Iditarod teams passed from the rolling foothills of the Alaska Range into some of the trail’s most challenging terrain on their way from Rainy Pass Lodge to the abandoned postal outpost of Rohn.
Top teams, which navigated the precarious Dalzell Gorge in daylight, reported good trail conditions when they arrived on Monday afternoon.
“It was great, compared to last year,” said Brent Sass as he quickly tore open his drop bags and loaded his sled. “Easy, enjoyable.”
The Dalzell Gorge is a twisty trail marked by a series of steep downhills and some very tight turns.
Defending champion Dallas Seavey said his dogs cruised down the gorge after a rest near the top of Rainy Pass.
“They act like they haven’t done anything all winter so they start bombing down here at 100 miles per hour,” said Seavey.
Mille Porsild stopped for some rest in Rohn and slurped down cold spaghetti that she had packed in a vacuum-sealed bag.
“It’s unbelievable to me that there’s a trail through that gorge,” she said.
Farther back, teams struggled over the pass. A storm rolled in, cutting visibility to just a few yards.
“There was no trail from the team that was in front of me, which hadn’t been very long in front of me,” said rookie Bridgett Watkins. “It was literally marker to marker there for a minute.”
Running down the gorge was even more harrowing in the darkness.
“It’s just zip, zoom, zag, bing, bang, boom — like a pingpong ball through there. You just gotta drive,” she said. “I can see how people can break sleds in there.”
Rookie Eric Kelly had done just that. His brush bow — a rounded attachment on the front of his sled to keep runners from getting hooked on trees — had broken in a collision.
Another rookie, Gerhardt Thiart of South Africa, also had a misstep. After a rough ride on a descent that involved several strong bumps into trees, he turned a sharp corner to realize his lead dog was missing. Somehow the dog’s clip had broken in one of the collisions, allowing him to run ahead
“I saw footprints running down the trail,” he said. “Went down the trail and stopped to do something and there he is: ‘What’s up boss man, I’m back!’”