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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Iditarod snowmobile Diary: Day 4

Ice bridges over open water slots at the South Fork of the Kuskokwim River near Hells Gate was one of the most treacherous sections of the Iditarod Trail negotiated in 2014 by snowmobilers Josh Rindal of Spokane, shown here waiting to help Bob Jones of Kettle Falls at dangerous spot.
Ice bridges over open water slots at the South Fork of the Kuskokwim River near Hells Gate was one of the most treacherous sections of the Iditarod Trail negotiated in 2014 by snowmobilers Josh Rindal of Spokane, shown here waiting to help Bob Jones of Kettle Falls at dangerous spot. "We were never sure we could get to Rohn until we rode up the riverbank and onto a bare trail," Jones said. (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 4 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 4:  (March 3, 2014) Monday  

Rainy Pass Lake Cabin to Rohn, +12º

We had a great night in our little shack at Rainy Pass Lake.  The day dawned bright a clear. 

We would ride up to our sign, take some photos in the sunlight, then turn around and retrace our steps back to the junction with the Iron Dog Trail and ride it through the Hell’s Gate of the South Fork Kuskokwim to Rohn Cabin and Checkpoint.  That way we would avoid the dog-sled traffic, and the nightmare stories, associated with the canyon of the Dalzell Gorge.

We had just arrived back at the cabin when the first dog-team of 2014 headed past.  I jumped onto my machine and zoomed back up to the pass.  I would get to take the first dog team photo going past our newly-mounted sign.

Kelly Maxiner was the musher in first place when he went past in the bright sunlight.

I ran back down to a waiting Josh and we headed downhill. 

We knew about where the Iron Dog trail lay, so we cut across the head of a huge, open valley and soon came upon it.  It wasn’t marked very well, and the tracks were mostly melted out from the warm weather that had preceeded us.  Ponds of hard ice, which had been open water a few days before, lie everywhere.

The upper valley was a total snowmacher’s dream, and we could ride 40mph for miles.

Things changed abruptly as we hit the lower country.  The trail was mostly under a thick coating of ice, and the hills got steeper.  We made a couple of steep ascents/ decents and finally dropped down onto the ice of the upper South Fork of the Kuskokwim.  There happened to be a wolf hunting guide with his client from Finland standing on the ice when we got there.  They had a camp tent set up 8 miles further up the river, and they reported a temprature of -22 last night.  They talked about the proibility of ‘open water’ further down the river.  Not good!

When we hit the ice my odometer read exactly 18 miles since we had left the little lake up top.

We wound around and through a most gorgeous piece of country known as the Hell’s Gate.  Huge cliffs lined both sides of the river with great, rugged peaks looming into the blue sky above them.  The river was pretty much frozen up at this point.

The further downstream we went, the more water was becoming evident.  Soon there was a lot of water running on top of the ice which dominated the bottom of the canyon.

This ice turned to vast stretches of half-frozen over-flow, but we had to choice but to run through it.  The roofing screws that I had screwed into out tracks saved our bacon here!  Without that additional traction we would have had a hard time moving forward.  The water was up to 6 inches deep in places, with a thin crust of ice on top.

The open places in the river got to be more and more frequent, and several times we would have to retrace our steps to find ice bridges across the open water.  We had no way of telling how secure these bridges were, because most of them had colapsed with the warm weather of  just days ago.

The river meanandered back and forth between high, timber-covered banks with no chance to get around.

But the miles added up.   The sun kept getting lower, and we had been on the river for over 25 miles with still no sign of Rohn.  The zig-zaging, and looking for ice bridges, soon ate up about 7 hours.  The day was getting shorter, and we thought that we may have to pitch our tent for the night.

We crossed and re-crossed the South Fork for at least the 50th time when a couple of Iron Dog stakes appeared on the right bank of the river.  NEVER did a piece of bare ground look so good to a snowmobiler!  We turned up the bank and got off the dreaded river!  Of the 30 miles we had ridden on the river, at least 15 miles of them had been on glare ice.  And most of those miles were alongside big, black holes in the ice with swift, deep water boiling through.

It turned out to be a couple of miles of solid dirt into the little airstrip and on to the Rohn Cabin Checkpoint.  We got there after riding 57.4 miles from the top of Rainy Pass, and we were never sure we would make it to the cabin until we got there.

The regular crew was all in place when we arrived, and dog teams were coming down the Iditarod Trail into Rhon almost end to end. 

We moved our machines to a place behind the cabin that was out of the way.

The welcome heat of the little cabin and a hot cup of coffee felt mighty good!

It was almost dark, and Jasper Bond, Terry and Lisa Boyle, and others made us feel right at home.

I asked Jasper if there might be an empty tent we could crash in, and he immediately showed us the ‘musher’s tent’.  There was no heat, and a tarp on the ground was the only furniture.   But it was to be our home for the night.

There was much action toinght in Rohn!  Dog teams were coming and going, and photographer Jeff Schultz showed up with Colton and Steve Perrins on two snow machines from Rainy Pass Lodge.  The two boys moved into the tent with us, and we all finally hit the tarp at midnight.  It was +5º outside, which probably meant it was also about +5º inside.  Josh found a bale of hay for a chair, we rolled out our beds, and were soon sound asleep.  It felt very good to be here.  But, if we had it do all over again, we would avoid the Hell’s Gate like we would avoid the plague!!  No Way!

Barking, howling dogs, teams coming and going, and lots of action made for a noisy night at Rohn.  But we all slept like logs.  It had been a tough day all-around.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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