“The line between disorder and order lies in logistics.” Sun Tzu
Logistics is defined as the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, and supplies. Logistics for independent adventurers often means researching, route planning, fact-finding, and considering every imaginable and unimaginable detail solo. For some, it’s mentally tedious and can even feel like a lonely chore. Personally, I find adventure planning to be a geographical, sociological, and historical learning opportunity that enhances my pre-trip excitement.
While navigating the logistical nightmare of “‘Finding Tuktoyaktuk”, it became rather clear that I would have to create and pen my own guidebook. There was no “Walking the Dempster for Dummies,” or “Pack-rafting The Yukon’s Southern Lakes” to refer to. Based on my research, it seemed no one had pack-rafted from Bennet to Whitehorse and only one man had walked the Dempster all the way to Tuktoyaktuk.
In the early stages of planning, I focused on five main categories: Routes, Transportation, Equipment, Food, and Shipping. These categories created a basic foundation to build upon.
First, I had to determine a hiking, pack-rafting, and walking route that would take us from Skagway, Alaska to Tuktoyaktuk, Canada. Mileage, time frames, and resupply points felt less overwhelming after breaking the route down into three separate legs.
Stage 1 – Backpack the Chilkoot Trail to Bennet Lake ( 33 miles)
Stage 2 – Pack-raft Bennet Lake to Dawson City (600 miles)
Stage 3 – Walk from Dawson City to Tuktoyaktuk (580 miles)
After reading that day-to-day commuting and travel accounts for thirty-five percent of an average person’s environmental footprint, I made a conscious decision to use alternative modes of travel that were kinder to the planet. Trains and boats are considered less harmful than planes as they do not release carbon emissions into the upper atmosphere. I wondered if it was possible to travel to Skagway via train and boat.
Yes, it is possible! Even though it wasn’t the most time efficient, I took the Amtrak Starlight train and the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry from Los Angeles to Skagway, Alaska. Besides taking the slow scenic route, the train and ferry generously accommodated my one hundred and fifty pounds of expedition luggage.
With my Alaska travel arrangements booked, my focus turned to the transportation of our pack-rafts, paddling gear, and food resupply to Bennet, British Columbia. Inaccessible by road, Bennet can only be reached by backpacking the Chilkoot Trail or by taking the White Pass and Yukon train.
Upon completion of the Chilkoot Trail, we were faced with two transport options. Either board a train back to Skagway to retrieve our gear or have our pack-rafting equipment delivered directly to Bennet. From a time efficiency perspective, it made little sense to backtrack or retrace our steps. After speaking with Anne Moore, (from the Dyea-Chilkoot Trail Transport company) I felt confident having her transport our gear across the Canadian border to Fraser and using the historic White Pass & Yukon train to deliver our pack-rafts to Bennet.
Not only was this decision time and cost-effective, but it also allowed us to have rest and preparation days before beginning the second leg of our journey.
After determining our multi-disciplinary route, it was now time to focus on the gear needed for the backpacking, pack-rafting, and push-carting sections of the trip.
Knowing we’d be subjected to wet weather on the Chilkoot Trail and gusty winds on the Southern Lakes, I opted for my time-tested Alps Mountaineering Zephyr 2 tent. While it may not be ultra-light, this tent is quick to set up, has kept me dry in nasty monsoonal storms, and held its ground during forty miles an hour winds.
As someone who lives with Reynaud’s Syndrome and Rheumatoid Arthritis, it’s critical I stay warm. My sleep system consists of a down sleeping bag, bag liner, ultra-light bag cover, down socks, and down balaclava. For some, it may seem like thermal overkill; however, I consider this a preventive measure to help reduce the possibility of Reynaud’s and Arthritic flare-ups.
Our pack-rafts, dry suits, and dry pants were custom-made by a manufacturer in China. Besides being far more affordable, we could tailor the gear to our liking.
For the Dempster Highway, I realized we would need a push cart to carry all our gear and supplies. Ordering jogging strollers and bike trailer carts online was counterproductive. Shoddy wheel alignments caused them to veer to either the extreme left or right. These carts were not Dempster Highway worthy. In the eleventh hour, I resorted to having a push-cart custom-made by a fabricator in Oregon and arranged for it to be shipped to Dawson City.
Considering our expedition was starting so early in the season, we had expected winter conditions on both the Chilkoot Trail and along the Yukon’s Southern Lakes. Hopeful for summer conditions by the time we reached Whitehorse, I also expected to be walking into autumn and perhaps winter on the Dempster Highway. After considering local temperature averages, I knew we could experience temperatures from five to eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping this in mind, seasonal clothing and gear supply boxes were shipped to accommodate the changes in temperature and weather.
Being disconnected from the power grids of the city, we found ourselves solar dependent. Keeping our iPhone’s and Inreach’s (satellite two-way texting and navigation system) charged was a necessity. The combination of portable battery chargers and solar panels kept us connected and eliminated the fear of having a dead device.
Because of the remoteness of the areas we were traveling, we shipped food resupply boxes to Skagway, Bennet, Carcross, Whitehorse and Dawson City. Once we arrived in Whitehorse, we purchased food from local supermarkets for our paddle to Dawson City and for our walk up the Dempster. My only own concern was being able to find soy free products. Being allergic to soy, I am very limited as to what I can and can’t eat.
Soy is now used as a filler in most processed foods, even Crystal Light.
Soy poisoning creates an immediate migraine and vomiting that can last from a few days to a week. Soy is like kryptonite to me and it can create a trip of misery if consumed.
The North West Territory Visitor Center in Dawson City arranged our food drops along the Dempster Highway. Tombstone Territorial Park, Eagle Plains Lodge, a local Fort McPherson family, and the Inuvik Visitor Center were more than happy to receive and store our resupply boxes. Staff at the Yukon and North-West Territories visitor centers are more than just a welcoming, friendly face. As community ambassadors, these ladies played key roles in our preparation for the Dempster. Despite every obstacle and set back we encountered in Dawson City, the staff rallied around us and encouraged us every step of the way.
For adventure trips within the U.S.A., I have always relied on sending food resupply boxes via USPS General Delivery mail.
Unfortunately, Canada does not permit International General Delivery mail. I’m forever grateful to the local businesses in the Yukon and North-West Territories that agreed to accept our food and gear packages. Without their help, organizing this trip would have been problematic.
(Stroller pictures and YouTube Video by C Black)
2 thoughts on “FINDING TUKTOYAKTUK – THE LOGISTICS OF A LIFETIME”
WOW….takes a huge amount of work….and with your incredible intelligence, you use your gift remarkably…. Thanks for sharing this info to us….this surely shows what is takes to do such an incredible trip….I am so proud to know you, Leigh…and tell about the accomplishment you and Clarissa did and how lovely the folks along the way were so generous, kind and thoughtful for you…..Love from your old friend, Barbie….XOXO
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Thankyou, Barbie. Fortunately, I enjoy research and trip planning. We were truly blessed to have met such kind and wonderful people.