Episode 7- Galena to Kaltag…Snowing, Blowing and Going.
Saturday dawned on the Yukon River with snow and wind as was forecast. The teams had made as many miles as possible, forgoing rest to make the miles happen while the trail was good. In the lead pack Wade Marrs, Thomas Waerner and Aaron Burmeister took their Yukon 8 in Ruby. Everyone else in the lead powered through it, determined to rest while the storm blew.
First into Galena was Jessie Royer who has dominated the Yukon River section of the trail. She was followed by Brent Sass who beat her out of Galena delaying rest. Royer chased after him at 10:50pm. Both are forced to take their 8 in Kaltag, the last Yukon checkpoint.
Royer was first into Nulato this morning and she was quickly followed by the chase pack. Sass leapfrogged out of Nulato first and camped on the trail at 9:00am. Royer passed him at 11:00am and was the first into Kaltag, snagging the Bristol Bay Fish First Award- 25 pounds of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon, local artwork, and $2000.
Sass pulled into Kaltag an hour later. Both are off their pace from earlier in the race as snow and warm temperatures slow them down.
The front pack is still a dozen strong and either in Kaltag or nearly there at this writing. Kaltag is 350 miles from Nome and at this point, it’s still too close to call with a host of teams with fast speeds, solid strategy, and stamina all within just a few hours. From Kaltag, the trail goes through the pass to Unalakleet and it’s been hammered by weather all day. No one will want to be the first musher to try it. I would look for teams that have already compLeted their 8 to push through to Tripod or Old Woman Cabin and let someone else go by and break trail to Unalakleet.
The chase pack is all still in Nulato, 47 miles behind the leaders but hours ahead in rest.
Quince Mountain is the current Red Lantern just out of Cripple. Just ahead of him are Kaci Murringer, Dennis Kananowicz, and Grayson Bruton all still plying for Ruby. Look for race officials to cut their race short if they fall further behind. The logistical string required to conduct a race the size of the Iditarod is both large and complex and this year is compounded by coronavirus concerns at numerous checkpoints. Multiple checkpoints have adopted Shaktoolik’s program and the checkpoints themselves have moved outside of town with tents, food, fuel and straw and few other amenities. Race Marshalls will look to limit any exposure for long straggling teams. It happens every year, this year it will likely happen earlier than usual.
Linwood Fielder and Martin Massicotte have both scratched in Galena. Veteran musher Linwood Fielder scratched at 1:00pm with 14 dogs in harness, citing cascading issues with his dogs’ health. His team possibly has a virus, and if so- look for others to drop out as well. Rookie Martin Massicotte scratched with 9 dogs and cited warm weather was causing overheating with his team.
The storm is forecast to pass through to the east on Sunday and will leave a significant amount of snow in its wake. The lead pack will likely be slow as they break trail and burn more energy than normal. Warmer temperatures will soften the snow and look for teams to switch runners if there is more drag. Warmer temperatures also cause the dogs to overheat easier than the deep negatives of a few days ago. The storm will likely have moved on by late Sunday, but it’s effects will be felt for the remainder of the race.