Nome Kennel Club holds two-day, 90-mile sled dog race
Five teams of dogs and mushers braved stinging cold to make 46-mile runs on two consecutive days last weekend. The original plan was a race to Pilgrim Hot Springs and back but deteriorating trail conditions at Golden Gate caused the event organizer, the Nome Kennel Club, to change it to a Salmon Lake race. The plan was to make the approximately 40-mile run from Nome to Salmon Lake and return Sunday. Unfortunately, windchills of minus 51°F were predicted for Salmon Lake, so the event was changed once again to two days of out and back racing over a very nice, very fast trail.
The Saturday stage began at noon from the Nome snow dump with temperatures around minus 15°F. Nils Hahn was fastest back with a time of 4:39:28. Second was Juliah DeLoach, a visiting musher from Trapper Creek. Sarah Richards was third, Diana Haecker was fourth and Reese Madden fifth.
After a good night’s rest at home and out of the wind, the teams were back at the snow dump for the second day of racing. The temperature was slightly colder, but the wind was light. Once again Nils Hahn was the fastest with a time of 4:18:50. Juliah DeLoach was right on his heels, finishing just six minutes down. Sarah Richards repeated in third with Diana Haecker fourth and Reese Madden in fifth. All teams improved on their times from the previous day.
At the finish line on the second day, Juliah DeLoach’s dogs were upbeat and happy looking. “I just gave them fish soup for breakfast,” she said as she passed out snacks. “So they’d probably like a hearty meal and some straw for a little bit.” Deloach is a school secretary in Trapper Creek and flew to Nome with her dogs, her gear, and even her snow machine to go on a 400-mile, 12-day expedition in the region with fellow Nome musher Stephanie Johnson and four trail companions on snowmachines after race weekend.
“The course was beautiful, varied,” said winning musher Nils Hahn. “It had different terrain. Going out we went by Dredge 5, which is pretty cool for people from outside of Nome like Juliah. She commented on that.” The trail then went up over the shoulder of Newton so they could see the Topkok Hills, then Little McKinley and Cape Nome and the ocean. It was a beautiful day and sunny so they could see forever. “And then we crossed the Nome River and saw a lot of cars on the road, spectators waving and honking their horns,” said Hahn. “Then the trail crossed the road at Banner Creek and goes up behind the reindeer corral onto a ditch line. It’s up high on the ridge overlooking the Nome River Valley and Engstrom Mountain and Engstrom Mine. Then we went down again and crossed the river and hit the old railroad track there. Then it went along the Nome River for a ways to mile 20. And then back. So you’ve got open country, kind of coastal and then some hills. Then some river travel and some twisty winding ditch line travel up and down in the willows. It’s great scenery. It’s like the most beautiful trail we have up here.”
Hahn thought the temperature was great for dogs who are used to it. He said it was sort of cold but in a race a musher has to work steering the sled. Between Banner Creek and the turnaround it’s windy with short uphill sections. “You have to actively drive your sled,” he said. “Once we turned around whatever wind we had was at our back and it was sunny and beautiful.” Most dogs were blanketed to protect their flanks from frostbite. Saturday saw temperatures around 0°F and light winds. On Sunday, at noon, the weather service reported a temperature of -21°F with no wind and later light winds out of the North.
“It was a good race,” said Hahn. “It was real pretty. That trail is a lot of fun and it’s real safe. We’ve been traveling it by dog team and snow machine and there hadn’t been much snow so it was a pretty fast trail.”
The Nome Kennel Club’s next event is scheduled for Saturday, March 6 as part of the 2021 Winterfest. At 11 a.m. at the snow dump there will be 4-mile races for teams of three to six dogs, skijor and bikejor races. At 3 p.m. there will be a weight pull contest for any dog that likes to pull. On Sunday there will be junior sled dog races and dog sled rides. All events are weather pending.
Final Results, Nome Kennel Club Engstrom Mountain Sled Dog Race
- Nils Hahn, 12 dogs. Day 1— 4:39:28; day 2— 4:18:50. Total time: 8:58:18
- Juliah Deloach, 11 dogs. Day 1—4:46:37; day 2—4:25:23. Total time: 9:12:00
- Sarah Richards, 9 dogs. Day 1—5:01:53; day 2—4:58:42. Total time: 10:00:35
- Diana Haecker, 10 dogs. Day 1—5:25:07; day 2—5:10:13. Total time: 10:35:20
- Reese Madden, 8 dogs. Day 1— 7:14:13; day 2—6:49:00. Total time: 14:03:13