February 3, 2010

Driving The Haul Road In Winter

Getting up to the arctic in the winter can be a challenge and an adventure, to say the least!

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.  We were supposed to depart for the arctic on January 24th, but our truck had some issues and driving the Dalton Highway (also known as the Haul Road) in a temperamental  rig is not an option…believe me…we’ve tried it before and it didn’t end well. 

So, we were delayed by a week while we made other arrangements, but on Friday, January 29th, we pack up 22 of our beloved malamutes (11 in the bed of the truck and 11 in the trailer) and headed for the great white north.  We had about 500 miles to travel to our rendezvous point where I would drop off Joe and the team.  I won’t see them again until May when I go back to pick them up at the end of the expedition season.

The Haul Road isn’t any ordinary highway.  To put  the 500 miles from Fairbanks to Deadhorse in perspective, it’s the equivalent of driving from Seattle to Missoula, Salt Lake to Denver, Knoxville to Orlando, or Richmond to Providence, except that it’s for the most part, a one-lane dirt road.  The only services on the Haul Road are found in Coldfoot where you can get fuel, food, a bed, and repair a tire.  Cell phone service dies out about 20 miles north of Fairbanks, then you enter the black hole of telecommunications.  In the summer months, tourists and locals might drive up to enjoy some hiking, camping, fishing, or hunting.  But in the winter, traffic is mainly limited to big rigs.  After all, no one in their right mind would make that trip in the winter. ;)

The trick to driving the Haul Road, no matter what time of year, is to drive in the middle of the road, unless you approach the base of a hill, at which point you’d better stay as far off to the right as you can in case you meet a 18-wheeler at the crest.  It is essential to drive this road with a CB on channel 19.  Communication with the truckers is very important.  They can give you road reports and pilot trucks can tell you how many wide loads are behind them that you need to pull over to let pass.

- – –

The dogs did really well en route, but they get pretty excited.  They know exactly where they’re headed and what they’re going to do when they get there; the anticipation wears on them, so sometimes tempers flare!  Here’s a photo of Boss on the left (our smallest dog) having a stare down with Frankie (one of the biggest dogs).  As you may have heard, malamutes love to fight, but Boss’s sassy, spunky attitude keeps everyone else at bay.  No one messes with Bossy girl.  We don’t use dog boxes, but everybody manages to control themselves for the most part.


Just follow the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and eventually you’ll get there…


The Yukon River bridge is, well, rustic.  It’s made of wooden planks.

This is one of the widest sections of road.  Not too shabby!

Finger Mountain, pictured below, is the WINDIEST spot on the road.

We overnighted in Coldfoot, so the dogs got to stretch and for this years newbies, it was their very first time on a picket line.  They handled it like champs!  The Ice Road Truckers film crew was staying there, too.  The next morning we hit the road again.

Here, we’re making our way up the Chandalar Shelf.  We lost our transmission coming down this baby a few years ago and almost burned up the brakes trying to make it down without going 100 mph.  ‘Twas an “interesting” experience, for lack of a better word.  Photos don’t do it justice.  It’s a very long, very steep, very curvy hill.


We stayed at this Department of Transportation facility when we broke down a few years back.  But this time, we had the good fortune to just pass it by…

We’re approaching the famous Atigun Pass.

 We could see blue sky, so that was a good sign. 

At the top….now for the scary descent!

The scraper and snow blower were hard at it.

The CB chatter at this very moment between the equipment and the trucks was, “Yeah, it blowed again last night and blowed it in.” :)

I love this picture.  What a lucky shot! 

Okay, yeah, this is a pretty narrow stretch of road.


We finally made it to the rendezvous point and met a Carlile Transportation truck that hauled up a bunch of National Dog Food.  We offloaded the truck and set up camp for the night. 

Joe made us salmon for dinner.

The next day was pretty white!  I set out on the road, just me, myself, and I…headed back for Fairbanks in a gigantic turbo diesel truck which I drove like a little old lady. :)  What can I say, there are no road markers and there wasn’t much traffic at all, so most of the time I couldn’t see any tracks in the road.  It was slow going.

Can you see the road in the photo below?  Yeah, um, neither could I, but somehow I made it!  Once I got on the south side of Atigun Pass there was no new snow and it was good going all the way home. 


On my way home, I saw a bunch of caribou, a cross-fox, lots of ptarmigan, and a couple of moose who tried to jump out in front of the turbo granny-mobile.  ;)

Whew!!  It was a whirlwind trip! 

Special thanks to Merril and Vicky, who hauled up a huge trailer with Joe’s sleds and lots of gear and to Carlile Transportation for working with us to transport dog food and other gear to the rendezvous point.  We’re also grateful for Joey and Jackie, who watched the house and the dogs that stayed home while we were traveling.  And we are of course thankful to God for giving us safe travel!

With that said, I can officially announce that



Stay tuned for another exciting announcement!



  • http://sartenada.wordpress.com sartenada


    I liked those blue tone winter photos from another side of world. Last photo could be from my country, so similar.

    I think that Your 2010 expedition will be great success.

  • http://dogblogemma.blogspot.com Emma Rose and The Duchess

    Your pictures are awesome. I have never been to Alaska – until today :) You are brave. I would not even drive my husbands big truck on dry roads! Ha!

    Thank you for documenting and sharing the adventure. Now I need to go put a sweater on!

    The Duchess

  • The Wyomingite

    This looks like our part of the Country in Winter, but we have markers to help us keep our bearings focused on where the road should be. We call it God’s Country.
    Thank you for documenting the trip. Good luck Joe.

  • http://kit-dogdaze.blogspot.com/ Kit

    Thanks for taking us along on this wild and beautiful ride!!

  • bobn

    we really enjoy watching your travels–keep up the good work

    wyo people really enjoy your photo’s

  • Cheryl

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures. What incredible views. I’ll be praying for a safe and exciting season. Can’t wait until the next update!

  • Mike

    I wanted to know, why in the Ice Road Trucker’s show they made it sound as tho the high way is only open when its frozen ? . . .

    But then on the History channel is showing the pipe line and the building of the highway . . .

    It’s showing truck’s traveling during the summer time . . .

    So when did it go from a year round road to a winter road ?


    • Hi Mike,

      I’ll do my best to answer your question. We don’t actually have TV, and I’ve only seen a few episodes of Ice Road Truckers, but I think I see what you mean.

      The Dalton Hwy (aka the Haul Road) is the only highway to Prudhoe Bay where all the oil fields are. It is paved in places, but for the most part it’s a dirt road. It is open all year to traffic, but there’s definitely a lot more traffic by big rigs than anyone else. It is a trecherous road and there’s no cell phone communication. Anyway, the Haul Road isn’t an “ice road” per se…but it is an icy road in the winter.

      With that said, my guess is that Ice Road Truckers featured the Haul Road because it is the “main vain” to the ice roads. In order to access an ice road, the truckers first have to drive the Haul Road. The actual ice roads that are for winter-only travel branch off of the Haul Road and are built when conditions permit travel on the snow-covered tundra, so that’s probably what you see on the show.

      I hope that clears it up a bit.


  • Mike

    That cleared it right up for me thank you very much for explaining it to me . . .


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  • jason

    those are really nice pictures you posted. I used to drive the haul road for alaska west. i think its the best road in north america and i truly miss it thanks for sharing

    • Hi Jason,
      Yes, there’s just something special about that country. Merry Christmas!!
  • jason

    Merry Christmas to all of you too!!

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