Dempster Highway Adventures and the Mad Trapper of Rat River


Did you see that? 

Let’s turn around. 

That old cabin?  It looked. . .




Once in Dawson, my friend Patrick and I had decided to go on a road trip up the Dempster Highway.  The road stretches from Dawson City 450 miles north into the Arctic.  It was originally a dog sled trail.  The road was built in the late 1970s to serve oil and gas exploration in the Mackenzie Delta.  It’s a dirt road (a mud road if it is wet outside).


dempster map


After living up on the Dalton Hwy in Alaska, I have been very curious to see the road’s twin.  Luckily for me, my friend Patrick had also been wanting to drive the road, and was able to come out from Fairbanks with a nice clean truck (which wasn’t going to stay that way for long) for the adventure.


We explored all the way up to the top, to Inuvik and back managing not to get any flat tires along the way.


On the way back south we paused in Fort Mcpherson and as we were driving through, a structure caught my eye.  There were plenty of dilapidated cabins around but this one stuck out from the rest somehow.  It looked like it must have a story.


We drove over to it and were surprised to discover a sign informing us that this was the home of the man who we had been hearing about all over the Yukon Territory and all over the Northwest Territory.  The man whose death photos adorn bar walls.  The man whose tale everyone in the area seems to know.

Albert Johnson.  The Mad Trapper at Rat River.  The troubled man who shot a constable and then ran, evading his pursuers and leading them on a 150 mile foot chase in the dead of the Arctic winter.  No one knows his true identity.  Who he was or where he came from remains a mystery.  They say his pursuers did not hear him utter a single word during the entire chase.  The only sound they ever heard from him was a cold laugh after he shot the constable.

The cabin was dark and low to the ground.  I did not dare get close.  I just studied it from the road.


After another day and a half of driving we made it back to Dawson.  I liked the Dempster more than I thought I would.  I’d give it a perfect 10.  It is very different from the Dalton Highway.  It passes through several mountain ranges and is more rolling hills than flats after the mountains.  It was a good adventure.  A nice break from the Yukon to rest my arms for a few days and let the splits in my poor hands heal.  By the time we returned to Dawson I was ready to paddle on.  Alaska was near.

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