The Dalton Highway to The Arctic Ocean

I set out North not knowing exactly what to expect – I had heard many different stories about the road surface, condition and traffic along the Dalton Highway, or “The Haul Road” as the locals call it. The first hundred or so miles are on sealed pavement, through beautiful green rolling hills and wild flowers in all directions. The pipeline does a very good job of making it’s presence felt as a reminder of why the road exists at all.

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Dalton Highway flowers

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Alaska Pipeline and Dalton Highway roll on

In another hundred miles I crossed into the arctic circle – there is a big sign and a guy handing out cheesy certificates. Many tourists drive to this point and turn around, which is a shame based on what’s to come…

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Arctic Circle

North is the tiny town of Coldfoot, population 13. It’s well worth the visit for two reasons:
1. It has a gas station, the last one for 240 miles (384 km)
2. It has a shiny new visitors centre, stocked with friendly staff to answer all your questions about the arctic region and the wildlife found there – really fascinating.

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Into the mountains

The road now starts to change significantly – almost purely gravel, narrower, steeper and a lot more twisty. The gravel is also kind of strange in that they put a chemical in it to keep the dust down, which is still gruesome. This chemical seems to make the surface turn into glue – making steering interesting and sticking permanently to every surface in sight. For once, I didn’t envy the guys on two wheels one little bit.

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The Brooks Mountain Range 1

The highway has one last trick up it’s sleeve before allowing passage to the arctic, The Brooks Mountain Range. Now it’s blatantly obvious this road was not built for the public – grades of 12% or more are common. I watched in awe two semis in front of me hauled one oversize trailer up the mountain, then both worked together to get it down the other side in a partially controlled manner. I was told that in winter, some trailers need four semis. Wow. These trucks had two support vehicles in front and one behind – a friendly wave was given to indicate you should get off the road right now.

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The Brooks Mountain Range 2

Descending The Brooks Range the landscape changed dramatically – most noticeably, there were no trees. I’ve been above the altitude at which no trees can grow, called the “tree line”, many times before. This was eerily different – the lack of trees had nothing to to with elevation, trees can not grow here because it is too far north. Cooooool.

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The Brooks Mountain Range (looking back)

The mountains quickly turned into green rolling hills, then faded altogether leaving behind the desolate arctic tundra. Although it was 9pm, the sun was still very high in the sky and beating down hot enough to get sunburnt. About 10 miles before the oil outpost of Deadhorse, a cold wind ripped in and the temperature dropped significantly – not too many degrees above freezing.

I camped a mile or two out of town, which was a really exciting experience. Cocooned in my sleeping bag and wearing all my thermals I was still cold. With the sun high overhead and the wind howling around the tent I really did feel like an explorer in a very barren, inhospitable land. Lying down in my tent to go to sleep and only then realizing I was still wearing my sunglasses was also pretty strange. I was so excited it took me a long time to fall asleep.

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Arctic Camping (taken at 11pm)

Would you believe me if I said camping by the arctic ocean is kind of cold?

I wound up spending an entire day in Deadhorse huddled behind my Jeep in the sun reading and writing and I’m really glad I did. By the end of the day I was able to get some understanding of how harsh this place really is, even in the height of summer. The fox below startled me twice by coming within 10 feet of me while I was reading.

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Sneaky Fox

The drilling companies own all the roads to the actual ocean, so you have to pay $40 for a tourist bus. I debated it for some time and then decided that I’d come all this way, so I should dot it. It’s a shame I couldn’t get a photo of the Jeep with her rear wheels in the water, but it was never going to happen with security being really tight.
In case you’re wondering, the water was really cold simple smile

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Standing in The Arctic Ocean

All I have to do now is drive south.


15 Responses

  1. mike says:

    Yep Yep!!!

    Wow, you got up there fast!!! The continuous sunshine must be a trip!!
    When are you heading for the magic bus?
    We’ve been stuck in slave lake for 4 days (which is 4 too many) waiting to get into our last camp for 4 days of planting. There’s nothing to do here but drink!! Which has prooved entertaining enough…
    I’m going to the Ness Creek folk festival in SK after planting along with half of the planting crew. Let the party roll on!!!!
    I read an interview of Ted Simon in a mag called canadian motorcyle (i think?). He really does have a way of distilling an event or time down into an amazing line or so. it was interesting to read his thoughts on travelling and why he does it. He really is the man- right on!! I gotta read some more of his books.


    • Dan says:

      Going to the magic bus? wrong tense my friend! ::)
      It’ll be online in a couple of days.

      Yep, Ted Simon is the man, no doubt about it. I have Jupiters’ Travels sitting next to me. I’m not actually reading it right now, but it’s nice to have floating around.

  2. scott says:

    Looks like a shitty time man…..

    Nice work on the arctic ocean….

    Please tell me you don’t know michael jackson is worm food…..

  3. Shane says:

    Dan mate,

    Reading through everything the trip sounds amazing, and thats before you have even started heading south yet.
    Got to say, you sound correct with Alaska. The pictures look epic.
    Any idea of where too next?

    Keep at it

    • Dan says:

      South is my only plan.
      I have a few things along the way that have been highly recommended, so I’ll probably hit them up.
      But no plan really.

  4. AadK says:

    AadK says:

    July 30, 2009 at 5:15 am (Edit)
    Hello out there.
    My son is momently on the arctic with his bike.He’s going from there to Argentinia by his own.With his own bike!
    For 6 monds.
    Yesterday he came with the plane in Anchorage and will start on Death Horse (Prudhoe Bay?)
    If you will follow here’s the blog-adress.


  5. jobsearch says:

    It’s great to have a journey like this! But you must be either unemployed or a freelancer because if you had a daily job, you would hardly be able to take it. I’d like to know how you can satnd bare-feet in the ocean. I checked the average temperature and it’s really cold.

    • Dan says:

      I saved for 2 years to make this trip, and I’m doing some freelancing as I go along too.
      I think that a lot of people think this trip is more expensive than it is. Maybe I’ll post up my budget sometime soon.
      HAHA – The Arctic Ocean was extremely cold, I didn’t stay in long and my feet were numb when I got out.

  6. Jonathan says:

    So my wife and I are planning a summer trip North through Canada And Alaska. Thinking 3 months, May-July. I’ve read your adventures but am curious, if you only had the means to visit the Arctic Ocean once, which route would you take and why?

  7. Jake says:

    You can’t drive an unbroken path from North to South America. There is a “gap” between Panama and Colombia well-named the “Darien Gap”. The only way to get through is to illegally walk through thick jungle and swim across a river (there are small bridges but they are controlled by anti-government Guerrillas–and I heard they don’t like white strangers very much).

    This information is several years old as I haven’t checked in a while but I’m pretty sure they haven’t “connected the gap” yet. Maybe some day.

  8. Dan says:

    Hey Jake,
    Very true. I shipped my Jeep across the gap, and flew myself. You can read about it: Shipping across The Darien Gap Pt. 1

    Let me know if you have any questions.


  1. October 16, 2009

    […] have set out in my Jeep TJ to drive 50,000kms (32,000mi) on The Pan American Highway from The Arctic Ocean in Northern Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego, the southern-most point of South America. Hiking has always been a passion of […]

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