While in Rohn Wattie MecDonald asked me if there was a good spot between Rohn and Nikolai to camp on the trai. "Buffalo Camp" was my instant reply!
"Buffalo Camp" is just that, a camp that the Runkle family of Nikolai use to host buffalo hunts in the Farewell Burn area. It is approximately 45 miles from Rohn, located in a little 'bowl' on the edge of the hills of the Burn.
Most years no one is manning the camp, but the Runkle's make sure it is stocked with wood, the sleeping platform filled with straw and covered with plastic and the door to one of the tents is open for all travelers of the trail. Usually there are signs counting down the last 5 miles to camp.
In 2000 I gave up on getting to Buffalo Camp and camped a mile or so shy of it. In 2001 I ran straight through to Nikolai, but every other year I have stopped.
I have alot of good memories of laughter, warmth and sleep at Buffalo Camp. On year I remember watching a little mouse checking out one of the Seavey boys as he was sleeping in the cabin. There was a plastic sheet between him and the mouse, so I decided he just didn't need to know and both could enjoy the warmth of the cabin.
I think it was Bennie Stamm that set his gloves (or maybe it was his socks) on fire on the wood stove one year.
Definitely the best year was the year the Runkles were out at camp during the race. They had wanted their young son PJ to experience the 'real' Iditarod. PJ greeted mushers as we dropped into the bowl and offered to help us park teams if we wanted to camp.In exchange mushers were giving him loads of snacks and candy from their sleds. Moose stew and buffalo soup was simmering on the wood stove - I had a bowl of each!! It was beyond delicious. Not only were the straw mattress frames out filled with straw, they had covered them all with spruce boughs. I can't recall a more enjoyable nap on Iditarod ever.
This year we had been warned that Buffalo Camp had been all but abandoned. Apparently buffalo hunting was slow and the Runkles were working in Anchorage for the winter.
I pulled in around 9pm and found 2 other mushers camping. I parked the team on some leftover straw, souped them from my cooler and tended to a few feet and shoulders before deciding to walk up to the tents and see what was up. One tent was open, but the stove was gone. Left over tarps and a few torn up sleeping bags littered the one warm and cozy straw sleeping mat. I sat on an old wood stump and pulled off my boots to put some heat packs in them, as the temperature continued to drop.
The main tent was locked and dark and the third tent sported a big rip in the roof.
Everything looked lonely, abandon and neglected.
I know Quest is covered with warm hospitality stops, but Iditarod is not. Buffalo Camp was one of the few remaining 'hold outs'.
Even if it had been set up, I doubt many mushers would have been stopping. Many are now running straight through to Nikolai or like I, only taking short breaks along the way. It is a tribute to what we are learning about our amazing canine friends that we can now expect them to do these longer runs - but I can't help but feel that a small part of Iditarod history has just slipped away.