Iditarod 40: A race of checkpoints

Hugh Neff

Ask just about any musher in the Iditarod how they track the race and they will say from checkpoint to checkpoint.

A couple weeks ago I met a 2010 Iditarod rookie and she pulled out a laminated card with a chart listing miles to and from each checkpoint. She said this is how she knew what she was up against. When things got rough she would know its only “X” number of miles to the next checkpoint where she could rest her dogs (and possibly herself), grab a meal, re-evaluate and move on down the trail.

Then you talk to veterans like 2012 Yukon Quest champion Hugh Neff, who is competing in his ninth Iditarod this year, and he will tell you that he knows the trail well enough now that he doesn’t worry about what checkpoint is coming up but who might be staying in one for their mandatory rests.

The following is a chart of distances between checkpoints on the Northern Route which is ran this year and on even years.


Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip    11 miles

Willow to Yentna Station    42 miles

Yentna to Skwentna    30 miles

Skwentna to Finger Lake    40 miles

Finger Lake to Rainy Pass    30 miles

Rainy Pass to Rohn    35 miles

Rohn to Nikolai    75 miles

Nikolai to McGrath    48 miles

McGrath to Takotna    18 miles

Takotna to Ophir    23 miles

Ophir to Cripple    73 miles

Cripple to Ruby    70 miles

Ruby to Galena    50 miles

Galena to Nulato    37 miles

Nulato to Kaltag    47 miles

Kaltag to Unalakleet    85 miles

Unalakleet to Shaktoolik    40 miles

Shaktoolik to Koyuk    50 miles

Koyuk to Elim    48 miles

Elim to Golovin    28 miles

Golovin to White Mountain    18 miles

White Mountain to Safety    55 miles

Safety to Nome    22 miles

Note: As of 2012 the Northern Route distance is approximately 975 miles. In prior years the distance was always over 1,000 miles. Three things factor into this adjustment:

  • The change in the Ceremonial Start (running from downtown Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip instead of Eagle River);
  • The change of the Restart location from Wasilla to Willow (loss of the Wasilla-Knik-Susitna River and some Yentna River mileage), and;
  • The actual year to year trail conditions can affect trail routing and the actual mileage will vary somewhat from year to year.

    “1,049 miles®” has been a symbolic figure from the inception of the race to signify the 1,000 miles or more of race trail and the number 49 depicts Alaska as the 49th state.

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