Sheep Mountain Report
Now that I've had a day to get myself back together, here's what
happened over the weekend from my point of view. (For more pictures, see Donna's
Sheep Mountain Photos)
I left Willow at 6 am, picked up Jamie West and off we went for the
100 mile ride to Sheep Mountain. It was cold and dark and the Glenn Highway is narrow and winding for most of the way. It wasn't snowing
then, so that was a good thing.
Glenn Hwy, Sheep Mountain Lodge & the Iditarod trail
We got to Sheep Mt. Lodge at 9 am. Found Karen and Mark out on the
landing strip where the race would start. They had parked the truck
and were taking care of dogs. We dropped off the food and frozen
sausage we brought and took my car back to the lodge parking area.
Put our stuff in the new cabin Karen and Mark rented...boy, very
nice. We all agreed we could live there. I remember seeing them being
built as I drove by when I moved in September.
I found the other musher I had brought stuff for and delivered his
packages. Then it was musher meeting time. Jamie and I weren't
allowed in for that. When that ended, we had a few minutes before it
was time to head out to the start area. While Karen, Mark and Jamie
stayed at the truck, I took my video camera and headed up the
hill...way up the hill. The start would be along the landing strip
and then climb the hill and off into the mountainside. I stopped
where the trail took a turn so I would have a nice side view of all
the teams after watching them head on as they powered up the hill. I
must tell you, it was very cool to watch them all look so strong and
vibrant as they climbed. Just beautiful.
Click on the image to start the video or right
click to download
Karen was number 11 and the team looked fabulous! They paid no
attention to me and glided on by. Karen waved. I did miss Mark's team. My own
fault. I knew he was number 26. I knew when he was next. I had paused
the camera after number 25 and was adjusting my stance to get the
best shot I could. Now you have to understand all the clothing I was
wearing and the bear bag covering the camera made me look like the Michelin man with a big sack. I must have accidentally hit the start
button and not known it. SO, when I put the camera to my eye and hit
the button again, the tape paused. I am so bummed, because the shot
of Mark and the puppy team was lovely. They all looked great and
moved on by very smartly. You'll just have to take my word for it.
Next, Jamie and I take the truck and head to Eureka Lodge to wait for
the teams. It is truly a surreal place. In the pitch black all one
can see are musher headlights, firelight and once in a while the
headlight of a snowmachine. There is smoke from the fire. The
headlights silhouette the mushers. It's pretty quiet except for the
rustling of clothing and the crunch of feet on the snow. Once in a
while a dog howls, or maybe growls or maybe has a tussle with his
neighbor dog, but mostly I remember quiet. The whole thing reminded
me of a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Karen gets in just as she predicted around 5 hours later. Her team
still looks jazzed and not at all tired. Since the race is following
Iditarod rules, Jamie and I can do nothing to help Karen. She has to
snack the dogs. Unhook tug lines. Go get water. Cook them a meal.
Feed them. Pick up bowls. Check feet. Distribute straw...not
necessarily in that order. Once the dogs are snuggled into their
straw we go inside the lodge for dinner. We can eat with her and we
all have halibut and chips for dinner. Yum. During this time, Karen
gets a bit worried about Mark not being in. Zack Steer, the race
organizer, tells her they have to go check some trail markers and
will be on the look out for Mark.
Karen gets kisses from Q before leaving the final checkpoint
A while later, we hear Mark is in.
We head to the truck and he's there with his team. He has scratched.
Turns out, the transition lens in his glasses never went back to
clear mode when it got dark. He literally could not see the trail. He
trusted Draco in lead to keep him out of trouble, which he did. But
he knew when they had gone around the same lake twice, he was not
going to find the trail out. So, in my opinion, he did the best thing
possible. He stopped the team. He fixed them a snack and waited to be
found. There was no reason to continue if he couldn't see. Why risk a
dog or himself getting hurt. I know he was disappointed, but said the
dogs had a great run and they don't know they didn't finish, so who
We stayed around for a few more hours and it was time for Karen to go
on the second leg of the race. The team was up and ready. They were
having a great time. They stepped out smartly into the darkness. The
rest of us took Mark's team and went back to Sheep Mt. to get a
little sleep. Well, two people slept and I listened to snoring. HA!
At 4 am, Jamie and I got up and went back to Eureka. We took the dog
truck and the dogs, just in case. Mark slept in.
We got to the checkpoint about 20 minutes before Karen returned. They
had a good run. A tough run, but a good one anyway. Lots of hills if
I remember correctly. Karen went thru the same routine with the dogs
while we waited. Then she and Jamie went in the lodge to eat. The
kitchen wouldn't open till 7, so I opted to take a nap in the truck.
After an hour or so, Jamie came out to drop Mark's dogs and feed
them. I got out to help. While they were eating, I poured myself a
huge glass of orange juice from my cooler of drinks. I put the glass
down to help load dogs and by the time I got back, my drink was
almost frozen. That's how cold it was there.
About 10 am, Karen came back out to get the dogs ready to leave again
for the last leg. It was now light out so much easier to do things.
The dogs were happy and spunky. I was able to give them all hugs and
pets. Karen got them to sing.
The one thing I do remember is all the race officials who help with
getting dogs to the line and/or parked in their spot, is that they
all loved Karen's dogs. So many mentions of how sweet they are and
Olena, Hilda & Jinx, Q & Crunchie, Moses & Barq, Herman & Jr
They are breath taking when they head out to the line.
At 10:45 they took off for the last leg. Jamie and I cleaned up their
sleeping spot, helped two other mushers with dropped dogs and then
We got back to Sheep Mt., dropped Mark's dogs again and fed them.
When they were safely back in the truck, we went in and feed
ourselves. The Van Zyles stopped by to visit, which was a thrill for
me as I never met them. I have several Van Zyle posters and a pair of
mittens that Jona did bead work on. Really nice people. Then we went
back out and repacked the truck so the Ramsteads could leave early
the next morning.
Karen returned just after dark. Said they had a great run. Since the
race was over we could help her with everything. First the dogs got
snacks. Then they got kibble and warm water. We took the dogs from
the gang line and attached them to the truck. We removed harnesses.
Everyone got lots of hugs and pets. They have such wonderful
personalities. Karen went to shower while we finished up. Mark had to
load all the team since they went in the top line of the dog box and
neither Jamie or I could lift them that high. They settled right in.
We all went over to the banquet. Then Jamie and I drove back to Willow.
Two days that felt like a week, but so were so interesting and fun. I
slept like a rock last night and for me, that is amazing!
Creator of the DVD "Pretty Sled Dogs"
featuring Karen and the dogs of North Wapiti