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At usually snowy Finger Lake, ice prevails

Casey Grove/Anchorage Daily News

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From Casey Grove at Finger Lake --

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The lack of snow is evident here, with solid ice from recent melting and refreezing covering the entire checkpoint area in front of Winterlake Lodge. The trail itself is mostly smooth, but the rough, slick surface everywhere else is making it important to walk gingerly.

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Depending on how fast the teams are traveling, the first to reach Finger Lake will likely be in the early morning hours. That's usually about 4 a.m., give or take, lodge employees say.

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The mushers will stop, let the race officials check their dogs and equipment and either park their team for a break or pick up straw and fuel and head farther down the trail.

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The ice created a challenge for Iditarod volunteers setting up the checkpoint the past few days, said Tim Johnson, the lead checker.

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The work typically involves packing down the snow, usually at least a foot deep, Johnson said. It’s apparently not out of the ordinary for there to be 10 feet of snow to deal with.

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Instead, Johnson said, the workers had to drill holes in the ice to set up trail markers and for mushers to plant snow hooks.

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“Snow hooks would chatter right on down this stuff without gripping anything,” Johnson said. “So we took out one of those ice-fishing augers and just made some nice, chunky holes about four or so inches deep, so they can put their hooks in and anchor out if they want.”

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“We drilled a series of holes. If they miss the first hole, they can get to the next one.”

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When conditions are good, it’s less common for dogs to get dropped at this checkpoint, Johnson said. But with the reported icy trail coming into Finger Lake, he said the crew is expecting more due to wrist and shoulder injuries.

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Up trail, it’s smooth, hard and there is no open water to contend with on the river crossings, said cyclist Andy Pohl, riding a bike with fat tires and studs from Willow to McGrath.



Anchorage