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Po Box 831
Kotzebue, AK 99752


Checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail

Katherine Keith

Photo taken by Andy Haviland in White Mountain of Team Baker coming into town when John Baker won in 2011.

During the Iditarod there are 24 checkpoints on even years and 26 on odd years, a "checkpoint" is where a dog musher and team can get precious rest and eat food during the race (a competitive musher sleeps around 2 hours a day while racing in the Iditarod) as well as give attention to dogs where needed whether that be massaging sore muscles or taking care of a cut foot.


Another big part about checkpoints are drop bags and dropped dogs. After you are done using certain supplies such as a bag of dog booties, they can then be dropped and flown to your home after the race has been concluded.  As far as dogs go though, they are dropped when they get worn out, become sick, tear a muscle, or hurt a foot. They are flown to the finish of the race and are put into veterinarians care.

Even for Champions there is time for humor at the Checkpoints!  (Another photo from Andy Haviland in White Mountain)

The Checkpoints In The Iditarod:

Anchorage, Campbell airstrip, Willow, Yenta Station, Skwentna, Finger Lake, Rainy Pass, Rohn, Nikolai, McGrath, Takotna, Ophir and then...


Iditarod, Shageluk, Anvik, Grayling, and Eagle Island


Cripple, Ruby, Galena, Nulato, and Kaltag

Both Years Continues:

Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain, Safety, and finally onto Nome.

Unalakleet Checkpoint in 2016



Dog Sled 101

Katherine Keith

John Baker runs by his motto, you dream, you try, and you win. He has competed in the Iditarod 20 times. Our team is made up of John Baker and Katherine Keith,  who are the mushers, as well as a few handlers, who are determined and inspired to run in a very successful race this upcoming Iditarod.

There is lots of equipment that goes into making mushing possible and fun. We're going to start with the dogsled.



-Pieces of a dogsled-

  • Runners: Two long strips at the bottom of the sled that slide along the snow, ice, or dirt (yes, dirt!). The runners extend beyond the back of the sled for the musher to stand on. Runners are made of wood or metal and topped by strips of plastic to protect them and help them slide more easily over the snow. The strips of plastic can be removed and replaced when they become worn or damaged.

  • Top Rail: Curved pieces of wood along the top of the sled that hold the stanchions in place and form the top of the cargo basket.

  • Stanchions: Vertical pieces of wood between the runners and top rails, forming the framework upon which the rest of the sled is built.

  • Cargo Basket: As the name suggests, this is where a musher stores his or her supplies while on the trail. A heavy-duty nylon sled bag fits over the basket to protect supplies. The basket is large enough for a musher to sleep in, using the sled bag as a tent to protect from bad weather. Also, if a dog gets sick or injured on the trail, a musher can carry the dog in the basket to the next checkpoint. You’ll often hear the expression “dog in basket” or “dog in bag.”

  • Foot Boards: Strips of rubber or plastic that fit on the back of the runners for mushers to stand on. They give the musher traction so he or she won’t slip off.

  • Brush Bow: An arched piece of heavy plastic or wood at the front of the sled that acts as a bumper. In a collision with a tree, snow bank, or other sled, the brush bow receives the shock of the impact and keeps the rest of the sled from being damaged.

  • Handle Bar: Arched piece of wood or metal at the back of the sled extending from the runners and forming the highest point of the sled. Used by the musher to hold onto the sled and steer. Tired mushers on the trail have been known to tie themselves to the handle bar so they won’t slide off the sled if they fall asleep.

  • Claw Brake: A spring-action steel claw that attaches to the rear of the sled brace running from front to back. It is positioned between the musher’s feet. When the musher steps on the brake, the claw digs into the snow, causing the sled to slow down (but not come to a full stop).

  • Snow Hook: A large steel or aluminum hook that attaches to the sled with a rope or other line and is used to anchor the sled when stopped. It looks something like a big two-pronged fish hook. Snow hooks are designed to dig into the snow when pulled to keep the dogs from running away with the sled. A horizontal piece between the two prongs allows the musher to dig the hook into the snow with a heel or pull it out with a hand. Snow hooks can also be anchored to a tree to keep the dog team and sled in place. Some mushers have snow hook holders attached to their sleds to keep the hook in place when not in use.

-Positions on the team-

  • Lead dogs: Perhaps the most critical part of the team, lead dogs set the pace and keep the other dogs on the trail. They are the dogs that respond to the musher’s commands of “gee” (right turn) and “haw” (left turn). Lead dogs must be alert and intelligent so they can find and follow the trail when it is covered over with snow. They do so through smell, sensing where other teams have passed, and feel, by feeling with their feet the packed trail beneath the loose snow covering. They also keep the other dogs in the team moving by pulling the gang-line taut. In the past, some Iditarod mushers used only one lead dog. Today, it is more common to see two.

  • Swing (or point) dogs: Positioned directly behind the lead dogs, the swing dogs help steer the team around corners. As lead dogs make a turn, it is not uncommon for the other dogs to want to jump off the trail to follow them. The swing dogs pull the team in an arc that keeps the other dogs on the trail and brings the sled and musher safely around a corner.

  • Team dogs: These are the team’s brawn. They pull the sled and maintain speed. On average, Iditarod sled dogs pull 300 to 500 pounds (including sled, supplies, and musher). There are several pairs of team dogs, depending on the size of the sled-dog team.

  • Wheel dogs: These are the two dogs closest to the sled. They are usually the largest of the dogs because they are the first to take on the weight of the load being pulled, especially during starts and climbs. Wheel dogs should be even-tempered as they must withstand the constant slamming of the sled runners behind them.

    It is not uncommon for mushers to switch their dogs’ positions during a race. Some dogs make better leaders in certain weather conditions but not others. Sometimes, after a long run, a musher may wish to give a lead dog a break. Dogs who are fighting may need to be split up, or a female in heat may need to be moved away from the males. Sometimes during a race, after a few dogs have been dropped and a team becomes smaller, a single lead dog may be used instead of two.

-Harnesses that we use-

  • H-back harnesses: Designed to help the dog pull heavy weights efficiently
  • X-Back harnesses: used more frequently than the H-back, with short versions that ride farther forward on the dog's body.

-Other Gear-

  • Dog booties: Are put on the dogs to help prevent cuts and bruising on their feet while running in harsh conditions or over long periods of time.
  • Dog jackets: For when it is just REALLY cold outside. We actually have wolf fur and we will sew it to the band that goes around the belly for extra warmth.



The History of the Iditarod

Katherine Keith

Using dog as a way of transportation was very common in rural Alaska as far back as the early 1900's. Dogs were used for transportation of mail and adventures looking for gold also found this a reliable method of traveling through harsh conditions. One of the more famous dog sled stories (and one you may have heard of) is Balto and the strike of diphtheria of Nome in 1925. Dogs were used (when planes could not make the trip do to harsh winter conditions) to transport the lifesaving serum 700 miles from Nenana to Nome (Nenana is 220 miles north of Anchorage). 20 dog teams would take part in relaying the serum and they did it in less than 5 days. 

In 1966, Joe Redington "the Father of the Iditarod" and Dorothy Page "The Mother of the Iditarod" organized the Iditarod sled dog race, commonly known as "the last great race".   The Iditarod is most commonly known as a tribute to remember those who ran to save the lives of those in Nome, but also because mushing was becoming more and more out of style.   Once the snowmobile was invented in the 1920's mushing dogs simply was becoming a sport of the past.

Joe thought that he would do something unheard of and create a long distance dog race. The very first race was completed in 3 weeks and has gotten faster and faster as we learn how to breed successful sled dogs and learn more about proper care during the race and during training. The fastest Iditarod race was in 2014 when Dallas Seavey finished in 8d 13h 4m 19s. Team Baker's best time was in 2011 when John Baker finished in 8d 18h 46m 39s. He held that record for three years.

Beginning to Look Like Summer

Katherine Keith

Team Baker Kennel is getting ready for the summer!  The dogs are enjoying the view as the ice in Kotzebue is starting to break up and then flows by the house on the way out to the ocean. They bark at the seagulls that fly in endless circles above the schools of herring.  Its a muddy time of year and after the break from spring the dogs are going to start running again.  There are no mosquitoes out quite yet but the weather is mild and warming up more every week. The dogs are still eating Shee fish caught over the winter and are no doubt looking forward to some freshly caught Salmon.  Talk about spoiled!

 Here is Moose with the crazy blue eyes

Here is Moose with the crazy blue eyes

 Moose's funny face

Moose's funny face

 Buster is soaking up some sun rays.

Buster is soaking up some sun rays.

 Ears is begging for attention.

Ears is begging for attention.

 This is her good side.

This is her good side.

Puppy Time

Katherine Keith

With fall time training seriously underway, for the big dogs, it is always wonderful to take a break and find time to enjoy some adorable puppies. Here are a few shots and we will keep more coming. 


Have a great day!

Team Baker Kennel