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Dalton Highway 4/2/2016
#1
Attendees:
Brian, Audra and girls
Eric, Val Francisco and dogs
Eric Soto

Met at Fox General store at 7am.
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Headed north.
The storm from several days prior still had snow and ice on the Elliott, so the going was reasonable.
As we got farther north, not much improved. We transitioned onto the Dalton with wind, patchy snow and variable road surface quality.

We stopped at the Colorado Creek trail head to stretch, then off to the Yukon river. We stopped briefly here as the wind was howling.
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Wind continued as we headed north, but the road did improve some.
Sand Hill, Roller Coaster, Mackey Hill were steep. My loaded jeep with the trailer really slowed down. Hit 2nd gear a couple of times.

Finger mountain (MP 98) was visible, but the very high winds prevented us from stopping.

As we came toward the decent on the Beaver Slide (MP 110) a trucker CB-ed me that the State was plowing and the backside had near zero visibility. It did not disappoint. Near white out conditions and large snow drifts spread well into the road from the north-bound lanes. As we broke through them, my TJ and trailer got quite a bit squirrely, so we slowed down even more. Eric and Val had fun punching through the drifts...no one got pics or videos at this time as we were too busy dealing with the weather.

We stopped for pictures at the Arctic Circle pullout at 115 mile. The State had plowed part of the parking lot, so we had to drive through the power to take some selfies with the sign. The campground was closed, but looks like a good place to winter camp if you can hammer the 1/2 mile of snow and dig out a spot.

Kept rolling, making reasonable time. Stopped at Gobbler's Knob (MP 132), where the skies were partly cloudy, so we had pretty good views. The wind kept blowing, so we didn't spend much time out side. Amber used the outhouse there and was impressed that there was a snow drift INSIDE.
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Ended up at Coldfoot (MP 175) around 1pm. Got gas, milled around. Weather warm, calm and partly cloudy. A nice break from the wind.
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We then doubled-back to just south of MP 136 (Pump Station 5) and headed out the snow road to Bettles.
30 miles of snow trail with fresh powder and drifting from the last storm.
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The first 10 miles are pretty rough with what feels like tussocks. Later, the trail smooths out and we could get up around 30 mph. Jim River and the Middle fork of the Koyukuk were frozen hard. It took about 90 minutes from the Dalton to Bettles. Wasn't much to do there. We pulled up in front of the Aurora Lodge and chatted with the owner. He informed us that he was closed today and that we should have called to let him know we were coming. Well, he was there, but that didn't matter. We hit him up for a cup of coffee, but, well, he is in Bettles, has the only operating business there and was CLOSED. We made some jokes about that ordeal, then rolled out of town.
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Hit some more of the drifts on the way out.

Turned south at the Dalton and started home.

The weather conditions, which were tolerable in the morning, kept deteriorating. Winds over 30 mph kept building and changing directions. We made pretty good time (with me being the rate-limiting step still) back to the Yukon. South of the Yukon, winter resumed its assault full-force. Heavy snow, wind and fog attempted to smother us as night fell. At times, you were under 30mph, with all eyes trying to find the ditch to keep you on the road. A big rig we had let around before the snow got bad, meaning he was only a few minutes ahead, had his tracks obliterated by the blowing and falling snow. Valerie said it was even hard to see my tracks (they were number 2 in line), just behind me!

We stopped for to stretch our necks at the "Welcome to the Dalton" sign and then again at Hill Top. By the Hill Top, heavy snow had given way to wet roads and tiny snow flakes that made for much less stressful driving. Everyone headed home from there.

520 miles
17 hours

3 owls
one marmot (and a rabbit if you include its head dangling from the marmot's mouth)
several live rabbits
ptarmigan
ton of Asian tourists hauling +++ north in rental cars. Our favorite was the one with the GoPro hanging off a selfie stick 3 feet above the car.

Fun trip. Too much for one day. If done again, suggest camping at one of the campgrounds around the Arctic Circle (if you can find a calmer spot).

Thanks for my family, Eric S, Eric, Val and the dogs for tolerating the long day with great spirits.
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