Every year, a Jeep Wrangler JK enthusiast event takes place in the USA. This event, which is invite-only for just a select few lucky people, combines sightseeing, travel, and aggressive off road driving during a week-long adventure. The event is called the Nitto Tires JK Experience and in 2016 it took place in Alaska.
The JK Experience was created to show the versatility and capability of the current Jeep Wrangler platform. All invited participants are given strict guidelines and equipment requirements for their vehicles, which is completely secret up until each day of travel.
ARB was contacted about being a sponsor for this year’s JKX. Not much information was available besides the starting location, general dates, and vehicle requirements regarding carrying extra fuel and being completely self-sufficient. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to sponsor and join JKX and travel through the great state of Alaska.
As per the vehicle requirements, each Jeep had to have enough fuel capacity to travel at least 300 miles in-between fuel stations. Being self-sufficient meant that our Jeep would be required to carry all spare parts needed for any repairs, spare food and water, as well as everyday luggage. All the while still being highway drivable and off road capable, to take on any Alaskan terrain encountered along the way.
Since this trip was a rare opportunity to take a fully ARB outfitted Jeep to breathtaking Alaska, the decision was made; we would purchase a brand new Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited, completely kitted out with the full ARB product line, and with product provided by friends in the industry. The Jeep was nicknamed “Quicksand.” Once completed, the Jeep would leave Seattle and head for Alaska for a week long adventure, proving that you could build an overland capable, but semi- aggressive Jeep with off the shelf parts.
Fast forward 2,200 miles and the ARB JK left the hotel along with 13 other Jeep Wranglers invited to join JKX. We all departed the hotel on a rainy Sunday morning and headed for our week’s first adventure, a trail outside of Wasilla called the Baldy Mountain trail. As the trail climbed, the rain started to fall harder and it became very slippery. Unfortunately, even with a very capable fleet of JKs, we were forced to turn around and backtrack to the pavement after about 15 miles.
The next day would be a travel day with the goal to cover a good distance to reach the night’s accommodation near the Denali National Park.
After an easy day on Monday, we were all quick to realise why Monday had been so tame. During the morning’s driver meeting we were told that we were about to experience mud like no other. Mud that us lower 48’ers have no experience with, mud called Muskeg. We would be traveling the Stampede Trail made famous by the mid 1990’s book and later movie, ‘Into The Wild’. The trail began as most off road trails, a mild unapproved road. We crossed many small water holes along the way, with a few small creek crossings before reaching the hard section, the Muskeg. The ARB JK was pretty far forward in the pack so although challenging, we only got stuck on the final Muskeg hole, requiring us to use our Warn winch. Once all the Jeeps were through the Muskeg, the trail improved and no recovery was required all the way to the fast flowing Teklanika River. For those familiar with the novel ‘Into The Wild’, the Teklanika River is the river that the main character, Christopher McCandless, found impassible while trying to leave the area due to lack of food.
After a short lunch break along the river, it was back in the Jeeps heading towards the trail head. Retracing our tracks back to the trail head also meant that we would have to cross the Muskeg section again, but this time after 14 Jeeps pushed through it earlier. As imagined, the condition was a lot more difficult than the first pass, requiring a majority of the Jeeps to be recovered from the almost alive mud.
After an eventful day of off roading, it was back to our accommodation in Fairbanks to clean up the Jeeps and stock up for the next day’s adventure. That night, it was revealed we’d be driving to the most northern part of North America that can be reached by car, Deadhorse – Prudhoe Bay.
Driving to Deadhorse – Prudhoe Bay is on many people’s bucket lists, including ours. When it was announced the night before that we would be making the 1,000 mile Dalton Highway trip in two days, the mood of the group was electric. The Dalton Highway is a plethora of smooth roads, pothole ridden pavement, patches of gravel, roads made of river rock, gravel and mud, all with a speed limit of 55 MPH most of time. After just over 12 hours of driving on this inconsistent terrain, we reached the night’s accommodations, Deadhorse Camp.
When you arrive in Deadhorse, you quickly find out that everything is there to support the oil operations, not tourism. There really isn’t anything in the town, including food or accommodation. If you are not travelling via RV or van, don’t expect a five star hotel. Instead, all sleeping establishments resemble very large mobile homes that are configured in a manner like a dormitory with two twin beds per room and no toilet, but instead a large shared bathroom with showers. Most of the participants on the trip were not fazed by the rustic accommodation, instead seeing it as a unique experience.
After a surprisingly comfortable sleep in our twin beds, we kicked the morning off with breakfast in the camp’s diner. Shortly after breakfast, it was off on a tour bus to the Arctic Ocean. After driving this far we couldn’t leave without dipping our hands (some their entire bodies) in the ocean. The only way to reach it is to drive through Prudhoe Bay, a heavily secured area. To do this, you need to be either a credential worker in the area or be on a guide bus. After going through an armed check point, it was just a short drive to the ocean.
Friday’s adventure began winding through a pretty narrow canyon, eventually directing us onto a long narrow ridge trail. The ridge at times was just wide enough for the track width of the JK, as it snaked along debris covered Castner Glacier in the Red Rock Canyon. Eventually the ridge came to an end, dumping us on what would be best described as river rock, part of the former path of the glacier.
After stopping for lunch, we were back on the trail, quickly ending up at College Creek, where after a short walk, we were greeted by a questionable suspension bridge that crossed to the Gulkana Glacier. A few of us ventured over the bridge, most quickly returning for fear of one’s safety.
On the final day of JKX, we found ourselves in the Knik River area. After airing down in the parking lot, we entered the trail system passing lakes, small sand dunes and crossing several deep water crossings. The water level became high enough that we could no longer travel the dry river bed, forcing us into tight, winding trails through the forest and brush. Once entering the trail, it became very tight and muddy with deep water filled ruts. This section of the trail seemed to go on forever before kicking us back out on the river bed, where we travelled until we reached the most spectacular view of the entire trip, the Knik Glacier.
After what seemed like a long time travelling through tight, muddy trails, and crossing several creek/river crossings, we were suddenly surprised by a small bay filled with floating icebergs that were being deposited by the Knik Glacier. We lined the Jeeps up with the icebergs and glacier behind the Jeep and enjoyed one of the most spectacular lunch locations possible via Jeep. What a way to cap off the week-long 2016 JK Experience in Alaska.
After enjoying lunch, we all lined up next to our Jeeps for one last group photo before heading back to the pavement on our way back to where we started, Anchorage. We were greeted by local Jeep enthusiasts waiting for us at the Peanut Farm restaurant and grill, where we were scheduled to have one last dinner together before parting ways.
It was time to say goodbye to new friends as we parted ways. What a week in Alaska filled with memories that will last a lifetime.