If you quickly glanced at the next photo, you’d think we got an early start on our Saturday adventure today, but I took that photo at 9:59AM (sunrise was 9:41 today) as we rolled out of town.
We set out to see the caribou on the Dempster Highway (the extremely remote gravel road that begins 40km south of town and heads north towards the Arctic Ocean.
Our plan was to go north enough to see the caribou coming to overwinter, but not north enough to where they are actively being hunted (north of kilometre 195). With a two caribou limit per hunter, that is a blood bath I’m not sure I was ready for (despite being perfectly happy for Jeff to fill our freezer with caribou next year, I just don’t want to connect all the dots to the beautiful creatures we saw today).
Winter adventures (because let’s face it, the calendar may say November, but it is pretty wintery here already) require a bit of extra preparation. It was -26°C in our backyard when we got up. So we each packed a bag with some emergency, survival stuff, like a lighter, knife, fire starter, snacks, change of clothes, water, winter sleeping bags, candles, head lamp, and Jeff brought a canned ham. He was pretty excited to pack that ham. I almost think he wanted us to have to crack it open.
He winterized the truck this week and installed an electric warming wrap around the battery. It plugs in at the same time as the block heater. So a couple hours before we headed out this morning, Jeff plugged it in to get the truck ready to start. It would probably start without it, but it is only November and it is going to get colder so now we’re ready. He also covered the front grill with a thick piece of canvas and zip-tied it in place.
As we drove south towards the airport, the temperature dropped to -31°C. We watched the temperature gauge for the engine, but it wasn’t even approaching half way with the grill covered, and didn’t get any higher all day.
The sun doesn’t rise much at all these days, which gives the snow a warm sunrise/sunset glow.
We stopped around kilometre 85 to talk to the Conservation Officer who was stopping trucks to monitor the hunt. He was only the second vehicle we had seen since we turned onto the Dempster. He was looking for Dall sheep on the hills where they overwinter. We saw some trails on the slopes but couldn’t find any sheep, which are likely pretty hard to see since they are white.
He said the active caribou hunting right now was north of Eagle Plains (KM 371) but we’d probably see several caribou by about kilometre 98-115.
He was right!
We probably saw a couple hundred caribou in total, but they stuck in smaller groups, some standing and eating, others curled up in the snow.
Despite there being lots of tracks crossing the road, none of them were too close so we don’t get any award winning shots, but still pretty decent considering how far away they were.
We went to about kilometer 125 before we turned around, north of the Blackstone River. It was -33°C according to the truck grill. My new Skookum parka was amazing. It has really long zips under the arms, so I wore just a long sleeved t-shirt and opened the zips so I didn’t have to take it off in the truck.
I even peed on the road at -33°C which may be a new record cold for my bum 😉
See how there is a bit of haze? This crazy Dempster road is so dusty in the summer, but it also is in the winter too. You can see the cloud of someone driving towards you for awhile.
It was a really great day, and we made it home safe and sound (and so did the can of ham).