A loose dog and thin ice did what a crashed sled and temporary unconsciousness could not -- knock Anchorage musher Scott Janssen out of the Iditarod on Tuesday, turning Wednesday into a day off for his dogs, who hung out on the Farewell Burn while race volunteers tended to them.
The Alaska Air National Guard rescued Janssen late Tuesday night, using a C-130 airplane to scout a safe route to Janssen's location and a Pave Hawk helicopter to pick him up and take him to an Anchorage hospital.
The helicopter had to refuel in flight because weather was so poor it took several attempts to find a safe flying route, according to an account from the Alaska National Guard.
Bad weather kept Janssen's 15 dogs on the trail overnight and into Wednesday evening. When the weather clears, the Iditarod Air Force will bring the team home to Anchorage, said Janssen, who was resting at home Wednesday with a broken foot.
One of the dogs, Hooper, may return with his tail between his legs. He's the dog that got loose on the Farewell Burn near Tin Creek, Janssen said, forcing the musher to set his snow hook and give chase.
During the pursuit, Janssen broke through the ice on Tin Creek, his boots filled with frigid water, and he turned back. As Janssen was returning to his sled, Hooper trotted past and returned to his spot on the team. Right about then is when Janssen slipped, fell and hurt his foot.
Janssen told his tale Wednesday after being treated and released by Providence Alaska Medical Center for what he said is a broken foot. He said a CAT scan showed no sign of concussion.
Janssen, 52, is an Anchorage undertaker known was the Mushin' Mortician. He's a two-time Iditarod finisher and a two-time Iditarod scratcher. He has a big personality and an appreciation for the absurd -- before his 2010 race debut, he joked about being the first funeral director to run the Iditarod. "I'm dying to do it," he cracked.
He said Wednesday he thought he had survived the worst of what has been a merciless Iditarod by making it past the Happy River Steps and Dalzell Gorge and into Rohn, on the far side of the Alaska Range.
"They asked me in Rohn how the trail was," Janssen said, "and I said it was like riding a Harley down a curvy road."
Things got worse, at least for Janssen, once he left Rohn for Nikolai, a trip across the mostly-dirt Farewell Burn.
Janssen spent several hours in Rohn before returning to the trail at 5:22 a.m. Tuesday. He said was cruising along with only three of his dogs hooked up with the tuglines in order to keep their speed down. He came around a tight corner and his right runner hit a tussock.
"I knew I was going down," he said.
As he tipped over, he said, he saw a stump about eight inches tall. The next thing he knew, he was waking up. His dogs were lying next to him, blanketed by light snow, and his sled was stuck in the brush. He doesn't know how long he was knocked out, but he guesses it must have been a couple of hours.
After picking up some equipment that had fallen out of his sled, he was ready to leave when Danny Seavey pulled up.
"Are you OK?" Seavey asked.
"I think I may have gone night-night for a while," Janssen told Seavey. "I hit that stump pretty hard with my head."
After Seavey left, Janssen continued to Tin Creek to water his dogs. There was open water and the dogs were trying to stay on the ice as much as they could. Four didn't have their tuglines hooked. One of them -- Hooper -- went around the wrong side of a tree and his neckline snapped. Hooper ran down the trail and out of sight.
Janssen set his snow hook and ran to find him. He broke through the ice and into knee-deep water. As his boots filled with water, he stopped, realizing he wasn't going to catch Hooper.
Janssen said he was returning to his team when Hooper ran past him and returned to his original position on the team. Then Janssen fell.
"I slipped on the freaking ice and I caught myself instead of falling on my butt," he said. "I tried to crawl over to the sled but there was water between me and the sled."
The dogs weren't going anywhere -- the gangline was tangled around a tree. Janssen said he laid down on the ice for about 45 minutes before Jamaica musher Newton Marshall showed up.
"I thought I heard a team coming, so I yelled, 'Help! Help!' '' Janssen said.
Marshall came around the corner and said, "Yah mon! Whataya doing?"
"I think I broke my ankle," Janssen told him.
Marshall helped Janssen put on his snow suit and get into his sleeping bag. "I was getting a little hypothermic," Janssen said.
Marshall stayed with Janssen until a snowmachine with an Iditarod Insider camera crew aboard arrived from Nikolai. They were there to photograph the sunset.
By then, Janssen had already hit the emergency button on his GPS tracker and the Alaska National Guard was on its way.
The C-130 and Pave Hawk left Anchorage shortly after 8 p.m., according to the Alaska National Guard report of the rescue. They immediately encountered bad weather, and it was 11 p.m. before they reached Janssen. They delivered him to Providence around midnight.
Meanwhile, Iditarod Insider crew members and race volunteers helped feed and water Janssen's dogs.
"They've got my cooker, went and grabbed my drop bags from Nikolai and instructions on how to feed them," Jansssen said. "I trust my dogs will be taken care of.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG and KEVIN KLOTT
Anchorage Daily News / adn.com