Canol Heritage Trail
The large U.S. military force present in Alaska during World War II needed oil to fuel aircraft and ships, which were in place for expected Japanese attacks. The strategically located Norman Wells oil fields were chosen as a source of crude oil, with little regard for the engineering feat needed to build a pipeline over the Mackenzie Mountains.
To this day, it remains one of the largest projects ever undertaken in northern Canada. More than $300 million was spent between 1942 and 1945, employing 30,000 people who laid 2,650 kilometers (1,650 miles) of four- and six-inch pipeline and built a road over some of North America’s most isolated and impenetrable mountain ranges. It was abandoned less than a year after completion.
Today, the roadbed remains—strewn with structures, trucks, and equipment used in the project’s construction—and is considered by many to be one of the world’s great wilderness hikes. It follows the original route for 372 kilometers (231 miles), from the Mackenzie River across from Norman Wells to the Yukon border.
Following the road causes little problem, but the logistics of getting to the beginning of the trail, arranging food drops, crossing rivers (most bridges have been washed out), and returning to Norman Wells require much planning.
Rick Muyres of Mountain River Outfitters (867/587-2697, www.mountainriver.nt.ca) can provide transportation and logistical support.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition