Iditarod changes trail route again

Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is being rerouted yet again. Race officials made another alteration to the sled dog race Friday that eliminates checkpoints at Iditarod, Cripple and Ophir and adds a novel loop from Kaltag to Grayling on the Yukon River.

Stan Hooley, executive director of the 1,100-mile race to Nome, said the change came after snowmachine volunteers reported a lack of snow and open water on creeks in the areas of the scheduled checkpoints in Cripple, Ophir and Iditarod.

''Our eyes and ears (volunteers) on the ground kept traveling from McGrath to Iditarod,'' said Hooley, ''and they simply found them to not be safe and doable. The creeks seem to be reopening with some frequency, and even in good years that can be dicey.''

Instead of traveling south from Ruby to Cripple, mushers will follow the Yukon River through Galena, Nulato and on to Kaltag. From Kaltag, the dog teams will head south on the Yukon River to Eagle Island, Anvik and Shageluk and then directly to Grayling.

From Grayling, they'll return to Eagle Island and on up the Yukon River to Kaltag. Then mushers will follow the usual trail to the Norton Sound coast and on to the finish line in Nome.

The ceremonial start still will be March 1 in downtown Anchorage. The previously rescheduled restart will stay in Fairbanks on March 3.

The new course means lots of extra work for Iditarod officials, volunteers and members of the race's volunteer ''air force.''

Because food drops have already been made along the trail, some 75 tons of dog food, people food, straw, fuel and equipment must be relocated from the former checkpoints to the new ones.

''And we need to get it done in a couple of days,'' Hooley said.

The change creates more river time for mushers, which could be trying for Kasilof musher Jon Little, who trains his dogs in the Caribou Hills on the Kenai Peninsula.

''Personally, I find the river boring and my team tends to slow down on it,'' said Little, who placed fourth last year.

Despite the latest change, Little said the 31st edition of the race still offers an exciting challenge.

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