Virtual Trail Journey – White Mountain

Jeff King left Elim in 1994 with the feeling that he was being followed.  Sure enough a young husky not more that 4 months old was close behind.  For all of his short life, the Husky wanted to “play sports.”  What the puppy needed most was a coach who would work with him and train him.  The pup watched the mushers care for their dogs at Elim and decided he wanted Jeff King as his coach so he followed him out of the village and down the trail.  Jeff was worried that the little dog would get too cold or get hurt out on the trail so he tried to shoo him back home.  The little dog wasn’t going to give up his dream and kept on running with Jeff’s team.  The going wasn’t easy for such a little dog.  Jeff stopped briefly to fix some booties and when he came back to the sled, the puppy was sitting proudly on top of the sled bag.  By now, Jeff really liked the husky.  Being concerned for his well-being, Jeff carried him to the next checkpoint.  Jeff decided to contact the puppy’s owner and ask if he could be adopted.  A little further down the trail Jeff received a message from the owner telling Jeff the dog was his.  What do you suppose Jeff named the puppy?  If you guessed Elim, you’re right!  This story was reported in the Anchorage Daily News on March 28, 1994 – “King Says Pup Followed him to Nome, He Gets to Keep It.”   Joan Jackson tells the story in her book for young readers, Elim, The Determined Athlete.  Really, you ought to find a copy and read the story for yourself.

Looking at the map we have in the kennel, I expected that handler would be telling us about what goes on in the checkpoint of Golovin – but Golovin isn’t a checkpoint!  Golovin (GULL-uh-vin) was a checkpoint at one time but because the distance between Elim and White Mountain is only 46 miles, the trail committee decided it wasn’t necessary to have three checkpoints in such a short distance.  I was curious about the village along the trail that isn’t a checkpoint so I asked Handler a few question.  She said that some of the village residents are Inupiaq Eskimos.  In the early 1800’s Russian Navy Vice-Admiral Vasily Golovnin explored the bay and lagoon that now hold his name.  Did you notice the difference in spelling?  The bay and lagoon are spelled exactly like the explorer’s name but the village uses the spelling “Golovin”.  If you’re interested, you can learn more about Golovin in Wikipedia.  Today there are 140 people who live there. Forty-nine are students who attend Martin L. Olson School for grades K-12.

When Jeff and the little dog left Elim, they headed along the shore to a spot called Walla Walla.  Here the trail crosses a peninsula and climbs over the Kwiktalik Mountains.  The highest point that the mushers reach as 1,000 feet above sea level at LIttle McKinley.  Trail expert, Don Bowers, says this is the toughest climb on the last half of the trail.  With Elim in the sled, Jeff ran up one side and down the other side of the mountains to Golovnin Bay.  Today, as Golovin is no longer a race checkpoint, the trail runs by the village then follows the snowmachine route across Golovnin Lagoon and up the Fish river to White Mountain.  More than likely, it was at Golovin that Jeff tried to contact the pup’s family to ask about adoption.

White Mountain is the only village on the Seward Peninsula that is located inland from the Bering Sea.  Two Hundred and three people live in the Inupiag Eskimo village.  The culture has been influenced by neighboring Yupik Eskimos as well as the Klondike Gold Rush.  Present day White Mountain began as a fish camp named Nutchirviq which means “mountain look-up point.”  During the gold rush of 1900, a warehouse for mining supplies was the first non-Native built structure.  After that an orphanage that later became a school was built followed by the Covenant Church.  The post office opened in 1932.  The current grade school meets in the oldest operating school building in Alaska.  Fire destroyed the high school building in early 2006.  A new school was built on the southern edge of town for the White Mountain Wolves.  Forty-nine students go to school in White Mountain.

Some folks in White Mountain hold jobs with the school, native store, post office, city and airlines.  Some folks work seasonally in construction and firefighting.  There is one reindeer farm and some residents hold commercial fishing permits.  Ivory and bone carvings; knitting, crocheting and skin sewing also bring income to a few homes.  Depending on subsistence hunting and fishing, many people spend their whole summer at fish camp to harvest salmon and other fish.  Beluga whale, seal, moose, reindeer, caribou and brown bear are commonly eaten along with berries, greens and home grown vegetables.  About half of the homes in White Mountain are on water and sewer.  The other half have water but use honey buckets and outdoor toilets.

There are no roads to White Mountain so travel and deliveries are by boat and plane.  Locals travel by snowmachine or ATV depending on the season.  Average summer temperatures fall between 43 and 80 degrees.  Winter temperatures range from 7 below to 15 above. White Mountain receives about 15 inches of precipitation with about 5 feet of snow.  If you lived at White Mountain you could expect rain or snow 120 days of the year and sun on 150 days.

When mushers reach White Mountain, they are required to take an 8 hour rest before they make the final push to Nome, 77 miles away.  The checkpoint building is up the hill beyond the Native Store.  Teams park on the shore of the river.  School kids come down to collect autographs and talk to the mushers.  Villagers come down to the river to talk with their friends and enjoy what’s going on.  Everyone enjoys the view of nearby White Mountain for which the village is named.

Well there you have it – a summary of Don Bower’s trail description and compiled information about Golovin and White Mountain from Wikipedia, each village’s home page and Alaska’s Online Community Data Base.  By White Mountain, the mushers are both excited to be so close to Nome and yet sad that their personal Iditarod journey is nearly finished.  Stay tuned as Handler tells us about Topkok and Safety.  Remember, in everything do your best every day and always have a plan.

Born to Run,