The James Dalton Highway is arguably one of the toughest, gruelling, and dangerous in Alaska ( New York Times ), one the worse/most dangerous in the U.S. ( Popular Mechanics ), and indeed, the one of most dangerous in the world ( Business Insider ).
“James Dalton Highway, USA – 7/10
This is the third most dangerous highway in the world stretching 414 miles from Fairbanks to the North Slope of Alaska. A helicopter now patrols the road to try and stop it contributing to the 2,889 USA road deaths per year.”
This had been at the top of my bucket list since I moved to Anchorage, and notice a huge map of Alaska-with a solitary road, winding its way up to Deadhorse Camp on the North Slope. So, below are some thoughts after taking this awesome road trip. Take it seriously.
PREPARING FOR THE DALTON HIGHWAY
To drive the Dalton, you need a high clearance vehicle, preferably 4×4. Remember that in general, you cannot drive a rental car on the Dalton Highway, and that will be clearly spelled out in your rental agreement. Some car rental companies do offer permission via “gravel highway vehicle” rider for specially prepared cars. These three, I believe, do as of when I write this:
• Your vehicle serviced and checked before you go.
• A set of (near) new tires, with 1, preferably 2 full-sized mounted spares
• Tire jack/necessary tools to repair/change a flat tire (including air pump)
• Extra gasoline
• Tool kit with emergency flares
• Shovel or e-tool
• Extra motor oil and wiper fluid
• Tire chains and/or
• MaxTrax Vehicle Recovery and Extraction Device.
Bug Out Bag (For Yourself)
The Bug Out Bag (BOB), serves two purposes, if things go south, (1) I only had a single bag I needed to worry about grabbing during a time of great stress, (2) with enough supplies to keep me alive, and hopefully somewhat comfortable, while help is on it’s way. They would be contacted via the SOS beacon on the Explorer+:
- Warm clothes, including hats, gloves, and rain gear.
- Sleeping bag and camping gear
- First aid and survival kit
- Insect repellent and head net.
- Bear spray
- Drinking water and purification system
- Ready-to-eat foot
- Personal medications
- Personal hygiene
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Garbage bags
Always obey federal, state and local laws! I did take a sidearm, and shotgun on this trip. I did not camp, staying in hotels, and under the watchful eyes of others, Not sure I would bring them the next time.
Navigation & Communication
Communications will be a problem. Navigation, is easier. Once you exit Elliott Highway and turn onto the Dalton Highway it’s easy-go straight north. Leaving Anchorage, large portions of your trip will have no cellular or Internet access-specially once you are on the Dalton Highway.
Coldfoot Camp has gas, food and accommodation of course. It is supposed to have a GCI tower, but I did not look for it. You can purchase Internet access (Satellite Based) there. Deadhorse Camp will have good LTE coverage. Internet will be available via your hotel. I used the access point when I had to call into work to do a couple of things.
My experience: I got the most use out of the Explorer+ which I connected to my iPad via bluetooth. Every 10 minutes it pings the satellite and my family is able to follow my progress-in almost real time. I was also able to exchange short 150 char messages when nothing else worked. How good was it? On the way back I stopped at Tommy’s Burger Stop in Anchorage, Alaska, when I got a text message with hamburger orders. The family saw that I had stopped and where. I carried:
• CB radio on Channel 19, monitored by truckers, other travellers, pipeline security, Alaska State Troopers, and others.
• Garmin inReach Explorer+
• Iridium Satellite Phone
• The Milepost
• Cell phone/access point/etc (Will not be usable from outside Fairbanks until DeadHorse Camp)
10 RULES OF THE ROAD
1. Always Check Weather and Road Conditions
2. Keep your headlights and tail lights clean
Be seen! Every morning I start with a walk around the vehicle, then clean headlights, tail lights, and windows. It was a constant struggle.
3. Give truckers the right of way
The Haul Road exists for trucks to ferry supplies to and from DeadHorse Camp in support of oil production. We are visitors on their road, so we give way to them. Which means we slow down, preferably to a completely stop (the wind shield you save will be your own), and move carefully to the right of the road so they can can pass freely. Being a good visitor will make things run smoothly for everyone.
4. Keep headlights on at all times
Make sure you are seen. Truckers are very experienced and are moving at a fast pace. Let them know you are there.
5. Stay on the right side of the road
We have a saying in Alaska, “England drives on the left, Alaska drives on what’s left.. Not on the Dalton. Many curves and hill have very limited visibility and you won’t be seen until it’s too late.
6. Don’t stop on bridges or hills
7. Check your rear-view mirror regularly
They can come up on you fast. You want to pull over and let them pass . I enjoyed leisurely driving The Dalton, but I made sure kto eep an eye out behind me and pulled over as soon as it was safe to do so.
8. If you spot wildlife, find a safe spot to pull over and stop
9. Slow down when passing
10. Keep your CB on channel 19
CB was a welcomed asset during this trip. When on narrow or steep parts of the road, or times of poor visibility, it is good to know when a huge truck is barrelling down on you.