High road to the Arctic with photographer Darren Hull

Traversing the Dempster Highway to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk

  • Jul. 17, 2019 7:30 a.m.

– Story and photography by Darren Hull

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Photographer and filmmaker Darren Hull — whose work is featured regularly in Boulevard Okanagan — travelled solo to Canada’s North to explore and photograph the Dempster Highway and document the only open road to the Arctic Ocean.

The Dempster Highway has been around since 1979, but the Inuvik–Tuktoyaktuk Highway officially opened November 2017 and is the first all-weather road to Canada’s Arctic coast. It is an engineering marvel, making it an enticing “bucket list” item, explains Darren. A 740-kilometre roadway from Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, the trip offers incredible scenery, wide-open spaces and remote beauty with the option to carry on north to Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean.

My journey started in Kelowna, where I boarded a plane and flew to Whitehorse with the friendly folks at AirNorth. I was treated to a lovely in-flight meal of local cheeses, bison and crackers, followed by the best warm chocolate chip cookie of my life. It was an easy flight, just over two hours (a little more than three hours from Victoria).

After I landed in Whitehorse, the folks at DrivingForce provided me with a fully loaded SUV rental; it had enough room for myself and all my gear to be self-contained throughout my journey.

I was tempted to explore all that Whitehorse offered, but I had to keep my focus on the Dempster, and my journey ahead.

After catching some shut-eye, I rose early and supplied-up with the items I couldn’t fly with: fuel for my camp stove, water and food for the entire duration. I knew that Whitehorse was the biggest city stop for this trip and had the most amenities, so I took the opportunity to stock up and avoid purchasing groceries and supplies that would get increasingly expensive, the further north I travelled.

Fully stocked and ready to go, I drove the six hours from Whitehorse to Dawson and spent the night. I’d always wanted to explore Dawson and it was a great place to start my Dempster Adventure, with the highway just one hour away.

The highway cuts through two mountain ranges, the Ogilvie and Richardson Mountains, through miles of forests and arctic tundra, before dropping to the Mackenzie River and its flats.

The highway sits on top of a gravel berm to insulate the permafrost in the soil underneath. The thickness of the gravel pad ranges from 1.2 metres up to 2.4 metres in some places (four feet to eight feet). Without the pad, the permafrost would melt and the road would sink into the ground.

The Dempster Highway has long been a quiet magnet for adventurous travellers. It seems to be even more of a draw now that drivers can continue on from Inuvik to the Arctic coastal community of Tuktoyaktuk.

Services are limited and the journey on the Dempster can be hard. The first stretch runs 370 kilometres without a gas station. Gas, diesel fuel and repairs are available at Eagle Plains, Fort McPherson and at Inuvik. Appropriate preparation is essential. Road conditions can also vary drastically.

Inuvik is the official end of the Dempster Highway, but you can’t just stop there with the Arctic Ocean only 140 kilomtres away on the Inuvik–Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

It took two and a half hours to reach Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk), where there was a small collection of campers parked around a spanking new Arctic Ocean sign.

I was on the road for eight days in total, and with a day each before and after, my adventure took a total of 10 days.

There are no hotels in Tuk yet, only a few small bed and breakfasts. I drove to Tuk and back in a single day and used Inuvik as my base for the Northern Arctic adventure. For those willing to dry camp, people are welcome to park near the beach in Tuk for free. My regret was not spending more time there; I will plan for more days on my next adventure there.

This was a trip that I will never forget. The scenery was comparable to none, but it was also long, dirty and lonely at times. It seemed to be a place you could disappear and never be seen again. The road was not only physically rough, but it was rough on the vehicle and my body and mind. The change in the road conditions — from hard compact gravel to mud bogs —

kept me on alert. There were hours that would go by without seeing another vehicle on the road. Aside from the road itself, it was the most untouched landscape I’d ever seen.

The week was filled with every imaginable weather condition. The colours in early September were spectacular and the lack of bugs around that time was an added bonus. I had heard some reports of heavy insects during other times of the year, so I was happy I travelled in September.

It’s a trip I know I will need to take again, and the planning is already underway.

To see more from photographer Darren Hull check out his website www.darrenhullstudios.com

Just Posted

Grillers compete for best meat in Langley

Rotary Clubs bring back RibFest for a second year from Aug. 16 to 18 at McLeod Park

New defenceman signs with Vancouver Giants

Brendan Pentecost played with the Delta Hockey Academy Elite 15s

VIDEO: Protesters target Langley Ribfest, a Rotary fundraiser

Groups that oppose the event for various reasons plan to be on site each of the three days.

Langley, Cloverdale politician Dean Drysdale dies

The businessman and reservist served on Township council

VIDEO: Daughter of slain Abbotsford Police officer speaks at charity dinner

Fay Davidson, daughter of slain Abbotsford Police officer, speaks at charity golf dinner in Langley

Fashion Fridays: How to dress and feel powerful

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Kraft Heinz brand baby food recalled in B.C. due to possibility of insects

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the product should not be consumed

First Nations women finally to be treated equally under Indian Act: Bennett

Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action thanked the feds

Helicopter-riding dog Mr. Bentley now featured on cans of new B.C.-made beer

Partial proceeds from every pack go to Children’s Wish

‘Easy Rider’ star Peter Fonda dies at 79

Actor and writer was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing the 1969 psychedelic road trip movie

Puppy rescued from smoky South Surrey condo

Fire alarms brought firefighters to the Morgan Crossing residences around 7 p.m.

Bob Lenarduzzi out as Vancouver Whitecaps president

MLS team is at the bottom of the Western Conference standings

B.C. daycare operator denies negligence in death of ‘Baby Mac’

Infant died in early 2017 after biting an electrical cord, according to a lawsuit filed by his mom

BC SPCA reopens animal cruelty investigation at Abbotsford pig farm

Additional alleged footage released from Excelsior Hog Farm sparks new investigation

Most Read