KOYUKUK — Warm temperatures made for tough, slow going on the little-traveled 86-mile trail from Huslia to Koyukuk on the sixth day of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The first mushers into the Koyukuk checkpoint reported difficult conditions that grew worse as more teams passed over the trail, making for tricky navigation and careful consideration for the wellbeing of the dogs.
“It’s a little slower when it gets warmer and the trail breaks apart a little more,” said Wade Marrs, the first musher into Koyukuk on Saturday morning. “It’s not bad, still moving at a decent speed.”
Dallas Seavey, the four-time champ who’s in the hunt for his fifth win, said the heat made the trail particularly tough on Friday, when he had to take an unexpected rest to let the trail improve and the dogs cool off.
“It got hot and the trail went to pieces so we had to stop about two hours and let the trail set and let the dogs rest,” he said, a few of his dogs resting in the snow, their straw piles untouched. “That was the two hours I needed to catch up with my dad and pass him.”
Seavey arrived at the checkpoint third, just 11 minutes after his dad, two-time champion Mitch Seavey. Both Dallas Seavey and Marrs took their eight-hour layovers in Koyukuk, while Mitch Seavey was the first out of the checkpoint around 1:45 p.m. after having rested for about three and a half hours.
Mitch Seavey made short work of the trail, blowing through Nulato and continuing on to Kaltag, where he arrived at 7:40 p.m. with 13 dogs and set down for his eight-hour layover.
Marrs left Nulato at 8:17 p.m. for the 47-mile run to Kaltag, followed a half-hour later by Dallas Seavey. Each stayed just one minute, long enough to sign in and out with the checker.
All of the top 10 teams were either into or out of Koyukuk as of 10 p.m.
In the early afternoon, Fairbanks musher Jessie Royer pulled into Koyukuk and discussed the tough trail with Dallas Seavey.
“The trail keeps getting worse and worse, which is good for us,” she said.
Royer compared the trail conditions to eggshells that broke and made conditions rougher and rougher the more teams that passed over them. Royer had already completed both her 24-hour and eight-hour layovers and said she regretted taking them before Koyukuk because she would’ve liked more time for her team to recuperate.
“Sometimes you got to gamble with something and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” she said.
As of early evening, just a handful of mushers had made it to Koyukuk with a big crowd still working its way down from Huslia.
Dog dies in transit
A 2-year-old male dog from Scott Smith’s team died in transit from Galena to Anchorage late Friday night. The dog, named Smoke, had been dropped in Manley Hot Springs with a wrist injury, according to a news release from the Iditarod Trail Committee.
A necropsy found that Smoke likely died from hyperthermia — overheating — while in transit, according to an update late Saturday night. It notes that further testing will be conducted to complete the study.
“The sequence of events that contributed to the warm temperature within the aircraft are being reviewed,” the update said.
The dog is the second to die during the race.
Another 2-year-old male, named Deacon on Seth Barnes’ team, died on the trail late Thursday night as the team approached the Galena checkpoint.
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