I have been in the wilderness of the Mackenzie Mountains for six weeks, and have decided to begin a diary. It’s maybe not the right time to start one, but now that I’m not quite as busy and not nearly as tired at the end of the day, I’ll begin one anyway so that I won’t forget the details of this adventure in the bush.
Up until I took this cooking job, I had been teaching school in the small community of Ross River, in the Yukon Territory. Now I’m working for Perry, a big game outfitter from Norman Wells. He also has an air service based there.
Six weeks ago this morning, we were preparing ourselves for the long ride from Ross River up into the McKenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories. We were going to follow the North Canol Road approximately 300 miles. The road was built by the American Army in World War Two to ensure a route to the oil field of Norman Wells, in case the Russians tried to cut them off. They madly built it one winter, and then, just as madly, abandoned it as soon as it was completed. The army also left all of their equipment and dotted the road with camps. They had even built a telephone line. The South Canol Road goes south of Ross River to connect with the Alaskan Highway.
On the morning of our departure (Wednesday), I met Ormand, John, Leon, and Andrew at the café for breakfast and then we went to catch and halter the horses. We had 53 to trail in. Ormand is from Ross — a horse wrangler, and the other three are from Fort Norman — a Slaivie community in the NWT. After we had ferried the horses across the Pelly River, they were tied up and ready to go. I was pretty worried about Hansel, my Siberian Husky. I wasn’t sure he’d follow and I knew the noise, dust, and confusion would scare him.
We had 35 miles to go the first day in order to find enough feed and water for the horses. Ormand’s truck was loaded with the food and gear. We could take the truck because the Canol Road is maintained in the summer up to MacMillan Pass, which was 150 miles.
There were three problems that day. Number one — my dog was too scared to follow, so Ormand stuck him in the back of the truck. Our food was also back there, so guess what happened? Number two — John wasn’t too eager to hit the bush this year, so he had downed some whisky, got lost, and had to be found. Number three — The mosquitos swarmed all over us and they made riding and camping that evening extremely miserable. I cooked and even had to eat with a net over my head. We had fried mosquitos in everything.
Thirty-five miles later, my butt and legs and knees were sore, but not too badly. The water hole was not too good. The mosquitos were dense, and the wolves howled close to camp that night. In fact, I thought it was a dog howling, and twice I came out of my tent to yell at him to shut up. I was amazed to find out that it was wolves I’d been shouting down. Poor Ormand didn’t have a tent the whole two weeks of trailing in, and he had to keep the horses from going back to Ross most of the first nights. Wheee — the first day was over.
The next few days were not quite as long, but the mosquitos continued to torment us, and it rained several times. However, my soreness disappeared the fourth day, thank goodness. We passed the landmarks of the North Canol — which I’d heard my school children talking about — Dragon Lake, Sheldon Mountains, and finally MacMillan Pass.
It rained in sheets as we went through the passes. But that night we had blessed relief from the mosquitos. We were camped close to a family (Johnsons) who maintains a weather station at the Pass. Leon and I tried fishing in the evening and then we visited the Johnsons.