Iditarod takes its toll as 4 mushers scratch, 1 withdrawn

Beth Bragg
Jake Berkowitz talks with other mushers in Unalakleet on Sunday after scratching from the race. Berkowitz cut his left hand with a knife while on the trail to Unalakleet.
Dogs are transported in a sled behind a snowmachine in Unalakleet, Alaska, during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, March 11, 2012. The dogs were part of a caravan of snowmachine that brought Jeff King back to Unalakleet after he withdrew from the race.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

The Iditarod trail took its toll on mushers Sunday.

Five mushers -- including two running in the top 10 -- one of them four-time champion Jeff King -- dropped out of the race.

Both King and Jake Berkowitz were on their way from Kaltag to Unalakleet when disaster struck.

For King, 55, trouble came in the form of a dog team that stalled, according to race marshal Mark Nordman and two mushers who saw him parked about 11 miles outside Unalakleet.

It was the first time in 22 Iditarods that King, who was in sixth place when he left Kaltag, has scratched.

Berkowitz, 25, was stopped on the trail and using his knife when he cut his hand. He made it to Unalakleet in sixth place, but Nordman deemed the injury too severe for Berkowitz to continue and withdrew him from the race.

A withdrawal is different from a scratch. A withdrawal is a decision made by race officials, while a scratch is a decision made by the musher. So far, eight mushers have scratched and one, Berkowitz, has been withdrawn.

Sunday's other scratches included:

• Josh Cadzow, 23, a rookie from Fort Yukon in his first Iditarod. He scratched in Kaltag with nine dogs, saying the animals weren't enjoying the trip and pulling out was in their best interest, according to race officials.

• Pat Moon, 35, of Chicago. He started the race with just 12 dogs and was down to seven by Sunday and decided that was too small a team to continue, race officials said. It was his second scratch in two attempts to drive a team to Nome.

• Lachlan Clarke, 55, of Buena Vista, Colo. He was down to eight dogs when he reached Galena and scratched for the same reason Moon did, race officials said. Clarke was in his eighth Iditarod and was coming off his best finish, 32nd last year.

After going the first couple of days with no scratches, the original field of 66 mushers is now down to 57.

King, who was back in the race after a retirement that lasted one year, was making good time when the dogs apparently decided they'd had enough.

"His dog team didn't want to go in the wind anymore," said musher DeeDee Jonrowe, who passed King on her way to Unalakleet. She said he was cooking food for the dogs and had them tucked in bushes, out of a steady wind.

Brent Sass also passed King. He asked if King needed help and King said no.

King and his 13 dogs were hauled by snowmachine to Unalakleet.

Berkowitz was running 14 dogs and was part of a swift three-man pack that also included Pete Kaiser and Ray Redington Jr. On Saturday and Sunday, the threesome registered some of the race's fastest run-times.

Moon's race ended before he made it to Unalakleet, his winter training grounds. Moon, who is battling cancer, had some dogs that belonged to Unalakleet musher Paul Johnson.

Johnson had plans to run this year's race but died in October.

Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335. Reporter Kyle Hopkins and photographer Marc Lester contributed to this report.

Anchorage Daily News