Last night was a big night! The team ran through two sections that are known for being some of the most technical along the trail, the Happy River Steps and the Dalzell Gorge, and are now resting in the Rohn checkpoint.
The Happy River Steps take mushers down to the Happy River, which leads the dog teams to Rainy Pass. From Iditarod.com, “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… At the bottom of the first ramp, the trail will double back to the right on a small level area… 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 (most technical) of all. You may want to lean your sled up to the right on one runner and hug the uphill bank for this one… (When) you reach the bottom of the third step, you will drop immediately onto the Happy River.”
Dalzell Gorge lies between Rainy Pass and Rohn, and is described on Iditarod.com as, “Depending on conditions, the Gorge can be nothing more than a very scenic exercise in sled driving, or it can be your worst nightmare come true. The worst-case scenario is minimal snow and lots of glare ice and open water.”
Navigating these areas on foot is not usually difficult for the dogs, the tricky part is regulating their speed, especially on years with little snow providing friction, and steering the sled to keep it upright and from getting caught on bushes and trees off the side of the trail. Reports from the trail have told us that this year is best-case scenario as far as both the Happy Steps and the Dalzell Gorge are concerned. Deeper snow than previous years has made it easier to regulate the dogs speed, giving the musher the ability to direct more of their focus to the steering. No reports of broken sleds or difficulty getting through yet this year!
After a long rest in Rohn, the team will embark on one of the longest runs between checkpoints to Nikolai (approximately 75 miles).
We haven’t seen many photos of Sean out on the the trail yet, so enjoy this video of Jeff travelling through the Dalzell Gorge back in 2014, which was a year with very little snow, making it more difficult to regulate the dogs speed and steer the sled.