2019 Iditarod Coverage -- Day 6

Shageluk to Grayling and Weather on the “8’s”

By: Michael Rogers

Mushing continued on Day 6 of the Iditarod and it played out, more or less, as expected from this morning. Nic Petit was the first into Grayling and surprised everyone by staying there for his Yukon 8. His time in was 11:48 and out was 7:50. Joar Ulsom arrived second at 1:43p, rested for five hours and was first out at 6:47p…an hour ahead of Petit.

Joar kneeling with his leaders in Nome in 2016 Iditarod. Photo by: KNOM Radio Mission

The remainder of the front pack piled into Grayling after: Royer, Kaiser, Seavey and Zirkle followed throughout the afternoon. The earliest, Royer, can leave just after 10:00p and the latest, Zirkle, can leave at right after 2:00am tomorrow. That is if they decide to take their 8-hour rest there. With rain falling, at least some may press on into Kaltag for their 8 in order to give their gear more time to dry before hitting the coast. Pushing into Grayling at 7:15p on a very fast run is Richie Diehl, who finished his 8 back at Shageluk and is followed by Ryan Redington. I would have to guess that the eventual 2019 champion is in (or just left) Grayling at this moment.

The remainder of the front pack is still near Anvik roughly two and a half hours behind. Failor, Drobny, Hall and Holmes will likely push toward Grayling and all have their mandatory “Yukon 8” completed. Any of them can push through to Grayling and leave ahead of the teams already there taking their 8s. As a note, Aaron Burmeister has not and neither does long time mushing legend Jeff King, but he’s still 15 miles from Anvik and likely too far back to be considered in the front pack.

Jeff King on a training run near his home in Denali.

The snow and trail conditions are really starting to stretch out the mushers. Currently, leader Joar Ulsom is at mile 540 and the “red lantern” (last place musher) Jeremy Keller is just leaving Ophir at mile 357. By midnight, the course will be spread out some 200 miles. 

It’s been unusually warm on the Yukon and a mixture of snow mixed with some rain has fallen all day. The warm temps and fresh snow means the first musher will have to break trail in the wet snow and everyone else coming along behind will have a much easier time sliding over the packed snow. The mixture of rain and snow does present a problem for the mushers. All are wearing Arctic gear that will keep them warm to deep negative temperatures, but very little of it is waterproof. At the deep, below 0F cold, there is just very little liquid water so the majority of parkas and bibs don’t need to be water resistant. Aliy Zirkle came into Grayling wearing garbage bags to attempt to keep her gear dry and Joar Ulsom left Grayling wearing makeshift rain gear as well. 

That’s the bad news. The good news is that once the temperatures drop just a couple of degrees and a couple of teams go up the trail, the trail will be a packed hard with ice and speeds will be very fast for the 122 miles to Kaltag. That is, provided the wind doesn’t start blow. The rain will cool the dogs as they run and offset the warmer than normal temperatures and prevent them from overheating. 

Volunteers help Alison Lifka leave as the last musher in the morning at the Takotna checkpoint on Friday March 8th during the 2019 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Photo by Jeff Schultz

One additional effect the mild temperature has had is that there are an unusually low number of scratches. At this time there is only one and that is somewhat bizarre. On really cold years, you might see 8 to 10 racers throwing in the towel by now. By comparison this year’s Yukon Quest had 9 scratches and just 16 finishers and on some years a full half of the entrants don’t make it to the finish. Being at the back is demoralizing but a lot of folks will just trooper on for the experience. But being at the back in a suffer-fest of -20F temperatures and 30 mph winds is more than most folks can handle.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published