The Canol Heritage Trail is an extremely remote hiking trail in northern Canada that extends from Norman Wells, a small village on the east side of the Mackenzie river in the North West Territories westward along a 222 mile route through the barren Canadian wilderness to the border between the Yukon Territories and the Northwest Territories. There, at "mile 222", it becomes a bumpy, remote dirt road that can be accessed by vehicles from Whitehorse, the capital city of the Yukon Territory. The entire route is the result of efforts by the U.S. Army corps of engineers to construct an oil pipeline to feed the U.S. army during world war two. At that time the Japanese army had invaded several islands in the Aleutian Island chain, which was part of Alaska and on U.S. soil and the U.S. was determined to defend their land. In 1942 there were no roads leading to Alaska through Canada from the southern states. The only way to get to Alaska was by air or sea. The U.S. proposed to Canada that they build a roadway to Alaska (which became the famed Alaskan highway) and in exchange for Canada's blessing the U.S. paid for, engineered and hired private firms who constructed the highway. In order to supply the much needed petroleum to both the construction crews and an army (should an army unit be sent north) an oil pipeline from an oil field in Norman Wells to a refinery in Whitehorse was thought to be the best idea. It was too risky to ship oil up the coast from the southern U.S. to Alaska where it would be vulnerable to attack from Japanese submarines, so, a pipeline was deemed to be the best option. Unfortunately it was fraught with problems from the outset. The brutally harsh Canadian arctic winters led to frozen sections of pipeline and the many rivers along the route overflowed during spring thaw and washed out bridges which constantly had to be rebuilt. The pipeline also cracked, leaked and had to be continually repaired. Succinctly, the pipeline was a nightmare from the start, but, the army engineers and there "get it done" attitude...."got it done" and was completed. It flowed oil for about two years and then...the war ended. Since the war was over the pipeline was no longer needed and it was quickly shut down. Some sections of the pipe that could be removed were taken out to reclaim the metal. Some vehicles, but not all, were also removed. Many still remain where they broke down along the way. The barracks that were used to house the workers and the pump houses that kept the oil flowing were abandoned and left to decay. The entire pipeline route was, effectively, abandoned altogether. In the following decades the remaining few bridges finally washed out for the last time and the roadways that were carved through the virgin northern bush rapidly grew back to nature. What is left of the original pipeline route is now officially designated as "The Canol (Canadian Oil) Heritage Trail" and is trekked by only the hardiest of trekkers each year. There are usually not more than a dozen or so hikers that make the attempt every summer. A good high school friend of mine and I decided to make the journey there in June/July of 2004. We gave ourselves as many as 23 days to make the 222 mile distance although we planned on doing it in 21 days. Fortunately, because of good weather and no problems along the way we finished it in 19 days. You can approach the trail and begin at either end. We began at the Mackenzie River town of Norman Wells and traveled westward ending up at mile 222 in the Yukon. There, we were picked up and flown out by a Cessna 172 tail dragger that landed on the bumpy roadway and had been pre-arranged to pick us up upon request in a three day window. During our time on the trail we saw no other hikers but we did bump into Stan Simpson and his family at "Ram Head Outfitters". He was the pilot that we hired to fly in our food supplies that were dropped in and cached along the way. All in all, the entire journey was an incredible experience and I invite anyone who wants an extreme adventure hike to investigate this option and make it happen for yourself. You won't be disappointed. This trip was my very first foray into "digital" photography, and I had just purchased my a Canon 10D digital camera. I carried a Canon 20mm f/2.8 prime lens and a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens with me. I used the 70-200mm lens once, to photograph the young Caribou that lurked around our camp one evening. I am pleased with the results of my efforts in this beginning stage of digital photography. I hope you enjoy the images as much as I enjoyed taking them.
© Steve Tambosso - "The Wandering Fireman"