The Ultimate Adventure in the Wilderness

Sunday September 2, 2018 – approx. 371 km today – approx. 7.885 km total

At around 1:30 am in the night, I woke up because of a familiar noise: Rain dropping onto my car. However, the sound was slightly different. It took me a glance out of the window to realize what happened: It was snowing – or actually ice raining! And indeed, checking the onboard computer of my car, I knew the reason: Out there it was -5 degrees celcius – and actually within the car not that much more. Maybe I had even woke up because I was cold…

My first thought was: Good thing that I did not drive all the way to the arctic circle yesterday evening. With the road that bad yesterday already, how had it to be now. My second thought was: What to do? It was not only ice raining, but also quite windy. The car was shaking every once in a while with the wind. I actually saw two possible reactions to the situation: Stay here, try to get some sleep and hope that it was becoming better in the morning. Or start going and try to descent at least from the exposed position on the viewpoint to make sure I wouldn’t be stuck tomorrow morning in snow. I watched a truck stopping at the viewpoint. The driver was doing something – I could not exactly see what and just thought: Hopefully he was not putting or removing snow chains. A little bit later, a car stopped, waited a bit and then drove away. I thought, if a truck can even go on further north, I should be able to descent right now. And maybe that was better than waiting for tomorrow…

Finally, I decided to stay. I was tired, the road seemed to be frozen and of course, it was completely dark. I would have to go with just the car’s headlights on a frozen road with very strong wind – somehow that did not feel like the best combination. I simply hoped that tomorrow with the light and the heating of the sun it would look better.

In fact it took me quite a while to fall asleep again. I was really worried. Did I do the wrong thing even coming here? The staff in the Watson Lake visitor center had told me that there had already been some snow. They adviced me not to go on the Dempster Highway or if then just to Toombstone. I had gone much further. Did I overstress it this time? Would I pay the bill tomorrow by being stuck here for couple of days now?

Finally, I fell asleep. It was not really a pleasant sleep since I was cold. My sleeping back obviously had reached it’s limit. And the car was shaking with the wind. However, the night somehow passed and in the morning, at least the wind was gone. Outside everything was white. My car’s windows where slightly covered with ice and it was freezing cold. But the sun had already risen up and was doing everything in its power to heat the air up a bit. I felt much more confident now that I was able to return to the Klondike Highway today – though I was still a bit concerned about the frozen road…

Without a breakfast – it was anyways too cold outside to prepare it – I started going. Slowly I drove down the hills and carefully watched the range indication of my car’s onboard computer. Since I had not gone to the arctic circle yesterday and thus had not passed Eagle Plains, I was also not able to fill up. According to the onboard computer, I had a range of 333 kilometers and the distance to the Klondike Highway junction was about 259 kilometers. While driving, I was always comparing the remaining kilometers on my navigator with the range indication of the onboard computer, making sure that both were decreasing at the same rate. To save fuel, I even switch to neutral while going downhill. I really didn’t want to get stuck now because of a lack of gas.

Once I reached the plateau the situation became much better from one minute to another. The road was no longer covered with ice, the sun had already gained strength and the difference between the remaining kilometers and the range indication of my car’s onboard computer had increased. I finally relaxed and started to enjoy the scenery. The combination of the changing colors of the plants, partially covered with ice and the snow capped mountains in the background was just awesome!

After having traveled about 150 kilometers, I decided that it was time for breakfast. I stopped at a small lake and prepared my usual breakfast while being surrounded by one of the most beautiful landscape sceneries I have ever seen! All the worries of this night and this morning were forgotton. I mean who needs an all-inclusive hotel if one can have breakfast in such a scenery?

After breakfast and some quick morning procedure, I continued on my way back to the Klondike Highway. On the way I stopped a couple of times for taking pictures and even talked to some other tourists. Especially from the viewpoint at the border of the Toombstone park, the view was just amazing! There, I even got to know a German woman living in Vancouver who was showing around her parents visiting her from Germany. She had never been to the Yukon so far herself and was equally impressed by the beauty of the region than I.

On the Dempster Highway back towards Dawson City.
Toombstone Viewpoint

After about 3 hours driving, I finally reached the Klondike Highway junction. And I even had enough gas to drive the remaining part of the journey to Dawson City. This was good, since I did not have to use that horrible expensive gas station at the junction. I just had a short break, took some pictures of the signs about the Dempster Highway which I missed yesterday, and finally started driving towards Dawson City.

This is how the car looked like after coming back from the Dempster Highway 😉

In Dawson City, I first of all went to the visitors center to get an idea of what to do here. As always, the staff was very friendly even if not that enthusiastic as in Watson Lake. However, I got a set of valuable ideas and went back to my car to sort things out. After a while, I had a plan: First, I wanted to visit the Dredge #4, which is a huge construction formerly used for gold mining, then I wanted to continue to the Discovery claim, learning a bit more about the Klondike Gold Rush, and finally, I wanted to walk around a bit in the town of Dawson before going to the campground two kilometers outside of town. For the next day, I planned to do the tour to a gold mine that was still working.

That said, I filled up my car – the price for gas here in Dawson City was by the way equally horrifying than at the Dempster Highway junction – and drove out to the Bonanza Creek were the Dredge #4 was sitting. I managed to get into the next tour starting just a minute after my arrival. In fact, together with another guy, we were the only ones on the tour. The tour guide was somehow very unfriendly. She was elaborating on and on without giving us the possibility to ask a question. And when I tried, I just got a “please let me finish”. She was definitely not that kind of person, I had so far experienced here in Canada with no exception. All the Canadians, I had met so far were overly friendly and ready to help in any situation.

The Dredge #4

The tour itself was OK. The information about the dredge and the history of the Klondike Gold Rush were interesting, but I have to say that I did not get every single detail. Since asking questions was obviously not welcome, I was also not able to clarify some lack of knowledge. However, the structure of the dredge was impressive.

After the tour, I went on to the Discovery Claim. A claim is actually a registered piece of land where a particular person or family can exclusively mine for gold. That Discovery Claim was simply such a claim set up by the government or Parks Canada (I don’t know exactly) for infotainment of tourists. Alike, there was a Free Claim where tourists bringing their own equipment could mine for gold themselves, and Claim #33 where a company offered lessons in gold panning. The Discovery Claim was – as always here in Canada – nicely prepared. However, I did not feel like reading all the information boards there and again did not completely understand the entire history and relations between the different persons and families of the past.

On my way back to town, I shortly stopped at Claim #33 and talked to the owner. She was very friendly and communicative – just as I was used to when interacting with Canadians. However, the shop was about to close soon, so I did not have the chance to take part in one of the gold panning lessons. When I mentioned that I was thinking of visiting one of the active mines, she encouraged me and told me that this would be an interesting experience since I would be able to pan for gold there on a real spot.

With that confirmation of my plans, I hurried back to town to register for the tour tomorrow morning. Arriving at the ticket office, I just noticed the guy to close and managed to catch him just before he left. He also was really friendly and without any hesitation explained me everything about the tour. Unfortunately, he was not on duty tomorrow and did also not know who would be the guide. However, I knew now that I just had to be here at 8 am in the morning to go on the tour.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with walking a bit around town. In fact there was not that much to see here as long as you don’t enter museums or the historic buildings for which you would have to go on a tour. However, the buildings themselves looked quite interesting. The entire town actually looked like one of those towns in the wild west movies. This was even stressed by the fact that the roads were dirt roads and not paved. Somehow you really felt yourself put back to the time of the gold rush.

For the late evening, I planned to drive up to the Dome, one of the surrounding mountains. From there one should have a beautiful view for sunset and I was hoping to even see some northern lights. Before, I prepared myself pasta in the park on the riverside and got to know a Canadian guy who was on a roadtrip by himself, too. He had actually been all the way up north to the arctic sea on the Dempster Highway which I envied a lot. He was already the second one telling me about that trip that I would have loved to do so much. On the campground, I had met a German couple who was just coming back from that trip. But both confirmed that the road up there was in really bad shape. So at least, I did not feel completely sorry for not having done the journey. In addition, I had a rental car and driving the Dempster Highway was even forbidden in my rental contract.

After dinner, I worked a bit on my blog, but it soon became too cold outside. So I continued a bit sitting in my car and eventually decided to drive up to the Dome. There were already a couple of people there and I even met the two guys, I had met earlier this day at the Toombstone viewpoint on the Dempster Highway. We watched the sunset even though it was horribly cold up there – especially because of the wind in that exposed position. However, the view down to the valley of the Yukon river, the town of Dawson and the mining fields was absolutely great!

Once the sun had disappeared, most of the people left. I had noticed two cars being parked right on top of the Dome where you would normally walk up. They had used a narrow and steep driveway and I followed that idea and parked my car just between them. This way, I could stay up here waiting for the northern lights to show up without freezing to death. A little bit later, the guy who I had met when having dinner in the park, showed up and also parked his car up here. I made myself comfortable in my car and a bit later fell asleep – not without having set my alarm clock of course to wake up when it had become completely dark.

At around 11 pm, I woke up the first time. However, it was still too bright to see any northern light. It was amazing how long after sunset it stayed bright here. I reset my alarm for midnight and fell asleep again. At midnight, I woke up but still no northern lights were visible. In addition the moon had shown up and was quite bright. I stayed awake for a while, but really felt sleepy. When the other Canadian guy suddenly started his car and drove away, I was thinking of leaving soon too. It did not look like there would be any northern lights visible today. However, I managed to stay another half an hour but then, I simply was too tired and wanted to sleep without further interuption. I anyways had to get up early the next day to go on the tour to the gold mine. So I left the Dome and drove down to the campground where I had reserved a site already. In fact I could have stayed up here at the Dome if I had not reserved that site, but on the other hand, I really wanted to have a shower in the morning after that very cold last night on the Dempster Highway.

Back to the campground, I basically fell a sleep right away. What a day I had experienced today!