Thursday, 23 February 2017

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2016 reference - Knik Lake to Rohn checkpoint

Due to a lack of time to get my race reports out (yeah, slack I know, but lets move forward) I thought I will just post up the images with a brief descriptor. This way blue dot followers of the 2017 race will get a bit of an idea of what racers will face out there, and get to see a bit of the same country through my lens.

Unlike most of the other poorly researched rubbish and bad humour I publish, I hope this will become a quality resource for partners of racers who may be watching this unfold for the first time, or even for partners of veteran racers, who never receive the full story:

Partner: "How was was your race, honey?"
Racer: "(grunt) yeah, okay." I mostly right?

Hopefully you'll enjoy and appreciate it, without the cold temps, dodgy race food and mystery saddle sores that we racers, just love to bits. It's true, honest. You ask any of us, we'll all smile and nod at the memory, our minds will kinda drift away and our face will assume a strange, contorted demeanour.

So lets get into it. Pictures are easy, words are hard.

Here is a map that shows all routes and the towns/villages along the way - the 130 mile race to Winter Lake Lodge (Finger Lake), the 350 mile race to McGrath and the full length 1000 mile race to Nome. Don't be put off by the words in the pic, they will mean something eventually.

 If you like words AND numbers in your pics, then this next image will excite you.

So we start at Knik Lake, which has ice on it, sometimes water, sometimes snow. It's a yearly lottery. Race starts with a gunshot. This year there will be a drone to capture footage, which will give the starter something to aim at.

Mike Biergrohlslein on the left, orange Fatback.

The trail meanders through some backlots for a bit.

Bob Ostrom

It is within the race rules to divert to certain roads to bypass some of the hilly trail - Burma Rd or Powerline trail to Ayrshire Rd.

Then it turns to seismic/gasline trail. and the end of the road system for the race.

Amy Breen.

Fairly substantial overflow sections here in lean years, but it's fast when firm.

Trail narrows a bit, common to encounter moose in these parts.

The broad expanse of Flathorn Lake, at the foot of Mt Susitna - the 'Sleeping Lady'.

Looking back over part of the Dismal Swamp, which isn't as bad as the name suggests.

Bartosz Skowronski.

River for a few hours in the late afternoon.

First CP is Yentna Station. Essential to stop here and get checked off, but also an opportune time to grab a bite to eat and top off the water.

Jill Homer
A few more hours on the river. Fast racers will doing this in the daylight. I'm not a fast racer.

Fairyland of Skwentna Roadhouse, 2nd CP. Some racers are hallucinating by the time they get here. Racers learn what a 'Merchant Mile' is.

Some will stay at Skwentna, some will push on a few more hours and bivvy in the cold, like this loony.

An image never does it justice, you really have to experience the bitterly painful morning air to remind you, you paid good money to suffer like this.

Then truly wallow in self pity as you make breakfast.

Trail meanders through meadows. Puffy white marshmallow all around, like the time you filled the dishwasher with liquid soap and the kitchen looked very similar.

Many ice bridges on the trail. Most of them hold as you cross them. Mostly. There is a wheel sized punchhole on the right...

On the approach to Shell Lake Lodge, very pretty.

This about sums up what racers will consume. Foods that are brown, red, orange, blue and green.

This is one of the service buildings at Winter Lake Lodge - the finish point for the 130 mile racers.

The take pity on us (actually, the ITI ensure that a meal is provided to each racer upon arrival) and we indulge in some real food.

For racers continuing onto McGrath or Nome, this is also the spot to collect the first drop bag. We then wonder how to fit your drop into the bike storage if it's a fast year, or just dump what you don't need. 

It's a bit lumpy after Winter Lake, with a few good solid pushes.

 There is an infamous section called the "Happy River steps" which is a series of short, steep descents. Some ride, some crawl.

Image from 2015 race.

 A short, sharp climb signals the start of the ascent up 'The Gorge'.

Same loony bivvying again. He likes to acclimate this way.

Another cross section of trail delicacies. 

 A short bivvy done, time to push up the gorge.

Life can be made a bit easier with compact, lightweight crampons.

Just another morning on the trail.

Moose droppings.

Moose food.

Rust coloured sunrises.

Fantastic part of trail along the side of the Happy River valley.

Best to sort out minor issues the moment you feel that tickle in the boot, before they grow into bigger problems.


A word from our sponsor :)

 Hyper-fun section on the descent in Happy River valley, moguls like a giant pump track. Careful of the overflow and glaciation that hides under the thin dusting of snow have been warned!

You start to get a feeling of the immense distances, with the Alaska range to your right.

 Welcome to Rainy Pass Lodge, on Puntilla Lake.

This ancient cabin is regarded as the favourite among racers. It leaks, it creaks, but it has so much character and fond memories for many a racer. Stories of folly and great feats have been launched from Rainy Pass Lodge checkpoint.

 From here the trail winds up the valley onto the tripod flats, the immense Alaska range continuing on the right.

You're having a good time when you can ride.

Sunset over the Ptarmigan Valley, the route to Hells Gate for 2017 ITI. Due to dangerous conditions in the Dalzell Gorge (on the NW side of Rainy Pass on the way to Rohn CP), the Hells Gate route was chosen as the official route for ITI, however some racers will still traverse Rainy Pass.

Seemed like a good idea at the time. Sunset was worth it.

Happy River flows through the valley. Can be fast flowing, it eats bikes, riders and walking poles. Racers doing either Rainy Pass or Hells Gate route will cross this river and feeder tributaries many times.

I have no images of the Hells Gate route, so I'll continue with images and stories from a Rainy Pass perspective. Intel states the HG route is around 35 miles longer than the RP route, covers more raw ground with Willow and Alder being a major hurdle. Rumours of a seasonal, mythical Churro stand also abound, but have never been substantiated.

Donald Kane approaching the throat of Rainy Pass

Constant vigilance of snow loads on the side peaks - this is avalanche territory.

When you get it on a bluebird day, it's something to admire!

The entrance to Dalzell Gorge. Not uncommon to see Dall sheep on the hillsides, bleating and laughing.

The Dalzell is a steep, fast flowing river in a tight gorge. Ice shelves and bridges can be short lived.

The forest is a welcome sight. Kinda spooky at night if you believe in monsters. But the REAL monster isn't behind's in front.


The confluence of the Tatina and Kuskokwim is a risky spot, with many hazards around. Pucker factor goes up a notch as you ride these huge slabs of tilted ice, down into a collapsed bridge over fast flowing, inky black water. It sounds worse than it actually is.

Hang on, I've got that around the wrong way.

If you survived the Dalzell, the Tatina and the Kusko, you'll find Robs Roadhouse nestled in the near constantly shaded Rohn checkpoint.

There is no phone reception, so don't bother with updating your social media - attempting it will likely get you ejected from the tent without getting a much prized bratwurst.

Inside, there is a warm stove burning, with a bed of spruce awaiting your tired body and feet.

If you are the chosen one, you might find some light reading stowed in your framebag...

Okay, so this brings you up to speed for the first few days. Next leg of this blogging journey will take you all the way to McGrath.

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