Warm weather! Can the Iditarod run?
“The rivers are open!” is the common buzz from the locals who live in the area surrounding Finger Lake and Puntilla Lake . “The Happy River is wide open and getting across to the steps that lead to Puntilla Lake and Rainy Pass is very hazardous” they say.
My mission is to fly Stan Hooley, Executive Director of the Iditarod trail committee, along the trail to assess conditions. A decision will be made soon whether or not the Iditarod will run this year on the same course. Stan will video tape the trail so that further study can be made if deemed necessary.
The landing of my ski plane on Wasilla Lake was uneventful. I picked up my passenger and we headed for the trail. As we soared above the Birch and Spruce trees, we had an excellent view of the snowless Tundra as we headed West. It became obvious to Stan within minutes that the restart would not take place in Wasilla due to the lack of snow and warm weather. Across the Susitna and up the Yentna River we flew. The terrain is now covered with snow and the trail is right below us. We flew over Skwentna and Shell Lake . As we arrive at Finger Lake , we discover that the trail stops here. No one, so far, has ventured beyond. The snow is sparce and the willows protrude creating a gauntlet for the trailbreakers and ultimately, the mushers and their teams.
Continuing on and as the Happy River approaches below, we have a bird’s eye view of the Steps and the ice that has recently formed. We pass Puntilla on our way toward Rainy Pass. The terrain below is barren and mostly void of snow. The only way to identify the trail is by the tripods set up in past years to help mushers navigate in blizzards and whiteout conditions.
Up and through Rainy Pass , we head down toward the Rohn checkpoint. The river through the Dalzel Gorge has ice laced with holes big enough to drop a car into. At Rohn we find more open water on the two rivers that join in this majestic valley.
It is time to turn the airplane towards home as Stan slips a fresh battery into his video recorder.