Saturday, 25 February 2017

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2016 reference - McGrath to Kaltag

Leaving the comforts of McGrath behind, racers have a stretch of river and a few short climbs until Takotna, but lets not get ahead of ourselves.

A few short climbs before Takotna

Takotna is a fuel supply town, a few community buildings to take shelter in. The trail goes up and up from here, long climbs.

Further along the trail there are remnants of machinery at Ophir.

Ophir is down a side trail. Its no longer inhabited, but a few remaining outbuildings provide shelter.

Once past Junction, where the North and South routes split - you are on your own in the vast interior of the Innoko Wildlife refuge.

Big game and big predators out there.

Lots of overflow.

Plan to bivvy out here. Because you will be.

It only hurts when you laugh.

Looking for your drops? You won't miss them. The common places used is Wolf Kill Slough, or Cripple area. Either way, it basically comes down to wherever the pilot can safely land. It's always between Carlson Crossing and Innoko cabin.

They'll be in big hessian coffee sacks and you'll be glad to see them. There will be fuel also, to top off your stove fuel. Ensure your stove can run on unleaded gasoline, this is what's in the fuel tins - no white gas. You'll tear into them like a hobo, you sure smell like one.

Just jam food in wherever you can. You sit on the ground, tearing into your bags like rats and scoffing handfuls of food, and digging around in the leftovers from previous racers. It's primal.

Plenty of moments alone in quiet contemplation.

Interspersed with voluntary tourettes towards the trail. As this is also the route for Irondog, the trail can sometimes get torn up if there's little snow around.

You are basically riding down a very long valley the whole time. This is sunrise.

...and this is sunset.

Another sunrise. It's kinda groundhog day-ish.

Bill Dent

Overflow abounds.

Overflow doesn't quite freeze, or melt either, like standing/walking/sinking in a giant slushy from the convenience store. It's often due to the glycols that some of the plants produce, to help minimise the damage that freezing can do to their tissues.

Into the region of Cripple/Poorman, where the mining equipment from yesteryear slowly decays.

The race route crossed this bridge once upon a time,

But no more. Pfft, health and safety people are too picky sometimes :)

Which brings us to the only accommodation in the area, fabulous engineering workshop in Poorman. The door doesn't shut, the floor is filthy, but it has a roof and that works as it says in the brochure.

As you get closer to Ruby (relatively speaking) you'll see these mile markers. These are statute miles too, not Merchant miles.

Lots of descending, lots and lots of it.

Pretty soon you'll come to a climb, and you'll do anything to distract yourself. Time for a manicure, heck it's gotta be done. Body maintenance is crucial out there, in all it's forms. Nobody is around to judge you - it's only when you take pics and then post them on the internet that it starts to get a bit weird.

Okay. depending on how you're travelling, you may see the Iditarod dog sled race trail breakers come through. This time around they had 4 machines, two with groomers, one was a single leader and another towing a pulk full of lath (marked stakes). They normally travel a day or two in front of the dog race, so expect the scene to get a bit crazy over the next few days. Your solitude of the centre is over.

This is a good time to rest and recuperate at Ruby, before the long journey along the Yukon River. Plenty of options, but changes from year to year.

First day of many on the river. You'll experience all kinds of highs and lows on the way to Kaltag.

Quite varied surfaces as well. Open Water.

Frozen sandbars.

Glare ice with a dusting of powder. Blue dot watchers - imagine a polished timber dance floor covered in talcum powder, and you are running around with socks on.

More sandbars. Utterly silent running after hearing the gnawing sound of the studded tyres for so long on ice and snow.

Huge slabs of ice crack and create tyre swallowing crevasses.

Just keep going, don't stop. You will get there. Sometime you'll hit Galena.

Fine dining at the usual table on the trail.

Just keep trucking through the night when conditions are good, don't burn good river hours in a bag...

Nighttime surprises on the river.

 Grab a few hours when you can. This is in a dilapidated site office out at the Koyukuk airport. No doors, the floor is sloped, but hey, the roof works.

Yep, there'll be days like this.

Snow angels. This is the shape of a human that has lost a gravity battle.

This is the view when you decide that riding sucks.

I think they meant dog feet.

2 mile an hour is all you can hope for in the sugar.

It's just you and the moon, baby. Owoooooo!

If you're lucky, you'll get invited into the Roundhouse in Kaltag, and you get to lick your wounds and prepare for the next segment. This is the end of the line for you on the Yukon River.

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