Theodore Lambert was a musher, freight hauler and miner in Alaska, as well as one of our premier artists. His knowledge of the outdoor life in Alaska comes through in his paintings. Lambert, disappeared without a trace, from his remote cabin in the Bristol Bay area in 1960.
Tag Archives: mushing
The Yukon River mail run, leaving Eagle, Alaska around 1906. Currently, only media mail still travels this way within the state.
National Park Week, Final Day; Today’s Park Theme: B.A.R.K. Ranger Day
I think it’s safe to say that I have visited Denali National Park more than any of the others. Of course, it’s only a two hour drive away. Denali is a gem of a Park, and its Mountain and namesake is the crown jewel. Discussions for the area to become a National Park started as early as 1906, and by 1915 there was a solid plan and momentum for the idea. The naming of the Park was contentious from the very beginning, and that should be the subject of a future blog post. Alaskans and Park proponents who had actually visited the area wanted to see the Park named Denali, which was the Athabaskan word for the Mountain. The powers in Washington DC, particularly Thomas Riggs of the Alaska Engineering Commission, disagreed. The new park would be named Mount McKinley National Park, a decision that Alaskans would fight for decades until it was finally officially renamed Denali National Park in 1980.
At first the new national park was accessed by the Alaska Railroad, which ran between Seward on the southern coast and Fairbanks. The Denali Highway was opened in 1957, giving road access to the Park from the Richardson Highway, which runs between Valdez on the coast and Fairbanks. It wasn’t until 1971 for Anchorage to have direct access to Denali with the building of the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. The Denali Park Road starts at the George Parks Highway, and travels west into the Park for 92 miles. The road ends at the historic mining community of Kantishna.
There are several trails for hiking in Denali NP, but like the Wrangell-St Elias, this is wilderness, and most hiking is off trail and across country. River crossings are common, and seeing wildlife is (practically) guaranteed. I have one friend who is so wildlife viewing challenged, that other than rabbits and ravens, nothing will show for him. I add the “practically” for those in that exclusive club with my friend in NY.
For the rest of us, wildlife viewing in Denali NP&P is a smorgasbord. I have never been in the Park without seeing caribou and moose, and always grizzly in the summer months. I once took my Dad to Denali and we rode the school bus to the end of the Park Road. While stretching our legs at a rest area, I spotted a wolf sauntering along a river bed, and pointed it out to my Dad and another gentleman who was on the bus with us, and they watched it through my binoculars until we had to board again. I ended up getting scolded by everyone else who was on the bus, because I didn’t hunt them all down and show them the wolf too. Beware of the bus etiquette.
Denali is a special place in the winter, and I’ve enjoyed snowshoeing the trails and even the roads with the crowds of summer a very distant memory. Dog mushing is a very common activity in the winter, either with your own team, or riding along with a guide. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping are the most common wintertime activities. It is a very beautiful, and quiet, winter wonderland. I searched and searched for winter pictures, and I could not find where I stashed them so that I could easily find them again. I will have to go back to create some more.
Dog mushing teams have been a part of Denali Park since 1922. The Park still maintains and works a team of sled dogs. In non-Covid years, the kennels can be visited, and the rangers give some pretty cool demonstrations. Plus, these dogs are just a lot of fun to hang around; Alaskan sled dogs have developed their own unique personalities, and they love to show them off. Driving the Park Road, you will often see the dog handlers walking the sled dogs, so watch for the signs.
Denali National Park & Preserve covers 4,740,911 acres and received 594,660 visitors in 2018.
Images of the Denali Park Dog Team and Puppy Patrol courtesy of NPS/Denali Dog Ranger Division
As mushing season nears an end here in Interior Alaska, we offer you this tidbit:
One of the final dog sled races of the season ended on Tuesday. The Kobuk 440, which is the only race held above the Arctic Circle, brings the season to a close. Results were still pending at press time.
Emmitt Peters, the Athabascan sled dog musher from Ruby, Alaska, passed away this past week.
Peters, known on the trail as “The Yukon Fox”, won the 1975 Iditarod as a rookie. Not only did he win, but he shaved off six days from the previous record time. To this day, The Yukon Fox remains the only musher to win the Iditarod as a rookie.
Peters was 79.
The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race started on Saturday morning. Fifteen teams left Fairbanks, with the goal of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in 9 days, give or take.
It was a rather chilly morning to be hanging out on the Chena River to cheer the teams on their way, but several hundred people turned out to do just that. It was -25F when I left the cabin, and it must have been -30 down on the river ice. Everyone, including the dogs, were bundled up.
The 1000 mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse first started in 1984. A 1983 bull-session in the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks, led to the race’s creation. Twenty-six teams left Fairbanks that first year. The winner, Sonny Linder, made it to Whitehorse in just over 12 days.
The Quest follows the historic gold rush routes between the Yukon and Alaska’s Interior, traveling frozen rivers and crossing four mountain ranges. Dawson City, YT is the half-way point. In even years, the race starts in Fairbanks, and in odd years the race starts in Whitehorse.
There are ten checkpoints and four dog drops, where dogs can be dropped off, but not replaced. Sleds can not be replaced without a penalty. The record run happened in 2010, when Hans Gatt finished in 9 days, 26 minutes. The slowest time happened in 1988, when Ty Halvorson completed the race in 20 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes.
The Last Great Race started this past weekend, and leaders arrived in the village of Takotna (Mile 329) on Tuesday night. Many mushers, including Mitch Seavey, who was leading at the time, stopped here for their mandatory 24 hour rest.
Norwegian, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, gambled and flew through Ophir (Mile 352) at 4:52am on Wednesday. Ulsom is expected to take his 24 hour layover further on down the historic trail in Iditarod.
Trail temperature was at 32 degrees on Wednesday, which will slow down travel. Depending on what happens with the weather, Ulsom’s gamble may or may not pay off. It should be noted that the 31 year old musher from Norway has never finished outside of the Top 10, and his best finish was last year when he came in fourth.
The next check point for Ulsom is the trail’s namesake: the abandoned mining town of Iditarod. The first musher to enter Iditarod, the halfway point in the southern route, gets $3000 worth of gold nuggets. Ulsom, is still running a full team of 16 dogs.
An odd year here for the “Last Great Race”.
The Iditarod started this past weekend, as mushers and dog teams left Willow, AK on Sunday. Due to the lack of snow, there had been talk of changing the start of the race to Fairbanks, which is actually closer to the historical serum run that the race commemorates, but race officials decided to stick with the southern Willow Run.
Maybe, they should have come north:
With treacherous, snowless trail conditions, eleven of the sixty-nine mushers who started the race have already scratched. Another, has been withdrawn by race officials after an injury.
Scott Janssen, a 52 year old musher/undertaker from Anchorage , broke his ankle on a section of trail between Rohn and Nikolai. Known as the Mushing Mortician, Janssen said, “There’s a lot of heaven to be seen along the Iditarod route, but that part of the trail was all hell.”
Photos courtesy of AP/Anchorage Daily News