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| Hardcore Team Rests in Village of Dogs||Sun, Mar. 15th, 2009   |
Heather and her 10 member Hardcore Team are now resting in Shageluk, an Ingalik Indian name meaning “the village of the dog,” after their 9 hour 11 minute run from Iditarod. The question is how long will they rest.
All teams are required to rest eight hours somewhere along the Yukon River. The last time Heather and the Hardcore Team traveled the southern route in 2007, she did her 8 hour rest in Grayling, about 7.5 hours from Shageluk. However, most teams appear to be taking their mandatory stop in Shageluk. We’ll soon know if she decides to take her full 8 here.
Adolph Hamilton, who lives here, helped race organizers find the original trail to the town of Iditarod, even though he had only been over it once, many years before with his father, as a small boy. The checkpoint is in the community hall.
Heather and the Team have now completed 599 miles and have 532 left to get to burled arch finish line in Nome.
When they do return to the trail the Hardcore Team will head to the checkpoint in Anvik. This is a relatively straightforward leg across low, mostly open country. The trail runs across open lowlands and lakes, along sloughs, and through some wooded areas, finally dropping into the heavily timbered Yukon River bottomlands before crossing the mighty river itself at Anvik. Heather should plan on about three hours for this run. There are no surprises, although some of the sections through the tree lines can be a bit tight in the heavy timber. This is a fairly well used village-to-village snowmachine trail so it’s normally in pretty good shape.
| Racing Toward the Yukon||Sun, Mar. 15th, 2009   |
Heather and her Hardcore Team were still 10 dogs strong as the left the checkpoint at Iditarod at 17 minutes after midnight headed 65 miles down the trail to Shageluk. They rested a little more than 10 hours after their 90 mile run from Ophir.
Weather should not be a factor for the run to Shageluk. Temperatures were between 5 and 10 below under a clear sky with a light wind.
In 2007, the run to Shageluk took Heather a little more than 10 hours.
When the Hardcore Team left the Iditarod checkpoint they headed west on the slough toward the Iditarod River, then over the bank, onto the river, and downstream (north) for couple of miles. Then they jumped onto the left bank and bend around the bottom of a hill until they were headed west, right at the first ridge. After a brief run across some lowlands along the river, they charged right up the hill with no preliminaries, then down again, then up the next hill. Then they ran along the ridgeline to the north and west for awhile before dropping back down and repeating the whole process.
There aren’t really any landmarks to mark their progress since all of the ridges and hills look the same. Eventually the Team will come to the Little Yetna River about 20 miles out of Iditarod, maybe a two- to three-hour run. Heather and the Hardcore Team will have gone up and down so many hills they’ll think they’ve come halfway across the state. The river is in a fairly good-sized valley that opens to the north and Heather should be able to tell when she’s there.
After the Little Yetna they’ll climb right back up a ridge on the other side and run long it generally westbound for seven or eight miles before dropping down into the valley of the Big Yetna. The Big Yetna is about twelve miles past the Little Yetna. It is 34 miles out of Iditarod and is essentially the halfway point of the leg.
It’s easy to confuse the Little Yetna with the Big Yetna, which makes for a bit of a disappointment when you finally do cross the Big Yetna more than an hour later.
The Big Yetna has a very distinct crossing come down a steep bank, cross the 50-foot-wide river, and then climb a ramp up the far side. The trail up the west bank is marked profusely with reflective markers, but they may be higher above you than you`d expect. Heather needs to make sure she looks up to see the markers. It’s easy to get deflected to the right, down the Yetna River.
After crossing a couple of miles of open bottom lands headed westbound, they’ll work into a westward-trending side valley and then climb back up another ridge. When they come down from this ridge they’ll be in yet another westward-trending valley. At this point Heather and the Team are about 20 miles from Shageluk.
The trail runs along the valley (actually a small unnamed tributary of the Innoko River which drains west and then south) for about ten miles.
When the Team starts the climb out of the valley to the west, they’ll be about ten miles from Shageluk. This is the last hill, but it’s a long one, several hundred feet within a couple of miles. Then they’ll run up and down along the ridges for another few miles before starting a long descent down to the Innoko River valley. Since they’re making this trip at night they’ll probably see the beacon at the Shageluk airport, which is about five miles north of town alongside the Innoko River.
Once they’re down off the hill, they’ll run across some rolling country for a couple of miles, then across a couple of lakes, then down into a deep- banked slough. Shageluk is on the far side of the slough, perched on high ground overlooking a wide curve in the southward-flowing Innoko River climb up out of the slough, run through outlying parts of town for a short distance, and eventually wind up on the main street.
The dogs will probably be parked around the school, which is at the end of the main street. The checkpoint is usually in the log cabin community center about a block from the school. Cold water is available. Heather has to take an 8-hour layover somewhere on the Yukon, and Shageluk is considered to be on the Yukon for this purpose—and she’ll probably be ready to rest by the time she and the Team gets here.
The name Shageluk is an Ingalik Indian name meaning “village of the dog people,” and when the Iditarod hits town, that is especially true. Adolph Hamilton, who lives here, helped race organizers find the original trail to the town of Iditarod, even though he had only been over it once, many years before with his father, as a small boy.
| It’s Rest Time at Iditarod||Sat, Mar. 14th, 2009   |
Heather and the 10 member Hardcore Team have reached the half way point in the 37th Iditarod, completing nearly 550 miles of the 1131 miles. They arrived at the Iditarod checkpoint at 2 PM AKDT (6 EDT after their 17 hour 56 minute run from Ophir. In 2007, this same stretch of the race took Heather nearly 34 hours.
The check at Iditarod is a ghost town now but once was a bustling community of over 10,000, and was the heart of the Iditarod Mining District, from whence the trail got its name. Dog teams hauled supplies and mail into this area and were then laden with gold for their return trip out. Between 1908 and 1925, about $35 million in gold was taken from this area. At that time, gold was worth around $20 an ounce.
Heather and her Hardcore Team will probably rest 6 to 8 hours before they take off on a 65 mile run to Shageluk, an Ingalik Indian name meaning village of the dog people, and when the Iditarod hits town, that is especially true.
| Racing To Iditarod||Sat, Mar. 14th, 2009   |
It’s been about 12 hours since the Hardcore Team left Ophir for the 90 mile run to Iditarod. At last check, Heather and the Team had about 40 miles to go and were traveling at 6 to 7 mph. The temperature along the trail was reported to be a chilly 16 degrees below zero. At their present pace, Heather and the Team should arrive in Iditarod between 2 and 3 PM AKDT (6-7 PM EDT) this afternoon.
Race leader, Lance Mackey going for his third consecutive victory, was just outside of the Eagle Island checkpoint along the Yukon River. He was at least four hours ahead of his closest competitor.
| Heather and the Team Make the Long Run to Iditarod||Fri, Mar. 13th, 2009   |
Heather and her Hardcore Team are on the way out into the vast wilderness of the Iditarod Trail for their 90 mile run to the next checkpoint at the ghost town of Iditarod. They left the Ophir checkpoint for the 18 to 24 hour run at 8:04 PM (00:04 AM EDT on 3-14) after resting for about 6.5 hours. The Hardcore Team remains at 11 dogs strong.
As Heather and the Team left the Ophir checkpoint they continued on the same road they followed coming in. After a mile or so they turned sharply left (west) onto the runway, which may or may not be plowed for use by airplanes. A mile past the runway they’ll cross the Innoko River, which they will parallel for another four miles and then cross again, back to the south side. This is where the northern and southern routes divide and Heather need to turn the team left (the Iron Doggers will have gone right, up to Ruby); the turn should be very well marked.
The trail will probably not be the world’s best as the Hardcore Team heads south through the spindly black spruce. It is often bouncy and uneven and punchy because it never has much of a base—remember, it’s only used every other year, and then only for the Iditarod. About a mile after the turn, Heather will cross a small tributary of Beaver Creek which usually has some overflow, sometimes up to a foot deep. It’s rarely more than ten feet wide, though.
After the creek, the Team will slog forever up a very gently sloping valley through the taiga (Russian for “land of little sticks"). Beaver Mountain Pass, a gentle saddle just above tree line, is about ten miles from the turn. The summit is about 1,100 feet above sea level and the total climb from the Innoko River is about 800 feet. Heather should see the Beaver Mountains looming off to her left as she approaches the pass. At the top, she’ll be five miles from the highest peak. Don’s Cabin is about 20 miles ahead.
After the pass, the Hardcore Team will descend a gentle grade to the drainage of Tolstoi Creek, which flows northwest into the Dishna River and ultimately the Innoko. This entire mostly barren upland for 20 miles to the southwest is collectively called the Beaver Flats, and they’ll be running across much of it. They will drop back into a sparse tree line along a small fork of the creek a couple of miles after the pass, then they’ll head back into the open country southwest for a few more miles to a bigger fork, also with a meager tree line but offering shelter if they need it. There’s one more fork a couple of miles on, but with few trees.
After the last fork of Tolstoi Creek, Heather will lead the team up and over the tundra again. They’re about 10 miles from Don’s Cabin and shelter cross an imperceptible divide and then begin to follow a small creek draining west-southwest toward the Dishna River. There will be a distinct ridge of hills a couple of miles off your right; Don’s cabin is roughly abeam the foot of the last hill. The trail will run generally on the east side of the small creek and you’ll be gently descending start to see some trees along the creek; you’re pretty much past the worst open area of the Flats.
After what seems like too long, Heather should see Don’s Cabin on the right side of the trail. There won’t be much there—just a dilapidated plywood shack—but it’s way ahead of whatever’s in second place at this point. The cabin had a rudimentary stove at last report but not much else. At this point the Hardcore Team has come 36 miles from Ophir and they still have 54 miles to go to Iditarod.
After Don’s Cabin the trail swings southwest and runs back up across lightly wooded uplands for six or seven miles, dropping back down to cross Windy Creek. Windy Creek is bordered by heavy timber and is a good camping spot, as is the Dishna River about two miles farther on. The Dishna is the halfway point of the leg—only 45 miles remaining. Windy Creek and the Dishna sometimes have spots of open water and overflow.
After the Dishna, which is a fair-sized river, the trail climbs gently through wooded country for about six miles to the foot of Hill 1925, which will be on the teams left. Then they’ll have a moderately steep one-mile downgrade to First Chance Creek, which drains into the Iditarod River. The trail will wind along the creek for about seven miles through brush and timber. There may be some overflow.
First Chance Creek will swing abruptly northwest as it exits its small valley to join to Iditarod and the trail will leave it and continue south- southwest across open swamps, small lakes, hills, and wooded areas. The trail will run along the east side of the Iditarod River valley all the way to Iditarod, staying from three miles to half a mile from the river itself. At times the trail will run in the flat river bottoms, and in other places will skirt along some of the low ridges to the east. When the trail leaves First Chance Creek, they are about 20 miles from Iditarod.
After leaving First Chance Creek, the Team will run overland for a couple of miles to Twin Island Creek, then on some low ridges for another four or five miles to Moose Creek. There may be some overflow on these creeks, which drain into the Iditarod River from the east.
After Moose Creek they’ll have about 15 or 16 miles of running across low hills, swamps, and lakes to Iditarod. In this stretch the Hardcore Team will cross three unnamed creeks about equally spaced before they come to Caribou Creek, which has a heavy tree line and is about three miles from the checkpoint. Heather will know she’s at Caribou Creek because there will be a prominent hill directly ahead of her (about three miles). The hill is on the west bank of the river and Iditarod is on the east side.
The old town of Iditarod is on the southeast bank of a slough that was formed when the Iditarod River cut off an oxbow bend several decades ago. In the town’s heyday of 1909-1910, and before the river changed course, steamboats docked right in front of the town all summer, having made the weeks-long trip from the Bering Sea up the Yukon, the Innoko, and finally the Iditarod.
The checkpoint is on the northwest side (inside) of the old oxbow slough, where there are a few old cabins still standing. The checkpoint is usually set up in an old house that was used by a trapper until not too many years ago. He thought the country was getting too crowded, what with the Iditarod every two years, and decided to move on. There will also be the standard Dodge Lodge Quonset tent and probably a fancy communications trailer from race sponsor GCI as well.
Facilities here are sparse, since no one (except the trapper) has lived in Iditarod since the 1930s. The nearest town is Flat, about 8 miles southeast of Iditarod, which boasts maybe half a dozen people year round. Heather will have to melt snow to make water, but there will be plenty of Heet for her cooker. She might be able to snag a nap in the old trapper’s house or maybe in the Dodge Lodge or even on the straw next to her dogs if it’s not too cold. The trapper’s old outhouse should still be serviceable.
Even with the bustle of the checkpoint, this is still a lonely, haunted place. It’s hard to believe there were 10,000 people here in 1910, and the town had electricity, telephones, newspapers, banks, and hotels. Fortunes were made and lost here, and legends about the boom days could fill entire books. All that is ancient history and the wilderness has reclaimed almost everything. Wolves howl at night amid the old collapsed buildings, reminding you that this is their territory now. The only things that are about the same as in 1910 are the unending snow and cold, the Big Dipper swinging silently around the North Star amid the northern lights—and your dog team.