Last week the National Weather Service predicted 5 inch of snow for the Atigun Pass. This pass brings the Dalton Highway over the Brooks Range onto the North Slope with its tundra. We drove this pass in snow-rain a couple of years ago. The pass is squeezed to the wall of the mountain on one side and on the other it goes straight down about 200 yard (182 m) or so. There are no guard railings as steel would break in the extreme temperatures of the Arctic when a car or truck would hit them. In northern Alaska, all guard railings are made of wood.
The forecast reminded me of that trip over the Brooks Range to Prudhoe Bay and our first drive on the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle.
Kiss off the idea of a Lower 48 or European highway with at least two lanes in each direction. Don’t even think about concrete or asphalt as pavement. The Dalton is a dirt road with one lane in each direction (see photo above). Even the bridge over the Yukon River is a wooden bridge. Its width is so small you wonder how two big trucks can even use the bridge at the same time, but driving in the opposite direction. Do I have to mention that on a rainy day the bridge is slippery like hell from the mud that the wheels brought onto it when emptying the profiles?
Furthermore, as you see in the photo, it has a strong slope as it goes down from a mountain range in the south onto a flat on the northern side of the river. It is also very long and the pipe line runs aside.
When you drive the Dalton when it has been dry for a couple of days, you don’t see the car driving in front of you – if there is one at all – which is rare. You just see a huge dust cloud. When a car approaches from the other site, the first you see is dust. It takes quite a while until you see the front lights.
When you drive the Dalton on a rainy day, it is very slippery. Your car throws mud on the side and behind you. If there is a car in front of you, you better stay at a distance, as the windshield wipers can’t wipe the mud off as fast as the car in front of you throws new mud onto the wind shield.
The thing I find the most scary about Alaska highways is that you can drive for hours without someone coming from the other side. You are there alone, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, in a harsh climate in your car, and once you leave the car, you are part of the food chain. Your cell phone is worthless. Once you are about 30 miles (~48 km) outside of a village or town, it is dead, dead, no matter who is the provider. Your phone is dead, it can’t be deader than dead. You would need a satellite phone.
Furthermore, there is no road support. When your engine or tire say “good bye” or you slit into the ditch on an icy highway in winter or on a slippery wet road in summer, you depend on someone to stop and help you. At 40 below, you are even at risk to die from hypothermia once you run out of fuel.
Just to give you an idea about the heat and energy loss you get from the cold climate. When living in Barrow you have to take in 4000 kcal a day just to compensate for the energy loss you have being outside in winter. Desserts, here I come. LOL. No, and I don’t recommend a vacation in Barrow in winter to loose weight.
Have you ever traveled a region where you had no oncoming traffic for hours? What do you think about the “makeup” of our car? Was your car ever so dirty? If so, how comes? Let me know by email, I am curious.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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