Rohn outhouse open


A cyclist in the Iditarod Trail Invitational leaves the iconic Rohn cabin. The contested outhouse hides in the clump of spruce trees in front of him/Craig Medred photo

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s proposed lockdown on the lone outhouse in the remote, Alaska Range outpost of Rohn has been lifted, meaning fat-tired cyclists and ultra-runners headed north in the Iditarod Trail Invitational are good to go, so to speak.

The federal agency had been threatening to block their usage of the crapper because of fears the human-powered athletes competing in the Invitational might over load the facility.

Kevin Keeler, the BLM administrator for the Iditarod National Historic Trail, said on Thursday that the agency has since decided the outhouse can handle the biggest of dumps. He confessed the original decision suggesting a limit on outhouse use was probably a crappy one.

“There’s just so many opportunities for bad puns here,” he added.

Concerns about outhouse over load arose after the BLM realized that not only was the Invitational looking to expand its field, but an effort was underway to stage a re-running of the original Iditasport (the Invitational’s predecessor) and what some are calling the “Million Dollar Chinese Tour” was about to hit the Iditarod Trail as well.

“It’s like a friggin’ safari,” Keeler said of the latter, a fully supported tour of eight, wealthy Chinese nationals from Galena to Unalakleet in the week before the Iditarod. The group wanted permission to use a BLM cabin at a place called “Old Woman” on the Kaltag Portage.

The sudden uptick in Iditarod Trail interest caught the attention of the BLM.

“We were concerned,” Keeler said.

Not anal; just concerned.

So the agency decided, given the increased use, it might be a good thing to do something about the people who make like bears in the woods.  It offered what it thought was a reasonable solution for a potentially crappy problem:

It would fly some collapsible port-a-potties to Rohn, which is nothing but a one-room log cabin, an outhouse and an airstrip near the confluence of the Tatitna and South Fork Kuskokwim rivers. Invitational racers would then figure out how to collect and ship out what they bodily carried in.

Children cover your eyes!

The idea did not go over all that well. In fact, to use some rather coarse language, the shit hit the fan.

Invitational Trail manager Bill Merchant decided the federal government asking him to ship human excrement was just more crap than he could handle. His reaction was to stir up a shit storm.

“Bill was on the war path,” Keeler said.

With the stuff flying everywhere, the BLM  took a look down the outhouse hole and decided it would probably be best to just send Merchant his permit, including permission for the extra 20 racers, and get off the pot.

The agency is now expressing confidence the lone, Rohn outhouse – which wouldn’t win any contests for the best in Alaska – will be able to handle everyone’s contributions at least through this winter, Keeler said.

Going forward, though, “we’re probably going to look at digging more outhouse holes out there,” Keeler said, “(but) it’s not going to necessary at the moment.”

Which is a good thing. Temperatures at Rohn in the long shadow of the Teocali Mountains are now dipping well below zero and the frost is deep in the ground. The only digging anyone would be doing now would be done with dynamite.

Thankfully, the demands on the Rohn outhouse are not large. Probably only a third of the Invitational racers on the 350-mile trail from Knik to McGrath linger long enough to use the facility. Iron Dog snowmachine racers on the 2,000-mile run from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks often stop only long enough to gas their machines; they don’t have time to use the outhouse before rushing on.

The facility probably gets the greatest use from Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race mushers on the 1,000 mile chase from Willow to Nome and by the Iditarod’s checkpoint crew. But their output probably can’t match that of a half-dozen dog teams.

Rohn does attracts occasional others. A few moose hunters in the fall and buffalo hunters in the winter, and the odd, crazed adventurer, like parasailer Gavin McClurg who last year ended up in Rohn while trying to fly a parasailer over the Alaska Range.

No word on whether McClurg made a deposit in the now closely watched outhouse. But one has to believe that since he’s the “Sky Surfing Ambassador” for the oh-so-environmentally-conscious Patagonia clothing company, he surely would have packed out anything he carried in.












6 replies »

  1. The Iditasport is not “an effort underway”. We are fully permitted and having a human powered race! Big Lake-McGrath-Nome-Fairbanks. February 19 start. I will be checking at Rohn after I get drop bags out between McGrath and Ruby.

  2. Craig, your articles continue to be a joy. This article was no exception. Rohn is one of my favorite check points along the Iditarod trail (I was a volunteer Veterinarian for many years) and the outhouse there is one of the best on the entire trail. Thanks for reviving pleasent memories.

    • thanks, Al. as i’m sure you know, i love that checkpoint despite that year i was holed up on an upper bunk for two days thinking i might just die there. i’d volunteer to help dig a new outhouse hole if the BLM needs assistance with this problem.

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