Day 5- The Yukon

Teams are into Anvik this morning. Pete is on the trail to Shageluk. He was out of Iditarod at 01:28 with 13 dogs. That should put him into Shageluk by 10 or so this morning. The front runners didn’t take a break in Shageluk and pushed on to Anvik. We’ll see which strategy Pete uses this morning.

Looking at the trail time into Shageluk, it appears that the teams did a good job over the trail. Average speeds and times are in line with other parts of the trail. Maybe a little slower, but not as bad as I feared early on.

From–Shageluk (SHAG-a-luck) is a village on the Innoko River. The name Shageluk is an Indian term and means village of the dog people – how cool is that. The area is very scenic with hills and small spruce trees. The Community Center acts as the checkpoint for Iditarod but the teams park by the school. Of the 129 people living in the village, most are Alaska Native Athabascan Indians. Thirty five children attend the K-12 school.

The trail between Iditarod and Shageluk crosses MANY ridges, some steep and some gentle. None of the ridges are really distinctive so to the mushers the trail seems to go on endlessly. There is an old burn area that the teams pass through before crossing two streams, the Little Yentna and Big Yentna. Don Bowers makes a note in his Trail Description that it’s easy to mistake the Little Yetna for the Big Yentna. That’s a bummer to think you’re 20 miles further down the trail than you actually are. Mushers have to take an 8 hour mandatory rest once they reach the Yukon River. Shageluk is the first checkpoint where mushers can take their Yukon River rest. The trail connecting Iditarod and Shageluk was used during the gold rush but not a lot. So when it came time to locate the Iditarod Trail for the race to run the southern route, trail breakers sought the help of Shageluk Elders who had used the trail a half century earlier. Without their experience and knowledge, the historical Iditarod trail could have been lost forever.

“I hear there’s no trail…”

Pete is in Iditarod resting and probably weighing his options. It is going to be a tough one, so it will take patience and hard work and those tremendous dogs to put this section of trail behind him. It is 65 miles of hills and valleys and SNOW SNOW SNOW in front of them. Good Luck Pete!

From Alaska Dispatch — “…word Tuesday from the people tasked with making sure mushers have a way to get from point to point was that between Iditarod and Shageluk — a 46-mile stretch — things didn’t look good.

“I hear there’s no trail,” Roger Ashcraft said plainly as he tinkered with his snowmachine in the sun.

Ashcraft is one of the race’s top trailbreakers. He’s traveled the line since 1992, working with crews to comb the trail and get it in shape for the onslaught of dog teams that come through. The good news is there’s a lot of snow. The bad news is it’s a pristine blanket, untouched but for the mushers and their teams carving their way to Shageluk.

From – Joe Runyan

The trail leaves the Iditarod River slough in a couple of miles and then seems to undulate up and down mountains without any logical reason. The musher asks nobody in particular, “Why are we continuously going up and down hills, why don’t we just summit out on this range or at least put the trail up a valley?” From the air, I have seen why the trail breakers were not able to do this. The earth, for whatever geological reason, is folded and wrinkled randomly, and the only way north toward the Yukon is to take on the hills.

Running behind the sled up a hill seems to the musher like running in place in a bowl of sugar. This section of trail is known for soft trails of granular snow that do not harden up. Part of the reason is that the snow machines’ tracks spin going uphill and break the crust on the top of the deep trail. For that reason, a musher may try to sneak out of the Iditarod checkpoint early in the morning and try to catch the trail when it does have a little hard crust. Later in the day, the following teams will break up the crust, wallow in the sugar snow, and possibly lose a lot of time.

Finally, the trail crosses the Little Yentna and then continues on to the Big Yentna at about Mile 34. The creek bottom is shielded from the wind – a constant feature ever since leaving Iditarod – by big spruce and groves of willow and birch, and is a favorite place for mushers to give their dogs a break, change their booties, and offer them a snack. Cooked food, prepared in the Iditarod checkpoint, is kept thawed in a foam cooler that fits perfectly into the sled bag.

Sometimes half-a-dozen teams are parked on the stream’s frozen surface. By now, the dogs are so accustomed to the chaos of teams parking and departing that they scarcely notice a new dog team. Five days earlier they might have gotten off their bed and barked at a strange intruder.

The trail continues west over more hills, hits an old Cat trail which meanders through some bigger timber, and then descends gradually into the Innoko River Valley and the small village of Shageluk, population about 130. The dogs have traveled close to 200 miles since leaving the last outpost of civilization at Takotna.

The smell of smoke from the cabin stoves and the howling of village dogs ignites the teams into outbursts of speed. Teams gradually work into a high-speed trot, and some teams become so animated they alternately lope as they get close to Shageluk and hit the well-used, hard-packed and fast village trail.

The village school is the main hub of activity as well as the checkpoint. Mushers who had a hard time sleeping outside in the cold quickly feed their dogs, lay out straw for bedding, complete their chores, grab a sleeping bag out of the sled, and make a beeline to the gymnasium for a deep nap in a warm building.


17 Miles to Iditarod – Tough Trail Ahead

The leaders are all taking a break in Iditarod. Pete and the team are 17 miles from the checkpoint at this time (5:06pm)

Word from the trail is that the next stretch from Iditarod to Shageluk is going to be a tough one. It is soft, so I imagine they will do it at night so hopefully it stays firm. It’s anyone’s race at this point.

Another factor is the small teams that mushers have at this point. They are definitely going to conserve to make it to Nome.


–From Iditarod Site-

This could be a critical turning point in the race for some teams based upon trail conditions. The trail breakers on snow machines were still just completing breaking out and marking the trail to Shaguluk late yesterday. Some local trail breakers from Shaguluk were trying to work their way towards Iditarod but reportedly only made it about 9 miles this direction. On this 65 mile run over hilly terrain the snow is reportedly deep and powdery. What that’s going to mean for the teams traveling on to Shaguluk is that the hard fast trail conditions that they have been enjoying are about to end. There most likely will be a thin crust of trail the first few teams will be able to travel on but as each successive team travels it the dogs feet will punch through that and conditions will deteriorate, get slower and slower as they drop into the soft powdery snow below the crust.

It’s often a mystery for the mushers to gauge which position along the trail might best benefit their team and traveling speeds. It’s only a guess but it would appear that if Martin Buser stays at the front of the pack he will be maximizing the benefit of the speed that his team has by running across the trail to Shaguluk first. For the teams which follow they might find themselves falling off pace as they struggle through the softer trail.


Pete takes break while Mike Jr. Breaks away

Pete is taking a break after an 8 hour run from Takotna. He is at mile 364 or 41 miles from Iditarod. Martin Buser is into Iditarod and resting, while Mike Williams Jr. has moved up to FOURTH place. Schnuelle is resting on the trail and it appears that Gatt, Mackey, and Williams are continuing to Iditarod.

Mike Jr. is presently 10 miles out of Iditarod.


Dropped Dogs

Pete is down to 13 dogs. He had to drop one in Nikolai and two in Takotna.

This might seem a bit early, but if you look at most of the teams, they have all dropped down to the 12-14 dog level. It may be because of the heat or other trouble. In any case, this reporter doesn’t see it as a problem.

Pete is running in a virtual 16th place factoring in the layovers.

Day 4- On the Trail to Iditarod

Good Morning Race Fans! Team Kaiser is wide awake and is on the trail to Iditarod. Iditarod Standings don’t show it, but the team is 14 miles past Ophir on the trail to Iditarod. That puts him about 76 miles from Iditarod.

The team was out of Takotna at 02:46 this morning and with their bellies full and a good tank of rest, it is ON TO UNK!!

Weather Forecast: (Flat and Iditarod are the same place virtually)

322 AM AKST THU MAR 10 2011


Buser is back on the Trail

GPS show Martin Buser out of Takotna. By tomorrow morning when we all wake up, the race will take on a new meaning with the next big task of making Unalakleet before this beautiful weather breaks. It’s going to be a good one folks!!

The train between Takotna and Ophir is 25 miles. Then it’s off on the longest leg of the Southern Route. It will be a long 90 miles through the hills and valleys from Ophir into the Iditarod valley.

A couple of new pages for the Race Fans-

Meet the Team – A quick look at the canine members of Team Kaiser.

Mushing 101– A quick look at a dog team.

See Ya in the Morning!!