Tuktoyaktuk ice road: in liquid form

One tricky thing about the North is that, when it’s summer or even fall, your body finds it hard to remember that everything within sight (including yourself) will soon return to living inside a thick layer of deep cold for more than half of the year.

tuk iceroad summer1-sm
liquid highway and home to beavers, muskrat and whitefish

The Dempster Highway, Canada’s most northern road, ends at Inuvik in the summer. In the winter it extends to Tuktoyaktuk by ice highway (update from the future: see my Jan 2010 post about this road temporarily vanishing in a blizzard). The water freezes naturally, and then the Northwest Territories (NWT) Department of Transportation plows, floods and marks out an ice road with a reliable thickness.

The 150-km Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road follows the Mackenzie River to the edge of its delta, then curves across part of the Arctic Ocean to reach Tuk.

The ice road is open when it can support the weight of fully loaded semi-trailer trucks – usually from mid-December to late April.

It allows trucks to bring food, construction and other supplies to the hamlets of Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik, plus several exploration camps. (The NWT’s other well-known ice highway system is the 600-km Tibbitt to Contwoyto route that starts near Yellowknife and winds across several lakes. The Mackenzie River one services several diamond mines.)

In the 14 (or so) days of autumn – note the bright yellow birches – the first 80 kilometres of the Inuvik-Tuk ice road look like this.

heading up the east arm of the Mackenzie River, as if to trace the wheelpath of a semi-trailer full of groceries
heading up the east arm of the Mackenzie River, as if to trace the wheelpath of a semi-trailer full of groceries

According to the NWT Department of Transportation’s FIELD GUIDE TO ICE CONSTRUCTION SAFETY the ice road “must be a minimum of 15 centimetres thick before a snowmobile or 20 centimetres thick before a car or light truck may travel on the ice.”

My partner and I drove from Dawson to Inuvik for a Labour Day Weekend holiday. On Saturday night, coming in from a 3-hour boat ride on our last night in Inuvik, it was hard to believe that this:

mackz r moonrise-sm
will soon look like this:

photo Charles Stankeiveich

(frozen photo from Charles Stankeiveich)

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