The Northern Glaciers in three parts (Part 1)

CamperHere we go. On the second of May we set off in our camper heading in a north westerly direction to The Dalton highway in the direction of the North Pool.  In Fairbanks, from where we will be leaving and where we are still enjoying the fruits of an elaborate Sunday brunch in the Pump House, the winter is beginning to fade. But we are going northwards towards the cold. We will have to take the winter and the heavy front into account. Our simple camper which is for using in the summer is not really a match for these winter periods.

From Fairbanks, the Dalton Highway, with Elliot Highway as the forerunner, is more than 450 miles long.  You then arrive in the most northern point of Alaska (71° latitude north) approximately 1180 miles from the North Pool. An area where explorers attempted several times to reach, and where eventually in 1927 an expedition reached the real North Pool. The Highway is the domain of the ice road truckers.  In the winter this country road is all and all snow and ice.  The truckers drive with heavy loads to the immense oil field, that is situated in the northern point of Alaska, and for which 20% of the oil is claimed for by the USA. Along the Dalton Highway one comes across two villages. Both of these villages have less than 100 inhabitants and in the winter months services are only available at a halfway point when necessary (a distance of approximately 250 miles).  Everyone advised us not to take this trip with a camper so early in the year. We just have this ultimate ice feeling in our bellies and we are going to go for it. No water in the camper’s pipe system.  That would certainly freeze and destroy all the piping.  Flexible containers are what we need.

Once outside Fairbanks white roadside verges are imminent, a clear sign that winter has still taken its grip on the country side. The first 60 miles are mostly asphalt and that makes it quite easy to drive on.  Then the asphalt road turns into gravel and then we have to be careful.  With the changing of the road came also the changing of the weather. That lovely beautiful spring weather quickly disappeared into the background and in its place white/grey clouds covered the mountains. The temperature meter in the car dropped to 2⁰ Celsius and the snowflakes dance very quickly in the glow of the headlamps. In a flash the still hard gravel road changed into a sort of slippery grubby sandy white snow that was spread all over the road like a thick icy layer.  Right now we are driving through the flanks of the White Mountains, and driving is extremely difficult.  Visibility is very bad and we have decided to stop in a roadside parking facility where we will spend the night in an uncomfortable slanting position. Driving will be better by daylight. The wind blows over the mountain divides, it is cold and this public sleeping abode offers little or no shelter.  The latrine is one of extreme discomfort.  Our warm beds make up for everything.

The weather depression is over and will not be gracing us with its company again during the journey to the North. Deep blue skies are waiting for us with decreasing temperatures of up to minus 25 degrees Celsius. Winter is everywhere. The snowy landscapes are increasing. Melting water is nowhere to be seen. The water has only broken through in a few creeks causing it to flow sporadically in a mucky brown colour over the white snow. The road is frozen up, but during the day it’s thawed out because of the sunshine and the traffic of the truckers. The snow slush is building up on the side of the camper. We travel on to the Atigun Pass via the Yukon flats, and the forerunner of the Brooks Range. The high pass (elevation 1465 m) forms the entrance of the Arctic Flats. The Brooks Range is the range of mountains that protects the Arctic Flats and the North Slope from the imposing warmth emanating from the South. Via the Pass you enter into a completely different world. The world of the explorers, the world where the rules of the Polar regions apply.

Best regards from Rika and Harry Houthuijsen

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