mackenzie delta ice road: drifted

The blizzard I mentioned in my last post wrapped itself enthusiastically around the spider-shaped hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territory, from Dec 31 to Jan 3. The storm seemed to come straight from the north pole, fierce and uninterested in anything but racing across miles of flat ocean and land.*

We were warm and safe, so we had the luxury of finding the storm beautiful. However the continuing lack of visibility interfered with our friend Kiev’s video art plans, and of course obliterated my plan to set ice lenses along a shore horizon and condense light coming over the Beaufort Sea.

Here’s what 22 seconds of the storm looked like (tinted pink by streetlamp) when we walked out in it to get Mexican food fixings for dinner. We beat the cold with spices, but first came 15 + 15 minutes of walking in this:

While none of us were even close to frostbite or hypothermia, or even hunger cramps, our plans to drive back to Dawson were stymied even more thoroughly than our art plans were. During a storm like this, the Mackenzie Delta Ice Road gets whited out by drifts, as dramatically as if you had drawn a line in a pile of sugar and then erased it by turning on a big fan beside your sweet pattern.

Want to see for yourself? Here’s how one section looked from the window of the prop plane when we flew out on Sunday. The road is winding along, looking good about five minutes outside Tuk airport:

and then it just disappears into drifts, and I didn’t catch sight of it again:

The plane ride out seemed like a dream. We hadn’t been able to find detailed information about how long it would take for the ice highway to be plowed – or even rebuilt, according to one old-timer’s prediction. It seemed like Wednesday would be the earliest date to start the two-day drive back to Dawson, where we all needed to be by today.

The B&B owners were so kind to us, and in the most pragmatic ways possible. They connected us to the return half of a flight chartered to bring Tuk’s schoolteachers in from Inuvik on Sunday, and they’ll drive Kiev’s truck all the way to Inuvik as soon as the ice highway is ready again.

So in a mere 25 minutes – instead of 4 to 6 days involving many hours of driving – we were back in Inuvik. The flight was simple, fast, beautiful. Everyone gets a window seat in a nine-seater Beechcraft Beech 100 plane, after all.

The pink-and-blue skies were perfectly clear above us, and I thought, the ice highway can take as long as it needs to be renewed.

And this afternoon, we flew back to Dawson – and landed with no trouble at all – home feeling tired, enthused, impressed with it all.

*Re knowing the blizzard came from the north pole: You can check 36-hour periods of satellite-shot infrared images at Environment Canada’s website, and when we did that the blizzard looked like it was reaching down from the top of the world. See http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/satellite/index_e.html

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