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Author Topic: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)  (Read 19495 times)

Alps

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Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« on: March 18, 2013, 07:04:37 PM »

This is as good a place as any to ask. Assuming I am able to get a rental car that allows driving on maintained/improved gravel roads, I will be heading up Liard Highway (NT 7) and then east from there, over a total of a few hundred miles of gravel. I know to get gas wherever I see a station, and will be planning those locations in advance. Is there any other advice to follow? I am assuming I can maintain roughly 40 mph (faster on straight sections, slower when approaching a vehicle). I have read that one concern might be rock chips from passing vehicles, especially trucks, although I have not had that issue on gravel roads elsewhere. Should flat tires be of concern?

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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2013, 07:34:27 PM »

A friend of mine (not on this board) drove through Alaska and the Yukon last year, though I'm not sure he make it as far east as the North West Territories (that doesn't sound right).  Stone chips were a problem for him, he needed to replace his rental car windshield once he returned the car in Anchorage at the end of his trip.  I'm not sure that he carried a full size spare however.
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2013, 07:39:16 PM »

Should flat tires be of concern?

yes!

rental vehicles often come with shitty tires, to discourage this exact sort of behavior.  I recently rented a truck with 4x4 capacity out of Anchorage, and drove the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle and back, and then Elliott Highway to Manley Hot Springs and back. 

In ~200 miles of dirt roads, we had two flat tires.  One necessitate the full-size spare (at 1am in the only parking pullout on the entire dirt section of the Elliott Highway after the Dalton split!  somehow it was less than a half-mile away when the tire deflated).  The second yielded a call to AAA from a mining outpost.

the tow truck driver who hauled our sorry asses back to Fairbanks told us that the 4x4 rental vehicles specifically come with shit tires.  As for smaller compact cars, I have no idea - if I trusted my tires I would not have any problem driving these northern dirt roads, but with rental tires, I wouldn't chance it.
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2013, 07:57:31 PM »

Where is your starting point, and is it a place likely to have car rentals available with proper equipment for off-pavement driving?  There's a place in Fairbanks that specializes in renting vehicles hardened for (and allowed on) the largely-unpaved Dalton Highway, but that's a real pricey option, in addition to being far, far away from NWT.  Maybe Yellowknife, which is on pavement but near the partly-unpaved Ingraham Trail (NT 4).

A space-saver spare is worthless on gravel roads (poor traction, quickly chewed up by the gravel), which you'll be on all the way to the NT 3 junction.  Make sure you have at least one mounted full-size spare, and try to find a rental that comes with light-truck rather than passenger tires (light-truck tires are tougher and seem to be more flat-resistant).  Two mounted full-size spares are recommended for some Arctic roads, but not NT 7 or NT 1.  I've never had a flat, driving thousands of km on the NWT, Yukon, and Alaska unpaved road networks (driving a pickup truck with light-truck tires, and two full-sized spares), or even a windshield ding in my truck except on a paved road in the lower 48.  If you bring proper equipment, you'll probably never have to use it. 

In addition to few places to buy fuel (Fort Liard, Fort Providence assuming you're heading up to Yellowknife, and Enterprise if you're not), pay-at-the-pump (or cardlock) probably won't be an option for a U.S.-issued credit card.  So make sure you do your drive when the gas station cashiers are open when you need them.  Checkpoint, at the NT 7/NT 1 junction, had no fuel or other services last summer, and looked like a goner.

Get a copy of the Milepost if you don't have one (the 2013 edition just came out, and I'm waiting for my copy from Amazon).  Not as much detail in NWT as for Alaska or the Yukon, but still useful for details on gas availability, road conditions, and things to see (not much) along the way.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 08:41:27 PM by oscar »
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2013, 08:30:43 PM »

My plan when I do this this September or maybe next September is to buy a Ford Focus (which I was going to buy anyway) and snow tires for that Focus (that I was going to buy anyway). I'll put two of the snow tires on their own rims and take those with me as spares.

I'd hope you can average closer to 60 on those unpaved sections, but now I'm curious.

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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2013, 08:42:27 PM »

I'd hope you can average closer to 60 on those unpaved sections, but now I'm curious.

my experience is about 50-60mph on the Dalton and Elliott.  the road was very slightly wet, which is the best sort of traction.  not so wet that you are bogging down; but also not so dry that you are effectively driving on ball bearings.
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2013, 09:25:21 PM »

My plan when I do this this September or maybe next September is to buy a Ford Focus (which I was going to buy anyway) and snow tires for that Focus (that I was going to buy anyway). I'll put two of the snow tires on their own rims and take those with me as spares.

Take measurements, to make sure two full-size spares will fit in the back seat or trunk of a Focus.  Probably will fit (hogging a lot of back seat space), but I know with some small cars it can be a tight squeeze.

A Focus rides low enough that windshield or body dings are likely, even though the truck-traffic volume isn't as high on the unpaved roads of NWT (except maybe the Dempster to Inuvik) as it is on the Dalton.
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2013, 09:31:43 PM »

I've got a Jeep Liberty I can take too...assuming finances are reasonably tight, would you recommend just taking the hit and paying twice the fuel costs to take the Liberty?
« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 09:34:41 PM by corco »
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2013, 09:33:53 PM »

I've got a Jeep Liberty I can take too...assuming finances are reasonably tight, would you recommend just taking the hit and paying twice the fuel costs to take the Liberty?

Yes, at the very least you'll probably be driving on better tires.  But you'll be taking the gas mileage hit on a lot of paved roads taking you to NWT.

You might consider skipping NT 7 and the unpaved part of NT 1, and take AB 35 to NT 1 to NT 3 to Yellowknife.  That's completely paved, and no issue about whether a Focus can handle it.  The side trip to Hay River, on NT 2, is also entirely on pavement.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 09:39:15 PM by oscar »
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2013, 09:47:51 PM »

My objective is to clinch the NWT highway system with twin trips over the next three years, one to the NWT "mainland" and another up the Dempster.

The Liberty does have new, fairly rugged tires (10 ply) as I'm planning on retiring it to really bad weather/hiking & camping /"if I get laid off or something I have a reliable car I'm not making payments on" duty in the summer when I get the Focus, but I'm still confident enough in its reliability to take it on whatever trip.

I'd probably take the Liberty on the Dempster trek for sure, but the trip up 35 and onto highways 1-7 is where I'm waffling.p

If the darned vehicle were a foot longer, I could sleep in the back with the seats folded comfortably and then it would be a no brainer.

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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2013, 10:01:10 PM »

I've got a Jeep Liberty I can take too...assuming finances are reasonably tight, would you recommend just taking the hit and paying twice the fuel costs to take the Liberty?

Yes, at the very least you'll probably be driving on better tires.  But you'll be taking the gas mileage hit on a lot of paved roads taking you to NWT.

You might consider skipping NT 7 and the unpaved part of NT 1, and take AB 35 to NT 1 to NT 3 to Yellowknife.  That's completely paved, and no issue about whether a Focus can handle it.  The side trip to Hay River, on NT 2, is also entirely on pavement.
But see, in my case, I'm trying to avoid the up and back that would characterize a trip on pavement only. I'd also like to see Fort Liard's scenery.

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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2013, 10:19:49 PM »

My objective is to clinch the NWT highway system with twin trips over the next three years, one to the NWT "mainland" and another up the Dempster.

Watch the plans over the next few years (probably more than three) to extend NT 1 from Wrigley to Norman Wells and ultimately Inuvik, and NT 8 north of Inuvik to the Arctic coast, on new all-season roads.  Clinching the NWT highway system is going to be a bit of a moving target for awhile. 

I had a hard time getting someone to open the cardlock gas pumps in Wrigley, and ultimately threw up my hands and returned to Fort Simpson without refueling.  Hopefully gas availability in Wrigley will improve once the highway is extended past Wrigley. 
« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 10:25:50 PM by oscar »
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2013, 07:52:57 AM »

I would similarly have no qualms about driving a Focus on the paved stretches, but I think leaving the pavement for any significant distance in such a remote area without 4wd is asking for trouble.

I sure as hell wouldn't take a brand new car up there on the gravel roads. You're sharing those roads with heavy, fast-moving truck traffic, who sure as hell aren't getting sucked into the shoulder to give you a break. Your paint and windshield will pay the price heavily. It's not just the tires that will get chewed up quick.

Take the Liberty, pay the extra gas, and bring extra tires. If you can't swing that, stay on the pavement.
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2013, 09:34:40 AM »

I would similarly have no qualms about driving a Focus on the paved stretches, but I think leaving the pavement for any significant distance in such a remote area without 4wd is asking for trouble.

Good tires are a must.  A beefy suspension and high clearance are useful.  4wd is much less important.  The only time I engaged my truck's 4wd anywhere in NWT was when I took a wrong turn off a side road in search of waterfall views, and had to power my way up a steep hill.

Low-clearance vehicles occasionally have problems getting hung up on approaches to ferry crossings (two left on NT 1 west of Checkpoint, two on NT 8 to Inuvik), depending on river levels and how well the last pass of the grader smoothed out the approach, among other things. 
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #14 on: March 20, 2013, 08:57:51 AM »

My objective is to clinch the NWT highway system with twin trips over the next three years, one to the NWT "mainland" and another up the Dempster.

....

Just curious whether you (or any of the other folks who've been up there) count the winter road to Tuktoyaktuk as a required part of clinching the NWT highway system.
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #15 on: March 20, 2013, 09:59:33 AM »

Just curious whether you (or any of the other folks who've been up there) count the winter road to Tuktoyaktuk as a required part of clinching the NWT highway system.
Why would you? It's not a numbered provincial highway: http://www.dot.gov.nt.ca/_live/pages/wpPages/roadConditions.aspx
Unless you're clinching all major roads, whether or not they're numbered: http://www.justice.gov.nt.ca/PDF/REGS/PUBLIC%20HIGHWAYS/Highway%20Designation%20and%20Classification.pdf
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #16 on: March 20, 2013, 10:07:14 AM »

What NE2 said

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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #17 on: March 20, 2013, 11:30:54 AM »

Just curious whether you (or any of the other folks who've been up there) count the winter road to Tuktoyaktuk as a required part of clinching the NWT highway system.
Why would you? It's not a numbered provincial highway: http://www.dot.gov.nt.ca/_live/pages/wpPages/roadConditions.aspx
Unless you're clinching all major roads, whether or not they're numbered: http://www.justice.gov.nt.ca/PDF/REGS/PUBLIC%20HIGHWAYS/Highway%20Designation%20and%20Classification.pdf

No need to be snippy about it. It was intended as a neutral question motivated simply by curiosity. I was just wondering how he felt about that particular road, given that for most people it's probably impractical to try to get up there at that particular time of year to drive on it, but on the other hand it's also fairly readily accessible if you go up the Dempster at the correct time of year.

But as far as "why would you," I could respond with "why wouldn't you." I recall reading an article a few years ago (got to be at least five years ago now) in Car and Driver in which they were competing in the Alcan Rally during a year in which the routing took them out to Tuktoyaktuk and back and it struck me as something I'd love to do given the right car and the time, neither of which I have at the moment (and the Wife Acceptance Factor for a trip like that would be even lower!).

Of course I do recognize that if you count one of the winter roads as a necessary part of clinching the complete system, you set yourself on a slippery slope (yeah, I know...) if you don't then count all the other winter roads except for any that are private or otherwise restricted.
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #18 on: March 20, 2013, 07:50:56 PM »

Just curious whether you (or any of the other folks who've been up there) count the winter road to Tuktoyaktuk as a required part of clinching the NWT highway system.

My take:

-- that winter road (and some others like it -- but not including the ice road into Nunuvut, which is private) are territory-maintained, and could fit within an expansive definition of "highway system"; but then so would a lot of minor roads maintained by the territory (such as within territorial parks, and some local roads), so where does it end?

-- since that winter road is not a numbered highway, or part thereof, it isn't included in the Clinched Highway Mapping project, for which I am the Northwest Territorial Highways maintainer

-- a new all-season road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk is far along the planning process, and may be under construction (the NT highways official site has the plans, but AFAIK not construction updates), and apparently will be counted as part of NT 8.  This issue will go away on its own soon enough, though I will also lose my clinch or near-clinch (for CHM purposes) of the NT highway system.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2013, 07:52:58 PM by oscar »
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #19 on: March 20, 2013, 11:42:55 PM »

I would similarly have no qualms about driving a Focus on the paved stretches, but I think leaving the pavement for any significant distance in such a remote area without 4wd is asking for trouble.

I sure as hell wouldn't take a brand new car up there on the gravel roads. You're sharing those roads with heavy, fast-moving truck traffic, who sure as hell aren't getting sucked into the shoulder to give you a break. Your paint and windshield will pay the price heavily. It's not just the tires that will get chewed up quick.
How much truck traffic is there on the Liard? How fast are they actually moving? I envision hundreds of km of desolate highway.

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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #20 on: March 21, 2013, 02:14:24 AM »

I would similarly have no qualms about driving a Focus on the paved stretches, but I think leaving the pavement for any significant distance in such a remote area without 4wd is asking for trouble.

I sure as hell wouldn't take a brand new car up there on the gravel roads. You're sharing those roads with heavy, fast-moving truck traffic, who sure as hell aren't getting sucked into the shoulder to give you a break. Your paint and windshield will pay the price heavily. It's not just the tires that will get chewed up quick.
How much truck traffic is there on the Liard? How fast are they actually moving? I envision hundreds of km of desolate highway.

There's some truck traffic on the Liard, and the unpaved part of NT 1, simply because there are communities on the highways that need to get their supplies that way.  But the truckers don't act like they own the road, unlike for example Alaska's Dalton Highway.  And overall traffic volumes are rather light, you can expect to see an oncoming vehicle once every few minutes.  The NT transportation department website might have data somewhere, but I don't have time at the moment to look for it, and the website on the whole isn't real informative.

On a rental passenger car, I would be moderately worried about the paint job and the windshield, but more concerned about the tires.  Especially the crap tires to save money on rental cars that aren't supposed to spend much time if any off-pavement.
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #21 on: March 21, 2013, 12:43:33 PM »

But the truckers don't act like they own the road, unlike for example Alaska's Dalton Highway. 

I wonder what cultural differences are at play there.
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #22 on: March 21, 2013, 08:12:23 PM »

But the truckers don't act like they own the road, unlike for example Alaska's Dalton Highway. 

I wonder what cultural differences are at play there.

Might be just that the Dalton was built for truckers, and initially their exclusive domain, with civilian four-wheelers let on only much later.  Not true for the NT highways.

Could be Canadians are nicer people, though trucker behaviour on QC 389 (another road built specifically for mining and other commercial truck traffic) is just as bad as on the Dalton. 
« Last Edit: March 23, 2013, 01:22:24 AM by oscar »
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #23 on: March 23, 2013, 11:11:48 AM »

That's what I was thinking.  Even as someone who's never been to the great white north, I still have it in my mind that truckers do basically own the Dalton.  How many passenger cars drive it other than people who just want to clinch the road?
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Re: Driving in NWT (Liard Highway)
« Reply #24 on: March 23, 2013, 05:35:30 PM »

Well, I've booked. I upgraded my car size, and I'll talk to the guys at the rental counter before plunking down my money, but I'm fairly confident that I won't have a tremendous issue on this road, after reading other people's accounts. The truth will come out when I hit Alberta!

 


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