Please forgive us for the use of both metric and imperial measurements – it's not intended to confuse, but is a consequence of what seemed appropriate in various circumstances.
The race starts at Eagle Plains Hotel which is approximately 225 miles from the Dawson junction on the Klondike Highway. It is a solitary hotel and fuel stop and is the only oasis for a meal, bed and gas until you reach the First Nations Hamlet of Fort McPherson. You will receive a very warm welcome here from both the Owner and staff and you will hopefully also get a good night's sleep the night before the start.
The start line is directly outside the hotel amid stunning scenery with the beautiful Richardson Mountains to your right.
On starting the race, you immediately descend gently through Arctic stunted forest for about 10km to the bridge at Eagle River. On crossing the bridge, the road bears right and ascends quite steeply at first and then less so for about 10km, whereupon the landscape becomes more exposed to the notorious winds, but if climatic conditions allow will afford you some of the most stunning scenery you will see anywhere in the World. At 20km the Dempster doubles as an emergency airstrip which is seldom used, but please be aware that aircraft DO occasionally use this facility. This hilly landscape from here continues until the first checkpoint at the Arctic Circle at 712m above sea level. Weather permitting, you will have the most awesome views of the most stunning, remote and inhospitable landscape our planet has to offer.
From the Arctic Circle, the route continues to rise and fall and is best described as undulating (although many veteran athletes of this event will suggest that mountainous is a more appropriate description). Approaching Glacier Creek it's a little exposed with possible cross winds. It remains quite open past 50km with long open flat stretches. This whole stretch is affectionately known as Hurricane Alley, and with good reason. The potential is there for EXTREMELY strong Katabatic winds. Lorries using the Dempster are regularly blown over and any human caught in these winds could quite literally be forced to crawl. When the winds are blowing (see video clip on the gallery page of a day when it was open and you will then appreciate the severity of what is being described), the road is usually closed to vehicles. At 64.2km there is a significant and very noticeable "Big Dipper" in the trail which is sign posted as Sheep Creek. At 77km there is a Highways open shelter on your right which you are free to shelter in if necessary, but a little further on your left (300 metres) is Rock River Campground - for 2016 subject to the camp ground being ploughed we will have a staging post here where athletes can at the very least get minimal respite from the wind and cold. This is NOT an official checkpoint and therefore no water will be provided. At 83km the route once again becomes exposed to possible severe winds and is a likely to be the toughest part of the race all the way through to the steep ascent to Wright Pass at 92km. At the top of the Pass is the border with the North West Territories and you are reminded to put your watches FORWARD one hour! The second checkpoint is approx 14km further on at the Highways Depot at James Creek.
On leaving James Creek, at 120km you will pass through a most stunning gorge where the frozen river is a beautiful ice blue. It really is fantastic to see, although in 2013 there was for the first time in this race a small section of overflow so be aware. The route then descends towards Midway Lake, where there is likely to be sections of spindrift across the route. At 149km there is another emergency airstrip on the trail, although highly unlikely to be in use. At about 160km you will catch the first sight of the McKenzie Delta below you and from this point onwards the trail descends to the Peel River ice crossing at 174km. This is another very pretty part of the route. On crossing the Ice Bridge, the route changes to relatively flat for the last 10km into Fort McPherson and the finish line of the 120 Miler or Checkpoint 4 if you are racing all the way to Tuktoyaktuk.
Fort McPherson is a small First Nation community and subject to confirmation we will be once again using the School Hall within the Hamlet.
On leaving Fort McPherson, the racers will now be facing what we consider the start of the mental challenge that this race offers. The route to the next Hamlet at Tsiigehtchic is generally flatter and straighter, although there does still remain one or two undulations that some past athletes refer to as hills. After the likely battering from the elements that you might have endured from the start to Fort McPherson, these section of the race is perhaps a chance to catch your breath as (in theory) it is possibly the easiest section of the course. The approach into Tsiigehtchic is wonderful with the sight of the church perched on the hill, but don't be fooled into thinking you have nearly arrived..... the route takes you out onto the second Ice Bridge before returning to the Hamlet, so what looks like 1km to go, in reality is nearer 4km. At Tsiigehtchic, we will likely be using the community gymnasium as our Checkpoint . The community itself is very pretty and sits on the hill overlooking the River Junction of the Arctic Red River and the famous MacKenzie River.
The course from CP 4 all the way to CP 6 at Inuvik is a massive test to all athletes that make it this far. The trail is very very straight and will without doubt test your mental strength to levels you never knew you had. Back in 2007, the original intention was to have this section without a break all the way to Inuvik but wisely on reflection that idea was put to rest and as a result the beautiful remote cabin(s) at Caribou Creek approx 2/3 way along this stretch was introduced. In 2016 we hope to be able to use these Cabins once again as they are possibly the most popular and pretty refuge for the athletes anywhere along the course.
From Caribou Creek to Inuvik, the Dempster does offer some respite from the long and flat trail and perhaps can be regarded as a relatively easy stage for athletes to prepare for the next stage after Inuvik. The route just touches Inuvik at approx 233 miles with the checkpoint being situated on the edge of the town in the log cabins at the Arctic Chalets. Again, you will have the benefit of a warm, comfortable place to have a sleep, shower and food..
From Arctic Chalets, the route now drops immediately onto the winter ice road that takes the racers all the way to the finish at Tuk. This road is approx 120miles long and a real test of an athlete's mental, as well as physical toughness. We will once again arrange for a remote checkpoint at Swimming Point (70 miles), although depending on athletes remaining in the race this will merely comprise either heated vehicles or heated trailer – neither are luxurious, but both will be received with open arms by those athletes remaining as this is the only respite you are likely to have in this very challenging environment. The ice road itself is predominately very wide with a ploughed snow bank along either side. This road goes all the way to the finish. The scenery changes and the trees become more and more sparse until there is nothing but whiteness. It is the most remote, barren, yet stunningly beautiful place we have ever had the fortune to visit, it is purely magical, and will make the memories of this race ones which will stay with you all your lives.
Eagle Plain - Start - 0 miles (0km)
Arctic Circle - CP1 - 23 miles (37km)
James Creek - CP2 - 69 miles (111km)
Fort McPherson - Finish or CP3 - 116 miles (186km)
Tsiigehtchic - CP4 - 154 miles (248km)
Caribou Creek - CP5 - 205 miles (330km)
Inuvik - CP6 - 235 miles (378km)
Swimming Point - CP7 - 305 miles (491km)
Tuktoyaktuk - Finish - 352.64 miles (566km)