this camping trip was going to have a few more things to consider. The trip was a tent-camping trip, which has a lot more restrictions than camper camping. Meals would need to be planned out that wouldn’t take too long to prepare or clean up after, and didn’t have to be refrigerated. Steve and I thought back to our trip to remote Bremner Mining Camp in the Wrangell Mountains (that was an AMAZING adventure!), and the freezer bag meals we created for that trip, and decided to do the same for this one.
Freezer bag meals are basically meals created from dry materials that only need hot water - just like the Mountain House brand of camp meals in a foil bag. But they are much cheaper to make yourself, and there are a lot of recipes online that you can try out. This is a great link to recipes that you can make for freezer bag cooking, or to take along as snacks, etc. And here’s a link to additional information about freezer bag cooking.
In addition to freezer bag meals, we had protein bars, nuts, Gorp (trail mix), fruit cups, jerky, etc. Obviously if we were backpacking, we wouldn’t have all these extras, but since we were car/tent camping we had plenty of room for these additional treats.
Along with our tent, we carried our screen house (mosquitoes!), several large tarps, two spare tires, extra gas, and two camp boxes. In one camp box we carried the camp coffeepot, cookware, food, utensils, etc. and in the other, we carried sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, etc. Our personal gear included layers that would keep us comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and weather.
However, even with all the preparation, there was one thing I neglected to pack… (stay tuned)
DAY ONE (6/12)- Fairbanks to Chicken, Alaska
We were on the Richardson Hwy, heading south toward Chicken, a few minutes after 9am. As is customary, we stopped at Sunrise Bagels for breakfast burritos. (Sunrise Bagels - a coffee stand franchise which is located on corners all over Fairbanks and North Pole - is always the start to a roadtrip)
Steven and Tracy led in their vehicle, and the only stops we made were to top off the gas tanks along the way. When we reached Tok, we stopped at Fast Eddy’s for a late lunch. I used to look forward to eating at Fast Eddy’s, but it seems the last few times I’ve been there, the service has been so terrible. They do get very busy with tour buses. Perhaps they’re not staffed well enough for those crowds. Service was disappointing again this time, but the food was good.
We arrived in Chicken at 3pm. Tracy ran inside to get our tickets at the “will call” counter, and there was some sort of snafu where they had her name on the list, but didn’t have any tickets for her (all of us). Eventually they worked it out, and we followed a woman wearing a rooster hat and feathered cape, riding a four-wheeler, to a parking spot next to the main camping hill.
What is Chickenstock? Chickenstock is billed as the “Top of the World” music festival. An entire weekend of music is the highlight, and mingling with the locals and other attendees is a blast too. If you purchase a weekend ticket, the price includes a dry camping spot. I didn’t know what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised to see that Chickenstock was indeed a family-friendly event. Despite the number of people enjoying some delicious Hoo Doo Brew, everyone was in a happy, celebratory mood. It was so much fun, and I would love to go again next year.
We found a spot on the hill and set up our two tents and the screen house between. A few hours later, friends Georganne (and her daughter), Moe, and Jim showed up and set up their campsite. A little while later, when we were down enjoying the music, I ran into my friend Shana and her husband Andre. I enjoyed entirely too much beer. I later made the mistake of drinking tequila in our screen tent before bedtime (at 3am). All of this on a mostly empty stomach. So bad… so very very bad. And so stupid. Reminiscent of my college days. I’m too old for this stuff. Never again.
Photos of the drive to Chicken and Chickenstock:
DAY TWO (6/13) - Chicken to Dawson City
What a horrible start to the day! I opened my eyes around 9am and my stomach lurched. My head was pounding so hard, I felt like a vise was clamped tightly to my temples. At the same time I felt like I was being stabbed in the eye with an ice pic. I was in so much pain. I haven’t felt that bad since I was a 17yo freshman at a frat party at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and away from my parents for the first time in my life. Very bad.
By the time I could get myself dressed and up and off the air mattress, it was 3pm. I lost an entire day.
While dressing, I discovered that in all the hectic packing for this trip, and running up and down the stairs being interrupted by Steve asking for something or needing my help, I neglected to pack…
I had plenty of socks. I had long underwear and fleece layers. I had rain gear and mud boots. I had necessary medication and even a little bit of makeup.
But the only pair of underwear I had was the pair that was on my body. Lovely.
Well, I knew what the first thing on the agenda was going to be upon arriving in Dawson City! I just hoped that Dawson City had a store that carried necessities like underwear. Fortunately, there was a store across from our hotel that had a small supply of undergarments. I was back in business with the one 3/pack of Women’s Jockey cotton panties I found for $29.50!!! (I would have paid $50.00 for them!)
When you reach the Yukon River from the Top of the World Highway, you have to wait for the free ferry to get over to Dawson City. We only had to wait about 20 minutes for it to cross to our side, with vehicles on board coming in our direction. We checked into the Downtown Hotel at 8:30pm on Saturday night. It’s not dark this time of year, so it felt much earlier.
The hotel has been updated, from what we were told. I’ve never seen the rooms at the Downtown Hotel, so I don’t know what they looked like before. Our room was nicely appointed, the bed was comfortable, the portable AC worked well, and we were happy with our location adjacent to the restaurant. The walls were certainly insulated enough that we were never disturbed by noise, and it was nice for Steve to take a few steps out our door and be in the restaurant getting a fresh pot of coffee for our room in the morning. We had breakfast there every morning of our stay, as the food was good, and the prices weren’t bad.
Our first night, since it was so late when we checked in, we decided to just eat in the hotel bar - the Sourdough Saloon. The Sourdough Saloon is home to the famous “sourtoe cocktail“. Ewwww Gross! While we enjoyed a light dinner, several patrons were paying their fee to have a dead toe touch their lips. Blech!
A hot shower and comfortable bed, in an air conditioned room, was pure heaven.