Today, three sled dog teams from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are facing their first major hurdle on the Iditarod Trail: the Alaska Range. The trail is likely to be soft because there has been a lot of snow up there. Bethel musher Pete Kaiser is counting his blessings.
“It’s better than no snow, for sure. We’re mushers,” he says. “We complain when there is no snow and complain when there’s too much snow. So it’s kind of nice going through there. I’m glad we’re not going to Fairbanks and we get to do this route again.”
Unlike in the past few years, Anchorage and Willow had plenty of snow for mushers. Snow conditions aren’t the only challenge they face, however. Akiak musher Mike Williams Jr. is keeping a close eye on his lead-dog. With at least seven Iditarods leading his team to Nome, “Chief” might not be as enthusiastic as he was in the past.
“He’s the chief of the team,” William Jr. said, adding, “been a little worried that maybe if I have to drop him I might have to drop out of the race just because I’m not sure the others will go. But yeah, I have some others that are starting to take charge.”
Those in the front of the pack may have a bit of an advantage climbing the Alaska Range with colder and less slushy conditions, but anything can happen in the run to Nome as Aniak musher Richie Diehl knows well.
“Wait and see how it all pans out,” he advises. “A thousand miles is a long way to go and a lot of things can happen, so we’ll see.”
Typically the front of the pack arrives in Nome about 10 days after the start, regardless of whether they run the northern or southern route. The Iditarod southern route has more distance between checkpoints than the northern, and this year the trail is a little longer because ice conditions are forcing mushers to go around Norton Sound instead of crossing it.