Silver Trail + Klondike Hwy + Dempster Hwy, Yukon – A marmot in the bucket

Yesterday evening we have left Klondike Highway at Stewart Crossing for a short, 250 km long excursion. On the Silver Trail we are going via Mayo and Elsa to Keno. Until 1989 one of North America’s largest silver mines were run there. After the price for silvers has dropped and the mine was closed, Mayo lost all its economical importance. It was worse for Elsa and Keno, nowadays just a handful people live there, the villages became ghost towns. Keno’s museum reports of better days. Highlight of the trip is a drive up to Keno Hill over a steep, narrow, ten kilometres long gravel road. It is suitable for most cars except bigger motorhomes and trailers. The path zigzags up to the 1,849 m high mountain. The peak awaits you with a terrific view and another well-known photo subject: The sign post, a road sign with direction and distance information to all the big cities of the world. It has only 8° up here, so we are getting our lunch in the cabin. Through the closed mosquito net door we are watching two marmots. One of them is approaching the Unimog watchfully but steadily. At the right rear tire it disappears under the car. Suddenly a rattle. What is the beast doing? It is clattering again and again. The marmot must be investigating our bucket that hangs under the car. Before we start we are making sure that we are not transporting a blind passenger.

On the way back we take the loop from Keno via Duncan Creek Road to Mayo. The old, original Silver Trail is narrow and not in the best condition, but a funny “off-road” drive on-road. Back to Klondike Highway we turn into Dempster Highway 40 km in front of Dawson City. 740 km to Inuvik. This route is a must for travellers seeking the typical loneliness of Canada’s North. Only beginning and end are paved for a couple of kilometres, the rest is dirt road. Dempster Highway is the only road in Canada crossing the Arctic Circle. It was opened in 1979 after 20 years of construction. Constant erosion due to extreme climate conditions still cause problems and needs constant maintenance.

Sergeant William Dempster (1876 – 1964) after whom the highway was named, worked 37 years for the North West Mounted Police in Yukon. Patrols and mail service were standard from 1904 on and were maintained throughout the winter months. Dempster early made a name for himself. He covered the 770 km long dog slide trail not only more often than all his colleagues, he managed in a record time of 14 instead of 20 to 25 days in the average. After weeks of searching he recovered in March 1911 the bodies of a patrol that has been lost in December the year before, he got the order to improve safety of the trail. In the following winters he marked the route and built emergency shelters. The Lost Patrol lies still buried in Fort McPherson where they were found.

The road that mainly follows the old Indian and dog-slide trail goes higher and higher through Ogilvie Mountains. After 75 km you have an incredible view from Tombstone Mountain View Point over mountains and valleys. A few kilometres further you cross North Fork Pass, with 1300 m the highest point of the road and in these latitudes high above tree line. The high plateau and the surrounding soft mountains are grown over with grass and low brush, in-between flower fields are blooming, and brooks and ponds are sparkling in the sunlight. A lovely landscape that might be a bit deceptive. Leaving the highway you have to take care where to go; there is swamp everywhere and you might sink in. A red fox is sneaking along Arminius, and a hare is lolloping behind him to maybe tell him good night.

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