We left in the dark with the intention of
getting breakfast at Skwentna and arrived there after only a few hours.
I remembered Skwentna from 2004, just tucked in off the river and great
hospitality. This visit was to be no different.
Breakfast done it was time to make up some miles. My memory of 2004 told
me the next section of trail was both beautiful and terrible. Leaving
Skwentna Lodge you head across a wide swamp towards the Shell Hills
where you wind up through the trees on singletrack trails. After
eventually summitting you then descend crossing a number of small lakes
until you eventually come out onto Shell Lake itself. Across the lake
you can see Shell Lake Lodge which is probably a 20 minute hike away.
Shell Lake Lodge is run by Zoe. Although not a checkpoint it's always a
good place to stop for a quick snack and hot drink before heading out
across the swamps to Finger Lake Lodge. That section in 2004 went on
forever, twisting and turning I remember thinking at one point I'd
turned around on myself and was heading the wrong way. The three of us
headed out a couple of hours before sunset and I remember spectacular
skies as we looked across at the hills. The swamps became braided which
was fine as long as you could pick out the gold reflectors sprinked
through the woods. After a while I dropped Andy and Eric and feeling
good moved ahead quickly, eager to get this part of the trail over and
done with. Finger Lake Lodge lies in the foothills of the Alaska Range
and as I got closer the temperature dropped and the wind picked up to
the point where I started to get pretty cold. I didn't know how far away
I was from the Lodge and made the decision to put on my parka and ski
goggles which was easier said that done. By now the wind was howling and
the trail was being blown away before my eyes and starting to drift. I
managed to get my ski goggles on but they fogged instantly and I had to
get them off again and scrape the frost off the inside which just wasn't
working. I took my gloves off to try and make things easier making sure
my idiot strings were tied off at both ends. After what seemed an age I
had everything in place and put my gloves back on which had by now
filled with the spindrift that was battering me. I started off again
across the next swamp trying to pick out reflectors as the trail was now
gone. After probably less than half an hour I hit the runway which I
knew was next to the lodge and saw the red flashing light that marked
the trail I needed to pick up.
I dropped my sled outside the back door which was the entrance to the
kitchen area and walked into warmth. Jeff Oatleys wife Heather was
manning the checkpoint and I was shortly sitting down to some food happy
that I had completed that section and wasn't out in the gale any longer.
In 2004 we had been able to sleep in a lounge area of the lodge, this
year things were a little different and we were relegated to a hard wall
tent near by. Picking up my stuff I made my way across, once more
braving the weather.
Inside things were looking pretty grim. Opened drop bags and discarded
food. A couple of inhabited beds that looked like they belonged in a
refugee camp and bags strewn around. I was in no position to consider
alternatives and found a space on the dirty floor and put down my mat
and bag and crawled in for a poor nights sleep.