September 2, 2014

Old Man Weather Enters Iditarod

5:15PM march 6 Wednesday

Status report

Old Man Weather has entered the Iditarod as a major player.  In an effort to simplify the situation, I deferred to a number of pilots who are presently grounded in Takotna.  Unable to move because of visibility limits caused by continuing snow fall, they told me that weather was going to change even more  tomorrow, Thursday morning,  as a storm interrupts normal winter.   Winds are forecast to blow along the Iditarod trail to checkpoint Iditarod upto 50 mph and on the Yukon trail sections.  (see map, but basically the trail for the lead pack for the next several days.)

Furthermore, temperatures may rise to 50F, which is is just totally off the chart for Interior Alaska, and bring with it rain and maybe sleet.

In addition, our camera guys who are sitting at about mile470 on the trail to Iditarod are reporting that Lance is ahead of them in direction Iditarod checkpoint .  They give an assessment of the trail as “turning to oatmeal.”

 

Meanwhile BIG PICTURE

For Lance, who is leading the race, this could be distressing news.   However, the GPS tracker, a wonderful tool, positions Lance aout 26 miles from Iditarod and shows him travelling 9mph.  Once again it appears the mushers are ok in nature, but once a snowmachine passes over the trail it totally fractures the stability of the trail.

Aaron Burmeister will be leading a phalynx of mushers out of Takotna around 10:30 PM.   How will the weather developments affect the trail for this group?   A grand question.

 

Final Thought

The weather picture is almost unfathonable.  Mushers regularly plan for wet snow on the south side of the Alaska Range in the first two days of the race, by packing rain jackets, water proof foot gear, and even big plastic garbage bags to  wear as rain jackets.

But once over the Alaska Range, an assumption of no rain prevails.  No one wants to carry useless gear, so all the wet weather stuff is left behind in a “home” bag. 

The weather could be a big game changer.  Probably the best position is to be to the front of the race with LaNCE.  HE is almost to Iditarod and could declare his 24 hour mandatory.  The following pack will wallow through slush to reach him and struggle to lay out a trail to Shageluk and the Yukon River village of Anvik.  Meanwhile, Lance can hope for cooler weather to give him a virtual skating rink from Iditarod to the Yukon.

I offer the following anecdote to demonstrate what can happen.  In my first winter in 1971 in Alaska I located on the Yukon River and helped a long time friend of mine on his trap line.  We left the village of Tanana at about 20 F but by afternoon temperatures were well into the forties and raining.  The trail upriver was absolutely dissolving and we struggled to move at all. Moccassins and clothers were soaked and even my beaver mitts were useless and saturated with rain.  By dark it began to cool, and stars appeared between clouds.  Freddie Jordan, who had been born in a cabin along the Yukon and was exactly my age by  a month, but raised in a completely different environment, immediately said, “It’s going to clear and we have to find a place.”  He remembered an old cabin several miles away and in the dark we slowly slogged off the river through overgrown willows and found it.  Fashioning a stovepipe from a piece of roof tin, we managed to get a fire going in a rusted barrel stove.  By midnight the temperature dropped to  a very dangerous  minus 50F.  Fortunately, we had dried our mitts and foot gear through the night and the following day returned on a sheen of ice to the village.

Oh yeah, final thought.  Usually things are not as bad as portrayed or predicted.