Weather prevents food drop at Eagle Island Iditarod checkpoint
Another Iditarod curveball is coming at the mushers. The weather, which had not played a huge factor in the race up to this point, has found its way into the storyline.
Food did not make it to the Eagle Island checkpoint, about halfway between Anvik and Kaltag. Because of this, Eagle Island is off the table as a spot for mushers to take their eight-hour break.
“It was the weather,” Iditarod race judge Kevin Saiki explained at Anvik Friday morning. “We couldn’t get planes out because of the ceiling, because of the snow. Eagle Island is a very unique checkpoint because there’s no strip there. It’s all ski plane. We’ve had freezing rain, we’ve had some challenges.”
Eagle Island does have some support. There are vets, heet and dogs may be dropped there. But with Eagle Island out of the picture for the eight-hour break, the options are now limited to Anvik, Grayling or Kaltag.
According to Iditarod rules, mushers must take an eight-hour break on the Yukon River.
“It’s going to change the game for sure,” said Saiki. “The whole flexibility of the Iditarod is being put into practice right now.”
He says they’re still looking at Grayling as an option to drop the food.
The news was delivered to the first three mushers into Anvik: Nicolas Petit, Mitch Seavey and Joar Leifseth Ulsom.
Petit was first in at 5:21 Friday morning. After a 90-minute nap as he prepared for his early afternoon departure, he was asked about the development.
“It just means I have to be ready for it,” he said. “No big deal. My strategy is an evolving thing.”
Petit has now taken his eight-hour break. Seavey and Leifseth Ulsom have not as of yet but Saiki says Eagle Island is not a common place to do so.
Mushers are also being advised in Anvik to take food with them which may have otherwise been left behind.
“These are great competitors,” said Saiki. “They’ve run the race enough times. They’ve had to come up with contingency plans multiple times before.”
Eagle Island’s food was being held at Unalakleet, which serves as Eagle’s staging area. Eagle’s food is usually sent through the U.S. mail but Saiki says they had to wait to send it.
“We have no way to protect the food from wildlife and make sure that it stays in good shape, doesn’t thaw, refreeze. It’s one of the last big logistical moves that we make."
According to Saiki, previous races have actually been stopped for a time when food wasn’t able to be delivered into checkpoints.
Iditarod Race Marshall Mark Nordman sent out the following release Friday:
"Due to unsafe flying weather, the traditional Eagle Island checkpoint has changed. Eagle Island is now a hospitality stop, and can be used as a dog drop with veterinary support available. Heet is also available. Mushers shold (sic) plan on hauling the supplies needed for the trip from Grayling to Kaltag. We are in the process of trying to move additional food drop bags to Grayling for your trip upriver. With these changes, Eagle Island CANNOT be used as an 8-hour layover location on the Yukon."
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