What do you consider to be an off-road trip of a lifetime? If Alaska isn’t an option, continue reading.
Every year, a group of Jeep Wrangler JK enthusiast’s come together for a 2000+ mile journey that consists of exploration and off-roading, all within a single week. Only a few sponsors and individuals are selected; only being provided with the dates, starting location, and vehicle requirements. This event is called the Nitto Tires JK Experience (JKX) and in 2016, it was held in Alaska. Of course, ARB jumped on the opportunity to sponsor the JKX and travel through the great state of Alaska.
Each vehicle was required to have locking differentials, a minimum size of 37” tires, a 300-mile fuel range, tools and spare parts along with enough knowledge to perform repairs, emergency food and water, adequate recovery equipment, all while being street legal. With these requirements in mind, we got to work. ARB purchased a brand new 2016 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited in the Sahara Tan color. The ARB Tech team got straight to work, wrapping it in ARB’s full line of accessories along with aftermarket heavy-duty axles that housed Air Lockers which would easily hold up to 37” tires. In order to reach the 300-mile fuel capacity ARB incorporated a total of 8 gallons of spare fuel onto a roof rack. And within just a few days, “Quicksand” was born.
Most participants transported their vehicles via ship or trailer. But with ARB USA’s head office being at the top of the continental US, we decided to take the 2,200-mile trek through Canada to Alaska. After two and a half days, we finally reached Anchorage, AK where we met up with 13 other Jeep Wrangler JK’s.
It was a rainy Sunday morning; our group departed from the hotel and headed towards our first adventure, the Baldy Mountain trail. This trail is located right outside of Wasilla, AK. We were told the trail consisted of many hill climbs that were smothered in slick mud; nothing out of the ordinary for us at ARB USA being out of the Pacific Northwest.
At first, the trail was no challenge for our Jeep on 37-inch mud terrain tires. We eventually approached a steep, slippery hill and knew right away that it would require a considerable amount of skinny pedal to reach the peak. Even climbing up the hill on foot was challenging. Luckily, winching was an option for those that were unsuccessful. We all eventually reached the top and continued off the beaten path.
As we progressed, the rain fell harder, and the trail became sloppier. Ultimately, in order to stay on schedule, our trail guide decided it was time to call it quits. We turned around and drove 15-miles back to the main road.
On our way to the hotel, we stopped at the Museum of Alaska Transportation. Here we got to see plenty of vintage cars, trains and planes; even an old Jeep CJ-3B fire truck that we all got a kick out of.
Monday began as a road day. Although we were unsure what was in store for us, we knew we were headed to Denali National Park.
We took a break from driving and stopped at a viewpoint. Coincidentally, we came across a fellow Jeeper who just so happened to have some beautiful private property that he wanted us to explore. Luckily, with day two being a road day, we were able to fit it into the schedule. Much of the property was untouched but the owner allowed us to make our own trail. After exploring, we continued our journey to Denali National Park.
Upon arrival, we were given the choice to explore Denali National Park or go whitewater rafting. We chose whitewater rafting, something that our crew had never experienced before; and it was quite the experience. We were surprised that none of us fell into the 35-degree water.
On Tuesday, we had our usual drivers meeting, we were informed that our adventure would take place just outside of Fairbanks, AK. We were also told that we would encounter a terrain like no other, Muskeg. Muskeg is a bottomless bog covered in a flexible top layer made of moss.
We hit the Stampede Trail which is right outside Healy, AK. The Stampede Trail would lead us to the Teklanika River. You may remember the name of this trail and river as well as the “Magic Bus” from the 1990’s book and later movie, Into the Wild. The “Magic Bus” was airlifted out in 2020 due to being a danger to hikers in the Alaska wilderness.
We began on an unpaved road that led us over a few water holes and creeks. Eventually, we reached the Muskeg. We were able to drive on the top layer for a short period until we reached a broken section. We immediately understood what the trail guide meant by “bottomless mud pit”. Certain areas were so deep, they swallowed 40” tires to the point that they were completely hidden. Luckily, we were ahead of most of the group, which allowed our Jeep to have no major challenges. That was up until the final hole, many Jeeps including ours, ended up winching.
Eventually we reached the Teklanika River where we stopped for lunch. Each Jeep was layered with at least 10lbs of mud. We turned around and braced ourselves before heading back into the muskeg. Unlike most mud trails, the muskeg gets more difficult as each vehicle goes through. This time around, many of us had to winch our way back. As you can imagine, everyone was smothered in mud by this point.
In order to participate in the JK Experience, your vehicle must be built to handle some of the toughest trails in North America while also being able to drive hundreds of miles afterwards. Over the next two days we were informed that we would be driving 1000 miles to Prudhoe Bay; the furthest point north that is reachable by vehicle in North America.
The trek to Prudhoe Bay is a bucket list item on its own. Fuel stops are scarce, and the bumpy road guarantees a cracked windshield on the way; but this didn’t stop us. The scenery and history behind the route was worth the drive.
Prudhoe bay can be reached by the Dalton Highway which follows the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. After 12 hours of driving, we reached Deadhorse Camp, our accommodation for the night. We lodged in the mobile homes that were configured as dormitories; these units typically house oil field workers. Here, we understood the saying, “Alaska, home of the midnight sun”.
After a surprisingly comfortable sleep, the next morning we trekked to the North Pole via tour bus. We were official able to say that we’ve dipped our hands into the Arctic ocean (some of the participants earned the right to say they swam in the Arctic).
Friday’s voyage took us through a narrow canyon that was hardly wide enough for our Jeeps. We crept through the windy trail and made our first stop at the Rainbow Ridge area. Its name originates from its colorful volcanic rock slopes and bright turquoise lake.
We carried on and crawled over a few small rock gardens, then hiked the remainder of the way. Each of us clenched while walking on the suspension bridges that led us to the Gulkana glacier. The gorgeous glaciers and ice caves on the other side were enough to lure us over.
The final day of the JKX was spent exploring the Knik River area, which consists of over 250,000 acres. The OHV trails were not very technical; however, the deep-water crossings posed a worry for many. Fortunately for us, our Jeep was outfitted with a Safari Snorkel and our ARB Breather kits. Eventually, the water levels became too high. Instead, we opted to take the narrow bypass trail that continued to weave us in and out of the river. After what seemed like forever, we finally made it to our final site, the Knik Glacier.
The perfect stop for a quick snack and one last group photo with the beautiful site of the floating icebergs. We made our way back to the road and to the local diner which would be our last meal together before parting ways.
“The trip to, and through, Alaska was a trip of a lifetime. The isolation was incredible yet at times a bit nerve wracking. Driving a rig that was fully built but had no miles or proper break-in just added to the stress. Despite the less than perfect situation, the trip through the Yukon and Alaska was one that I’d do again in a heartbeat!”
– Scott Frary (ARB Regional Sales Manager and JKX Driver)
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