Iditarod snowmobile Diary: Day 13

Sunset as seen from the porch of the Tripod Flat BLM Cabin on the Kaltag Portage along the Iditarod Trail.  Back-lit ice crystals cause the dynamic effect in the sky. Josh Rindal of Spokane and Bob Jones of Kettle Falls were snowmobiling 1,400-miles along the route of Alaska's famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race in March 2014. (Robert Jones)
Sunset as seen from the porch of the Tripod Flat BLM Cabin on the Kaltag Portage along the Iditarod Trail. Back-lit ice crystals cause the dynamic effect in the sky. Josh Rindal of Spokane and Bob Jones of Kettle Falls were snowmobiling 1,400-miles along the route of Alaska's famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race in March 2014. (Robert Jones)

SNOWMOBILING — Bob Jones of Kettle Falls and Josh Rindal of Spokane are repeating their effort to follow Alaska's Iditarod Sled Dog Race by snowmobile in February and March 2014.  

  • See the complete diary and photos from their 2012 trip — which marked Jones's 14th time on the Iditarod.
  • Click “continue reading” to see Jones's diary from Day 13 of their 22-day 1,400-mile adventure in 2014.

Below are links to each of the other diary posts and photos of their trip on the Iditarod Trail.

Day 13:  (March 12, 2014) Wednesday

Nulato, City Office Apartment to Tripod Flat BLM Cabin, +3º at 10 a.m.

Our “office” was a great place to stay!  Patsy and two other women were at their workplace in the main room while Josh and I were on cots in the back room with the supplies.  It was cool and quiet.  I got the best night’s sleep of the entire trip!  We had the makings of an easy day coming up, so we slept in until 9:30am.  The gals made us coffee.  And we knew the fuel depot didn’t open until 11am.  We had plenty of time and we used it all.

Fuel fill-up took an even 5.0 gals for both of us from Galena:  49.7 miles to the pump = 19.9 mpg.  $5.95 per gallon.

We took some pictures in the perfect light and rode out onto the Yukon at nigh noon, headed downriver for Kaltag.  2 hours and 10 minutes later we climbed the high bank into the little village.  Kaltag still pretty much looks like Alaska used to.  Log houses, weathered lumber, and a lot of old junk decorates the place to perfection.

The 35-miles of trail from Nulato to Kaltag were the best miles of this trip.  4 or 5 inches of fresh snow made for a smooth, cushioned base, and we fairly flew along.  Traveling on the Yukon can be a dream or it can be a nightmare.  Today is was the dream.  In 2007, when Harley Douglass and I rode this same section, the snow was approaching waist-deep and there was no bottom to it.  The trail was in great shape., but you’d best  be on it.  But, as we approached Kaltag, the flat light took over and we went totally blind.  We sat on our machines for over 3 hours, waiting for it to get dark so we could run the 5 miles into the village by headlight.  We couldn’t take the chance of falling off the trail and into the bottomless snow alongside.  Sometimes it just makes a lot of sense to travel at night.  2007 was one of those times.

Josh and I went to the little store and got right at the wood stove.  My parka was cold on the inside.

From there we went to the home of an old pal by the name of Leonard Sanders.  One time, years ago, I noticed some nice racks of moose antlers nailed on his buildings.  I knocked and asked if he would mind if I took some photos.  I got him to pose in a couple.  Then the next year I brought those photos up the trail for him.  Today they were still hanging on the wall in the front room.  Those photos had made me a friend in Kaltag.

Leonard fixed us up with hot coffee and his wife made us smoked salmon sandwhiches.  We visited for an hour and said our goodbyes.  I try to spend at least an hour with the Sanders each time I pass by and those are great times on the trail.

Josh and I rode west from Kaltag at 3:30pm.  The Tripod Flat BLM cabin is located about 28 miles from town, and some of those miles consist of the worst moguls on the planet!  They are deep and they are short.  And both of those qualities are bad!  It took us two hours to go the first 12 miles.  But, right at the 12-mile point, the trail gets better.  Then it gets even more better.  At 6:30pm we rode up to the cabin.

There was a snowmobile with a tow-sled parked out front.  A quick glance inside revealed a couple of sleeping bags and several caribou hide sleeping pads.

The wood situation was grim at the cabin, so Josh was making ready to go up the trail to fine some.  At that moment, a snowmobile pulling a person riding a sled full of dead spruce rode up.  It was a Mark Thompson with his 13-year old son, Silas.  We would be having company for the night.

It turned out that Mark and Silas were going from Saint Micheal, on the coast, to Fairbanks.  The Tripod Flat cabin would be home on their first night.  And it would be home for night number 14 for Josh and I.

Josh got out our chain saw and made quick work of the dead trees that Mark and Silas brought in.  We now had plenty of wood for our use.  And we would be leaving a nice, big pile in the woodbox for the next traveler who comes here.

We fixed and ate dinner and told stories about Alaska.  Mark had taught school in St. Micheal for 29 years, so he had some great ones!  Before long it was midnight.

My job was to keep the fire going on ‘low’ for the night in an effort to keep the cabin warm enough to be comfortable and cool enough to make it easy to sleep.  I would give it a good try.  Some dumb ass had installed a new section of stovepipe and had failed to put in a damper.  I didn’t know if I would be controlling the stove, or if the stove would be controlling me.  It doesn’t take too much excess heat to turn these little cabins into ovens.

The little log cabin looked mighty good after my 2-year absence.  The diary on the wall showed this to be my 15th night spent here, in 15 trips to Nome.  Some of those  included the company of mushers such as Karen Ramsted, of Alberta, and Melani Gold of Fairbanks.  And others, like tonight, included the company of a myriad of  other travelers.  But the best nights were when we had the cabin to ourselves.  I have always felt that this might be my very favorite place on the trail.

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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog

Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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