General Overveiw: Conditions, Gear, Tents
Checkpoint Ollokot is a remote backcountry checkpoint that is accessed by snowmobile only. This is a very busy checkpoint as all the distance teams, the snowmobile trail workers, and officials pass through here. All volunteers and gear will be taken into the checkpoint by snowmobile. Winter wilderness camping conditions exist with extreme cold and prolonged exposure to the elements. Pay particular attention to warm footwear and waterproof outerwear. Workers are expected to bring their own warm clothing (lots of layers), their own sleeping bag, sleeping pad, personal items, head lamp and personal snacks or any special foods they require. Pack all personal gear in labeled stuff bags or soft duffels lined with plastic garbage bags to keep all your gear dry. At the checkpoint your gear will be stored under the cots or in the sleeping tents. Pack as compact as possible. Remember to label the stuff bag and also the stuff that is in it. Anything stored under the cots will freeze even if the tent has a wood stove in it. To insure that you get to sleep in your own sleeping bag keep it stuffed until you are in it.
Typically everyone helps in setting up the tents and the kitchen area. In addition, everyone helps out with the cooking and general camp duties. The checkpoint is busy most of the race and requires volunteers who are committed and equipped to work in a remote winter environment. The rewards are great.
There are 6 tents at Ollokot. These consist of a hospitality tent where food and cooking facilities are available 24/7. Two tents are sleeping tents where workers and mushers sleep, one has cots and one has hay with tarps laid over the hay. Workers rotate sleeping times. Another tent is the comms tent for the communications team workers and the radios. The last tent is an officials tent for the veterinarians and any officials going through. You are welcome to bring your own tent but please contact the checkpoint manager ahead of time.
Food for mushers and workers is provided in the Hospitality Tent 24/7. This consists of hot drinks, hot stews and soups served in crock pots, and breads, rolls and sandwich making items. A Friday morning pancake breakfast is served to all present. If you prefer, you are more than welcome to bring all your own food. You need to supply any treats, snacks, soft drinks or special foods you personally require.
Setting Up Ollokot
Ollokot is set up in stages. The pre stage equipment is usually taken in the third week of November and left. This consists of wood, hay, and as much heavy stuff that can be packed in a horse trailer. The Wednesday before the race most of the rest of the equipment is taken in along with a set-up crew. This is all by snowmobile and tracked 4 wheelers. Wood is split and transported to each tent. Tents are set up and labeled. Team parking areas are designated with signs, dog bedding hay is distributed and the trails for snowmobile use marked and snow fencing put up. Sled dog trails and parking areas are marked, fenced and packed with snowmobiles. The set-up crew remains overnight. At least two of the comms workers are required to go in with the Wednesday set-up crew to set up communications.
Thursday morning around 7:00am or 8:00am the rest of the checkpoint workers meet at Race Central for car pooling to Pallette Ranch, a 2 hour drive, where they then catch snowmobile rides into the checkpoint. All personal equipment comes in at this time. After arriving at Ollokot the workers do any additional set up that is needed and any other camp organization that is needed. All workers then stay and work at the checkpoint until Saturday around noon or as soon as the last dog team leaves. At that time the checkpoint is broken down and all gear is hauled out to Pallette Ranch loaded on to trucks and workers catch rides back to Race Central.
Safety is a mindset that must be adhered to at all times. Safety for yourself, as well as everyone at Ollokot. Precautions and procedures will be reviewed by the checkpoint manager and QRT (Quick Response Team/Safety) Leader when you arrive at Ollokot. Try to keep a quiet checkpoint while mushers, dogs, and workers are sleeping. When handling the dogs be careful not step on the dogs' feet. Always ask the musher before handling any of their dogs. No alcoholic beverages or rowdy behavior is permitted. The Checkpoint Manager has final say in all areas.
Jobs At Ollokot
- Communicators set up and run all the communication gear. They are responsible for the conduit of information transmitted via radio to all set up stations, trail mobiles, or checkpoints attached to the race.
- Timekeepers record official times of the arrivals and departures of the teams from the checkpoint on time adjustment cards. They are stationed up by an official line located close to the hospitality tent. Time is recorded when the lead dogs nose crosses the official line. Timekeepers use synchronized watches for timing and also record the number of dogs in each team that comes into the checkpoint and the time and number of dogs in the team as it departs the checkpoint. All departing dogs must be in harness and under their own power.
The 8 dog teams or the 100 mile distance teams have a 6 hour mandatory layover time at Ollokot. There are three time adjustment cards with the calculated departure times for each 8 dog team. When these are filled in by the timekeeper, the musher gets one copy, the timekeeper keeps one and the third one is turned in to the comms tent. Eight dog teams can not depart the checkpoint until that calculated departure time is reached.
The 12 dog teams or 200 mile distance teams are required to go through the checking procedure at Ollokot but can leave at their discretion. If the musher opts to stay to rest, that team needs to be shown to a parking place. If the musher decides to continue on the team will be directed out to the race trail. After finishing the 50 mile Duck Lake Loop the 200 mile teams return to Ollokot for their mandatory 6 hour layover. Time adjustment cards are filled out and distributed the same way as the 8 dog teams above.
- Checkers check that the required safety gear is on the sled. Checkers are stationed at the official timing line but also may move with the entering team to a parking place. You will have a checklist card for each team on a clipboard. You visually acknowledge each item and then check it off. Be patient as sometimes the musher has to dig for all the items. If a dog is “in the bag”, riding on the sled, when a sled comes in sometimes it is easier to do the gear check at the parking place.
- The Cook prepares and lays out the food for all the mushers and workers. The cooks most demanding part of the job is determining what to buy and packing the food for transport in to Ollokot. Up to 40 people at a time can be at Ollokot.
- Dog Handlers help control and guide the teams to and from their parking areas. Dog handlers will be broken up into handlers and parkers and will rotate these positions. You will be using small hand held radios. Initially dog handlers are at the team parking area but move around a lot getting all the teams parked or out onto the race course again when it is time for a team to leave Write down the parking area number where the team ends up. Mushers needing help getting the team out will usually come find you ahead of time.
- After the team stops at the line, it is helpful to have a free worker stand in front of the lead dogs to keep the team lined out while waiting and to keep them from wandering to the left or right and dragging the rest of the team with them. When handling the dogs always ask permission from the musher before handling any dog. Be very careful not to step on a dogs feet. You can help the musher locate straw, water and dog food bags but you can not help the musher with any of his dog duties. After the team is parked return to your parking station for the next arrivals.
- The Camp Tender oversees the overall smooth running of the checkpoint focusing on the tents, the wood supply, the woodstoves, the packed trails, the fencing and any help that anyone needs.
- Gasoline Monitor keeps track of the gasoline usage of the snow machines coming into and departing Ollokot. This is done by unlocking the bulk gasoline tank, dispensing the gas and writing the quantity on a tracking sheet.
- Snowmobile Drivers transport equipment, shuttle passengers and transport dropped dogs back and forth as needed.
- Vet Team is responsible for the care and well being of the sled dogs. At Ollokot there are 3-4 vets and 3-4 vet techs.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at Ollokot
The race is scheduled to start at 12:00 pm (1200) on Thursday at Ferguson Ridge Ski Area. After all the teams have started, the vets that covered the start are drive to the Pallette Ranch pick up site. Around 4:00pm (1600) Snowmobile transport is sent out to pick them up plus any other officials that are coming into Ollokot at that time. The first sled dog teams will be arriving at around 5:00 pm (1700) and continue to arrive until all are in. This could span 5 hours. The 100 milers have a mandatory rest time and remain for 6 hours while the 200 milers have the option of continuing on at their discretion. For the 200 milers Ollokot is a mandatory check in but not a mandatory rest stop until they complete the Twin Lake Loop #1 part of the race (Leg 2) at the halfway point of their race. Some stay and rest for up to three or four hours, some opt to just go right out again and rest on a quiet part of the trail instead.
The 200 milers will start returning to Ollokot about 12:00am (2400) the same time some of the 100 milers are leaving for the finish. This is usually around 11:00 to 12:00 pm (2300-2400). The teams arrivals and departures are quite staggered by this time so usually present no problems. There is a possibility of some head on passing by the teams coming into and going out of Ollokot for a short amount of time.
From about 1:00am (0100) Friday morning to about 7:00am (0700) the 200 milers are all doing their mandatory 6 hours of rest at Ollokot. When it is their time to leave they will rerun the Twin Lake Loop, called Twin Lake Loop #2, drop into Ollokot again for a mandatory check in and then rest for a short amount of time or be on their way out on the race trail again headed for the finish. Check the Estimated Arrival and Departures Times for a better estimate of the potential arrival times and where the teams may be on the race course at a given time.
In between the teams arrivals and departures, dropped dogs are being shuttled out to their pickup point at Pallette Ranch, Point and Sweep crews are coming in grabbing food and maybe getting some rest and going out again. Most workers get no rest until Friday after breakfast. At one time there may be 45 people and 100+ dogs at Ollokot.
Many workers come in and go out of Ollokot on snowmobiles. Snowmobiles have a designated parking area and should not be anywhere else in the checkpoint.
Saturday morning a transport crew arrives around 8 am (0800) in the morning at the checkpoint to start shuttling out all the gear. Some equipment is repacked in the horse trailer for a spring pick up while the rest goes out on the tub trailers pulled behind the snowmobiles. When the last team goes out there is a serious hustle to close camp and return to Joseph.
Suggested List for Remote Checkpoint
Plan on winter wilderness camping conditions with extreme cold and prolonged exposure to the elements while working the race. Pay particular attention to warm footwear and waterproof outerwear. Workers are expected to bring their own warm clothing (lots of layers, NO COTTON!), their own sleeping bag, sleeping pad, personal items, head lamp, breakfasts and snacks. Pack all personal gear in labeled stuff bags or soft duffels lined with plastic garbage bags to keep all your gear dry. At the checkpoint you will store your gear under the cots or in the sleeping tents. Following is a suggested list. Pack as compact as possible.
- Cold weather sleeping bag or two sleeping bags
- Insulating sleeping pad
- Long john top
- Turtle neck
- Light Fleece pullover
- Down vest or fleece vest
- Down sweater
- Gortex shell or ski parka
- Long john bottoms, microfleece, 2 pairs or more
- Waterproof over pants
- 1 head lamp with your name on it, extra batteries
- 3 pairs of socks, wool blend
- 1 pair sorrels or insulated winter snow boots
- 1 pair of fingerless wool or fleece gloves
- 1 pair of fleece gloves or ski mittens
- 1 pair of ski goggles (optional)
- Ski hat
- 2 Way FRS Radio+batteries
- Extra or personal food
- Camp cot (optional) put your name on it
- Personal gear: camera, medicines, hand warmers, baby wipes, etc.
- Ear plugs(sleeping)
- Helmet for riding snowmobiles (optional)