Virtual Trail Journey – Rainy Pass (Puntilla Lake)

Drop bags await mushers at the Rainy Pass checkpoint located on Puntilla Lake.

The distance from Finger Lake to Rainy Pass Checkpoint is about 30 miles with some really tough spots along the way.  About ten miles out of Finger Lake, mushers are challenged with the Happy River Steps.  It’s one of the very technical segments of the trail that calls up the very best sled driving skills of every musher.  The Steps are equally challenging for veteran and rookie mushers.  

Most Iditarod mushers can tell stories about their experiences on the infamous steps.  Starting position makes a big difference when it comes to the condition of the steps.  Every musher is riding the brake while zigzagging down the tight trail to the Happy River.  The more mushers that run the steps, the deeper the rut in the trail gets and the more difficult it becomes to navigate.

A few years back, one of my musher friends, K2, broke the brake on his sled coming down the steps.  He was riding the brake to control the sled when it caught on something and snapped.  It’s amazing that he made it to Rainy Pass Checkpoint without the use of his brake.  Once he got to Rainy, he went to work to fix the brake before going on.

K2 figured there would be a shop filled with the necessary tools he’d need to repair the brake.  He asked Rainy Pass Lodge owner, Steve Perrins, about using the shop but was told it had burned down a few weeks back.  He really needed a vice to bend a piece of metal so K2 and Steve went out to the pile of ash and rubble.  Steve pointed to the corner where the vice had been located.  Together they uncovered it.  It was quite sooty but worked just fine and K2 got the job done. 

K2 repairs his brake after it snapped on the Happy River Steps.

Another year, it was unusually icy coming off the steps onto the Happy River.  Really experienced humans like DeeDee Jonrowe, Doug Swingley and a few others had to scratch at Rainy Pass checkpoint after crashing.  DeeDee broke her hand and Doug broke some ribs.  The dogs love that part of the trail.  They consider it to be the best agility trail ever.

Rainy Pass Checkpoint on Puntilla Lake is at 1,800 feet elevation.  The checkpoint is located at Rainy Pass Lodge that is run by the Perrins Family, Steve and Denise along with their five sons.  Hunters come to the lodge to bag Dall sheep, caribou, moose and bear – black and grizzly.  In the summer, the lodge offers horseback trips, fishing, awesome scenery and relaxation.  As the lodge is located in the Alaska Range, humans travel there by plane, snowmachine or dog team.

Cooker and sled on Puntilla Lake with Rainy Pass Lodge in the background.

Rainy Pass Lodge goes way back.  It was founded in 1937 and is considered to be Alaska’s oldest hunting lodge.  The Perrins family purchased the lodge and surrounding property in 2003.  R5 Sons Alaska was filmed at Rainy Pass Lodge featuring the adventures of the family with five growing sons as they ran the wilderness lodge.  Some two-dozen episodes were filmed and enjoyed by many as one of the early Alaska based family friendly reality TV shows.

During the race, the Rainy Pass Lodge hosts guests.  Theirs is a front row seat to view the mushers arriving on Puntilla Lake, observe their checkpoint routine and then watch them depart and climb into the Alaska Range en route to the interior of Alaska.  Iditarod uses one of the lodge buildings to house the volunteers and communications operation.  Mushers also have an inside space to sleep.  The teams rest on the frozen surface of Puntilla Lake.      

Well there you have it – some information about Rainy Pass Checkpoint, Rainy Pass Lodge and the treacherous trail from Finger to Rainy. Check back soon to learn about Rohn checkpoint and remember, in everything do your best everyday and have a plan.

Born to Run,