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19 November 2014

Yukon and Alaska Bound, Part 18 - Flight and Visit to Tuktoyaktuk and Boat Cruise Back to Inuvik


Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk


Up North Tours
It is the 5th of July 2014 and the sun is up and it has been all night ( up here in the far north, the sun does not set for 6 weeks ). We are enjoying a lazy morning after yesterdays long drive.

Up here, in the north-western part of Northwest Territories, in the Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk (also referred to as "Tuk") area, mostly the Inuvialuit people live.

They have lived off the land, the Mackenzie river delta and the Beaufort sea for hundreds of years.

There are about 3800 Inuvialuit people all in all living in six hamlets. The Inuvialuit people have negotiated a treaty with the federal government. Most of them seem very happy with everything in general.

We had booked an Air/Boat tour before we left Dawson City. The company we booked with is called Up North Travel Tours out of Inuvik, and they are awesome.

At 12 noon we met at the Nova Hotel and met up with our new found acquaintances, Alan and Michele. Alan and Michele are from Ontario.

Liz and Anders at airport
Anders and Liz at the airport in Inuvik

Anders at flight counter
North Wright Air is our airline.

Pilot and airplane.
Paul our pilot and our plane.
Anders boarding plane.
OK, I think I'm ready?

Liz in airplane.
A happy smile or nerves smile?

Anders in co-pilots seat
We are cozy
There were two other families (2 x 3) also going on this tour. We were 10 all in all. At 12:30 we all hopped in to a van and were driven to Inuvik Airport.

When we arrived we had a short wait, waiting for our planes to arrive from Aklavic. The airline is called North Wrigth Airways and is owned by the local people.

We were all called up to the counter where we had to be weighed with our back-packs on, including everything we were bringing along (sounds like these planes have a load limit).

Liz, myself and one family, two adults and one child, were ushered to one of the planes.

Wow, this plane has served its customers well over the years. No duct tape, this is a good sign. No worries though I have some in my back pack..... don't leave home without it! Just kidding, it all looks fine... I think.

I ask the pilot if I could sit in the co-pilot seat and he nods his head, checking me out.

Told him I promised to be good; "I will only take over the controls if you fall asleep".

As I get in the seat, he tells me to lock the door while he pushes from the outside.

I smile and nod (this all reminds me when I use to fly in to work to the oil patch), the young family in the far back of the plane, look a bit pale with a sense of fear on their faces. I smile and give them thumbs up! Hmm no response.

Taking off down the runway.
Taxiing down the runway in Inuvik

Liz in the back of the plane.
Liz is enjoying the flight.

Inuvik Northwest Territories from the air.
Leaving Inuvik 

The mighty Mackenzie Delta from the air.
The mighty Mackenzie Delta
Our pilot Paul is a 22 years old good looking young man from the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec.


Paul has been flying up here for a year and a half. He looks very confident even though he still looks like a teenager.


Paul did a very good job piloting us over the immense Mackenzie Delta and the Arctic Ocean.


The plane was very loud, and a set of ear-muffs or plugs would have been in order.


We fly along the vast Mackenzie Delta, it seems to just to go on for ever.


The Mackenzie Delta is approximately 13,500 km². Small and large islands dot the landscape and go on forever.


As we fly along, we see hills or big mounds sticking up out of the flat landscape.


These hills are called "Pingos". According to Wikipedia a Pingo is:

"A pingo, also called a hydrolaccolith, is a mound of earth-covered ice found in the Arctic and subarctic that can reach up to 70 meters (230 ft) in height and up to 600 m (2,000 ft) in diameter. 


The term originated as the Inuvialuktun word for a small hill. A pingo is a periglacial landform, which is defined as a nonglacial landform or process linked to colder climates."


The way I understand it, the permafrost pushes up the earth forming these mounds.


The flight is a bit bumpy here and there, but pretty good in general.


Liz and I are amazed at the beauty of the relatively flat landscape. The tundra is a very special place.

A large pingo from the air.
Pingos

Pingo from the air.
They almost look man made

Pingos from the air, for as far as one can see.
Pingos, also in the distance.
Tuktoyaktuk from the air
There is Tuktoyaktuk

Coming in for landing in Tuk
Hang on we are coming in for landing.

Anders and Liz in front of the airplane.
We made it, life is good.
In Tuktoyaktuk, John, our guide welcomed us. As we found out later, John is very well traveled and is actually the Mayor of Tuktoyaktuk.


This was John's first time as a tour guide. He did an excellent job. The person who usually does the tour (also called John) was away.


John answered all our questions. He told us that his daughter is coming back to Tuk to give birth.


The reason for this is so that her child will be status Inuvialuit as well. She currently lives in Edmonton.


We walked up on a hill where we overlook Tuk. At first sight it looked a bit bleak, but there are warm hearts here.


Mostly older homes surrounded by oil and gas tanks, cars, trucks, ski-doos and more.  Gravel roads are the norm up here.


In Tuk everyone get their water delivered just about every day, and likewise, the sewer is picked up.


The houses are built on pylons or blocks, with no underground or above ground services.







John our guide in Tuk with Liz
John and Liz in Tuktoyaktuk airport. 

Anders and Liz in front of Tuktoyaktuk sign
Anders and Liz in Tuktoyaktuk

Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk
Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk

Everyone walking up the hill.
Michele, Alan and Liz with the rest of the group climbing the hill.

Panorama of Tuktoyaktuk
Panorama of Tuktoyaktuk

Liz on top of the hill.
Liz

Village and ocean.
It looks all so different.

Liz and Anders in front of the entrance to the Ice house
Time to go down into the Ice House.
In the past, this village had no electricity and to preserve food they built Ice Houses into the permafrost. Today most people use electric or propane freezers

These Ice Houses are like a giant freezer 30 feet down in the ground.

While visiting Tuk, we were fortunate to go down into one of the last remaining Ice Houses.

This climb down is not for the faint at heart, but is really worth doing. You know you can do it, get out of your comfort zone!

Anders going down the ladder to the ice house
Anders on his way down

Anders almost at the bottom of the ladder
Hey, it's cold down here.


Liz 30 feet below the surface in the ice house. Ice everywhere.
Watch your head.


Anders has to  walk sideways to get in and out of the different areas in the ice house.
Tight fit

Make sure to bring a set of gloves, the bottom 10 feet of the 30 foot ladder is covered with ice.


If you have a head lamp, bring it as well. John had some head lamps and flash lights which were a big help.


Watch your steps the last 10 feet of the ladder was very slippery. It was cold down there, so have a vest or a sweater on. Nothing too bulky, space is limited.

This was such a rush climbing down and walking around down there.


There is a main "hallway" with lots of compartments off to the sides..... Kind of like a fish bone.


If you visit this part of Canada's arctic, a visit to an Ice House is a must!


The permafrost in this part of the arctic can be up to 750 meters deep. Apparently in parts of Siberia it can be up to 1400 meters deep.










Liz dipping her feet in the Arctic Ocean.
Liz dipping her feet in the Arctic Ocean

Anders in the water.
Anders in his glory
It was time to go for a swim or just to dip our feet into the Arctic Ocean. We opted for the latter. The water was not too bad.


We received a certificate confirming that we dipped our feet into the Arctic Ocean. A nice touch for the little ( and big ) kids.


The water in the Arctic Ocean up here in Tuk is sweet and not salty at all as we expected.


Of course it is because of the great Mackenzie River discharging around 325 cubic kilometers of fresh water each year into this ocean.


That's 325,000,000,000,000 liters. That's a lot of water.


It was time to start our trip back to Inuvik. John guided us over to a local dock where Jerry our captain was waiting for us.


Jerry's boat is a 22 ft Hewescraft (I think) with a hard top. We were embarking on a 6 hour boat ride back to Inuvik.



Most of the time this boat ride takes about 4 hours, but on our tour the first few hours were pretty rough. No worries though, we just had to go a bit slower then planned.


The family we traveled with must have expected a cruise ship, the wife was not impressed with the small boat.

Boarding the boat in Tuktoyaktuk.
Our boat back to Inuvik

The Arctic Ocean is a bit rough
The Arctic Ocean is a bit rough.
We pass several hunting camps along the river banks.
Hunting camp along the Mackenzie River

Hunting camp by the river.
Clara's hunting camp

Beluga whale meat drying on shore.
Beluga whale meat.

Liz looking at the whale meat
Liz inspecting.

Muktuk and whale meat drying.
The black stuff is the whale meat and the red-white is Muktuk

Locals lady explaining about the Beluga whale meat.
It is incredible how they cure their food

Young man with harpoon used for the hunt.
Son in law with harpoon used for the hunt.

Liz and Clara
Liz and Clara

Liz and the little girl, Sierra. two and a half years old
Liz and Sierra

Grand daughter serving up some tea.
Grand daughter helping to serve tea.
Be prepared, this is the arctic, not Vancouver. My comments to Jerry was, "Nice boat Jerry, almost like the one I have at home."


Make sure to use the washroom before going on the boat ride. No potty on board!


The first hour on the Arctic Ocean was pretty rough, but incredibly beautiful.


The ocean is as vast and immense as the delta. There were no Polar Bears in sight. Apparently at this time of the year they are on the ice floats far out in the Beaufort Sea.


After an hour or so we entered the Mackenzie River and its delta. We turned off into one of the arms and ended up in a local hunting camp.


We were so lucky, the day before the hunters had just harpooned and killed a Beluga whale. Yes, these wonderful people here live off the sea, the river, and the land with all it has to offer.


The whaling camp is run by an incredible Great Grandma, Clara.


She is a fantastic lady and has been teaching the kids in Inuvik the local language. She is now retired. She has lived all her life up here in the hunting camp during the summer months.


All her kids, grand kids and great grand kids live all up here with her. The husband you ask? I think she kicked him out. Clara is the kind of women that will not put up with any BS.


The camp is very primitive. The cabin is probably more like what most of us would refer to as a shed. There is an outhouse down the path.
The only modern convenience is a generator to run the fridge and freezer.


The whale meat is drying on the wood planks down by the river.


We all gathered around and had a look. There was the blubber 4-6 inches thick and the meat looked black. We are not sure if that's the blood which turned black, or if its colour is actually black.


We are warned not to step in the oil. It is apparently very difficult to remove oil stains off clothing.


We were invited up to the camp for a lunch. We gathered in a screened mosquito tent outside (the mosquitoes were pretty thick, unless the wind blew them away).


We are served Muktuk (raw whale blubber), dried caribou, bread, caribou soup and tea. I'm not sure about the Muktuk, but everything else was wonderful.


Traditionally the Muktuk is served raw in small little cubes. More recently, some people deep fry the breaded Muktuk.
Like breaded deep fried fat.... hmmm.


The little girl, Sierra, she is 2½, took to Liz right away. She sat on Liz' lap the whole time we were there.


Sierra was so sweet, just sat there and talked like little girls do, and picked out the caribou meat out of Liz' soup they ate together. Way to go girl, you know what you like. She'll be just like her Great Grandma Clara.


We must continue out tour. We felt a sense of  sadness leaving these wonderful caring and loving people with such hospitality.


Jerry packed us all in the boat again and after zigzagging many different channels of the Mackenzie Delta we finally were cruising on the main channel of the river


I asked Jerry (who is a retired police officer) how he knows where he is going ( he had no chart or GPS ). He said, "as a kid I used to travel here all the time with dog sleds, so I know every bend of the river". He is an amazing man.


Out on the main channel the wind came up again and it got pretty choppy, but the sun was out and it was just wonderful.


Liz was doing very well in the boat considering she gets sea-sick in the shower.


After about an hour or so, the wind died down and it was all smooth sailing northward toward Inuvik.


We arrived back at the dock in Inuvik around 11 pm. The van was waiting for us, and we are shuttled back to the Nova Hotel.


Once we were back at our cabin, we relaxed with a drink and a snack.


Boat on shore along the river.
Pit-stop along the way to Inuvik

River fairly wild.
The Mackenzie is very wide and wild.

Couple in boat.
Alan and Michele.

Boat docked.
Back at the dock in Inuvik.

picture of watch 12:30 am, sun in the back ground.
12:30 am, sun is up of course. Time to fire the BBQ up.
At around 1 am, with the sun still high in the sky, I fired the BBQ up and grilled a couple of steaks.


What an incredible day! This tour was the absolute highlight of our whole Yukon and Alaska trip.


The people we met were so accommodating and friendly.


Life is really different up here in the Western Arctic. Be prepared, it is not like in the big city, this is Canada's north. Immensely beautiful and unique.


There are other tour companies up there. We really liked  Up North Tours. Some young local Inuvialuit people have started this company. It is very nice to see these young entrepreneurs getting ahead.


If you go, and you must!

Take along list:
Back-pack, layers of clothing ( including sweater and rain gear), gloves, head lamp, snacks, power bar, sandwich, 2 - 500 ml of bottled water per person, bathing suit (if you plan to swim in the arctic ocean), a towel, camera, chocolate bar, mosquito spray, Kleenex, disinfectant wipes, ear plugs, binoculars.


For more pictures of this trip, have a look here.























































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16 November 2014

Yukon and Alaska Bound, Part 17 - Dempster Highway, Eagle Plains to Inuvik


Dempster Highway North to Inuvik


Yukon Landscape.
Wonderful Landscape

Anders and Liz at the Arctic circle sign.
We are at the Arctic Circle
On July 4th 2014 we wake to sun and clouds, it is around 13C. We have a nice breakfast at Eagle Plains Motel before we leave.


We are on the road around 8:30 am and the road is in pretty good condition. Some sections are a bit wet but nothing like the day before.


We arrive at the Arctic Circle "Lat 66° 33' N" and some pictures are in order. This region in June receives as much solar energy as they do around the equator. It is less intense here, but is compensated by the long days.


The "Porcupine Caribou Herd" winters here around the 408 Km mark. Right now in July it looks pretty empty, but it must be an incredible sight to see when the 169,000 animal herd migrates through here.

The Porcupine Caribou or Grant's Caribou is a subspecies of the Caribou found in Alaska and adjacent parts of Canada. The Porcupine Caribou migrates over 2,400 km from this point to the calving grounds on the Beaufort sea.
Landscape where 169,000 porcupine caribou herd winters.
Imagine 169,000 caribou here

Beautiful landscape close to Northwest Territories.
Breathless beauty.
 This is the longest land migration on earth by any mammal.

Picture of river from truck driving over the river.
River Crossing

Moose in the bush.
Moose in the bush.
Apparently there are still some Grizzly bears around here. All we could see and find was some bear scat.


We are getting closer to the pass crossing from the Yukon in to the Northwest Territory. The fog is getting so thick that we are crawling along at about 15 km per hour and with four way flashers going. We eventually get out of the "milk soup".


Along the way we encounter a big moose. She had one look at us and booted off into the Black Spruce and underbrush.


Further on, on top of a hill we encounter an airstrip that is part of the road, all in gravel of course. Multipurpose, airstrip and road at the same time.


Besides Black Spruce, green, brown or burnt, there are also Tamarack or Larch trees. Tamarack trees, like the Black Spruce also have needles, but loose those needles in the fall after turning golden yellow.

We are now at NWT Km 74 and take a small ferry across the Peel River. This ferry is free (BC Ferries take notice !). We were the only clients. Arriving on the other side of Peel River we are in Niainlaii Territorial Park and we stopped at their info center.

We had a good look around, and enjoyed a cup of their complimentary tea. A very nice local native man was looking after things. He was extremely knowledgeable. Some muddy and wet tourist on a motorcycle with a side car also stopped by. Would not be my way of travelling.

We drove into the nearby town of McPherson. It looked pretty sad.

Further on we came to another river crossing, the mighty Mackenzie. The ferry ride is longer then over the Peel River and it was a bit choppy. The ferries run in spring, summer and fall. When it starts to freeze over the ferries stop, and eventually Ice-road are built across these rivers.

Landscape.
Wonderful country side
Fog creeping over the mountain.
Fog at the high plataue

Sign: "Welcome to Northwest Territories" fog is very thick.
Welcome to the Northwest Territory. It is milk-soup up here.
The Mackenzie River mainstem runs 1730 km long and 4,200 km from its head waters in British Columbia to the Beaufort Sea.


The river flows in a Northerly direction in to the Arctic Ocean.


The river is around five km wide at its widest part.


A fairly shallow river, and it is most of the time between 8-9 meters.


The watershed that encompasses the Mackenzie River is the largest in Canada at 1,805,200 km²


Let's talk mosquitoes for a while. As long as the wind is up and blowing, no problem, but for you ladies that have to squat down in the bushes where there is no wind, be prepared!


We eventually arrived in Inuvik and checked in at the Arctic Chalet. We had a quaint little cabin. Be prepared, up here there is not luxury. You are in the far north now.


Ferry crossing over Peel River
Ferry across the Peel River

Local man at the info center.
Info Center in Nitainlaii Territorial Park

Anders having a cup of tea.
Anders enjoying some tea

BBQ on the porch.
BBQ on our porch

Liz inside cabin.
Liz in our cabin.

Anders at counter talking to info center staff.
Friendly staff in Inuvik Info Centre.

Liz outside info center in Inuvik.
Liz outside the info center in Inuvik

Going shopping in Inuvik.
Shopping in Inuvik
All services in Inuvik are above ground and houses are sitting on stilts or blocks.

We went in to town and picked up some chicken. At the cabin we fired up the BBQ on the porch. The sun does not go down up here for 6 weeks in the summer. Life is good.

For more pictures check out our on line album.














































































































































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