Alcan 5000

5,000 miles into the Arctic, a full tank of diesel, it's -40F, and we're driving a GMC Sierra

A team of three piled into this 2020 GMC Sierra AT4 and headed up to the Arctic Circle during the Alcan 5000.

Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

There are many events that could lay claim to the title of most extreme driving challenge in the world, but only one takes competitors to the shore of the Arctic Ocean in the dead of winter.

"It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
I
t's the stillness that fills me with peace."
- From "The Spell of the Yukon" by Robert W. Service

The Alcan 5000 Winter Rally runs once every four years, and has developed a devoted following among adventure-seekers from all over the world. This year, 40 teams made the long drive north from Seattle, Washington to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic The GMC Sierra AT4 came equipped with all the latest features, including a valuable camera system that helped with views where traditional mirrors could not, helping to get the team out of more than one tricky situation.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

The Alcan rally first dares teams to make it to the far north. Tuktoyaktuk lies about 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. In the short summers, residents fish the Arctic Ocean. The rest of the time they survive winter temperatures that hover around 40 degrees below zero.

The second part of the competition is a daily Time-Speed-Distance test that challenges teams to drive a challenging road at a precise average speed. It's not a race, but rather a demonstration of the ability to arrive exactly on time.

Teams may enter virtually any kind of vehicle they choose. This year's entrants ranged from a 1973 Ford Capri to a Japanese-market right-hand-drive Mitsubishi Pajero and a brand new 2020 GMC Sierra AT4. (The GMC was this writer's ride on the rally.) Subaru cars and SUVs are a popular choice, as are 4WD pickup trucks. Entries are divided into classes based on the type of vehicle - 2WD and Historic vehicles get their own classes.

The rally sets off from Seattle and crosses the Canadian border on the first day. Most people don't realize that British Columbia is about the same size as California. B.C. is known for wildlife, and this is where travelers will usually see American Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Moose, and Caribou. In winter, it takes nearly three days to climb through B.C. and reach the Yukon Territory, where the adventure really begins.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic bison There were numerous bison spotting throughout the trip.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Adventuring in the Arctic

As we arrived in Whitehorse, temperatures fell below zero. The fat snowflakes of a picturesque winter give way to hard ice and the trees get smaller as teams drive north through Canada's gold country. The last night before the hard push to the Arctic is spent in Dawson. This town dates from the Yukon gold rush, and the frontier spirit lingers there in saloons and rustic hotels.

From Dawson, the rally turns off on the Dempster Highway. This is the only road to Inuvik and the Northwest Territories. The next settlement is Eagle Plains, about 250 miles from Dawson and just 20 miles from the Arctic Circle. Teams stop at the circle monument for photos and bit of clowning around.

Driving becomes serious business on the Dempster. It's a gravel road in summertime, but in the winter it's packed snow and ice, with snow drifts along the shoulders that are easily capable of swallowing a car. About 50 miles in, several teams opted to turn back and wait in Whitehorse for the rally to return.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic The Arctic is cold and desolate, especially early in the morning in the heart of winter.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

The teams that elected to go on traveled in groups and kept in touch by radio to ensure that no one was left stranded, and several vehicles had to be pulled out of trouble. Temperatures on this year's rally plunged to -20F as we crossed the Richardson mountain range and entered the Northwest Territories. At this point teams are not competitors. They're partners in getting everyone over the top safely.

Modern Tech to the Rescue

As we went along, our GMC showed the value of modern technology. The AT4 package includes a raised suspension, skid plates to protect the underside of the truck, and an Automatic mode in the four-wheel-drive system. Many 4X4 vehicles turn off the traction and stability control systems when 4WD is engaged. The GMC's automatic mode allows the truck to function like an all-wheel-drive SUV, sending power to any wheel that has grip while maintaining traction and stability. The effect was exactly what we needed to stay on the road.

We chose Nokian Hakkapeliitta LT3 studded winter tires for the journey. The triangular studs in the Nokian tires bite into the ice, while the advanced tread design molds around snow and frost to grab traction. As wise Arctic travelers recommend, we carried two spares. However, the Nokians survived everything we threw their way and we never used the emergency tires.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic While much of the route is traditional roadway, there's thousands of miles of off-road driving in treacherous conditions.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

It's worth mentioning GMC's extensive camera system. The Sierra has forward and rear-facing cameras, and can deliver a birds-eye view around the truck for tight maneuvering. Best of all, the rear-view mirror is also camera based, with an eye mounted on the back of the cab. In the Arctic, the rear window of any vehicle tends to collect a thick coat of frost and ice. The GMC camera offers clear wide-angle view to the rear that also includes most of the blind spots.

FInally, our GMC was equipped with the new 3.0-liter Duramax turbo-diesel engine. With 477 pound-feet of torque, this smaller six-cylinder pulls like a V8. It's paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission to maximize fuel economy. We saw up to 30 MPG in warmer climates to the south. In the Arctic, the extreme cold hits everyone's fuel economy, but where gas engines were averaging under 15 MPG, the Duramax returned about 18 MPG.

The Spell of the Arctic

After a long day of hard driving the rally reaches Inuvik, NWT. At about 3,250 people, Inuvik is the largest town north of the Arctic Circle in North America. Here temperatures plunged to 40 below zero, but at this point no one is going to give up on the great goal. In the morning, teams rise before dawn and continue about 100 miles farther north to Tuktoyaktuk, celebrating the sunrise on the beach of the Arctic Ocean. Or rather, we take the locals' word for it, because there's nothing but ice as far as can be seen.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic The team made it to the Arctic Ocean, just 1,500 miles from the North Pole.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Tuk is the end of all roads. From here it's just 1,500 miles to the North Pole, all ice. Only Barrow, Alaska is a bit farther north and still reachable by car. After some photos and a little celebration, the Alcan teams turn away from the rising sun and start heading home. The adventure's not over yet, however. There are still five more days of competition before the rally ends in Anchorage, Alaska.

On the way back down, there's more time to pause and appreciate the scenery. The Arctic is wild and very much untamed. Teams observed foxes, wolves, and even a very quick Arctic hare. We were forced to make an unplanned overnight stop in the tiny village of Fort McPherson when the pass over the Richardson mountains was closed due to a blizzard. Teams pooled their food and made a potluck dinner as the local church opened its doors and broke out the supply of cots they keep on hand for these occasions.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic Wildlife, like these mountain goats, was spotted throughout the journey.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

At the end of the event in Anchorage, the team of Garth Ankeny and Russ Kraushaar in the vintage Capri won the competitive portion of the rally. By that point, everyone's ready to cheer because after driving 5,000 miles to the top of the world, just being there feels like a victory. That's why people return to the Alcan Rally again and again.

"There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There's a land— oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back— and I will."

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Snake Pass is one of England's most beloved driving roads.

Britain's Snake Pass takes you though some of England's most scenic topography, curving in and out of the Derbyshire region of the Peak District. The weather there isn't always favorable - it's frequently closed due to snow or flooding - but when it's open, and you have the right car, it's a driver's dream.

The road has a rich history. It was opened as a toll road in the early 1800s and remained as such until the 1870s. It was the primary route between Sheffield and Manchester until the 1980s.

Porsche recently traced the route using its free-to-download Roads by Porsche app, which gives drivers the means of finding the best roads to travel. The route was recently voted onto the app by fans of the roadway.

Snake Pass Porche Cayman 718 Porsche recently test drove the road, which was added to its Roads app by fans.Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

The preferred route starts east of Glossop, a town just outside of Manchester. All 11 miles of the path are in a national park. Fro Glossop, the roadway climbs into the Pennine Hills reaching 1,680 feet above sea level at the point the route passes Pennine Way. A public house, the Snake Pass Inn, sits nearby. The road passes just north of Kinder Scout, the highest point in England, and through the towns of Knowsley, St. Helens, and Warrington.

The winding scenic roads naturally draws comparisons to Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, which runs along the Oregon and Idaho boarder. The U.S. route offers some of the most breathtaking views roadway views you can get in the country, and provides plenty of technical driving opportunities.

Traversing Snake Pass is technically tough. There are plenty of hazardous bends and blind summits. Fog rolls in quickly at times. Cyclists, professional and far from it, compete for roadway.

Porsche Cayman 718 at Snake Pass

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

On the flip side, the road offers perhaps the best views of the Manchester area you'll ever see. The scenery goes from moorland to forest to flatland as well.

But, you won't be able to look long because of the road's perils.

Once through the forest, the road opens up again as you near Sheffield. Drystone walls feature while sheep politely munch their lunch nearby. The route draws to a close at Ladybower Reservoir at Ashopton but there's the option to continue. The A57 carries drivers on to Sheffield, dispersing them to the cities near and far via any number of more major motorways.

Or, you could turn around and traverse it once again. It's only 11 miles, after all.

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As part of its CES presentation, General Motors showed off its future electric vehicles.

Photo courtesy of General Motors

General Motors has made no secret of the fact that they see the future of the company is electric. Their presentation at CES this year put their future products out there for public consumption, but hidden in the shadows. Let's turn up the brightness and take a peek at what is there.

Scroll down to the bottom of this article to see a lightened, clearer view of all the models.

GMC Hummer EV

General Motors EV preview CES 2021

Photo courtesy of General Motors

Front and center is the 2022 GMC Hummer EV. The Hummer EV is slated to have 1,000 horsepower, a 350-mile range, and a $112,959 price tag when it arrives at dealership lots in 2021. Other forthcoming Hummer variants are set to have unique powertrain setups and lower price points.

Cadillac Lyriq

General Motors EV preview CES 2021

Photo courtesy of General Motors

The 2023 Cadillac Lyriq debuted in prototype form mid-2020. When it comes to market, Cadillac expects the Lyriq SUV to offer drivers 300+ miles of all-electric range, luxurious accommodations, and the buyers choice of rear-wheel drive or performance all-wheel drive. The Lyriq will come with Super Cruise, the General Motors hands-free driving system that allows for 200,000 miles of hands-free highway driving and automated lane change.

Cadillac Celestiq

General Motors EV preview CES 2021

Photo courtesy of General Motors

In addition to showing the Celestiq here, Cadillac decided to show off its flagship electric car with some close ups. They don't give too much detail about the car, but we do know some interesting tidbits. Cadillac says that the car embodies their commitment to "reimagine what's possible in design and technology". The GM division will offer the Celestiq with a curated selection of hand-crafted materials and they've has hinted that there will be some customization options available for owners.

Chevrolet pickup

General Motors EV preview CES 2021

Photo courtesy of General Motors

We don't yet know if it will be called the Silverado, but a Chevrolet pickup truck that runs on all-electric power is on the way. It's been confirmed that the plan is for the truck to have a maximum 400-mile range (likely when it's not towing or hauling much weight). Originally slated for a 2025 debut date, indications are that GM is pushing to get the truck to market sooner.

Buick EVs

General Motors EV preview CES 2021

Photo courtesy of General Motors

In 2020, GM described the two new Buick models that are coming by 2023. They're both electric vehicles. The first, an SUV will be a model that offers "more conventional crossover proportion that maximizes interior space and cargo." The second is a Buick CUV that has "expressive proportions with a greater emphasis on form and athletic fashion." It looks like the SUV is on the right in the photo while the CUV is on the left.

"Mystery EV"

General Motors EV preview CES 2021

Photo courtesy of General Motors

What is this mystery EV? We know the Cadillac XT4 is getting an electrified brother so there's a chance that this could that. Brightening and zooming in on the picture appears to reveal an SUV-like body design. We'll just have to stay tuned.

... and now let's turn the lights on.

General Motors EV preview CES 2021

Photo courtesy of General Motors

Last year, General Motors divulged while models it plans to introduce by 2023, including a number of EVs. You can see that full list here.

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