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  4. Ultimate Adventure 2019 Tackles the Last Frontier #UA2019

Ultimate Adventure 2019 Tackles the Last Frontier #UA2019

Part 1: The Last Frontier

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Ultimate Adventure, so Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road editor Christian Hazel wanted to do something special to celebrate. Having visited 47 of the Lower 48 states over the past 20 years, the UA finally made its way north to Alaska. The goal wasn't to find gold or catch king crab though. The two dozen 4-Wheel & Off-Road readers, sponsors, staff, and cronies at UA were instead searching for the toughest wheeling, idyllically remote locations, and the most beautiful scenery that Alaska is famous for.

For those who are unfamiliar with the UA, it's Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine's flagship event. The premise of has always been to run what you brung. Hardcore rockcrawling and trails one day, followed by hundreds of miles of road driving to the next destination. All with no trailers allowed! If your rig breaks during the weeklong adventure, you have to figure out how to fix it and get back on the road.

Where do they value that pioneer spirit more than anywhere else? Alaska. Being self-sufficient and knowing your vehicle are critical to success on the Ultimate Adventure each and every year, but this year more than ever due to the remote locations that were visited.

Check In
Check in took place in the town of Wasilla, with participants arriving from all four corners of the Lower 48. Despite the distance involved in getting to the starting point this year, everyone arrived on time. And a surprising number of participants elected to eschew trailers altogether, driving their vehicles up through Canada rather than trailering them. Some rigs had travelled over 4,000 miles just to the get to start! Longtime cronies Sam Gillis and Keith Bailey inspected each vehicle for necessary items including rollcages, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and more. After that it was time for the fun stuff like pizza, stickers, and swag from our UA sponsors.

Day 1: Knik Glacier
The Ultimate Adventure has visited a lot of different terrain over its 20-year history. Sand dunes, ferry rides, countless rockcrawling trails, you name it. One thing we have never done before is visit a glacier. In the Lower 48, glaciers are pretty hard to come by, but in Alaska there are an estimated 100,000. Some of them you can even drive to, like the Knik Glacier. And that is exactly what we did.

Located at the northern end of the Chugach Mountains, the Knik Glacier field averages over 25 miles long and 5 miles across, making it one of the largest glaciers in southcentral Alaska. The Knik Glacier and the head waters of the Knik River are managed under the Knik River Public Use Area (KRPUA) Management Plan as part of the State of Alaska's Department of Natural Resources.

The terrain for Day 1 was not as difficult as in years past, but the trail encompassed water crossings, mud pits, and even sand dunes and silt beds en route to the Knik Glacier. The carnage toll was higher than expected given the easy wheeling for the day. The count included a spark plug wire, a ring-and-pinion (and we suspect was previously damaged), and two sliced tires (neither of them Falken Wildpeak M/Ts, we should mention). As the sun eventually set in Alaska, repairs were taking place and quarters were being fed into car washes in anticipation of Day 2.

Day 2: Wasilla to Eureka Trail System
Last year in the Northeast, we only wheeled on public lands once as part of the Ultimate Adventure, and all of the camping we did was in campgrounds. The sad fact is there just isn't much public land in New England that is open to motorized recreation. Not the case in Alaska. The group started Day 2 with 100 road miles from Wasilla to the Eureka Road House along the breathtaking Glennallen Highway.

From there the tires were aired down and the hubs were locked and we didn't see pavement the rest of the day. We didn't see another soul either, unless you count moose and bald eagles. We explored 20 miles of the Eureka Trail System, taking Old Man Trail to Flat Creek Trail. This only scratched the surface of the 150 miles of two-track that comprise the Eureka Trail System. Although Eureka was much drier than it usually is this time of year, there are still areas of mud you'll need to negotiate to stay on the two-track trails that wind through the area.

Christian Hazel and Trent McGee led the way through the mud pit with the Cummins R2.8 under boost, and the rest of the group followed. The success rate was about 50 percent for making it through without needing a tug from a VooDoo rope. After that it was a short trip across a few water crossings to our destination for the night: a sand bar along the Little Nelchina River. It was a beautiful spot under a bluff at a bend on the river that was just big enough to fit our group.

Day 3: Eureka Trail System to Glennallen
Day 3 of the 2019 Ultimate Adventure started with a huge bull moose walking through our camp along the shores of the Little Nelchina River. Nothing says Alaska more than that, except perhaps a grizzly bear, but we were happy it was only a moose in camp. Temperatures dropped below freezing at night, a first for the UA, so the entire group was anxious to get in their vehicles and get moving to warm up. We continued through the Eureka Trail System, working our way across hills with sweeping vistas in every direction.

One of the early river crossings along the trail hydrolocked the built 460 big-block in the author's F-150, but the cronies jumped in to get the plugs pulled and the oil changed in a hurry. With no damage done to the engine, the air intake was repositioned to keep the issue from repeating itself and the group continued on. It wasn't long though before they became mired in Alaska's famous muskeg. Once you break through the top layer, this dark, smelly mud has no bottom. The Smittybilt winches and VooDoo kinetic recovery straps were working overtime to pull all of the vehicles out of the deep mud and keep the group moving on.

After 100 miles on the pavement and 40 miles of off-road, many of the vehicles were running on fumes, even after refueling with jerrycans along the way. We made our way back to the Eureka Road House, and the gas-powered vehicles fueled up while the Cummins R2.8 diesel rigs aired up their tires and watched. From there we pointed our 4x4s north to Glennallen, our destination for the night.

Day 4: Glennallen to Kennecott
We woke up on Day 4 to the news that Jessi Combs had lost her life trying to break her own land speed record. It was a somber start to the day, which was overcast and gray, matching our moods. Radio chatter was nonexistent as we followed the Ultimate International to McCarthy, Alaska. The McCarthy Road winds through the Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska's largest park. Once the gateway to precious minerals, it now leads to spectacular scenery and vast wilderness. The road was originally constructed in 1909 as a railway to support the Kennecott Copper Mines. In 1971, a new bridge was constructed over the Copper River and the rail bed was covered with gravel, creating the McCarthy Road.

Our route passed through Chitina and over the Copper River. Pronounced chit-na, the railroad town sprang to life in 1910. It was once bustling as the major stopover and service point for the trains that carried ore from Kennecott to ships in Cordova. Kennecott was our destination for the day, but the road stops at the Kennicott River, 5 miles before the mining town. Yes, the river is spelled differently from the town. The Kennicott Glacier was named after Robert Kennicott by geologist Oscar Rohn, but legend has it that a clerical error got the name of the town wrong, substituting an e for an i.

We took a footbridge across the river and then hopped on vans in the town of McCarthy to reach Kennecott. McCarthy, popularized by the Discovery Channel show Edge of Alaska, was the town at the bottom of the hill with the saloons and brothels, while Kennecott was the company mining town with the stores and chapels. We visited all of them all on Day 4 of the Ultimate Adventure, but there was still a lot more to see on our trip. Check back next month to find out where we went next.