RAINY PASS, Alaska - A wrong turn near the beginning of the Iditarod Trail cost Norwegian musher Bjornar Andersen more than an hour, but he was back with the leaders Monday, resting his dogs on a snow-covered lake.
Andersen, nephew of reigning champ Robert Sorlie of Norway, said he followed the wrong trail marker after leaving the Skwentna checkpoint, about 80 miles from the official start in Willow.
"Yesterday was a bad day, and I hope today will be better," said Andersen, 27, who last year became the second rookie in the race's 34-year history to finish in the top five. Despite the setback, Andersen's was the seventh team to arrive at Rainy Pass, one of 24 checkpoints on the more than 1,100-mile sled dog race from Willow to Nome.
About 15 dog teams snoozed on straw in the bright sunlight, surrounded by the snow-covered peaks of the Alaska Range. Mushers napped, checked their dogs' paws, or heated food in pots of water drawn from a hole in the lake ice.
Competitors in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race are passing through checkpoints in wilderness cabins and in some of Alaska's tiniest villages before heading up the windy western coast to the old gold mining town of Nome.
Fresh, deep snow and warm weather - about 30 degrees and sunny - slowed the race between Willow and Rainy Pass, about 150 miles into the world's longest sled dog race. The dogs, whose bloodlines stem from several arctic breeds, prefer running in colder weather.
"It was real soft and punchy," said Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, who's running his 10th Iditarod.
At an elevation of 3,200 feet, Rainy Pass is the highest point on the Iditarod. The checkpoint, at a lodge on Puntilla Lake, is sandwiched between two of the trail's most treacherous sections.
Upon leaving the Rainy Pass lodge, sled dog teams will navigate the Dalzell Gorge, where a trail volunteer was killed by an avalanche in February. The gorge's serpentine downhill run includes blind corners, hairpin turns, glare ice and ice bridges.