It looks like a fast trail to Cripple. A pack of mushers led by Paul Gebhart took off for there yesterday afternoon. We’re not sure yet how that worked out for them. And now another group has taken off for Cripple from Takotna on what may be a better and faster trail. We’re talking about Kjetil Backen, 45 minutes ahead of Lance Mackey and Jeff King. They will pass Mitch Seavey and others, who can’t take off until later from Ophir.
Cripple is the halfway point, and the most remote point, on the trail. Reporting from there is fragmentary and often delayed. Things will become a lot clearer by the time teams reach Ruby and the Yukon River. The front pack that Gebhart led toward Cripple yesterday includes Hugh Neff, Zack Steer, DeeDee Jonrowe, Sylvia Willis, Martin Buser, Ed Iten, Ken Anderson, Rohn Buser and several others. In the past, some have gone all the way to Ruby before taking their 24 hour layover, which is mandatory, and can be a key element of strategy. Though there are other reasons some mushers lean towards Takotna.
Some took their twenty-four hour layovers in McGrath and headed down the trail toward the others in the middle of the night. They’ll roar through Takotna and Ophir, trying to catch up with the pack on the way to the Yukon river. They include Hans Gatt, William Kleedin, Gerry Willomitzer and five-time winner Rick Swenson.
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Libby Casey, KUAC – Takotna
David Shurtleff, APRN – McGrath
Be sure to listen to the attached audio update for our full report.