Checkpoint Checkup: Finger Lake to Rainy Pass

"The journey of life is with many twists and turns. But with faith and courage, no obstacle can stop you from reaching your goals."  - Unknown

“The journey of life is with many twists and turns. But with faith and courage, no obstacle can stop you from reaching your goals.”
– Unknown

Photo by Jeff Schultz

Photo by Jeff Schultz

As a reminder, I’ll be posting Trivia on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.  Checkpoint Checkups will be posted on the second and fourth Tuesdays.

The Last Checkpoint Checkup left us in Finger Lake.  The journey to the next checkpoint, Rainy Pass will cover 30 beautiful and exciting miles.  I spoke with Karin (Car-in) Hendrickson about the trail between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass Checkpoint.  Karin enjoys this portion of the Iditarod Trail and hasn’t had any major difficulties on this run.  On the flip side, mushers can and do have difficulties, especially coming down the Steps.  If icy, the Steps can be extremely challenging.  We will follow Karin’s journey as she begins climbing into the Alaska Range.

The scenery from Finger Lake to Rainy Pass is breathtaking.  Karin likes to run this part of the trail early in the morning to view the stunning sites.  Leaving Finger Lake, the trail heads down onto frozen lakes and swamps.  Karin considers this to be an easy part of the trail to navigate, even though it’s full of twists and turns.  For now, it sounds beautiful and peaceful.

Iditarod 2014 03 Monday

Photo by Jeff Schultz

An hour into her journey, she starts to feel a little antsy because she knows the infamous Happy River Steps will be sneaking up on her soon. Before she even gets to the steps, there are some shorter steep drops.  Arriving at the Steps, she’s on top of a ridge overlooking the Happy River. From this point, the trail takes her on a roller coaster ride.  Karin will have three steep drops that will test her ability to control her sled.  Sometimes the trail can be hard and icy, which can get her going a little faster than she’d like.  Not only that, but she also has to compete with centrifugal forces that can flip her sled on a sharp turn.  The final turn is so steep and sharp that the sled often goes airborne.  As the law of gravity says, what goes up must come down, but landing isn’t always pretty.  Karin shared with me that one year, there was a tree right where the sleds usually land.

If she feels like avoiding the activity at the checkpoint, Karin will camp shortly after the Steps on the short flat part of the trail that runs on the Happy River.  While camped, she can’t help but hear team after team making their way to the bottom of the Steps.  From her camp on the river, she has about 20 more miles to Rainy Pass.  Can you believe that all this excitement was packed into only 10 miles?

After camping on the Happy River, she’s off again continuing the run to Puntilla Lake and the Rainy Pass Checkpoint.  There’s an extremely steep climb off the river that heads through some narrow ravines. At the top of that climb, she sees a frozen expanse of lake and then for another few miles Karin and team continue climbing through wooded ridges.  I hope she’s ready because this next part is going to test her athleticism.  The trail is now going to be twisty and narrow with a lot of sidehills and steep edges.  She will really have to balance and use all her muscle to keep herself and her sled upright.  Finally, she sees rolling hills and meadows.  This means Rainy Pass Checkpoint, a welcome sight, is just ahead.

Rainy Pass Checkpoint on Puntilla Lake

Rainy Pass Checkpoint on Puntilla Lake

Rainy Pass Checkpoint is located on scenic Puntilla Lake in front of the Perrin’s Rainy Pass Lodge.  The Lodge, a premier wilderness destination where guests can hunt, fish, hike, ski, ride horseback, sight see and view the Iditarod, is owned and operated by the Perrins Family – Steve & Denise and their five sons Steve II, Shane, Clayton, Chase and Colton.

The Virtual Trail Journey can provide you with more information about this segment of the trail.  Next, our journey will take us up and over the Alaska Range to Rohn.  From Rainy Pass it’s 845 miles to Nome!