The Dempster Highway crosses a number of mountain ranges as it winds its way northward. The Richardson Mountains are the last range it passes through, and they are rather unique. Composed of dark shale and sandstone, the tip of the Laurentide Ice Sheet came to rest on the eastern edge of this mountain range during the last ice age. Wind erosion has smoothed the mountains, and canyons have been carved out by waterways. One of my favourite portions of the Dempster was the drive up the gorge, where the highway climbs 853 metres into the mountains from the Peel River.
The drive would have been stunning coming down from the gorge on our way northward, but rain and low lying clouds stifled our first views of this are. On the way south we took our time driving through the gorge and stopped for a quick hike when the clouds and snow stopped momentarily. Yes, you heard me correctly. It was snowing!! The peaks of the Richardsons were blanketed with the white fluffy stuff, and snow clouds settled in between some of the mountains around us.
This created a real contrast of seasons, as most of the vegetation was beginning to show their fall colours. We hiked to the top of a small hill to scout for wildlife in the valleys. Although we didn’t have any luck on this front, the views were amazing and it felt good to stretch our legs after a day of driving.
We attempted another quick hike at the NWT sign, but the snow made the lichen on the rocks incredibly slippery. Traversing the boulders to reach the ridge proved challenging, so we aborted our summit attempt midway. We also learned that partially frozen cloud berries are extra delicious on this adventure!
Back at the cars, we decided to aim for Rock River Campground at km 445.8. We had scouted this campground on our journey northward and found that it was pleasantly sheltered in a canyon with large trees. We managed to score the best site in the campground tucked next to the river! We cooked dinner over the campfire that night, accompanied by red wine and great conversation. Emboldened by the wine and a well stoked fire, some of us (ok, everyone but Antoine!!) took freezing baths in the river. For my family back home, this was waaaaaaay colder than a polar bear dip in Lake Superior in the winter!!
We slept soundly in the cool temperatures, serenaded by the sound of the river beside our car. This was one of our favourite campsites of the trip!
We continued southward, aiming our sights on the Ogilvie Mountains and Ogilvie River. More hiking and fishing to come!
Liz & Antoine