The Trail Ahead– Looks Like Bethel!
At the front of the Pack, Aliy Zirkle is again in command and it looks like Martin Buser is faltering. Jeff King is now within 6 miles of Zirkle and has over 200 miles to make it up. Musher Nicolas Petit, who had been doing very well, scratched 11 miles out of Unalakleet, bringing back memories of Jeff King’s Team, which did the same thing. Unbelievably, they just left Unalakleet exactly 12 HOURS ahead of John Baker’s record run. That would put a finish on MONDAY evening!! MONDAY??? Wow!
All three Kuskokwim Teams are going to be well rested and more than likely plan to make the run all the way through. The added rest in Kaltag will allow them to push through the night into the portage trail to Unalakleet.
The portage trail is going to be dark, but a clear moonlit night will help steer them West.
Teams on the trail are making pretty good times with Sonny Lindner making the trek in 9 hours 30 minutes or so. Lindner’s Team, now running in 3rd position, is well versed in this section of trail as it is Lance Mackey’s 2013 Team. Mackey Teams in general have a knack for this trail, but so do our own Kusko Teams. Pete made the journey a couple of years ago in about the same time without a break, so I am thinking that is tonight’s plan.
Generally weather is the determinant factor on the Portage. Bad weather can ruin your day as it has on the Iron Dog and Iditarod races as the trail can go from good to horrible in a short time. Tonight though, that won’t be the case.
Actually, weather won’t be a factor for the rest of the race. Well not specifically. The trail is poor because of the “Polar Vortex” that pumped the arctic blast into the East Coast. The warm winds from Japan came directly through the Bering Sea and caused our thaw and then up to the North Pole where they cooled off and then back down to the Northeast. They froze and we thawed. It has been wierd. Just last month it was 45 in Nome!
This leg follows the ancient Kaltag portage, a relatively straight valley angling southwest through the coastal mountains; the route has been used for millennia by Natives. It is normally a well-used snowmachine highway. It marks the major transition from the inland river environment to the Bering Sea coast. Conditions can be vastly different at opposite ends of the portage, and wind is a constant threat on the western half.
The distance to Unalakleet is actually about 82 miles. There are two excellent resting spots on the trail, fifteen miles apart: the Tripod Flats cabin is 35 miles from Kaltag, and the Old Woman cabin is 15 miles farther on, about 35 miles from Unalakleet. Both are snug log cabins maintained by BLM and the local villages and can provide welcome refuges in case you encounter a storm.
Old Woman Mountain
Mushing Forecast for tonight:
EASTERN NORTON SOUND AND NULATO HILLS-
159 PM AKST SAT MAR 8 2014
.TONIGHT...MOSTLY CLEAR. LOWS 1 TO 8 BELOW. NORTHEAST WINDS 10 TO
.SUNDAY...SUNNY. HIGHS ZERO TO 6 ABOVE. NORTHEAST WINDS 5 TO