There're lots of "Haul Road" threads about specific topics and most of the "How's" and "Where's" are pretty well covered. My intent here is to share some thoughts and ideas based on my own experience (and mistakes) as a hunter, and my observations from my time working up there.
Hunting the Dalton is a major logistical undertaking due to the remoteness and the general lack of commerical infrastructure. This is not like deer or elk hunting in the Rockies. There is no "quick trip to town" option if you forget, run out, or break something. You have to really plan for this trip and consider the reasonably foreseeable "what if's" and be prepared to deal with them.
You don't need to haul everything you own but you do need to be prepared to deal with your potential problems or be prepared to pay through the nose for someone else to deal with them for you.
I am not the definitive expert on the Dalton and the following list is not all inclusive...but if you've never made this fantastic trip before consider the following before going.
#1. Your Vehicle
- 4WD with good clearance. Most pick-ups/SUVs fit this description.
- Make sure it's mechanically sound. This is NOT the time to commit with a rig of questionable reliability. My annual major tune-up occurs before I make this trip.
- Tires. Tires. Tires. The Dalton is hell on tires so make sure your's are in good shape and bring TWO full size spares. Also bring a couple cans of fix-a-flat and a plug kit.
- Bring spare fuel. Enough to get back to Coldfoot.
- Tools/parts. You don't necessarily have to bring the welder....but some do just that. Consider the repairs you could see yourself having to make and bring those tools/parts.
-- Buy a Handyman jack and learn how to use it before you depart. Buy or make a base for it too. (couple of chunks of scrap 2x10 screwed together works fine)
-- Bring a come-along, 20 feet of logging chain/cable
-- Bring a full change of oil and antifreeze. Many a motorist has been stranded because a bouncing rock punctured their oil pan or radiator. I have seen this 4 times in 2.5 years patrolling the road. In most cases the radiator can be dealt with using Leak-Stop. Oil pan punctures are generally small and can be repaired fairly easily with 1/8 to 3/4 dia, 1/2" long self-tapping bolts and an O-ring.
-- Spare plugs, belts, fliters, headlights and 2 gallons of windshield washer fluid.
- CB radio. It's not something you'll use much in town but it could be a life saver up there.
- Avoid using bungies as primary tie-downs. Straps and ropes are far superior.
- Bring a bottle of windex, a couple rolls of paper towels, a 5 gallon bucket and a SQUEEGEE. If the road is wet (80% chance) your truck will be coated in a fine, thick mud from road spray...like somebody thought it was a cake and tried to frost it. The bucket is for gathering water from a nearby source (water is everywhere) and the squeegee is for taking the mud off your door windows. IF YOU ROLL DOWN YOUR WINDOWS THINKING THE WEATHER STRIP WILL SCRAPE THEM CLEAN...you will have dirty windows every time you roll them up for the life of the truck.
- Action packers/tarps. Anything you don't want caked in mud should be stored or covered extremely well.
- Floor mats and seat covers.
#2. The trip and road etiquette
If you're south of Fairbanks the drive is a pretty straight forward trip on pavement. If you need any last minute things Fairbanks is your last chance. You'll probably need fuel anyway but I suggest stopping here regardless and at a minimum giving your truck and any trailered gear the once over.
- If you haven't eaten/are hungry again Hilltop Truckstop/Restaurant about 30 miles north of Fairbanks on the Elliot Hwy is your last chance for cooked food until the Yukon Bridge (if it's open)
- The Elliot Hwy north of Hilltop can be badly frost heaved and has several tight turns. Don't be in a hurry.
- Once on the Dalton the semis have the right of way. Most of the truckers are courteous and professional, a few are not. Do not create a hazard with where you stop. There are pull-outs and areas with a wide shoulder. Use them. If you HAVE to stop try and pick a spot with good visibility from oncoming and following traffic (this is where the CB comes in handy).
- Whenever you're on gravel, slow for approaching traffic. It reduces your chances of eating a rock. Also, don't get emotionally attached to your windshield. If it needs replacing wait until you get home.
- If you have a CB get a map of the road with the major features listed i.e. Gobbler's Knob, Beaver Slide, Chandalar, Atigun, Ice Cut etc. CB equipped vehicles anounce themselves at each of these hills. For example you'd say "4 wheeler northbound up Chandalar" well enough in advance to get a reply. There might be an oversize rig making it's way and the pilot car driver asks you to hold up.
- Coldfoot is the last place to get fuel until Deadhorse. You can get tires repaired and some emergency mechanical work done here. There's also a tow service ($1,500). There's a phone, showers, rooms and the food is decent.
- Some areas in prime caribou country such as the stretch from the Kuparuk River to Slope Mountain have a steep, narrow shoulder. There are a few pullouts and there are pipeline access gates. Use them, don't park on the roadway.
- Other hunters. Stalking caribou you just drove up on is generally pointless but people do it anyway. If you see a guy trying to put the make on some animals don't be a d**khead. Don't even stop to watch. Just because there are 5 bulls in a group and one hunter doesn't mean there's room for 4 more guys. Respect other people's stalks.
- Don't be afraid to be comfortable. It's not necessary to cram 4 guys into a 3 man tent. Bring the gear that lets you relax while in camp. Big tents are more comfortable and drier. Bring heavy duty stakes and a good hammer. The ground is rocky.
- Tarp everything.
- The flat level spots are not that common. Be willing to share a camping area.
- You may camp in the pipeline gate access drives (labled APL's usually) just don't block them.
- If you must have a camp fire for it to be hunting camp then be prepared to haul wood. For cooking propane/white gas or charcoal is the best option. Bring the gear to make a sturdy windbreak for your cooking area. The wind blows almost constantly and it steals heat and wastes fuel.
- Camp shoes. Give your feet a break in the evenings, and your boot's a chance to dry out.
- Crossing the Sag. (full name pronounced Sag-a-vah-nurk-tock) Many hunters find themselves staring longingly at bulls on the other side of this big, wide, fast, unpredictable and dangerous river. Many have waded across. Some have died. It is definitely an option but bring a boat of some kind. I would avoid canoes unless you're very experienced.
- Fishing. Why not! Grayling in most waters and sea-run Arctic Char in the Sag. Small spinners and bead-head flys for the grayling, and flashier stuff and ESLs for the char.
- Other species. There is the possibility of taking a sheep. Granted, the odds are low but there nonetheless and harvest tickets are easy. This year the corridor is open for grizzly and as I understand there's no tag requirement. Ptarmigan are plentiful and so are foxes.
- The trip home. I like to stop in Coldfoot for a shower. I shave and put on some clean street clothes I brought just for this purpose. Starting out clean helps me stay alert on the long drive home.
So, if you've never "done the Dalton" and this will be your first trip the above stuff will help you have a more trouble free trip.
To the other experienced Haul Roaders...if I've forgotton anything please chime in.
Final thought: Have a camera ready at all times