Monday, February 22, 2010

Fort Chipewyan Winter Road

Yesterday we decided to hit the road early to try to find a scenic outlook north of the city. I was a little fuzzy on the details though. I could only recall having briefly seen the place advertised on the back of a local magazine we picked up last week. "40km north of Fort McMurray" was all I remembered seeing. Predictably we didn't find it but decided to enjoy the drive, the milder weather and wherever our 4 wheels would take us.

We decided to go up and see the activity around the oil sands since the kids love all the big machinery. We turned off and visited the small hamlet of Fort MacKay first since we had missed the turn off last time were up that far. Lisa and I have an on-going dispute over the pronounciation of the place. I've heard it pronounced many times over the radio and by other people like Fort MacKay as in "Mac-eye", while she pronounces it as "Mac-K". I think she disagrees with me just to tease me and get me going and really does know how the place is REALLY pronounced. But regardless of how you actually say it, we had no problem finding the turn off this time.

I didn't get any pictures of the hamlet itself but the road does descend a rather steep grade leading across the MacKay (Mac-eye) River into the hamlet. Here are the bridge and the MacKay (MacKay) River.

Highway 63 crosses the Athabasca at Fort McMurray and then re-crosses it 60-odd km farther up just below the 57th latitude. At this point you're starting to run out of official highway in a hurry. The only thing above this really are all the big oil sands projects or gas pipelines.

We passed the last big project at Bitumount and reached the end of the road. Here is the start of the winter road that leads up to Fort Chipewyan. We had passed a sign a little earlier informing us of no more gas of services for the next 282km. I always get a kick out of those signs. By now the kids were starting to get a little antsy. I couldn't really blame them since, other than the Athabasca River crossing, we had seen nothing but trees and we had by then been on the road for a good 3 hours. I had only been on a winter couple roads before so I was quite curious about this one, easily the longest one I had seen had we decided to travel its entire length. In any event, its a little too far to travel in one day, plus we didn't have the gas or made the preparations one really should make when venturing out on these types of roads. In any event, I convinced Lisa to head a few kilometers up just to see and experience it before turning around.

A view down the winter road.

The kids perked up once we got on the road. All the little ups and downs gave the ride a roller coaster feel. The surface was remarkably smooth for the most part and we zipped along at around 80km/hour even though the speed limit was 30km/hour. After about 40km we reached the crossing at the Firebag River and it was here that we decided to turn around. The road makes a very steep decent and we wanted to make sure we could get the van back up it and not get stuck. Reality was also setting in since we had to pick up a few groceries in town and make it back to Janvier in time to catch the hockey game.

Another shot of the Athabasca River as we headed home.

The kids rested up after an adventurous day on the road. Nicholas wasn't actually sleeping. Lisa and I just asked him to pretend he was since this is one of the few chances I get to take a picture off all three kids together being relatively still.

All in all a great little day where original plans didn't pan out and we ended up creating our own little family adventure.


dogsled_stacie said...

When I was there it was pronounced Ft. McEYE, and that was from the locals!

Way Way Up said...

YES! I new I was right!!