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Iditarod rookie crashes on Steps; rescue under way

Kevin Klott
Nancy Yoshida of Thompson, North Dakota, hugs some team members before the start of the Iditarod. Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

PUNTILLA LAKE -- Down in the Happy River Gorge 20 miles south of here, a rescue was being organized this morning for a rookie musher reported to be stuck with a broken sled on the notorious "steps" that lead the Iditarod Trail over a cliff to a frozen river.

Nancy Yoshida, 58, has been stalled since at least midnight on the middle tier of the sharp switchbacks between big trees that cling to the gorge walls. Mushers arriving here reported she can't make it all the way down because she has lost both of the runners on her sled. Her dogs are reportedly tangled in trees or tied off there while she awaits help.

Other mushers added that her sled and team are also blocking the narrow trail, causing all sorts of wrecks behind. The North Dakota musher is not injured, they said. But checkpoint volunteers here asked race judge John Anderson to try to get help sent from the Finger Lake checkpoint to clear the roadblock.

Finger Lake is about 11 miles from the Steps.

The plan is for someone from Finger Lake to haul a replacement sled to Yoshida with a snowmobile. A sled became available in Finger after Anchorage musher Bob Hickel decided to quit there. He became the first musher to scratch from the 1,000-mile Iditarod this year.

First word of Yoshida's problems arrived at this checkpoint with musher Trent Herbst at 3:38 a.m. The Idaho dog driver told a checkpoint volunteer he had waited for Yoshida at the bottom of the steps to make sure she made it down OK. When she wasn't there in an hour, Herbst decided to push on for the checkpoint to report a problem. He knew other mushers were close behind and Yoshida was in no real danger.

By the time Colorado rookie Kurt Reich arrived at 8:45 a.m., however, checkpoint officials were getting a little nervous. A volunteer asked him for an update on Yoshida.

"We were waiting for you to arrive," she said. "We didn't know if people were helping her fix her sled or what."

"Somebody was supposed to (meet her) down at the river," Reich said. "But (the musher) didn't exit. She's messing up a lot of stuff right now."

It was unclear what happened to Reich on his way down the steps. But from his stone-faced expression it didn't look like the 47-year-old had a very good run from Finger Lake to Perrins Rainy Pass Lodge here at Puntilla Lake.

If a team blocks the trail at the Happy, there is almost no room for other teams to get around. Getting to the bottom becomes a nightmare. Reich appeared to have endured that nightmare early this morning.

"Are you sure you don't want to go back for your bags (with food and gear)?" the volunteer asked him. "We can stand on your sled while you get 'em if you want to throw them on your sled."

"No, I'm ready to take a break," said Reich.

The first mushers through the Happy on Monday reported good trail, but with soft snow, the trail gets worse for every team passing. The back-of-the-pack mushers now coming through, among the least experienced of the people in the race, are expected to see the worst of it.

Daily News outdoors editor Craig Medred in Anchorage contributed to this article. E-mail him at cmedred@adn.com.

Musher profile: Nancy Yoshida
By KEVIN KLOTT
kklott@adn.com