The Alaska Range
By: Michael Rogers
In the 24 hours since our last update, a lot of action has happened on the course. Yesterday saw Jesse Holmes arriving first in Skwentna with a healthy lead; today he’s 25 miles behind current leader Nicolas Petit. While yesterday’s racing was still compressed with teams spaced out fairly evenly across the trail, today more differentiation has crept into the race with mushers at this writing spread from Finger Lakes all the way to Farewell Burn- a distance of nearly 100 miles. The reason for this is a forcing function known as the Alaska Range.
The Alaska Range contains the highest peak in North America and it contains the worst trail conditions on the Iditarod. Some 80% of injuries sustained on the Iditarod Race occur here. The bulk of the dramatic video of busted sleds and crashes happen right here and it separates the truly talented from the simply tough. And a little lucky doesn’t hurt either. On low snow races that the start is moved to Fairbanks, this whole stretch of trail is eliminated and rumors of the Iditarod abandoning it entirely have circulated for years. Most years, at least a couple of the field scratch before making it to the Interior, generally throwing in the towel at Rainy Pass Lodge.
The run from Skwentna to Finger Lakes is a straightforward piece of trail and begins the uphill climb into Rainy Pass. Into Rainy Pass the trail descends the “Happy Steps” to Rainy Pass Lodge and then to the Happy River and it’s steep, icy, and many mushers report dragging the brake the whole way down. From the Happy River it’s across some tight, twisty trail to Dalzell Creek before dropping into the infamous Dalzell Gorge, 5 miles before you get into Rohn. One musher categorized the Gorge as “It’s just 2 miles out of the 1000, but it feels like all of it…coming and going.” The Rohn checkpoint is little more than a cold cabin for your reward of getting there.
From Rohn, the next twenty miles is some of the most predictably terrible trail for the entire course until you get to the Buffalo Chutes and from there, to the Farewell Burn. The Farewell Burn is generally rough going and photos from the recent Iron Dog Snowmachine Race showed little to no snow in the area. It will be rough going without an adequate snow pack through the ghostly remains of what used to be a forest. After the burn, it’s fairly smooth sailing into Nikolai and the Interior beyond.
Nic Petit was the first into Rainy Pass, arriving about 9:00 this morning after powering past the front-runners overnight. He stayed only minutes and left again, descended to the Happy River and camped there until 3:00 this afternoon. The bulk of the lead pack piled into Rainy Pass and rested there. He arrived in Rohn this evening with a 20-mile lead over Pete Kaiser and in typical Petit fashion- blasted out of the checkpoint before Kaiser even got there. The last mushers to actually lay eyes on the Girdwood based Petit were Pete Kaiser and Ryan Redington when he passed them way back at the confluence of the Happy and Skwentna Rivers just outside of Finger Lakes.
At this time, seven of the lead pack have left Rohn- Petit, Ulsom, Redington, Zirkle, Royer, Hall and Seavey. The rest of the field is left picking their way through the mountains in the dark, not exactly an enviable position to find themselves in. Most of the racers got a nice long rest in the warmth and sunshine, so expect prolonged runs in the overnight and the front pack to put on a healthy lead before morning. The race is far from over with 800 miles lying ahead, it’s still very much up for grabs as racers balance making miles and keeping some gas in the tank.
Thanks for the updates. From va
Meanwhile we thought it cold here in London a time. 6c.
Where is Jessie Holmes?
Will be tough on teams with no snow. Take care of ’em.