plagued progress. Summer storms created choppy waters, and the Army’s inexperience became clear as caterpillars, tractors, and graders routinely slid overboard from heavily laden barges. Several boatloads of pipe sank, and the rest languished at Waterways as project engineers struggled to move critical construction equipment northwards. By early fall, as the rivers iced over, and the project’s five month completion deadline came and went, only a fraction of the required materials had been delivered to Norman Wells. The surveying of a route over the rugged Mackenzie Mountains had not even begun.
Pipeline planners faced a difficult job. No detailed maps of the region existed. An aerial reconnaissance showed that river valleys leading into the plateau lands of the Mackenzie Mountains were narrow and riddled with canyons. Only the Dene First Nations, whose traditional hunting grounds encompassed these high, flat ranges, traveled the area. Their knowledge of ancient trail systems proved to be spectacularly detailed, having been passed down for generations through the oral tradition of storytelling. That winter, three local Dene hunters guided a small survey party across the mountains, traveling by dog team and hunting for sustenance en route. By January news returned to the south that a viable route had been traced through the alpine highlands.
That spring work on a road began, and the pipeline followed closely behind. Because of the urgent nature of the project and the low pour point of the Norman crude (it remained viscous even in extreme cold), the pipe would not be buried but rather laid directly by the roadside. Once again, the project suffered greatly from a lack of experience. After bulldozers carved a right of way through the bush, they would return only hours later to find a muddy quagmire, the result of disturbing and exposing permafrost. The next day a new road would be cut, which in turn would become a sea of mud. Soon a tangled web of muddy tracks spread through the forest, and hundreds of vehicles lay mired in bog, many sinking completely from sight. Eventually the cutting crews learned not to disturb the topsoil. Drainage ditches were dug to draw off melt water and a surfacing team followed quickly behind, laying insulating brush and gravel.
But the difficulties plaguing construction in the rugged northern terrain would not let up. After struggling to deliver seven thousand vehicles to Norman Wells, officers discovered more than seventy five percent