Eye on the Trail: Norton Sound Then and Now

Dallas Seavey Endures Ground Blizzard on Norton Sound (Photo by Insider)

Over the years, the trail out of Shaktoolik toward Koyuk (COY-uk) has been the scene of significant mushing history.  Dating all the way back to 1925 and the Serum Run, Leonard Seppala thought he was going to meet a Serum Runner somewhere on the Yukon River then take the antitoxin and head back to Nome.  What he didn’t know was that the serum was traveling by means of a relay toward him faster than anticipated.  Henry Ivanoff, carrying the serum from Shaktoolik to Koyuk stopped Seppala just off the shore by Shaktoolik.  It was only by chance that the two teams met on the sea ice.  The serum was handed off and Seppala immediately turned to begin the run back toward Nome. 

Brent Sass Between Shaktoolik and Koyuk Encounters Ground Blizzard (Photo by Insider)

Another great piece of history took place on Norton Bay in 1985 when Libby Riddles was the first woman to win the Iditarod.  Libby was leading the race when she arrived in Shaktoolik where a fierce storm was pounding the little village on the spit.  Should she wait it out or leave?  She left.  Out on the trail, Libby couldn’t see from one marker to the next so she’d pass a marked and watch it until it nearly disappeared then she’d stop the team, set the snow hook and walk to the next marker then return and bring the team forward.  In the bitter cold and howling wind, Libby did this time and time again so as to not lose the trail or the lead.  When night came she parked the team and she fed the dogs.  They burrowed into the snow and curled into weather proof balls while Libby cleared out the sled bag so she could sleep inside.  The next morning the storm remained fierce but they moved marker to marker and made it to Koyuk.

Dallas Seavey Approaches Shaktoolik in Ground Blizzard (Photo by Insider)

As Brent Sass and Dallas Seavey make their way to Koyuk, they are battling fierce winds and blowing snow.  They are experiencing the classic Norton Sound ground blizzard.  It’s not snowing, the sky is clear but from their perspective on the ground, the sky isn’t even visible.  It’s not white out but it’s tough going.  Thankfully the trail markers are visible!  Insider has posted video clips of Seavey coming into and departing from Shaktoolik.  There are also clips of Brent Sass while he’s running and resting on the trip to Koyuk.  It’s rough out there!   These clips help us appreciate what Mother Nature can dish out along the coast.