December 9, 2018

Eye on the Trial: Weather on the Yukon River

The best strategies of mushers are only successful if Mother Nature allows. The fickle woman is creating havoc along the Yukon River and the southern section of the trail. Folks dependent on air travel are sitting in Iditarod hoping the persistent snow will cease and visibility will improve to allow the IAF access to the checkpoint. Photo guy, Jeff Schultz will spend another night there as well as Insider guys Greg Heister and Bruce Lee. Mushers arriving by dog team are moving along from Ophir to Iditarod, Shageluk and beyond much like in the old days when the mail carriers traveled by dog team, they always got through.

The big news from the Yukon River that’s having a huge impact on the race is not being able to get supplies into Eagle Island. The drop bags for Eagle Island made it to Grayling but visibility around Eagle Island is too limited for the IAF to land. Mushers will need to carry supplies sufficient for the run of 122 miles from Grayling to Kaltag where they can resupply.

In a live Insider feed, Greg Heister and Bruce Lee discussed how taking on supplies at Grayling for the next 122 miles will affect the teams. Their thought was that teams carrying the extra weight in food will be slowed down. The distance between Grayling and Kaltag will be more like the distances between Yukon Quest checkpoints or at the very least similar to some of the runs between checkpoints in the 2017 northern re-route.

Bruce Lee even shared his thoughts on which foods to carry for the long run. Kibble will be lighter and more calorie dense than frozen meats. In racing, weight carried tends to equalize speed. Weight is not the only factor affecting speed on the Yukon River right now, wind and snow will also play a role. The speedsters will be drawn back toward the rest of the pack whether it be from weight, wind or snow. Each race has its own character. The character of Iditarod XLVI is being revealed on the Yukon River.

Sitting in Unalakleet waiting for teams to cover the two hundred miles to the coast, gives us time to look up some previous race stats and compare to what is on the tracker of this race. Currently Nicolas Petit, Mitch Seavey and Joar Leifseth Ulsom are running top three. They were in the top four finishers of 2017.

Peter Kaiser, Ray Redington Jr., Wade Marrs and Jessie Royer were in the top ten last year and are currently there on the Southern route. Add newcomers Richie Diehl, Linwood Fiedler and Aaron Burmeister to round out the current top ten. Aliy Zirkle who was in the top ten from 2017 is just one place short right now at eleven. Four newcomers to the top 15 over 2017 include Travis Beals, High Neff, Matt Failor and Rookie Matt Hall. In summery, seven of the current top 15 teams are new to the front of the pack over last year to last year.

Don’t put anything in the record books yet! Only a few more than half of the teams still in the race have departed Iditarod Checkpoint. All teams are beyond Takotna. Mother Nature will have more to say over the final miles to Nome. As of now, three teams have scratched – Scott White, DeeDee Jonrowe and Zoya Denure.