Rainy Pass, AK - Mushers are taking a beating on their way through the Alaska Range as the make their way down the Iditarod Trail. There are plenty of stories about banged up gear and broken equipment.
There’s a place on the Iditarod trail where the route vanishes over a small cliff, twice. These are the Happy River Steps and they gave DeeDee Jonrowe a bit of a scare this time around. “I don’t enjoy what I just did,” she says grimly.
Jonrowe has run the race 29 times. She had to repack her sled in Rainy Pass. It tipped over outside Finger Lake and she lost dog snacks, booties and other gear as her team dragged both sled and musher down the trail. “The trail committee told us there’s snow out here and it’s as good as last year," says Jonrowe. "Yeah there’s snow out here, but there’s glare ice under it and it’s actually very difficult to even hook down. You can’t just stop your dog team any time you want to.”
Jonrowe also lost her team, but luckily her ice hook stopped the dogs before they could go too far. She’s not the only musher to lose her team. Defending Champion Mitch Seavey says he had a major crash.
“I actually got tossed off my sled and I told them to stop and they did.” He says he was surprised his team stopped to wait for him. “Kind of. My sled tipped over up underneath a tree and I was smacked pretty good, but yeah they stopped and then I dusted myself off and said ‘Alright’ and they pulled it out from under the tree and away we went.”
Away went Jake Berkowitz’s team as well. “I just came down on that second step and was on the wrong side of a big tree and caught my sled on one side and my dogs on the other and it just snapped the gangline," says Berkowitz.
All but his two wheel dogs took off. A cameraman at the bottom of the hill grabbed tthem before they could get away. Berkowitz managed to tie and tape his gangline back together and make it into Rainy Pass in what he says was good time. “You can’t complain much you make it here in three and half hours with a pretty bad run and that’s pretty good after all," he says. "We’re here an hour earlier than planned with resting the same amount so you have to take everything as it comes I guess.”
A number of mushers have stories of broken sleds, including Allen Moore. He says he’s not quite sure what happened. “It was way before anything," says Moore. "I was just not paying attention and slipped sideways and I turned over and there was stuff sticking up that caught the stanchion and bam! Snapped it!”
Moore says he didn’t have much trouble in the steps, but two-time champion Robert Sorlie apparently had something of a yard sale when his trailer was torn off. “When I come down, I looked behind me and there was nothing there.” Sorlie’s cooler and a pile of other gear got left behind. But Hans Gatt found it a bit later. “Found it? It was I the middle of the trail and one got hit in the face with that thing," laughs Gatt. "I tried to kick it off the trail but I missed. You can’t get too carried away with the steps.”
In fact most mushers believe they shouldn’t get too carried away anywhere along the trail this early in the race. The quiet, but ever competitive Dan Kaduce of Chatanika took advantage of some rest in the afternoon sunshine before he took off for the most technical part of the trail through the Dalzell Gorge. “Oh, there’s a million good teams here, you just wait 700 miles and see how it looks,” Kaduce says witha sly smile.
Teams are moving speedily down the trail, but it’s still anyone’s guess how things will shake out with a run across the interior still ahead.