Alaska/Canada with Top of the World hwy

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Oct 22, 2003
Juneau, AK
Just returned from a big figure 8 trip through Alaska, with a continuation through Dawson City and Whitehorse, Yukon. About 1900 miles total. As a resident of land locked SE Alaska, I've actually spent little time in the interior of our state. Also I've always wanted to see remote Dawson, and who doesn't want to drive a highway billed as the Top of the World?
The plan was to drive from Haines, Ak to Anchorage by myself via the Haines, Alcan and Glenn highways, camping out in the back of my FJ62. In Anchorage, I would be picking up my wife and daughter who were flying in from "the lower 48".
Travel to Haines is 4-6 hrs via the state ferry. It was a typical summer day for this area, with some overcast and light fog.

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Since the ferry arrived around mid day in Haines, my plan was to drive only as far as Kluane National Park that day. The Haines highway climbs from sea level to 3500 feet, entering BC and the Yukon before intersecting with the Alaska highway at Haines Junction at mile 146. There's a fairly decent FJ45 living in Haines Junction, BTW. The owner happened to be in his yard when I walked by, so I didn't take a photo. He claimed it was his "pride and joy", but was only used to haul fire wood.
Here's a shot of the Chilkat pass summit. The Haines highway is widely known as a very scenic route, but clouds and fog lingered on the Alaska side on this day.

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Better put a photo of the Land Cruiser in here. After enjoying a leisurely late afternoon in sunny Haines Junction, I continued up the road a bit and found a nice place to pull off the highway for the night along Kluane lake. It was sort of a hidden dirt road that dropped steeply through the brush right down to the water. A car or 2wd vehicle may have rejected this route. It started to rain lightly shortly thereafter. Lots of mosquitoes, but they weren't very aggressive.

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The next day was to be my "long" day of driving-over 400 miles to the GlennAllen area. The Alcan has a well deserved rep as a crappy road, infected with dusty or muddy gravel sections, frost heaves and lots of road work. I lucked out on the road work component, as there was very little of that, but plenty of the other stuff, especially the frost heaves. Road signs warn of "road damage", before the pavement gets quite choppy. You've gotta slow down, or risk being bounced off the road. With a car, suspension damage would be a concern. With a leaf sprung land cruiser that is not over loaded, of course you have no worries in this regard.
However, this stretch did cause me problems. First, my tailpipe broke loose from the muffler. After 5 years it may have been due, more or less. Also, my bike carrier took a beating. One of the bolts holding it together broke, so I was nervous about it coming apart.
It was mostly a rainy day, but I stopped at Hidden Lake in Teslin for an exercise break. Its a two mile RT boardwalked route to a fishing lake, with a row boat for public use. I put on my carharts, hiking boots and fleece for a jog to the lake and back. Here's a shot along the Alcan, a bit later.
Stopped in Tok for a lame and unsuccessful attempt at patching my tailpipe back to the muffler with a clamp.

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GlennAllen is impressive, in a bad way. It's a three way intersection of Alaska highways, and my luck on road work had run out because the town was totally congested because of work in one direction. To make matters worse, the only gas station in town shut down its pumps for half an hour, as many motorists were lining up. There wasn't anything decent to eat here, or anything to do. I couldn't even get on my bike and go anywhere, without waiting for the pilot truck. So, I took the time to inspect the bike carrier. Incredibly, the hold downs had tightened up over the rough stuff, making it impossible for me to unscrew them. Gently hammering on them finally loosened things up. One of the bikes lost a bit of paint from the tight clamping action.
It was a relief to get the heck out of town. I drove a few miles on the Glenn Highway to the Tolsona Wilderness Campground. It's a nice place, featuring all sights along a river. Showers were 25 cents for 5 minutes-what a deal! No one was actually camping in a tent. Most people had huge motorhomes, or huge campers behind huge pickups. I saw a really cool, small 4x4 "safari camper". Made by GMC, I believe, and it featured a SFA, diesel engine and winch. I commented on it to the camp manager, and he said "really expensive". If I can load this photo, here's what it sort of looked like. Hmm, guess not. Oh well, try to google it.

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The mosquitoes at Tolsona were really bad.
It was actually chilly the next AM as I left shortly after sunrise. Some clouds and showers the previous day had given way to perfectly clear, sunny skies.
The Glenn Highway, between Glennallen and Anchorage, has been deemed a national scenic byway-or something to that effect. And, it richly deserves this designation as it's quite the beautiful drive. Here's a shot of the "drive up" glacier, the Matanuska.

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Made it in to Anchorage before noon and found a building supply store to buy some hardware for the bike rack, and some WD 40 to clean up the filthy bikes with. It's easy to find your way around Anchorage, even for a small town person like myself. Anchorage marked the end of any cloudy weather on this trip, and the end of mosquitoes. I had bought some deep woods OFF for the ladies, but never actually used it myself, even in Tolsona. Nor did they, save one afternoon in Canada.

Next stop on the following day was Wasilla, and what is a stop in Wasilla for a Cruiserhead without a stop at Mark Whatley's shop? With my daughter directing me via google, it was easy to find him.
Mark's a very personable fellow who is generous with his time and knowledge. I greatly appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to chat with him and see his shop. Here's a shot of my truck in front of "Cruisers Only". I should have taken more photos of the various rigs there.

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Denali National Park, about half way between Anchorage and Fairbanks, was the next destination. We were quite fortunate to have great weather, and Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali, was "out"-not obscured by clouds-all the way from Anchorage. I've been to Denali once previously and didn't see any part of North America's highest peak. The odds of seeing it on any given day in the summer are 1 in 5 at best. We stopped in Talkeetna for a photo op, among other places. Back on the Parks highway stopped for gas, we offered a ride to a visitor from Dallas, Texas who had run his rent a car out of gas. He offered to show federal ID as proof of his legitimacy. Turns out he was a federal tax collector who travels all over the world tracking scofflaws down. I was sure to offer my support for his work.
Anyway, here's Denali.

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Stayed at the Grizzly Bear cedar lodge for a couple nights, located about 6 miles south of Denali National Park. I recommend this place, as it's very attractive, clean and well located along the Tanana river. Spaces are also available for campers and RVs here. There are a couple trails within walking distance, good for hiking or jogging, and a couple dining options across the highway. Very close to the park entrance are several stores and a few other lodging options. Most of the employees we encountered here were young eastern Europeans on work visas. Moldovans, (sp?), Serbians, Macedonians, you name it, they were there.
I had arranged in advance for a flight on Kantishna air, from the park entrance to the "end of the road" in the park. From there the plan was to take the park bus ride, about 6 hours, back through the park. If weather allowed, we would get a flight seeing detour. It was a great plan! Once again, we lucked out on the weather. Though a few clouds had developed overnight, the air taxi told us that it was a "beautiful day up there", and that the past two days were the first days in over two weeks that flight seeing of the high mountains had been possible.
So, here's a shot of Denali on our way to the maximum allowable elevation of 12,000 ft. without oxygen. Our pilot was a young but experienced man, flying an old but cool and capable Cessna Skywagon.

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Our flight took us within a few hundred feet of the Wickersham wall, arguably the biggest mountain face on the planet. It was awesome. Here's another shot of an interesting geological feature on the way.

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Every aspect of Denali National Park is huge. 6 million square miles, glaciers 4,000 ft thick and miles long, huge mountains, rivers and valleys. It certainly makes a big impression.
BTW, the park road is off limits to vehicular travel, except for park buses and a few private vehicles belonging to the lodges deep in the park. These properties were apparently old mining claims that have grandfathered rights for access. Anyway, the effect of prohibiting cars and limiting buses is that it's a great place to see wildlife. The chances of seeing bears, caribou, moose are quite good. Here's one of the "charismatic megafauna".

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From Denali, the original plan was to back track a bit, cross the Denali Hwy and stay with MUD member Alaska Ranger at his lodge. However, the visit with Mark got me thinking about changing the itinerary. There were several considerations that eventually led me to change course and head for Fairbanks. Although the itinerary was entirely up to me, I primarily made the change for my wife and daughter. If travelling alone, I would have stayed the original course. In the end, I'm sure it was the right decision. The only aspects of this decision relevant to others considering this route are: I was rolling on 4 very good condition BFG AT tires, and had one equally good full size spare. These are excellent quality tires, yet Mark felt I wasn't adequately prepared to travel this route without a plug kit. OK, I trusted he was/is correct. Another guy who showed up during our visit said the road was in terrible condition this year.
Did I have enough wiggle room in my itinerary for a lengthy delay? No, I did not.
The other factor was my exhaust. Lesson learned is: Don't overlook your exhaust system when travelling in the north of Alaska or Canada. Or maybe: Whatever weak link exists in your vehicle will quickly become evident and victimized. Of course, it's no big deal to lose just the tailpipe. However, the Toyota techs who installed my geninue muffler and tailpipe 5 years ago did not put a hangar on the muffler, only on the tailpipe. I knew this, but failed to see the significance until loosing the tailpipe. Now, I saw that if the hanger in front of the muffler failed, I could lose everything. And, it's a bit rusty. So, I used some wire and duct tape to help hold on the muffler and headed to Fairbanks.
I regret not visiting Alaska Ranger, and hope to do so in the future.
One of the upsides of hitting Fairbanks was a chance encounter with my first 55, up close and personal. As recently posted with a couple photos of this truck in the Iron Pig forum, I'm a big fan of this model. One of these with a 5 spd, diesel 6 or FI gas 6, and a small lift would be really nice.

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Awesome trip and great pics! Keep em coming!
My tailpipe continued to pivot back and forth, clanking about on every bump, for the duration of this trip. It was OK, really. Sounds sorta like a cowbell, and bystanders probably would think it was the bike rack. At a certain RPM, under load, the remaining exhaust would occasionally vibrate audibly. The gals asked if everything was OK.
" Oh yes, no problem". :doh: Otherwise, the exhaust wasn't much louder than a properly functioning one.
The next day, it was Fairbanks to Tok. In Tok, I discovered that my itinerary (Anchorage,Denali, Fairbanks, Tok, Dawson, Whitehorse, Skagway) is the same route-in one direction or the other- that the big, air conditioned tour buses take all the old folks on. Sheesh, how pedestrian of me. I saw a Washington plated 100 series in Tok, a couple lifted 60 series in Anchorage, the 45 in Haines Junction and the 55 in Fairbanks. Otherwise, not too many cruiser sitings so far. There was a nice Unimog at the Haines ferry terminal, the beginning of my trip.

Now, onwards to Chicken, Alaska on the Taylor highway, joining with Canada's Top of the World Highway after the border crossing.

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Speaking of Chicken, if you have any doubts about the condition of your auto tranny, or cooling system, you may want to chicken out of this route. There is a lot of steep climbing that never seems to stop on these roads. Once you finally get to the top at 4500 ft. it's up/down, up/down over and over again.
The Alaska side features mostly (edit: ALL) gravel. Fortuntately it had apparently rained just a little bit in the recent past, so the road wasn't dusty or muddy.
What makes Top of the World unique? Instead of going through valleys and an occasional pass to get through the mountains, it just goes along the top of them, from summit to summit. It seemed like I was locking the tranny in third gear most of the time, or even second a few times, to keep the RPMs up. Whereas the electric cooling fan in the engine compartment never comes on here at home, it was cycling quite a bit on this route. Unlike any other driving I've experienced, it made me think of Montana's "Big Sky" motto, as this concept certainly applied here. It also made me think that maybe this is what the Scottish highlands are like. To drive this route during fall color would be absolutely stunning. The other unusual aspect of this route, of course, is the high latitude. My photos don't do justice, but here are a couple.

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Fall color would be soon, I would think. The end of August would be good, and the road closes sometime in September. BTW, the American Customs agents drive 4 door Jeep Rubicons. :steer:

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Great trip, great thread. Keep it coming!

I'm headed back up there in 4 weeks and getting antsy already.
Thanks guys. Drew, you're picking the perfect time to come, I believe. Which of your cruisers will you be driving? If you get to Juneau and have time, look me up.

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