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Iditarod 2004 - Tales from the Trail

Iditarod 2004

Rainy Pass to Rohn

We were back to our normal routine here. The dogs were snacked, straw laid out, the few booties removed, tug lines undone, ear and belly scratches given, and vet checks done before I began to prepare their meal. I’ve been feeding Eagle’s new ‘Ultra’ kibble on this Race and can’t believe how quick and simple it has made feeding. I tossed a bag of sliced ground chicken into my cooler, added hot water that had been heated up in my cooker and let it soak for 5 or 10 minutes as I sorted out bowls and dished out kibble. After the kibble the dogs eagerly drank up their thin soup and settled down to nap.


It was just starting to get dark and already the temperature was rapidly dropping. The forecast was predicting a cold night – something in the –30 range – which could make for a nasty journey through Rainy Pass and over to Rohn later that evening.

After sorting out my drop bags, organizing my sled bag some, heating up a meal for myself and thawing some juice packs, I packed up some fresh clothes and my cold weather gear and hiked up to the building set aside for mushers. There was a spot to hang gear to dry, but it wasn’t very warm and I figured nothing was going to be getting too dry. There was a room filled with tempting cots, but that was off limit to mushers. For us there was sleeping mats laid out on the floor – not as comfy looking as the cots, but a definite improvement over bare floor, but I just couldn’t get warm enough to fall asleep. A young man that lived at the Lodge came by and fiddled with the wood furnace, but he obviously thought it was cold too and showed up 10 minutes or so later with blankets for all the mushers. I was asleep in seconds!!! What a treat.


After an unsatisfying short few hours of sleep, it was time to hit the road. Kelly Williams shared a delectable piece of cheesecake with me as I sorted out my clothing, switching over to my Northern Outfitters gear and Trans Alaska boots – the temperature outside was now –28F and expected to be colder up on the Pass. I gathered up my belongings and trudged back to the dog teams to start the routine of preparing the dogs for the trail.


The trail left Rainy Pass in a different way then the other 2 times I’d been here. The full moon allowed me a pretty reasonable view of the unfamiliar country though. Doug had been planning on following out pretty close behind me and trailing me through the Gorge, so I was looking over my shoulder every now and then to look for his headlamp. I was surprised to see 3 or 4 headlamps working their way along the Pass behind me. Honestly, the memory of that bright, cold moonlit night with those headlamps winding through the night behind me is one that will remain with me for a long time. Rainy Pass as long been one of my favorite spots on the trail – heck, probably one of my favorite spots on the planet – and this night just made it more so.

The first part of the Gorge looked like it had had a lot of avalanches earlier in the year and was quite filled with snow, making it as nice a trail as I’ve ever seen there, but there were still many challenges to be found.

As we came through the alders and into the bigger timber, I stopped and let Russ Bybee and Doug catch up with me so I could warn them that if they were so inclined, now was the time to undo a few tuglines. I choose not too, but I think Doug did. Russ’s team was moving really well, so he passed and headed off. My guys fell in behind, but within minutes missed a sharp corner and wound up buried in dead end trail of brush and shrubs. Apparently, many teams in front and behind me make the same mistake. I was lucky to have some help (Doug and Bennie Stamm) in extracting my team and getting them pointed in the right direction. With Camilla in standing heat, my boys were taking full advantage of the tangle and all trying to get close to her. On my own, it would have been a real headache to unwind everyone and I probably would have ended up with an unwanted breeding.

At that point the trail becomes every bit what the legends make it out to be. Sharp turns with big trees to negotiate around and ice bridges with open water rushing underneath them. I heard some yelling and a few ‘choice words’ being spoken behind me – and I understand that a few teams had dogs go in the water at one spot – but the best thing I could do was to keep moving, so as not to cause a ‘traffic jam’.

Usually a SIGNIFICANT drop onto the icey Innokko River marks the end of the Gorge, I kept anticipating and dreading that, but this year the Gorge dropped gently to a finish and the River itself had a decent layer of snow on it. I let out a huge breath that I wasn’t really aware I had been holding.

Grover and Gus easily dealt with one good-sized patch of overflow on the River and we finished the run into Rohn without incident. As we rolled into the checkpoint, I was pleased that 2 of the toughest chunks of trail were safely behind us, but well aware that one of the worst pieces was still next on the agenda!

Place Checkpoint Time from Previous Checkpoint Rest Time
in Checkpoint
Dogs Layovers
  Rohn 5:33 5:35 16 24 Hr  8 Hr

Karen's Diary - 2004 Edition

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