Sorlie leads Iditarod mushers into Kaltag

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Norwegian Robert Sorlie continued his march north Sunday, stopping for less than 20 minutes at Eagle Island on the Yukon River as other leaders rested in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Sorlie, 43, of Hurdahl, Norway, reached Eagle Island at 8:12 a.m. and left at 8:31 Sunday with a dozen dogs, more than two hours before the arrival of Ramy Brooks, who rested his team there for about five and a half hours.

Sorlie is in his second Iditarod. A firefighter at Gardrmoen International Airport, he finished ninth last year and was named rookie of the year.

Brooks, of Healy, reached Eagle Island at 10:41 a.m. with nine dogs. He left at 3:41 p.m.

Three-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park reached Eagle Island at 3:17 p.m. with 13 dogs. As of 5 p.m., he was still resting his team.

The island is about 70 miles south of Kaltag, the last checkpoint on the Yukon River and the jumping off point for mushers to head for the Bering Sea coastline.

The 31st running of the Iditarod has gone through unprecedented changes because of an unusually warm winter that forced organizers to change the traditional route and move the start north to Fairbanks.

After following a trail of mostly rivers to Kaltag, mushers turned south for a Yukon River run to Anvik. The race route calls for them the double back to Kaltag.

The unprecedented route change has drawn praise from some animal rights groups, happy to see race organizers recognizing the danger to the dogs. Other rights groups remain steadfastly opposed.

The first musher to reach Kaltag the second time will receive a seven-course gourmet meal. The village of just more than 200 people is 335 miles west of Fairbanks, situated on a 35-foot bluff at the base of Nulato Hills west of the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge.

From Kaltag, mushers will leave the Yukon River for a 90-mile run to Unalakleet on the coast.

The trail begins with 15 miles through spruce forest and open areas along the Kaltag River, then through drainages along the base of Old Woman Mountain. As the trail continues past the mountain, mushers face gentle, rolling hills. Little or no vegetation can be seen along the trail until near Unalakleet.

The last 32 miles is often windy and snow is usually wind-packed and crusty.

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