Our road trip starts on August 14 in Whitehorse driving 540 km – or 8 hours – to Dawson City. We share the road with heavy delivery trucks, campers, motorcycles, and bicyclists. The road is paved in the beginning but continues as unpaved gravel road moving northward. Driving on these gravel roads is not easy and needs some experience.
During lunch break at the Yukon River, Stephan takes the opportunity to test out our drone and films the view. In the field, we will use the drone to map the permafrost land’s surface at a very high-resolution.
Source: Stephan Lange
Looking for gold
The road from Whitehorse to Dawson City is called the Klondike Highway. It’s route somewhat parallels the route used by prospectors in the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush and ends at the former gold rush town. But the gold rush is long over and we are more interested in what else is stored in the permafrost here, such as ground ice and organic matter. When we arrive at Dawson City, permafrost becomes obvious. Right after fire, permafrost is the highest risk to destroy buildings. The heat of a building degrades the underlaying permafrost; the ice in the ground melts and the surface subsides.
Adventures on the road from Dawson City to Inuvik
The next day (August 15) we start out early in the morning – ahead are about 750 km towards Inuvik on the Dempster highway. The road exists only since about 39 years. It is insulated with a thick layer of gravel. But even with this layer, the road needs constant work to offset the effects of permafrost degradation.
After 40 km a flashing road sign says: ROAD CLOSED AT EAGLE! Eagle is located half way between Dawson and Inuvik. A road closure would mean that we would have to either overnight in Eagle or return all the way to Dawson City both of which we do not favour. A road maintenance vehicle informs us that the cause of the road closure is a large truck that went off the road and needs to be cleaned off first. Despite the flashing sign, we make the decision to move on. Due to lot’s of rain, the road is in bad conditions, and there is lot’s of maintenance work going on. At Eagle, the road is still closed and we have a lunch break in the only restaurant. Luckily, the road just opens after we finish lunch – for one hour only for travellers going north. I remind myself that this is the Arctic and that weather or road conditions often do not permit to follow our schedules. We are rewarded with beautiful scenery of the Tombstone Territorial Park with mountains up to 2000 m high, a spectacular view towards the Richardson Mountains and spotting two large grizzly bears close to the road.
After about 15 hours of driving, we arrive at 9 pm in Inuvik. Tired but happy we check into the Aurora Research Institute which will be our base for the next 6 days. From here, we will explore research sites along the Inuvik-Tuk highway.
Edited by: Sina Muster