For the third time in its 45 year history the Iditarod race has been relocated to Fairbanks due to treacherous conditions in the Alaska range. What a pity.

The stretch from Finger Lake to Nicolai entails the most scenic and perilous landscape of the historic sled dog race. Unfortunately, the mushers don’t have much time to admire the beautiful scenery. Depending on weather conditions and time of the day they may not even get a glimpse of the scenery.

As a caretaker at Rainy Pass, one of the checkpoints on the trail, I witnessed one musher arriving just around sunrise on a beautiful winter morning. The first words from underneath his ice-caked fur hood were: “Whoaa, I never knew there were such beautiful mountains around”.

Arriving at Rainy Pass Lodge means the mushers and their dogs have mastered one of the first hurdles: the Steps. Steep, sometimes icy inclines in and out of the Happy River (what’s in a name). A few more nasty side hills and there you are at Puntilla Lake.

Straw, food, water, a dry cabin for the mushers to rest.

After Puntilla Lake comes the long climb to Rainy Pass, the highest point on the trail, and then the hair-raising descent into the Dalzell Gorge. It’s easy to tip your sled, crash into a tree, and in the worst case loose your team. Take a wild ride down that gorge with Jeff King. Past Rohn, a public forest service cabin, overflow, open water and the Farewell Burn are the last obstacles of the Alaska Range before the racers reach the open tundra.

All that drama will be missed this year and replaced by a long slog up the cold Yukon.

Iditarod is certainly a long hard race, but there are others that may be more challenging in terms of endurance, remoteness, and extreme conditions.

There is the Yukon Quest between Whitehorse and Fairbanks. 1000 miles. Long cold stretches between checkpoints. Four out of 21 competitors have scratched so far. Some participants of this race go on to race the Iditarod afterwards. This is prime season for long distance sled dog racing.

And then there is the, a Beringia, a 1,500-km sled dog marathon in Kamchatka, Russia. 19 mushers signed up this year. It will take about 24 days for the winner to cross the finish in Ust-Kamchatsk. In 1991 the event set the Guinness world record as the world’s longest sled dog race, with a route of 1980 kilometers.

There are great sled dog races all over the world. I hope they all will be held in the future, as it keeps a great tradition of alive.

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One Man's Paradise

The Last Great Race

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One Man's Paradise

Escape from Lucania

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Kluane Icefield, Yukon

In 1937, Mount Lucania was the highest unclimbed peak in North America (17,150 ft). The mountain had seen only one attempt, that required a 100 plus mile approach with pack horses, crossing rivers and glaciers, uncharted terrain.  The leader of that failed expedition deemed the mountain “impregnable.” Nevertheless, he brought back photographs, which only motivated Brad Washburn to attempt he mountain, although in a different style.

Washburn had found three other young climbers. It was his idea to approach the mountain from Valdez, with the help of a bold bush pilot. That expedition turned into one of the greatest epics of mountaineering in Alaska. When Bates and Washburn landed on the Walsh Glacier the landing gear of the plane got stuck in the slushy surface of the glacier. Only after several heroic efforts, which involved ditching all non-essential gear, was the pilot able to take off, and there was no question, he would not come back with the other two climbers or pickup Washburn and Bates.

What would they do? Attempt the mountain, or find the quickest way back to civilization, which was at least 100 miles away?

David Roberts meet with Washburn and Bates, when they were in their nineties and wrote a pretty gripping tale about their adventure, which has everything from 3 left boots and only one right one, to grizzlies, and most of all a close friendship between two young men in dire straits.

They say there is no more terra incognita on this planet. Everything has been mapped. That may be true. But there are still forbidden places on Earth that have seen few or no human foot prints. The Saint Elias range is one of those places: vast, cold, and almost inaccessible. Today, you can take scenic flights across the Kluane Icefield and see endless glaciers and mountains, assuming the weather is cooperating, which is not all that often. Sometimes the glaciers feed raging rivers, sometimes they calf right into the Gulf of Alaska. That was the place, where Washburn and Bates found themselves after being stranded on the Walsh Glacier.
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One Man's Paradise

Tutshi Lake, Yukon

There is silver blue, sky blue and thunder blue. Every color holds within it a soul, which makes me happy or repels me, and which acts as a stimulus. To a person who has no art in him, colors are colors, tones are tones…and that is all.

All their consequences for the human spirit, which range between heaven to hell, just go unnoticed.

Emil Nolde


Emil Nolde was an Expressionists and is considered to be one of the great painters of the 20th century, mostly working in oil and watercolors. He is known for his vigorous brushwork and expressive choice of colors. His watercolor works include stormy, vivid landscapes.

Emil Nolde Marsh with Clouds

Marsh landscape with clouds – Emil Nolde

I guess it goes without saying that I am a fan of his paintings. His biography is interesting to read. He grew up on a farm at he German/Danish border, realized that he is not made for that work. He was 31, when he decided to pursue a career as an artist. Rejected by Art Schools, he took private painting lessons until he could support himself. In 1913-14 he participated with his wife in a colonial expedition to New Guinea traveling through Russia, China, and Japan.

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Nature

Don’t mess with me!

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North American Porcupine (Erthizon dorsatum), Yukon

Met this friendly little neighbor on my ride home. Although slow moving, porcupines protect themselves with a coat of quills. The sharp needles have hooks, which make for painful removal. North American porcupines floated from Africa to Brazil and slowly made their way up North. Porcupines have a long gestation period of over 200 days.

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