Virtual Trail Journey – Rohn

I’ve got a question about Rainy Pass so I was really happy to see Handler come into the dog yard. I took careful notes on everything Handler told us about Rainy Pass but I’m still a little confused as to how the checkpoint called Rainy Pass can be at 1,800 feet elevation but Rainy Pass is at 3,160 feet elevation. It seems that more than one place is known as Rainy Pass.

Handler said that I had a good question and that I was paying very close attention to details. Before climbing high into the mountains, the dogs and mushers come to Rainy Pass Checkpoint, which is located on Puntilla Lake at Rainy Pass Lodge – elevation 1800 feet. After leaving the checkpoint, the teams climb high into the Alaska Range to a valley that cuts through the mountains and is the highest point of the Iditarod Trail. This valley is the TRUE Rainy Pass – elevation 3,160 feet.

The run to Rohn from Puntilla Lake is 48 miles and takes four or five hours. From Rainy Pass Checkpoint, it’s a steady climb to the TRUE Rainy Pass. After reaching the trail summit it’s a sharp downhill run into the cold Interior of Alaska and the Rohn Roadhouse. This is the famous and feared stretch of trail known as the Dalzell Gorge. In two miles the trail drops hundreds of feet as it jumps back and forth across Dalzell Creek on narrow ice and snow bridges that span open but shallow running water. Imagine how fast that water must be flowing to not freeze! Depending on weather and snow conditions, the Dalzell Gorge can be a nightmare or just a challenge. From where the creek meets the frozen Tatina River it’s just 5 more miles to the Rohn Roadhouse Checkpoint. I once heard Martin Buser say that it takes 2 days to climb to the top of the range and less than two hours to get down the other side. WOW!

After that run, it’s no wonder that the dogs and mushers are happy to see the one lone cabin that is called the Rohn Roadhouse Checkpoint – population zero. In the old days, there was a roadhouse near this location for the dog teams and drivers who carried mail and others supplies into the interior. After the airplane took over for the dog teams, the roadhouse wasn’t maintained and eventually fell down. In 1930, The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) built the cabin used as the checkpoint today. It’s a beautiful spot, sheltered from the wind by larger majestic spruce trees. Before the BLM made improvements on the trail that runs through the Farewell Burn, many mushers chose to take their 24-hour rest in Rohn. Now it’s likely that mushers will move further up the trail before taking their long mandatory rest. By the way, Handler says that lots of folks refer to the Rohn Roadhouse Checkpoint as the Rohn River Checkpoint – don’t be fooled, there isn’t a “Rohn River.”

If you want to read more about any section of the trail, you can do what I did – read the Trail Notes by Don Bowers, Jr. in Iditarod’s Guide to the Last Great Race. You can also find Bowers’ trail notes on And another thing, Handler didn’t have pictures of Rohn so we got permission from Jasper Bond, Rohn Cabin Master, to share some of his pictures. You can see more of Jasper’s pictures at Handler says it’s important to give credit where credit is due.

Well, there you have it – information about the TRUE Rainy Pass, the Dalzell Gorge and the Rohn Checkpoint. Next Handler is going to tell us about mushing through the Farewell Burn and the village of Nikolai. Stay tuned for that story and remember, in everything do your best everyday and have a plan.

Born to Run,