Doug Katchatag: Iditarod trailblazer


Salmon brought Joe Redington Sr. and Doug Katchatag together back in late 1960s, but it was dogs that bound them for life.

Katchatag comes from a long line of fishermen and dog drivers in Unalakleet, a village on the northwest coast where Redington once worked as a fish buyer for a co-op.

Redington dreamed of racing sled dogs a thousand miles from Anchorage to Nome, and in Katchatag he found not only a fellow dog lover but a pragmatist who helped the dream become reality.

Katchtag provided Redington with connections in villages along the race route, but his biggest contribution to the creation of the Iditarod was sweat equity. For three straight winters, Katchatag directed the task of clearing 340 miles of trail from Kaltag to Nome.

Forged by gold miners seeking their fortunes and made famous by the 1925 Serum Run, the Iditarod trail fell out of use when airplanes and snowmachines replaced dog teams as the main mode of transportation in rural Alaska.

Katchatag's crews worked only in the winter, because the trail wasn't accessible in the summer back then.

"We didn't know what four-wheelers were," Katchatag said, "and there were too many mosquitoes and gnats."

Deep snow made for slow going. Villagers worked in pairs, with one walking ahead on snowshoes to pack the snow and the other following on a snowmachine.

"It snows like a bugger out there, and if you get off the trail you sink to your neck," Katchatag said. "Back in the old days the snowmachines were heavy and they just sunk down. Imagine sinking on a snowmachine and looking up into the sky. That's the way it was."

Workers completed the job in January 1973, less than two months before the inaugural Iditarod. Every year since, Katchatag has manned the checkpoint at Unalakleet.

"(He) helped the race move forward every year," said KTUU photographer Eric Sowl, a member of the Hall of Fame selection committees.

Katchatag is one of the few who have been part of the Iditarod since the beginning. He has never been paid a penny. He keeps threatening to quit, but he never follows through. He's a dog man, and the Iditarod owns a piece of his heart.

Inducted 2011 Greatest accomplishment Directed the 3-year effort to clear the 340-mile stretch of the Iditarod Trail between Kaltag to Nome, making the race possible. Vital stats Born: June 15, 1947, in Unalakleet Hometown: Unalakleet Positions held Trail breaker, Kaltag to Nome, 1970-73 Unalakleet checker, 1973-present

Anchorage Daily News