Iditarod update: Warm in the mountains

Iditarod mushers are in the mountains, crossing the Alaska Range and some of the most technically challenging terrain of the trail.

By Monday afternoon, the distance between the front and back of the pack was less than 60 miles. The 33-team field stretched from the checkpoint at Finger Lake all the way past the Rainy Pass Lodge almost to Rohn, the sparse shelter-cabin checkpoint near the Tatina River where mushers will arrive all evening and over night.

None of the teams had yet scratched.

At the front of the pack was Nicolas Petit, who has been keeping an aggressive schedule in the race’s first full day, running around six hours at a time and resting just over three hours in between. That pace managed to open some distance between Petit and a knot of chase-pack mushers following behind him.

So far mushers report good trail conditions heading past the Happy River steps and up to the Rainy Pass checkpoint at Puntilla Lake. One curveball on Monday, however, was the weather: lots of sun and warm weather that topped out at 41 degrees in the early afternoon.

“It’s just a little bit too warm now. So we’ll just stay here until the sun goes down,” musher Dan Kaduce told Iditarod Insider at Rainy Pass.

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Most of the front-pack mushers blew through the Rainy Pass checkpoint, but many didn’t go far before stopping to rest further down the trail in the broad Ptarmigan Pass leading up to the narrow, winding trail through Rainy Pass itself. The big reason for that is to avoid hubbub.

“This would be the last place I would stop,” said Iditarod Insider’s Bruce Lee, a race veteran himself, standing in front of the frozen alpine lake already crowded midday with small planes ferrying day-trippers from Anchorage. “It’s the noise.”

Mushers who rested their teams during the heat of the day Monday will make use of cooler overnight temperatures, though for most it will mean navigating technical terrain in Rainy Pass and the Dalzell Gorge by the light of the moon and their headlamps.

More warm weather is in store for Tuesday. The National Weather Service is forecasting highs of 33 degrees under sunny skies in the community of Nikolai, which mushers will begin arriving at Tuesday morning.

Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers the military, dog mushing, politics, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. Prior to joining the ADN he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.