Virtual Trail Journey – Shageluk (Southern Route)

Students Welcome Mushers to Shageluk (Photo Credit: Jeff Schultz)

Shageluk is almost 160 miles from Takotna, the last village populated with humans.  Since departing Takotna, the teams have traveled through the ghost towns of Ophir and Iditarod.  Handler didn’t actually visit Shageluk as the 2006 Teacher on the Trail because ’06 was an even year so the teams followed the northern route. It was our musher who told us about Shageluk! Musher served as a bush doctor in Alaska for four years and one of her villages was Shageluk. As the village doctor, Musher always arranged her visit to Shageluk so she was there when the Iditarod went through.

Shageluk (SHAG-a-luck) is a village on the Innoko River. The name Shageluk is an Indian term and means village of the dog people – how cool is that. The area is very scenic with hills and small spruce trees. The Community Center acts as the checkpoint for Iditarod but the teams park across the road by the school.

Teams Parked at School Across from Shageluk Checkpoint (Photo Credit: Jeff Schultz)

Usually the school kids establish a camp out on the trail – sort of a welcome center, complete with brightly colored signs they’ve created to greet the mushers as they pass by. Even though the mushers are tired and very busy taking care of their dogs, they always seem to have just a little extra energy to talk with the kids, sign their autograph books and answer their endless questions.

As of the last census, there are less that 100 people living in the village.  Most are Alaska Native Athabascans. Nearly thirty children attend the PK-12 Innoko school. Temperatures in the area range between 42 and 80 during the summer and then dip well below zero degrees in the winter.  The coldest temperature on record is minus 62 degrees. Average precipitation is 67 inches including an average of 110 inches of snow each year!  Go back and read those numbers again. How does the climate where you live compare?

Arial View of Shageluk and Innoko River Ice Highway (Photo Credit: Jeff Schultz)

There are no roads into Shageluk but there are roads around the village. Locals use ATVs, snow machines and trucks to get around. The Innoko River is used for transportation – boats in the summer and snow machines in the winter. The river is usually frozen from November to May. Small planes come to the village daily as long as weather permits.

People who live in Shageluk rely mostly on subsistence activities for food – they pick berries; grow vegetables; trap beaver; fish for salmon and hunt bear, moose and ducks. There is a nice village store.  What the village store doesn’t have on hand, people order and it comes in by either boat or plane.

Ask a villager what their most important possessions are and the reply will be snow machine, boat, rifle and TV. To keep busy, the kids of Shageluk hunt, fish, watch TV, watch movies, play video games and they LOVE basketball. They travel by plane or snow machine to play games in other villages.

While a bush doctor, Musher lived in Bethel. She visited each of her villages two times per year. During the rest of the year, there was a health aide at the clinic to see patients. Everyday via radio, the doctor talked with the health aide to discuss the condition of patients seen that day. If anyone was seriously ill, and urgently needed to be seen by a doctor, the patient would be flown to Bethel about 150 miles away.

The trail connecting Iditarod and Shageluk was used during the gold rush but not a lot. So when it came time to locate the Iditarod Trail for the race to run the southern route, trail breakers sought the help of Shageluk Elders who had used the trail a half century earlier. Without their experience and knowledge, the historical Iditarod trail might have been lost forever.

Mushers have to take an 8-hour mandatory rest once they reach the Yukon River. Shageluk is the first checkpoint where mushers can take their Yukon River rest even though it’s 35 miles short of the river.  

Well, there you have it – my musher’s account of life in Shageluk, medical treatment in the bush and a little about the trail.  None of Musher’s pictures were digital so thanks to my friend, Jeff Schultz, for sharing his photos of Shageluk. 

Next Handler will tell us about Anvik. Stay tuned and remember in everything do your best every day and always have a plan.

Born to Run,