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Hardcore Huskies Newsletter 08 Race Edition.pdf   [ Archive ]
| Heather Moves Toward Shaktoolik - No Wind||Fri, Mar. 20th, 2009   |
Heather and the Hardcore Team are trying to take advantage of the weather for maybe the first time during this Iditarod. The ten member Team left Unalakleet at 11:43 AM AKDT (3:43 PM EDT) today on their way to Shaktoolik. The National Weather Service was reporting the weather at 15 below with a light wind as she left Unalakleet.
While official Iditarod records show this leg to be 40 miles, the actual distance on this leg is usually about 37 or 38 miles. (As with some other legs, the official distance sometimes reflects the longest possible routing, or old routings.) The race follows the main snowmachine trail to Shaktoolik; it is normally well traveled and well marked. The first 25 miles cross a mix of woods, taiga, open areas, and exposed ridge tops; the last 12 miles are completely in the open on the barren coastline. This leg usually takes four to six hours, but can be much longer if the weather is bad.
The team left Unalakleet northbound on the slough behind the town, passing to the east of the airport. The trail was probably icy.
The trail runs generally inland of the road for about five miles until the small settlement of Power, where it leaves the shore and starts to climb, turning inland to pass behind 850-foot Blueberry Point. In a few years on early races, the trail ran along the sea ice under the bluffs, but has not done so recently. The Team will climb steadily to about 300 feet, passing through a wide, mostly open saddle east of Blueberry Point about three miles after leaving the beach, then descending gradually back toward the shoreline in a wide valley come back almost to the shore at the fishing camp of Egavik, about 12 miles from Unalakleet.
The trail will cross Egavik Creek (watch for overflow) and then make a short but relatively steep climb directly up a 300-foot ridge. This is the first (and easiest) of three hills before you reach the summit of Blueberry Hills.
From there they’ll run along the open ridge line for a mile or so and then descend almost back to the coast, crossing a small creek about three miles past Egavik. Then they’ll turn slightly northeastward away from the shore along a small wooded valley to get around a 750-foot hill on the coast. After a mile or so Heather will turn the Hardcore Team back to the north, climbing up over another several-hundred-foot ridge before returning almost to the shoreline to cross another small creek about six or seven miles past Egavik. This is the second hill.
The last hill is generally considered the second most difficult climb on the last half of the race. It’s about four miles long and runs right up the spine of the Blueberry Hills. They will gain a thousand feet in elevation. Much of the trail is in woods, but some stretches are exposed and can be heavily drifted. The grades are generally steady, but there are a few short, steep pitches. They will also make a few dips down into ravines.
As you near the top, the trail will become more open; the Hardcore Team will pass what is called the false summit, descending sharply into a ravine and then climbing back up to the real summit. For the last mile or so, Heather can see out to the west from the ridge tops.
Once on top, the trail will make a left turn (to the west). Heather better not miss the turn or she’ll be following another trail that continues along the top of the hills and bypasses Shaktoolik. A quarter-mile past the turn is the beginning of the three-mile descent to the beach. The first couple of miles are basically one big downgrade with many curves, not overly steep but unrelenting and mostly in the woods. The trail can be icy here and the curves are lined with trees, which have wrecked many a sled. Heather will need to make sure she has her team well under control before she drops off the edge of the planet headed down for the beach. She’d better not let them speed up too much on the way down or she may find herself in major trouble.
Heather and the Team will bottom out in a small valley and climb sharply back up over one last wooded hundred-foot ridge to the beach. There are a couple of cabins where the trail hits the shore; if the wind is howling ahead (and she’ll know it); she might consider stopping here until things let up a bit. Generally the north winds on the coast die down (if they’re going to die down) just after dawn but will often pick back up by afternoon, right about the time she’ll hit this area.
Once on the shore, there aren’t any more trees, and precious few bushes. The trail will run northwestward along a slough behind the dune line, which will be on Heather’s left. If the slough trail is drifted in, it is sometimes possible to make your way along the dune line. The slough trail can be rough and icy. About halfway to Shaktoolik the trail will come up out of the slough and onto the dune line. By this point the trail is actually an ATV path. The first buildings Heather will see ahead are Old Shaktoolik, abandoned since the 1960s. The trail will go past them and continue to New Shaktoolik, a couple of miles farther on run right up the main street of town to the checkpoint, which is in the National Guard armory.
Heather will find cold water available from the village power plant and pump station next door. The dogs will usually be parked on the south side of the armory, which is the only place they can be sheltered from the north wind. Most people don’t plan to spend much time at Shaktoolik, because if the gales come up you can easily spend a whole day or longer here. Just remember that the next leg is 60 miles of complete bleakness across the sea ice of Norton Bay, and the sooner you get it behind you the better you’ll be.
At this point, Heather and her Hardcore mates are only 171 miles from Nome.
| Hardcore Team Reaches Norton Sound||Fri, Mar. 20th, 2009   |
Over the hills and through the woods, to the Bering Sea Coast they’ve come.
Heather and the 10 member Hardcore Team arrive in the seaside village of Unalakleet early today; at 5:30 AM AKDT (9:30 AM EDT).
Situated on the coast of Norton Sound, just north of the Unalakleet River, this village with a population of just less than 900, is the largest community on the Iditarod Trail between Wasilla and Nome. Two well stocked stores, as well as two restaurants can be found here along with limited lodging by advance booking. The trail is now entering the gateway to the Bering Sea and from here on the mushers can expect sudden storms and an ample supply of wind. The checkpoint is in front of the AC store.
Heather and the Team will rest her for about five to six hours and then take off for Shaktoolik, one of the windiest stretches of the trail. From there the trail continues overland for a short distance, then leads the mushers out onto the ice of Norton Bay, one of the most treacherous segments of trail that the Hardcore Team may have to contend with.
A couple of days ago, 4-time champion Jeff King left Shaktoolik only to return a short while later because the weather deteriorated rapidly. The run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk took King more than 37 hours to complete a normal 7 to 8 hour run..
The Team now has only 229 miles to Nome.
| Heading for the Bering Sea Coast||Thu, Mar. 19th, 2009   |
Heather and the hardcore Team are off once again, this time heading southwest to the Norton Bay in Norton Sound and the city of Unalakleet. The team left at 11:15 AM AKDT (3:15 EDT) and is still 10 dogs strong.
Jan Seavey left 2.5 hours ahead of Heather while the guys they were running with earlier remain in Kaltag.
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. Heather should plan on 10 to 15 hours for this trip, depending on how long she wants to camp along the way. (By this stage of the race her team may be able to make it without a major rest.) If the weather gets bad, though, this trip can easily take 18 or 20 hours.
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 they encounter a storm.
The trail climbs for 15 miles from Kaltag through mostly wooded country to the summit of the portage, about 800 feet above sea level. Then it descends slowly into the valley of the Unalakleet River, staying mostly in wooded or semi-wooded country with some excursions across taiga and open areas until Old Woman, then running across mostly open tundra on the south side of the river valley. The trail drops back down onto the Unalakleet River about 8 miles out of town, making a couple of short portages across river bends before crossing the frozen lagoon into Unalakleet.
Heather will be watching conditions closely as she works her way to the sea, and she’ll be prepared to hole up in one of the shelter cabins if conditions turn bad, which, as we’ve seen this year, they can do out here with breathtaking swiftness.
On this stretch of trail the primary markings will be permanent four-inch metal reflectors on trees, or on wooden tripods in open areas. Most of the reflectors are yellow or gold, but many have weathered to various shades of off-white; they still reflect well, but may be hard to spot during daylight. Heather will need to keep her headlight on in twilight periods to help you pick out the reflectors.
The permanent reflectors often mark a corridor rather than a specific track; this corridor can be a hundred yards wide, and there are multiple markers in many sections. The exact hard-packed trail will usually be marked with standard Iditarod trail stakes. This can be a major factor on the western end of the trail where it runs for miles across open tundra and the wind can drift everything in within minutes.
The snow is usually very sparse for the last few miles into town, and the last mile across the lagoon is often on glare ice. If the wind is blowing (the town’s name means Place Where the East Wind Blows) it can be an interesting skate.
The checkpoint is usually in the old semi-abandoned Covenant School gymnasium, which is opened up for the race every year. The checker and his assistants will meet you and guide your team to the parking area around the old school.
There is a kitchen in the gym to serve mushers and the relatively large contingent of race personnel here. Unalakleet is a major logistics hub for the race and the Iditarod Air Force bases out of here for its work along the coast. In previous years the sleeping room has been upstairs behind the gym; so Heather should take her sleeping bag in with her after she’s got the dogs taken care of. She can hang her wet gear in the boiler room to dry. There is usually hot water available for dog food and even showers if she wants one.
Get here and the Hardcore Team will have 269 more miles to get to Nome.
| Off the Yukon….Finally!||Thu, Mar. 19th, 2009   |
The ten member Hardcore Team rolled into Kaltag early this morning, ending their 150 ordeal on the Yukon River.
Heather and her traveling companion Jen Seavey left Eagle Island yesterday evening. Seavey arrived in Kaltag at just after midnight and Heather a short while later at 2:20 AM, averaging nearly 8 mph on this latest leg. They joined six other teams in Kaltag resting before the long 90 mile run to Unalakleet.
Heather and the Hardcore Team have now completed 772 miles and have 359 to go.
From here to Nome the Hardcore Team will be on well-traveled village-to-village trails—and they’re finally off the endless white expanse of the Yukon. Heather will probably make sure her dogs get plenty of rest here. Veterans say it’s best to rest your dogs before you leave the Yukon, because they may not get much rest out on the coast.
NOTE: We did a comparison on Heather’s run times from Kaltag to Nome over her two previous races. In 2007, it took Heather 100 hours to arrive in Nome from the time she left Kaltag. In 2008, it took 104 hours. Based on that we estimate Heather should arrive in Nome sometime early Monday, March 23rd.
| Final Leg of the Yukon||Wed, Mar. 18th, 2009   |
Heather and the 10 member Hardcore Team left Eagle Island at 5:30 PM AKDT (9:30 EDT) for their final 60+ mile run up the Yukon to Kaltag.
Rookie musher Jen Seavey took off first at 5:05 PM with Heather and her team close behind. So far it appears that their male traveling companions are staying put at Eagle Island, at least for now.
One of those men, Michael Supreant of Chugiak, Alaska, probably needs some extra rest because it took him nearly 48 hours to make the run from Grayling to Eagle Island. Most mushers took 12 to 16 hours to make that trip but Supreant was forced to stop enroute due to the extreme blizzard conditions. Heather and the Hardcore Team made the run in less than 15 hours.
After the long haul from Grayling to Eagle Island, this leg is more of the same—exactly the same, in fact. Just like its predecessor, it’s also 62 miles, and it’s also all on the Yukon River. In good weather conditions, this leg can take another 8 to 12 hours to Kaltag.
There’s nothing really new on the river for this leg. Heather and the Hardcore Team will see plenty more islands, sandbars, sloughs, bluffs, and river bends probably also see a few stretches of windblown sandy trail in the last 20 miles before Kaltag.
The Hardcore Team will be glad when they finally get to Kaltag. From here to Nome you’re on well-traveled village-to-village trails—and you’re finally off the endless white expanse of the Yukon. Heather might want to make sure her dogs get plenty of rest here. Veterans say it’s best to rest your dogs before you leave the Yukon, because they may not get much rest out on the coast.
The original Iditarod Trail never ran on the Yukon. It went directly from Iditarod to Kaltag across the marshy maze of the Innoko Valley. Old-time mushers on the way to Nome only saw the Yukon when they crossed it to Kaltag.