The Buffalo Tunnels. Solomon Blowhole. Dalzell Gorge. Farewell Burn. Little McKinley.
Martin Buser, three-time winner: "Sooner or later someone will succumb to the rigors of the trail."
* Crashing through thin ice;
* Running into trees or over stumps large enough to flip sleds;
* Broken bones;
* Blizzards that trap mushers for hours or days;
* Moose stomping dog teams; and even
* Reports of polar bears.
No musher has died in 28 years of racing 1,100 miles to Nome. But nearly every year, someone comes close.
"We always joke that close calls don't count or we'd always be counting," said three-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser of Big Lake. "But sooner or later someone will succumb to the rigors of the trail. Then the race will be even more prestigious."
Each year the Iditarod alternates between northern and southern routes. This year's trail -- the one used during odd-numbered years -- is the southern. Both have notorious sections.
Not much typically happens during the first ceremonial part of the race, although two years ago a doctor from Florida crashed repeatedly on the trail to Eagle River and was briefly knocked unconscious. He scratched before the restart in Wasilla.
That kind of early trouble is rare, but in 1985 Susan Butcher scratched less than 100 miles into the race when a moose got into her team and stomped several dogs.
Typically, one of the first sections that worries mushers is a series of three steep switchbacks known as the Happy River Steps on the 30-mile run between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass.
Five-time Iditarod champion Rick Swenson said that section is tough on dogs. Many mushers drop injured dogs in Rainy Pass, said Seward musher Mitch Seavey.
Mushers in the back of the pack face the worst trail. By the time they reach the steps, the braking done by others has worn a groove in the trail that makes navigating the descent tricky.
Following the steps, the trail runs along a steeply sloping mountainside above the Happy River Valley. The sidehill makes the sleds want to slide down into trees or holes left by other sleds.
Last year musher Trish Kolegar ran into a tree and fractured her neck between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass. She was in pain but didn't find out what was wrong until the race had ended. She was rushed into surgery.
The next infamous section is a 48-mile stretch from Rainy Pass to Rohn, home of the Dalzell Gorge. In the Gorge the trail descends swiftly for two miles from the Alaska Range and eventually turns into a narrow trail, crossing ice bridges on Dalzell Creek to avoid open water. Sometimes, however, there are no ice bridges, and trail breakers jury-rig bridges out of spruce and alders.
Earlier this warm winter, Iditarod race officials were concerned the gorge might have too much open water. But by late February, the creek had frozen enough to put in a trail.
Shortly after mushers leave the Rohn checkpoint, they enter the Buffalo Tunnels, named for several hundred bison that roam the area. Seeing bison is rare, though some mushers have been briefly stopped by bison on the trail.
The next tricky section is the snow-short Farewell Burn, so named because the land was scorched in 1978 in one of Alaska's largest forest fires.
In fact, portions of the 90-mile trail from Rohn to Nikolai through the Burn often feature bare dirt, rock, ice and fallen trees, which wreak havoc on mushers and their sleds.
"Sometimes I drive through that section and think if I pick up all the pieces and parts I could build a new sled," Buser said.
"Last year there were miles and miles of glare ice. It was a wild ride," said Iditarod veteran Mitch Seavey from Seward.
If mushers can pull safely into the Nikolai checkpoint, their chances of finishing the race improve.
From there, mushers cross desolate parts of the trail to Anvik. Anything can happen, but that section has few named dangers. However, Takotna to Shageluk can be windy and frigid.
Once mushers get to Anvik, they follow the Yukon River to Kaltag. That section is often plagued with winds blowing downriver, creating a headwind for mushers and temperatures below zero.
Once past Unalakleet, mushers face hundreds of miles of trail along the Bering Sea coast, often the scene of storms and ground blizzards. Between Elim and Golovin, mushers descend a hill called Little McKinley where wind-blown snow can obscure the trail.
In 1991, Wasilla musher Lavon Barve lost his dog team in a whiteout between Elim to Golovin. He wandered for 18 hours without his dogs, food, water or gear until he was found by a snowmachiner.
"The coast is the place where someday somebody is going to bite it," Swenson predicted.
Perhaps the most notorious coastal stretch is the 55 miles between White Mountain and Safety, less than 75 miles before the finish line. The trail climbs over barren ridges to Topkok Hill and then descends into a storm-riddled area known as the Solomon Blowhole.
In 1992, Bob Ernisse nearly died of hypothermia in this area when he and two other mushers hunkered down in a storm in the middle of a ground blizzard. Ernisse's sleeping bags were partly open and snow packed in. Fellow musher Bob Hickel found him encased in snow the next morning.
Beth Baker also got lost on the sea ice in 1994, stopping her team just a few hundred yards from open water. Searchers found her the next morning.
This year, open water on Norton Sound may be a problem. Race manager Jack Niggemyer said he may reroute some of the coastal sections inland to avoid thin ice.
Perhaps they'll also avoid polar bears inland.
In 1996, four mushers reported seeing polar bears on the Iditarod trail. Some mushers still question whether it was a hoax or a hallucination caused by sleep deprivation, but the mushers -- Tomas Isrealsson, Jerry Austin, Aaron Burmeister and Ramy Brooks -- swear they saw bears.
And as if the perils of the trail were not enough, mushers have also been poisoned. In 1989, musher Mike Madden nearly died of salmonella poisoning. And in 1994, five mushers nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning after sleeping in an airtight tent with a propane heater.
"If you can imagine it, it will happen," Swenson said.
Reporter Elizabeth Manning can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 257-4323.