In 2017 we drove our own Defender to the very top of the world on the infamous ice-road that links Inuvik in Canada's Northern Territories to Tuktoyaktuk on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. In the spring of 2017 the ice-road closed forever ahead of the opening of the new all-season road that would provide a year-round link between Inuvik and Tuk. That meant one of the world’s greatest driving challenges was no more. Sure, driving to Tuk in summer is no mean feat but it’ll never provide quite the same sense of adventure as arriving via the ice-road. There is however another hardcore winter challenge if you care to look and one that’s strangely missing from the traditional ‘overland must-do’ lists.
The Wapusk Trail is largely unknown even to native Canadian's, but you'll find it in the Guinness Book of Record under the heading - 'World’s Longest Winter Road'. At 772km (479 miles) in length, the Wapusk Trail crosses frozen rivers, lakes and tundra and is created every January to provide a temporary 'road' link from Gillam, Manitoba to the remote settlements that line the shoreline of Hudson Bay. For the remaining 48 weeks of the year, the First Nation Cree population at Hudson Bay live cut off from the rest of the world, relying upon air transportation for their supplies.
The Wapusk Trail exists only for a few weeks before the rising spring temperatures close it for another year. Phone signal is non-existent; there are no fuel or food stops; temperatures drop as low as minus 40 and traffic averages just 30 to 40 big rigs in a single season. It was too good a challenge to ignore…
It's going to be a long, lonely and cold trip. Once we leave Gillam, there is nothing but a huge expanse of white emptiness until we get to the small town of Fort Severn (population 350), almost 500 miles away. From Fort Severn we’ll travel a further 250kms to the settlement of Peawanuck in the Polar Bear Provincial Park. Camping in the vehicle overnight is a realistic possibility. And just in case you were wondering, 'Wapusk' is Cree for White Bear. I almost forgot. This area is one of most populated Polar Bear habitats in the world…
One of the chief reasons for driving the trail is out of sheer curiosity. The fact is, very little information exists on the Wapusk winter road. It’s in the Guinness Book of Records, yet no one goes there. Every other remote or ‘dangerous’ road in the world has been documented by someone with a video camera or a blog yet with the exception of a lone (crazy?) motorcycle rider who rode the trail in winter 2012 (https://youtu.be/ovwIx-tVV8A) and a single episode (inevitably) of Ice Road Truckers, there are no other online accounts of driving the road.
The destination of Hudson Bay is a fitting destination for any adventure. Synonymous with early 17th century expeditions to the North American continent, the bay is named after Sir Henry Hudson who explored the area in 1610 seeking the elusive Northwest Passage. Hudson’s expedition gained notoriety when his ship the Discovery became trapped in pack ice over the winter forcing the crew to survive the winter ashore. When the ice cleared in the spring, the majority of Hudson’s crew mutinied setting Hudson, his son and seven crew members adrift into the Bay in a small boat. They were never seen again.
Sadly we won’t be taking the MUD Defender pop-top on this trip. Shipping the truck to Canada would be nice, but for a two week trip it’s an expensive luxury. And besides, the Defender was rubbish at starting in extreme cold on our previous ice-road trip... Luckily, my Canadian travelling companion Wes Branson has just bought himself a brand new Dodge Ram 2500 Power Wagon as the base for his new overland rig, so the RAM will be our home for its chilly two week shake-down trip starting on the 1st of February.
Stay tuned as we plunge headlong into who knows what? Fingers crossed we stay friends and we don’t replicate Hudson and the Discovery expedition’s fate by fighting over the RAM keys and leaving the other to the mercy of the polar bears.