Iditarod - Shageluk
This leg is every bit of its official 65 miles, and its unendingly hilly terrain makes it seem more like 100 at times. They can plan on 7 to 10 hours for it, more if they want to stop and rest somewhere. There is absolutely no human habitation for the entire route - no cabins, no mines, nothing. The people of Shageluk rarely have any need to go over to Iditarod and Flat and vice versa, so this trail is normally only put in every other year, and then only for the Iditarod. Much of the area between Iditarod and Shageluk was burned in a forest fire years ago and some areas still have not grown back. In short, it will be pretty lonely and maybe even a little spooky. This is a good leg to find another driver to run with, just for the company if nothing else.
There are no real problems on this leg - just the hills. The trail leaves Iditarod heading downstream (north) on the Iditarod River for a few miles and then turns west and begins to climb over an endless series of ridges before finally dropping down into the broad valley of the Innoko River, on which Shageluk is located. Some veterans say there are nine big hills, some say thirteen, some say more. The first one is within ten miles after leaving Iditarod and the last one is within ten miles of Shageluk. Most of the bigger climbs are in the 500- to 1000-foot range, and some are fairly steep in a few places. Some of the downhill's are a bit sporty as well.
The trail is fairly narrow at times, although it tends to get better in the last 30 miles into Shageluk. The trail will cross several rivers draining northward into the Innoko, which describes a huge loop from Ophir, swinging north, then west, and finally south to Shageluk before it merges with the Yukon near Holy Cross. The Innoko Valley to the north of the hills across which the trail runs is a vast, uninhabited, mostly wooded expanse of endless swamps and marshes and countless serpentine rivers interspersed with low hills, covering an area larger than many entire states.
The trail will cross the Little Yetna and Big Yetna Rivers, a couple of the many good-sized tributaries of the Innoko; the Big Yetna is approximately at the halfway point. The western half of the trail is generally better than the eastern half, following a cat trail for much of the way into Shageluk. Also, timber coverage increases the farther west you go.
The original Iditarod Trail angled northwest from Iditarod across the Innoko Valley to Kaltag. That section of the old trail hasn't been used since the 1930s and is not likely to be resurrected any time in the near future. The current trail from Iditarod to Shageluk also dates back to gold rush days, but was never used as extensively as the Iditarod. Parts of it on the western end were more recently used as hunting and trapping trails by Shageluk villagers. Finding the entire trail and putting it in for the first running of the Iditarod southern route was very difficult and relied on the knowledge of a few Shageluk elders who had used it in its heyday more than half a century earlier.