Driving from Smithers to Whitehorse, the Long Way

For two weeks I’d been keeping an eye on the weather forecast for my planned return route via Highways 16 and 37, the Yellowhead and Stewart-Cassiar. They’d been very good until the day before I left Hinton, when things started to turn bad.

When I went to bed last night, things didn’t look good on the DriveBC site, and when I got up just before 04:00, it was very bad – the highway to Stewart was closed due to avalanches, and a travel advisory was in effect a bit further north due to heavy snow. Unable to stay in Smithers for 2 days until the “massive storm” abated, I was left with no option but to retrace my route back to Prince George and head home via the Hart and Alaska Highways. At 04:15 I checked out of the Sunshine Inn and was on my way, not in a very good mood – I was really looking forward to seeing Stewart in particular again.
DriveBC screenshot
By 09:30 I was well north of Prince George on the John Hart Highway (BC Hwy 97), with the power lines from the W.A.C. Bennett Dam never far out of sight.
Power lines from the W.A.C. Bennett Dam
I heard on the radio that due to the exceptionally warm temperatures, all logging in the region was going to be shut down in 2 days, so there was a constant parade of logging trucks.
Logging truck on BC Hwy 97
The highway climbs to 874 meters (2,868 feet) going over Pine Pass.
Climbing Pine Pass on BC Hwy 97
The old lodge at Powder King ski area is looking pretty sad. It closed many years ago, replaced by a new one in a much nicer location further off the highway.
The old Powder King lodge
Nearing Chetwynd – out of the snow and into forecast sunshine for many hundreds of k.
Highway 97 south of Chetwynd
I had to make a stop in Chetwynd. The balance of my winter tires was never exactly right, and gravel and mud on the inside of them had now made the shudder too bad to keep driving. The guys at Kal Tire quickly solved the problem so I could drive at whatever speed I wanted with no issue.
Up on the rack at Kal Tire in Chetwynd, BC
I bypassed Dawson Creek this time – this is the large Louisiana-Pacific OSB mill on the western outskirts of town. It produces OSB (oriented strand board, a.k.a. particle board) wood panels.
Louisiana-Pacific OSB mill at Dawson Creek
Dropping down to the Peace River at Taylor.
Dropping down to the Peace River at Taylor
It felt and looked like Spring at Fort St. John, where I had to make a few short stops to get fuel, have my wheels re-torgued and to get a couple of gallons of windshield washer fluid.
Spring flood at Fort St. John, BC

I thought about spending the night at Fort Nelson, but wasn’t nearly ready to quit driving at 6:30 pm, so kept going, knowing that there were no accommodations available further on. I stopped at a pullout at about 9:00 pm and got about 3 hours sleep.

By the time I took this shot along the Toad River just after midnight, the night was absolutely magical, with a nearly-full moon lighting up the peaks along the route. Some snow was falling from the ragged clouds – sometimes light, sometimes very heavy and driven by a strong north wind. I love driving in conditions like this! Yes, I’m serious ๐Ÿ™‚
Moonlight drive on the Alaska Highway
I made a u-turn to take some photos of the Double G lodge at Muncho Lake. If you’re in a bright room you may not see the moonlit mountains behind it – the reason I made that u-turn.
Double G Services at Muncho Lake
I stopped at Northern Rockies Lodge where I overnighted on the way south for another few photos.
My car has great highway lights but when there’s snow falling and there’s a strong possibility of encountering bison on the road, speed drops substantially – 70 kmh (43 mph) was about right for quite a while.
Bison warning sign on a snowy Alaska Highway night
By 02:00 I had reached Liard River Hotsprings and was really looking forward to a long soak, knowing that that would put me to sleep for a while. With nobody else there, dead silent and lit by the moon, it was wonderful.
Liard River Hotsprings on a moonlit winter night
I just don’t even have the words to describe an experience like this. To get this photo, the camera was on a tripod, in the pool with the camera about a foot above the water, with the timer on an 8-second delay and the shutter set to open for 6 seconds.
Liard River Hotsprings on a moonlit winter night
On the walk back to the car, I was thrilled to see a faint aurora. Though quite faint, it takes a powerful display to be visible over the light of the moon. I retraced my steps back to the springs hoping to get a photo of the aurora over the pool, but couldn’t get it placed right.
Northern Lights at Liard River Hotsprings
I caught another couple of hours sleep about an hour after leaving the hot springs, and the sun was just starting to come up when I stopped for the final load of fuel at the unmanned Watson Lake card lock at 07:35.
North 60 card lock at Watson Lake, Yukon
The beautiful colours behind me as I passed through the village of Upper Liard 15 minutes later.
Winter Sunrise at Upper Liard, Yukon
I made a couple more stops for sunrise/dawn photos, this one at 08:10.
Winter dawn on the Alaska Highway, Yukon
Teslin, with only an hour and a half of easy driving to go.

I got home just before noon, and Cathy came home on her lunch break a few minutes later. It was a great trip, but getting home to my family is always wonderful.

The trip stats:

    * Time: 18 days

    * Total mileage: 6,748 km (4,193 miles)

    * Total running time: 90 hours, 50 minutes

    * Hinton-Whitehorse mileage: 3,052 km (874 km further than planned)

    * Total photos after editing: 1,872

So, am I tired of driving now? Well, in another month, I’ll be doing the Vancouver-Whitehorse drive with a moving van for a friend. Once a long-haul driver, always a long-haul driver ๐Ÿ™‚


Driving from Smithers to Whitehorse, the Long Way — 15 Comments

  1. When I saw where you were in your last post, I was amazed that the Cassiar was open already. I had always assumed that it didn’t open until later in the year.

    This has been a great trip report. I’ve enjoyed seeing the familiar stops. Thanks!

  2. A great read Murray. The weather is so foreign to me, which adds doubly to my interest.

    Hope the car is now washed !

  3. Just been catching up on your blog after awhile. Fabulous photos and really interesting driving around Alberta, BC and the Yukon. Great stuff!

  4. Just stumbled on one of your other posts while doing an Alaska Google search, an since have read six or more others including this, you latest’s. Great shtufffs. You offer a sometimes Wander as I itineraries to drool about an hopeful do someday -bucket list worthy most certainly. I’ve seen only a smidgeon of the areas you have traveled. But I have kicked around enough to know from your photographs to realize you find great solace in the land you pass through, an that shines through just as in the sun rising in Watson Lake.

  5. Looks like you might need to wash your car. ๐Ÿ™‚ You surely got some great photos. Thanks so much for sharing your trip.

  6. As always, fun to ‘ride along’ and get in on your adventures and be able to share the wonderful images you so delight in capturing. And you are not crazy (as your daughter says), driving in heavy snowfall is a zone unto itself, given rural conditions, little to no traffic, good tires and no place to get to… love it too!

  7. Pingback: Driving the North End of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

  8. Re; Drive from Hinton/AB to Stewart/BC ( – and Home ); here about Tete Jaune Cache:

    I hab been dropped off there by bus from Edmonton/AB; had reservations at the GRANDE “Rainbow Inn” and got picked up by the landlady and her car which had a flat right there; no spare tire; but within ten minutes of the Bus having left, there were four cars stopping and helping! Stayed there and enjoyed the luxury of the country side, hiked and got their car to see the beautiful valley and its mountains – met moose, elks, bears, humming birds and mosquitos. LOVED IT!!
    Got even a ride ( ( hitch hiking on “Highway-of-Tears, sure thing! ) could you explain that in your story a bit, you just give the name; SO WHY DID IT GOT THAT NAME? Thankyou. ) by a gent who invited us to his dwelling for coffee; seemed to me that he was a German special forces policeman on the Get-away-and-Hide. I dimly remember a gun fight in Germany with persons killed… . So he was hushed away by the government. Seemed to enjoy his new life!
    That railroad in that region had a funny accident, too. The freight train had its last one third of its train jumping off the rail and cutting right next to the rail the concrete ties, its rail fasteners – screws and spikes – as well as the telegraph lines and poles, some bridge railings and all the while the train kept moving – no more caboose at the end with men inside! The computer at the last freight car then got into emergency braking… .
    So I was told when I arrived at a railway parking lot with two repair trucks, some workers and a bear sitting on the rails, watching us.
    Finally I was told that within the next hour the very first freight train West again would run on the repaired track/rails since some days. Now was I happy I was at the right spot! They explained me how it happened – but WHY?
    Maybe Iยดll return there one day, when there are no blood thirsty UFOs flying and humming around.
    Best regards, Rainer from Germany