The organizers of the 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race are pinning down the final details of the race, which will look very different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of the traditional 1,200 mile trail between Willow and Nome, mushers will instead leave from Deshka Landing on March 7, travel to the historic village of Iditarod, do a loop around the nearby ghost town of Flat, and head back across the Alaska Range to finish at Deshka Landing. Organizers are calling the approximately 860-mile route the “Gold Loop Trail.” The trail will also bypass traditional stops at Yentna and Takotna and stringent COVID-19 protocols will be in place, according to Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach.
Iditarod mushers, officials and volunteers will be tested multiple times and masks are required, he said. If a musher tests positive, a second test will be administered to confirm the positive reading and that musher will be withdrawn, Urbach said. “Everyone who travels will be tested everywhere they travel,” he said.
The ceremonial start in Anchorage also has been canceled and there will be little public access to the start and finish.
Because the trail is an out and back, mushers will have to traverse the Alaska Range twice, as well as the notorious Dalzell Gorge and Happy River Steps. Race marshal Mark Nordman said snow conditions are generally good along the trail. Crews are breaking out and marking the trails now, he said.
“We will have people on standby at the lodges to provide a safe trail coming back,” Nordman said, noting that a pair of trailbreakers also will be stationed in the Dalzell Gorge. Most checkpoints will be set up in tent camps, with the exception of McGrath, which will be in a large hangar away from town. Nordman said he expects many mushers to opt to bring their own tents and camp out at checkpoints.
“It will have a little more wilderness feel to it,” he said.
Any head-on passes will likely occur in fairly open areas in the Interior and shouldn’t pose a problem, he said.
Forty-seven mushers are currently signed up for the race, 19 of whom are from the Interior.
Gatt wins Yukon Journey
It was a close finish, but Hans Gatt made it across the finish line of the Yukon Journey in Whitehorse, Yukon, on Friday only 3 minutes ahead of Ed Hopkins.
Gatt, a four-time champion of the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest International Sled, won the 255-mile race in a final sprint, poling and kicking so hard he collapsed over his sled’s handlebars after finishing. Hopkins, using a trail marker to pole, crossed just a couple of minutes later, his dogs’ tails waving in the livestream of the finish. Jason Biasetti finished third.
The Yukon Journey, which began Feb. 24, is Canada’s answer to the cancellation of the 1,000-mile Quest due to COVID-19. The route followed the traditional Quest trail from Pelly Crossing to Whitehose. Checkpoints were held outside the villages for the safety of the residents.
Eleven mushers entered the race: In addition to Gatt and Hopkins, Jacob Heigers, Susie Rogan, Marcelle Fressineau, Kyla Boivin, Connor McMahon, Martine Le Levier, Nathaniel Hamlyn and Paul Hamlyn started the race. Many are veterans of the Yukon Quest and/or the Yukon Quest 300 races.
2022 Yukon Quest
Looking ahead, as of right now, the 2022 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is a go for a full 1,000 miles. The Canada and the Alaska boards of directors announced this week that the 2022 race will begin in Fairbanks on Feb. 5.
Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.