Gypsy here. In my last article, I wrote about the Iditarod Gold Trail Loop that the dog teams will run for the 2021 race. We imagined what could happen if teams met head on, and I promised you I would let you know why going over some parts of the trail twice would be really tough.
The Happy River Steps are named for a section of the trail between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass checkpoints. It’s a very narrow, or skinny, trail that zigzags back and forth downhill toward the Happy River. There’s nothing very happy about the trail. Here is a good description. Maybe you can grab a pencil and paper to draw what you visualize from the description of going down the Happy River Steps:
After a mile or so of dropping down toward the valley and zigzagging through the forest, you’ll plunge down a short but very steep hill; directly in front of you will be one of the warning signs and the trail will vanish over the edge of what looks like a cliff. It is a cliff. This is the entrance to the Happy River Steps. Stop the dogs at the top, say your prayers, revise your will, and then see how gently you can get the dogs to creep down the hill. Of course, you will be standing on your brake for all you’re worth.
The first “step” is a narrow ramp turning sharply to the left as you go over the lip and plunging diagonally down the face of a very steep slope. Unless you’re in the very front of the pack, there will be a rut worn in the middle of the ramp into which your sled will settle; keep it there even if it means laying your sled almost over on its side. At the bottom of the first ramp (maybe 50 yards), the trail will double back to the right on a small level area. There is a 50-foot cliff dropping off your left side in the turn; don’t look.
The second step is as long as the first, cutting diagonally down the hill in the opposite direction. There is a short level stretch as you turn to the right into the third step, which can be the scariest of all. You may want to lean your sled up to the right on one runner and hug the uphill bank for this one. If you reach the bottom of the third step in one piece, you will drop immediately onto the Happy River. Many drivers take a break in the sheltered Happy River Canyon and reassemble their nerves before pushing on (2008, Iditarod Documentary).
Remember, the 2021 Iditarod teams will do this 2x. What will that mean for the teams when they reach the Happy River Steps on the way back? Write your thoughts or discuss them with your class. Do you agree or disagree with classmates?
Stay tuned for the next tough spot x 2 the mushers and teams will encounter this year!
P.S. The link below has more interesting stories about the Happy River Steps.