The Farewell Burn is living up to its name in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Tuesday, with a tenth of its original field set to leave the race after some nasty crashes.
According to race standings as of 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, a total of seven mushers have officially scratched from Iditarod XLII’s original field of 69 mushers, barely three days after the ceremonial start in Downtown Anchorage.
Six of the seven mushers scratched from the field overnight Monday and early Tuesday, including four in Rohn -- DeeDee Jonrowe, Gus Guenther, Mike Santos and Linwood Fiedler -- as well as Jim Lanier and Jan Steves in Rainy Pass. The seventh, Cindy Gallea, quit Sunday at the Skwentna checkpoint.
An eighth musher, Jake Berkowitz, reportedly plans to scratch Tuesday. His wife, Robin Berkowitz, told Channel 2 that he called her via satellite phone after a crash that left his sled broken beyond repair, saying he can’t make 100 feet of headway along the trail in current conditions.
Mushers report little to no snow on the trail along much of the trail thus far, including the Farewell Burn between Rohn and Nikolai. After the Iditarod Trail Committee’s decision to restart the race in Willow rather than moving the restart to Fairbanks, several mushers said that they wished the location had been moved -- but expressed confidence that they’d be able to adapt.
The first to scratch Tuesday was DeeDee Jonrowe, a veteran musher who has competed in the race 28 times before. She scratched at 6 a.m. and told checkpoint personnel she did so because "she was physically beat up from the Dalzell Gorge."
Veteran musher Tim Osmar says the Gorge is a "pretty nasty" section between checkpoints in Rainy Pass and Rohn.
"This is probably going to go down in history as one of the most hard-on-people runs in all times," Osmar said.
Shortly after Jonrowe scratched, veteran Linwood Fiedler scratched at 6:15 a.m. Iditarod officials say Fiedler cited "injury from driving the Dalzell Gorge."
Another veteran Musher not in the race this year, Zack Steer, said what comes after the Gorge isn't going to be an easier for the rest of teams trying to make it to the finish. Steer says the Farewell Burn area between Rohn and Nikolai is treacherous this year because of a lack of snow.
"You need to have some snow to have control over your dog team and if you're just running on frozen tundra and rock or ice it's nearly impossible," Steer said.
Between the scratches and race leader Martin Buser’s decision to take his mandatory 24-hour layover, reported on the Iditarod’s website, Tuesday night’s field of teams farthest along the trail is volatile. Sonny Lindner was the first musher to reach McGrath, with Lindner arriving at 4:38 p.m. -- but Aliy Zirkle spent only 60 seconds there when she pulled in at 4:53 p.m., becoming the first to leave the checkpoint. Nicolas Petit, Jeff King and Hugh Neff have all reached McGrath, but only Petit is out, following Zirkle at 6:01 p.m.
All of the race’s other remaining teams are in or en route to McGrath, Nikolai or Rohn, with 15 teams led by Aaron Burmeister out of Nikolai en route to McGrath, and 28 teams led by Matt Failor headed from Rohn to Nikolai. Buser heads 10 teams stopped in Nikolai, with four more stopped in Rohn.
Channel 2's Mallory Peebles contributed information to this story.