Eye on the Trail: Rookie Review Pt. 1

There are 16 rookies entered in the 52nd Iditarod.  Fourteen are true rookies – first timers on the trail and two have attempted Iditarod in previous years but scratched short of the burled arch.  Ten of the rookies are from the state of Alaska, four are from the lower 48 and two are from foreign countries.  Rookie Review is a four part series written with the intent of introducing you, the reader, to the newest mushers on the trail who are hoping to earn the coveted Iditarod Finisher’s Belt Buckle.  Rookies make up 42% of the contestants in the 2024 Iditarod.

Gabe Dunham is a second year rookie.  She started the race in 2020, mushed all the way to Unalakleet at mile 714 before scratching in the best interest of her team.  This race and the 2020 race are both northern route runs.  Gabe has seen the majority of the trail but will experience the Bering Sea Coast for the first time.  Gabe has been racing since the age of 16 and has an impressive resume including the Wyoming Stage Race.  In 2019 she became the first woman to finish the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown, taking 2nd place.  In 2020 she set a record in the Eagle Cap Extreme 200 and took 2nd place in the Race to the Sky 300.  Gabe was born and raised in Fairbanks before moving to Valdez with her family where she discovered her passion for animals and the outdoors and started running sled dogs.  Gabe has worked for Linwood Fiedler and Alaska Heli-mushing.  The Fiedlers mentored Gabe and taught her the best practices in dog care and training techniques.  Gabe holds a degree in Fish and Wildlife Management from Oregon State University.  Her kennel, Evermore Adventures, is home to 26 Alaskan Huskies who like nothing better that adventuring.  Earlier in 2024, Gabe claimed 15th pace in both the Kusko 300 and the Knik 200.

Sean Williams is looking forward to making it to Nome in this, his third attempt. Williams was signed up in 2021 but withdrew hours before the race began to attend to family needs.  On the trail in 2022 and within 77 miles of the burled arch, he departed White Mountain and was caught in the horrific winds in the blow hole that caused six teams to scratch.  Sean, who lives in Chugiak, Alaska, has been mushing since 2006.  During that time he’s worked with mushing masters Martin Buser, Dean Osmar, DeeDee Jonrowe, Matt Failor and Matt Hayashida.  His race experience includes the Yukon quest 300, Copper Basin 300 and Willow 300 along with numerous other short races.  He is active in the Chugiak Dog Musher’s Association.  He is an active promoter of dog mushing seeking to keep the mushing culture alive in the Anchorage area.  Sean is the founder, president and principal of the Alaska Mushing School which offers hands on mushing experiences to adventurous travelers.  Sean recently finished the Copper Basin 300 in 15th place.

Erin Altemus and her husband, Matt Schmidt, have been running dogs for 12 years.  Living in Grand Marais, Minnesota, they were introduced to mushing at YMCA Camp Menogyn located near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area outside of Grand Marais.  From that experience they decided to get into dogs and acquired their own team.  They accepted an invitation to race from a mushing friend and soon they were breeding dogs, building their kennel, training and entering races.  Sawtooth Racing is the home of 30 dogs.  Their usual racing schedule includes the Beargrease, UP200, Can-AM and Gunflint Mail Run.  Races in the Arrowhead of Minnesota – Beargrease and Gunflint Mail Run, were cancelled for 2024 due to lack of snow.  The worst case winter scenario experienced by mushers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan has made training very challenging for Erin and Matt as well as Ryan Redington.  The Sawtooth mushers have had their eye on Iditarod for quite some time.  Now that their daughter is six and they have the right team, Erin will take the trail for Nome.  Erin works as a nurse at the local hospital. 

Severin Cathry was born and raised in Airolo, Switzerland.  As a youngster, Severin worked summers and spent much of his free time on a dairy farm.  His mushing career was born out of his lifelong love for the outdoors and animals.  Two of his classmates moved their families to Canada.  It was the motivation he needed to follow his dream of seeing Alaska and Canada.  In the summer of 2010, he came to Alaska for the first time.  That’s when he experienced a real sled dog team and became hooked on the sport.  Severin will be running dogs from Midnight Howlers Racing operated by Arien Sanderson, a Jr. Iditarod musher.

Check back soon for another story in the Rookie Review series.  In the meantime make sure your subscription to the Ultimate Insider is up to date.  You won’t want to miss the Insider video clips sharing personal stories of mushers and their experiences on the trail.  Having GPS tracker at your fingertips is invaluable when following the race and keeping track of your favorite mushers.