From The Great Race to Nome by Karen Krupnick ©1995
NOAA WEATHER LINK for ANCHORAGE
This is Alaska’s largest city. The race starts on Fourth Avenue. People line the streets to watch this celebratory start. Idita-Riders ride in the sleds for the first 11 miles of this celebratory start. Snow is brought in by the truckload and dumped on the avenue so the race can run through the city before heading out into the wilderness.
Population: 29,595 Miles from Anchorage: 20
Here the mushers unharness their teams and truck them to the next checkpoint for the restart. They are trucked here because there is not enough snow to travel from Anchorage. If there is not enough snow in Wasilla they are trucked to Willow instead.
Population: 4,635 Miles from Eagle River: 29
NOAA WEATHER LINK for WASILLA
This is where the race restarts. It is the last town on the road system and a good place to photograph and interview mushers.
Population: 272 Miles from Wasilla: 14
This is the last checkpoint before entering remote Alaska. The late Joe Redington, Sr. lived here.
Population: 8 Miles from Knik: 52
This checkpoint is at the home of the Gabryzack family, otherwise called the Yentna Station Roadhouse. A family with 5 children, they offer spaghetti dinners to the mushers in exchange for their autographs on posters that go to volunteers.
Population: 90 Miles from Yentna: 34
NOAA WEATHER LINK for SKWENTNA
This checkpoint is located where the Skwentna and Yentna Rivers meet.
The checkpoint is at the log home of Joe and Norma Delia, which is also known as the Post Office because Joe is the Postmaster. There is a store in Skwentna and very limited lodging. The Delias (and a dozen local volunteers sometimes referred to as the “Skwentna Sweeties”) prepare meals for all of the mushers and visitors. The meals have been paid for out of pocket. There is often standing room only.
Population: 2 Miles from Skwentna: 45
This area is known for its deep snow. It is not uncommon to have 10 feet of snow on the ground. The checkpoint is at Winter Lake Lodge. From Finger Lake, the mushers begin the long climb to Rainy Pass at the base of the Alaska Range. It is steep and treacherous. The trail winds through heavy timber and sidehills, and is often called one of the hairiest parts of the trail.
Population: 2 Miles from Finger Lake: 30
This is the highest point on the Iditarod Trail. It passes over the Alaska Range. The checkpoint is located at Vern Humble’s on Puntilla Lake. It is known as the Rainy Pass Lodge, but is closed down at this time of year. The Iditarod uses one of their cabins for a checkpoint and another for mushers to rest in. One resident has said that “when you live out here, you have more company than when you live in town. Snowmachiners can get here really easily and a lot of airplanes on bad weather days land and come in for coffee and cookies.” After the mushers head over the top of the highest point, whiteout conditions can occur. “From scary to scarier” best describes the trail over the top. Waiting on the other side is the Dalzell Gorge, which race manager Jack Niggemyer describes as “probably the most singularly terrifying thing on the whole race, especially depending on the weather. You’re going downhill at the bottom of a narrow canyon, winding back and forth across a creek, so you’ve got a lot of sidehills and open water and big holes in the ice. Also rocks you can’t move. When you get to the bottom, overflow is common, which means icy slush.”
Population: 0 Miles from Rainy Pass: 48
This area is known for its spectacular scenery. There are no facilities for visitors at this checkpoint. After this checkpoint, mushers head into the flatlands of the interior, in dropping temperatures. It is situated where the Kuskokwim and Tatina Rivers merge. The area once served as one of the original Iditarod Trail Roadhouses for the dog teams carrying mail. The actual roadhouse is gone, so the checkpoint is a cabin built in the 1930’s. Mushers often take their 24-hour layover here before heading off through the Buffalo Tunnels, or steep timber in which the buffalo like to hang out in. Next mushers go into the treacherous “Farewell Burn,” an area with little snow, but one which is difficult to cross due to tree stumps left as a result of a 1976 fire. This sometimes takes mushers through rough terrain where they may be riding over stretches of sharp rocks.
Population: 125 Miles from Rohn: 93
This is the first native village on the trail, with most natives being Athabascan Indian, a group who once claimed all of Interior Alaska and parts of Southcentral. This a pretty little village of log cabins and frame houses nestled among the trees, with it’s centerpiece being a Russian Orthodox church. There is a view of the backside of Mount McKinley. The checkpoint is located in the Community Hall. There is a village store at the far end of town across from the airstrip and limited lodging. During the race the local children open their own restaurant. Check-in volunteers are chosen by drawing names out of a hat. Mushers who choose to take their twenty-four hour break are welcomed into a huge city building that is toasty warm.
Population: 479 Miles from Nikolai: 48
NOAA WEATHER LINK for McGRATH
This is the largest settlement in the area. It is a thriving community with two stores, a bar, and a restaurant. It is the last chance to buy aviation gas, except at Galena, until you reach the coast at Unalakleet. Lodging is available. Tired or sick dogs are flown here from other checkpoints to await transport back to Anchorage. Many mushers take their 24-hour layover here.
Population: 51 Miles from McGrath: 23
This little town has only a store, restaurant, and bar. It is known for its incredible welcome to the mushers and visitors. Mushers, pilots, and journalists are fed like kings with stacks of hot cakes, breakfast meats, burgers, crab, steak, turkey, and the longtime favorites that are always on the stove: moose stew and chili. “Anything to make you feel at home,” says Jan and Dick Newton. When the pre-race supplies arrive, the teenagers are let out of class to jump on their snowmachines and help haul the goods to storage. Closer to race time they move all of the supplies-dog food, stove fuel, straw, pails, disposable dishes, and more-to the checkpoint and alphabetize them to make it easier for tired mushers to find their shipments.
Population: 0 Miles from Takotna: 38
Once a gold rush town, Ophir is now a ghost town, with only one building standing. The checkpoint is at Dick and Audra Forsgren’s cabin. Ophir is where the trail turns north (2002 being an even numbered year).
Population: 0 Miles from Ophir: 60
The first musher to reach this halfway mark on the northern route wins $3,000 in gold nuggets and a trophy. This area is part of the famous Iditarod Mining District, which saw $35 million in gold taken out of it between 1908 and 1925, back when gold was only worth $20 an ounce. Now there is nothing more than a tent on the Innoko River near broken-down remains of what was a small settlement. Temperatures can range from 10 to 55 BELOW zero.
Population: 187 Miles from Cripple: 112
The first musher to arrive here is awarded a seven-course gourmet dinner and a cash prize of $3,500. This checkpoint is at the community hall. This is the first checkpoint on the Yukon River, the longest river in Alaska, stretching from the Yukon Territory of Canada to the Bering Sea. Gold was discovered here in 1907, but no town was established until 1911, when more gold was found and bringing thousands of prospectors to the area. Now there are fewer than 200 residents. Ruby was home to many of the mushers who carried mail for the Northern Commercial Company from Tanana to Ruby in earlier days. The trip took four days and paid $5.00 a day. Dog team mail ended here in 1931. The checkpoint offers food to the mushers, including moose head soup, Native ice cream (made of whale fat), moose stew, or fish stew.
Population: 527 Miles from Ruby: 52
NOAA WEATHER LINK for GALENA
It is in an Athabascan village. The checkpoint is at the “old” community hall downtown. The town was founded in 1920 when natives moved down river from the old town site of Louden because of the availability of firewood. The last living participant of the 1925 diphtheria serum run, Edgar Nollner, lives here and is in his 90’s.
Population: 359 Miles from Galena: 52
Nulato is an Athabascan village. The checkpoint is at the community hall. Nulato was a Russian trading post that the indians promptly burned down.
Population: 234 Miles from Nulato: 42
NOAA WEATHER LINK for KALTAG
This is an Athabascan village where the northern and southern routes join. It is the last Athabascan village before crossing into Inupiat Eskimo country. This town gives the mushers a break from the driving winds. The checkpoint and gathering spot is at the community hall, but the mushers check in at Rich Burnham’s house, about a block away. Edgar Kalland once lived here, who was one of the mushers in the life saving diphtheria serum run of 1925. His widow, Virginia, still resides here.
Population: 882 Miles from Kaltag: 90
NOAA WEATHER LINK for UNALAKLEET
This is the largest community on the Iditarod Trail besides Anchorage. This is an Inupiat Eskimo town (Inupiat means “where the east wind blows”) on the coast of Norton Sound. Snowdrifts can reach rooftops. Here there are often sudden storms. This is one of the few checkpoints on the trail where the mushers change sleds, exchanging their freighting sleds for lighter-weight racing sleds. Here will be the last of the snowdrifts. The rest of the trail will be completely wind blown. A trophy and $2,500 in gold nuggets is waiting for the first musher into Unalakleet. There are two well-stocked stores, and two restaurants. The checkpoint is in front of the AC store. The students are released from school and give a fabulous reception to the mushers and visitors.
Population: 199 Miles from Unalakleet: 40
This is one of the windiest stretches of the trail, and home to native Palmer Sagoonick, a reindeer herder who has also recently started running the Iditarod. After this checkpoint the trail goes across the ice of Norton Bay. From here the mushers head out onto the ice of Norton Bay, one of the most treacherous segments of trail that the mushers may have to contend with, and one that is all but invisible during storms. Trail markers and flagging are all that guide the racers. The checkpoint is often at the armory, but is sometimes in the community building, the old medical building, or even in a local resident’s house.
Population: 258 Miles from Shaktoolik: 58
NOAA WEATHER LINK for KOYUK
Koyuk relies on fish and game for their economy. In Spring, they hunt birds and fish through the ice. In June they have fish of all kinds until July. During Fall, they look for beluga whales, moose, and caribou. After freezeup, trapping and caribou hunting supplies them with food. It is the northernmost checkpoint at just shy of sixty-five degrees north. This checkpoint brings the mushers a sigh of relief because from here the majority of the race is over land. The checkpoint is the at the City Recreation Center.
Population: 281 Miles from Koyuk: 48
This is an Eskimo settlement. The checkpoint is usually at Fire Hall. During some storms, mushers can get lost. From here the trail heads over the hills of Kwiktalik Mountains.
Population: 148 Miles from Elim: 28
NOAA WEATHER LINK for GOLOVIN
An Eskimo settlement, the checkpoint is located at a checker’s home. Golovin has one store. The trail heads across Golovin Bay and then back on land.
Population: 209 Miles from Golovin: 18
This is an Eskimo settlement where an eight-hour stop is required. Usually the first one there goes on to win. It’s 77 Miles from Nome and located on Fish River. There are picturesque mountains here. The checkpoint is located in the community hall building up the hill from the store.
Population: 0 Miles from White Mountain: 55
Located on the Bering Sea, this is the last checkpoint before Nome, 22 miles ahead. Here the mushers are on the coast of the Norton Sound and travel on the beach most of the way to Nome. The checkpoint is in the only building that looks like an old shack, according to DeeDee Jonrowe. She describes it as “a lantern in the night, because you can see it from four or five miles away.” The building was once a motion picture theatre known as the “Nomerama.”
Population: 3,576 Miles from Safety: 22
NOAA WEATHER LINK for NOME
Nome was once a booming gold rush town, with 30,000 gold seekers. The entire community welcomes the mushers and visitors to the community to watch the Iditarod finishers mush under the famous burl arch. There are numerous stores, restaurants and bars on Front Street. Numerous places are available for lodging, but at a premium. The town comes to life as the first-place musher nears town. Spectators line Front Street. A platform stands ready to host post-race interviews and picture-taking sessions of the champion and the leaders draped in yellow roses. The prize for finishing this year is $68,571 and a four-wheel drive truck. The next 19 mushers also receive varying amounts of cash. Mushers coming in from twenty-first place to last place can receive up to $1,049 from money generated by the Idita-Rider program. At the banquet on the following Sunday, a host of other awards are distributed, from drawings for cash to recognition of sportsmanship and excellence in dog care. Nome stays on alert until the last of the mushers appears to pick up the Red Lantern Award.
The Official Iditarod website
Iditarod Country by Tricia Brown ©1998