After a bit of a late start, we made our way down the Klondike.  Again the road was much better than on our journey north, so we were able to shave more than an hour on the trip to Whitehorse. 

We also took the South Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to the border near Skagway, which coincidentally allowed us to clinch the entire Klondike Highway. Since the truck can't go into the US, we got out of the truck and walked just over the border to take pictures at the summit of the White Pass. Customs of each country was many miles away from the border, each at the nearest towns (Skagway and Fraser).

The mountains on the way south from Whitehorse were really great to behold.  The last few miles in the pass were almost pure white avalanche zone, above the treeline, with probably a dozen feet of snow carved away from many sections of the road. 

After turning around, we had to pass through Canada Customs, which was surprised to hear that we'd obeyed the prohibition against the rental car going into Alaska. "Everybody does it".  Apparently, I'm more law-abiding than most.  They still wanted our ID.

From there, we drove north to Carcross, and east to Teslin on YK 8 and the Alcan. During the day, we found out that Bob hadn't left Anchorage for Whitehorse after all, so we're unlikely to be able to drive down the Alcan to Alberta together.

We made the run down the Dempster in about 8 hours. While I averaged 65km/h on the Dempster going north, I averaged 95km/h on the way south. The weather was great and the road was in much better shape than on the way up.  The trip through the Richardson Pass was incredible, we witnessed Sundogs and Sun circles galore.  The trip through the Ogilvy Mountains at the bottom end was done in the dark, but was nowhere near as nerve wracking, since the edges of the road were much more apparent than 2 days ago.  No more having to thread the needle. Dave shook my hand after completing the Dempster without stuffing the truck.

 We were looking forward to Dawson since we'd heard on the way up that Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall - normally closed in winter - was going to be open that night for the Top of the World (snomobile) Trek, which was in town.

The Gambling Hall was the best casino I've ever been in. All of it was in a single hall, including a stage, dinner tables, a good sized bar, a 'gourmet snack bar' that actually served good food, various gambling tables and slots.  I made almost enough to pay for my meal.  Being the sabbath, David wasn't able to take the house for anything.

There were a few somewhat large women in period dress, except oddly in T-shirts rather than blouses.  Many prospectors had come out of the bush for the night to gamble and carouse with a motley assortment of women. Together, they consisted of the oddest set of characters I've ever encountered in a casino. Also a first for me was seeing that the casino cashiers had a scale to weigh the gold that the prospectors brought.

The Hall allowed me to discover that once David's had a few, he has the same personality, just slightly accentuated. He slept it off the next morning at our lodging on the edge of town, the Bonanza Motel.

The drive down the mountain was awesome.  As we emerged from the blowing snow, all was blue skies. The ice bridge crossing of the Peel was suprisingly short.  We stopped in Fort McPherson to get some groceries, talk to folks, and check out the Tent and Canvas store, which was closed for lunch. 

The drive across the Mackenzie Delta was very fast, with the road much improved from the Yukon side.  The crossing of the Mackenzie was majestic, and included a side-trip into the town of Arctic Red River.  The drive from there to Inuvik was almost entirely straight and very fast.  We booked into the Arctic Chalets per the recommendations we received at Eagle Plains, which was cheaper and better than the hotel in town. The place offers mushing and caribou tours - there are a lot of dogs there.

Next, we ventured out on the Tuk Ice road, which we would later find out, terminates at our chalet. The ice road was fabulous, and although I've had some experience with an ice road as a child, David was completely blown away by the thought that the car was here, and the land, well, over there.  It's a multi-lane road, ploughed quite wide.  There are several entrances to Inuvik, and an 85km side road that heads to the village of Aklavik. 

The road heads down the river to the open ocean where it changes from a fairly normal ice road to one rife with large cracks.  Some long pressure ridges are in evidence, and there is a lot of heaving (up to 6 inches) which is remarkable considering the ice is up to 5 feet thick. Fortunately, we have a lot of clearance and a new suspension.

Tuk was surprisingly colourful and lively when we arrived.  Gas was still expensive at 1.75/l, but cheaper than Inuvik or Eagle Plains (1.79).  David and I chatted with the locals for a while, and bought some pelts.  Before leaving, we headed to the northern edge of the village, and the most northerly road in (continental) Canada, at about 69.5 degrees. This supercedes reaching Long Pointe near Radisson in 2009 by more than 15 degrees!

We turned south, and drove the ice road during sunset.  When we reached the southern end at our chalet, we stayed on the ice to see the northern lights dance across the entire sky, much further than at Radisson in 2005.

For Dave and I, this caps a number of ArcticMINI trips getting to the end of some road somewhere.  None will likely ever top this.  It really wasn't about the number of miles, although it is gargantuan (3,700 since Seattle, about 1.5 times the normal distance). What made this truly challenging was losing the MINI, having to go backwards a day, and finding the will and a way to go on. Then, pursuing it as hard as possible, even after stuffing the truck, just so we could briefly catch up with the others. After the MINI crash, we did this largely alone, and would need to do the rest alone, since the others reached Tuk yesterday. The final challenge came today, in the Richardson Pass. Choosing to continue into the unknown was an act of faith, but also a decision made with the cumulative experience of all the past ArcticMINI trips. The lessons learned then got us safely here today. 

The road back south remains closed.

We left Eagle Plains at 7:30, and reached the Arctic Circle around 8pm, stopping for many photos and found a little rubber duck installed there.

The NWT border lies 57km beyond the Arctic Circle, on the height of the pass through the Richardson Mountains.  It was the most harrowing drive of my life.  The temperature was -36C, and the wind was 110km/h, gusting higher.  At several points, the road disappeared in the drifts, distant markers the only sign of the general direction.  Snow drifts hit at speed required regaining control. At other times, it was complete whiteout, and we had to stop and wait until it cleared, lest we drive off a cliff.

The scariest part of all was during some of the strongest gusts. I would push the 4x4 truck hard in low gear, but could not make much headway against the wind.  Despite revving up to 4000rpm, at times we couldn't manage even 50km/h.  In a crosswind, I worried the truck would flip, or we would be lost in whiteout until the storm abated.

At the NWT border, we got out again for photos. It was time to decide if we should give up on Inuvik and head back. I knew we were in danger, but feared going back, since by now, the drifts we'd passed might be too big for the truck, and the staff at Eagle Plains said the winds would grow in strength until the afternoon.

Dave said he was happy with going this far, that we had achieved a great deal, and that turning back was OK. I consulted the map, to confirm that there was likely less miles of mountain ahead of us than behind.

Not knowing the terrain ahead, I gambled that forward was less dangerous than turning around. Fortunately, after a quarter mile, the road cleared, the wind dropped, and it was a very enjoyable descent.  After just a couple miles, we exited the gates at the pass. They would be closed behind us, the last to get through. Later, we would see signs indicating the closure of the road. We got lucky.

David and I travelled up the Dempster on Wednesday afternoon.  Truly awesome road, best vistas I've ever seen, although the dropoffs are fatal.  David stuffed the truck 1 km into the road.  Just one minute later, an empty flatbed arrived and pulled us out on the fourth attempt.  David refused to go further unless I agreed to drive all the rest of the Dempster.  Which I did. We got to Eagle Plains around dark, almost 6 hours. I drove about 70km/h most of the time, where locals do about 85km/h on average and make it in 4 hours.

Meanwhile, the road beyond Eagle Plains finally opened up around 1pm, and the 3 cars there, including Bob and Annette, left for Inuvik at 10:30am while the road was still closed.  Apparently, the folks at Eagle Plains think this was very foolish.  Better yet, they raced to Inuvik and then the Tuk Ice road and back to Eagle Plains by midnight, a 550km trip each way.

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