Virtual Trail Journey – Finger Lake at Mile 123

Finger Lake checkpoint located on Winter Lake in front of Winter Lake Lodge

The distance from Skwentna to Finger Lake, population 2, is 40 miles.  Roughly, it’ll take four to six hours to cover the mostly uphill route although the run isn’t tough.  The teams will run on rivers, lakes, swamps and wooded areas.   Like I did, with Handler’s help, you can find out a lot about the trail from Trail Notes under the INFORMATION heading then HISTORY then IDITAROD TRAIL at Iditarod.com.  Click on each checkpoint to get a detailed description of the trail written by Iditarod mushing legend Don Bowers, Jr.

Finger Lake checkpoint is located at the eastern side of the Alaska Range in snow country on Winter Lake.  It’s not unusual to have TEN FEET of snow on the ground!  Lots of humans fly out to Finger Lake to watch the race.  Kirsten and Carl Dixon who own Winter Lake Lodge provide hospitality for Iditarod their guests as well as mushers and volunteers during the race.  Carl is a renowned wilderness guide and has been honored by OUTSIDE MAGAZINE as one of its top 5 wilderness guides. 

Teams camp on the lake then depart the checkpoint over land.

Wait, I don’t get this!  How can Winter Lake Lodge be on Finger Lake?  The real name of the lake is Winter Lake but the lake is shaped like a two-mile long finger so many old timers and for Iditarod, the checkpoint is known as Finger Lake.

Night sky at Finger Lake checkpoint along with a full moon.

Winter Lake Lodge is known as a premier wilderness cuisine destination.  World-renowned chef, Kirsten Dixon supervises the culinary operation assisted by her daughter, Mandy and other Lodge chefs.  Like her mother, Mandy is a professional chef.  Mandy’s specialty is pastry and handler says her ICE CREAM is out of this world!  Kirsten attended culinary school at the Cordon Bleu in Paris.  Mandy Dixon attended Le Cordon Bleu and the Culinary Institute of America.  Mother and daughter conduct cooking classes for their lodge quests.

Mandy Dixon explains the meal that mushers look forward to after their dogs are cared for.  It’s a high protein meal that’s tailored to the time of day and musher’s preference.  Black beans, basmati rice and reindeer sausage are wrapped in a freshly made corn tortilla that’s topped with two fried eggs or sliced chicken breast.  Add some freshly made Pico De Gallo and it’s a meal most mushers won’t pass up.  With Mandy’s specialty being pastries, she adds her special touch with apple spice crumb muffins.  Of course there’s FRESHLY squeezed orange juice, coffee and hot tea. 

Winter Lake Lodge where mushers and volunteers are served a delicious musher meal.

In the early years of the race, the checkpoint was located on the far side of the lake and there wasn’t much if any interaction with the former owners of the hunting lodge.  When the Dixon’s purchased the lodge that changed.  The checkpoint moved across the lake and the Dixons invite mushers and volunteers to the kitchen for a musher meal.

While the race is coming through and the kitchen is open to all mushers and volunteers, the Dixons are hosting twenty-five lodge guests who’ll experience an incredible array of cuisine, hospitality and outdoor activity.  Why do the Winterlake Lodge Dixons open their doors to all that pass by?  Kirsten answers, “It’s the right thing to do.”  Handler says, “It’s who the Dixons are.”

Mandy says that even though it’s a great deal of work taking care of the lodge guests and preparing musher meals it’s also a good time.  She especially enjoys having the mushers eat in the kitchen because we hear their stories and appreciate their response to the meal we serve.  They also enjoy hosting the trailbreakers.  Those are folks we see once a year but year after year.  We love hearing their stories and experiences. 

Mushers rest at Finger Lake checkpoint during the heat of the day.

Although it’s open for a few weeks around Iditarod, Winter Lake Lodge is primarily a luxury summer lodge.  Folks go there for wellness, cooking classes, an array of helicopter based activities, hiking, fishing, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and dog mushing.  There are lots of birds, flowers and berries that are rare to other places.  Have you ever seen a Chocolate Lily?  They are found at Finger Lake but not during Iditarod.

Action picks up at Finger Lake/Winter Lake Lodge early on the second day of the race and because it’s early in the race, the action is intense.  Teams arrive in a steady stream, one right after the other. Most teams stay and rest during the “heat of the day.”  Mushers have to carry enough food with them from Skwentna to feed their dogs at Finger Lake, as there are no musher bags flown out to Finger Lake.  Dogs are very happy to eat a tasty meal and then snooze while the temperature tops out in the early afternoon. 

When Leaving Finger Lake checkpoint the trail drops down to Red Lake

It’s important to leave Finger Lake by 15:00 military time to have enough daylight to cover the very difficult parts of the trail to the next checkpoint at Rainy Pass Lodge.  The challenging Happy River Steps await teams before arriving at Puntilla Lake.

Well, there you have it – a little information about Finger Lake Checkpoint, Winter Lake Lodge and the trail from Skwentna.  Next, Handler is going to tell us about the Happy River Steps, Puntilla Lake and the checkpoint at Rainy Pass Lodge.  Stay tuned for that story and remember, in everything do your best everyday and have a plan.

Born to Run,

Sanka