Looking for a real adventure? Then head for Alaska, and take a road trip up the Dalton Highway for a dip in the Arctic Ocean - you won't be disappointed!
The Arctic Ocean beach at the top of the world in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, was not how I’d imagined it. Somehow I’d always pictured a soft, sandy expanse, with icy waves lapping. But nothing had prepared me for the reality: a vast, slurping, oily brown sludge. Was it worth the trip to see that? Definitely. Getting there was quite an adventure!
An easy flight from Seattle brought me to Anchorage. It’s not a particularly pretty place, but there’s that appealing Alaskan pragmatism about the Gold Rush-era houses and concrete apartment blocks co-existing with a few shiny skyscrapers, mountains and the sea. The Arctic Fox Inn provided a modern comfortable base, with great views of the sun setting over the Cook Inlet, and was a 10-minute walk to the Alaska Railroad terminal, where Alan, the Glaswegian porter, herded the passengers.
I caught the daily train that chugged its way north through scenic Denali National Park on the 12-hour ride to Fairbanks. My camera clicked non-stop.
Fairbanks has one of the widest temperature ranges in the world (90°F to -60°F) and bright, disorientating, midnight sun in June. I was told that people in Fairbanks apparently consider themselves superior to the “hicks” in Anchorage and their cultural activities reflect this. The Midnight Sun Fun Run was a highlight of this year, with runners dressed as Marge Simpson and the Jolly Green Giant wowing the crowds.
I tried to sleep in a 1900s B&B, the Alaska Heritage House, which comes complete with spooky ‘energy orbs’. And I made travel arrangements with the Northern Alaskan Tour Company, who are effectively the only people who can get you up to the Arctic Ocean if you’re travelling independently.
Jeremy, our jovial NATC tour guide, regaled our small group with hilarious stories and bear facts for the whole 500 miles up the gravel Dalton Highway. We stopped at Yukon Crossing, where I saw the Alaska pipeline and my first musk-ox close-up. The Arctic Circle sign provided a great photo opportunity, and soon it was a night at Coldfoot, where I chatted in the bar with local gold prospectors. Next day it was off to Wiseman (population: 21), wearing DEET and head net to meet Jack and the mosquitoes. Jack is totally self-sufficient and has moose antlers all over his roof. I don’t think he’s ever been to a city. Wise man.
The Brooks Mountain Range, the Continental Divide, magnificent Arctic tundra, caribou and stiff legs... after a two-day, bone-shaking minibus drive we finally reached the very aptly named Deadhorse. We saw the Arctic Ocean at last and were stunned by our accommodation on BP’s secure oilfield: ‘seismic sleds’, complete with bathroom in another building. I thought of those brave souls who are caught short in the winter... We luxuriated at 40°F and dipped ourselves in the disgusting sludge and freezing ocean. And finally we got our treasured ‘Polar bear dipper’ certificates.
Yes, the trip was definitely worth it!