This story was originally Appeared in high country news is part of climate desk collaboration.
Mike Williams Jr. doesn’t remember when he started dog sledding, but once he was strong enough to handle it, it became his passion. The first was walking with his father’s dog after school on his 3-mile and his 4-mile trails near his home in Akiak, Alaska. He ran his Iditarod for the first time in his 2010 and has made seven appearances since.
The Iditarod is Alaska’s most famous sporting event. Each March, a relay of 20 dog sled teams delivers life-saving drugs to Nome to stop an outbreak of diphtheria, commemorating his 1925 serological test, in which sled dogs and their sled dogs travel from Anchorage to Nome for approximately Travel a thousand miles of trail. This route is only passable in winter when rivers and lakes freeze. However, as the region warms, the trails have become trickier and less reliable in the last two decades. The 51st annual run of Iditarod begins on his March 4th, but this year there are fewer teams than usual. In the past, there were 85 teams participating, but now there are 33 teams, the lowest in the history of the race.
there is Many reasons for this decline, but climate change does not help. “Our ecosystem is currently under fire within Alaska,” said the chief operating officer of the Iditarod Trail Commission, a nonprofit organization that organizes what is called the “Last Great Race.” Chas St. George said. St George started the role in 2016 and the race has had to adapt to unpredictable weather, he says. This creates new obstacles and potential safety hazards for Masher and his dogs. The rivers, streams, and lakes at the intersections of the route are no longer as reliably frozen as they used to be, and vegetation grows in new places, impeding the trail. An unseasonably warm storm brings rain instead of snow, washing away the critical sea ice at Norton his sound, which Musher must cross in the closing stages of the race. Melting permafrost can destabilize once-hard-frozen ground, making summer wildfires more frequent and charred trees falling onto trails.
Akiak musher Williams says he’s been racing for a few years and has noticed the changing terrain and how it affects the trails. He remembers one warm winter of his 2014. At that time, parts of the trail were frozen and other areas were bare ground.This made for a bumpy ride Musher ended up with a sprained ankle, a bruise, and a broken sled.
“It was a very demanding year for training and racing, and it was very difficult to run Iditarod in such conditions for almost the entire race,” he said. “And it was very humbling. Some of us got hurt, so I think a lot of us were lucky to get through that course uninjured.”