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Iron Dog riders can expect bumpy, wet road ahead as annual snowmachine race begins

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 22, 2015

What's worse than a bitterly cold, subzero Alaska winter? A strangely warm one.

Iron Dog racers leaving Big Lake Sunday for the start of a 2,000-mile snowmachine race north to Nome and then on to Fairbanks appear to be heading into an adventure of biblical proportions -- think Moses and the great flood.

Photos of the Iditarod Trail posted to social media by Iron Dog trail riders show snowmachines stuck in open rivers and floundering in flooded timber in the Alaska Range. Further inland, Iron Dog officials have been forced to reroute the trail following the Yukon River at Galena and go overland to Nulato because of dangerous, open water.

The race follows the historic Iditarod Trail north from Susitna Station, an abandoned riverboat stop on the Susitna River north of Big Lake, all the way to Nome. From there, the race cuts back toward the finish line in the Interior Alaska city of Fairbanks.

It was raining heavily at times in Big Lake on Saturday, and temperatures remained unusually warm there Sunday and for approximately 350 miles north along the Yentna River, through the Alaska Range and on to the community of McGrath.

It was 44 degrees and sprinkling rain in Wasilla, the community nearest the Iron Dog start, as racers got ready to power north Sunday. More rain was forecast into Monday.

Race veterans expected the precipitation might turn into wet, heavy snow as the race climbed into the Alaska Range, and there was some discussion about whether that was worse or better than rain.

The unusually warm weather had already forced next month's start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to Fairbanks, north of the Alaska Range. Fairbanks is in the cold, interior heart of Alaska where February temperatures often dip to 50 degrees below zero.

But it was raining there as well on Friday.