Checkpoint Checkup: Unalakleet to Shaktoolik

Shaktoolik from the air

Shaktoolik from the air

As mushers leave “the place where the east wind blows,” they won’t be losing the blustery wind by any means. This next leg of the journey for mushers is approximately 38 miles to Shaktoolik, another village along the coast. Depending on weather it should take teams 4-6 hours to complete.

As teams leave Unalakleet, the first part of the trail can be quite icy. For about 25 miles the mushers will be running through woods and wide open areas. The last 12 miles of their journey will be along the desolate coastline. The toughest part of the section of the trail is the weather. Even when the weather is “good,” the wind can be tenacious. With the wind chill, temperatures have dropped to almost 100 below zero Fahrenheit with gale force winds blasting teams along the coast.

When teams near Shaktoolik they will observe abandoned buildings from “Old Shaktoolik.” They will continue past the buildings a couple of miles until arriving at “New Shaktoolik.” The checkpoint is at the National Guard Armory. Mushers will park their teams on the south side of the building to protect their dogs from the gusty north wind. Most teams won’t stay in Shaktoolik long due to the hazardous winds.

The airstrip is about 2-miles from the checkpoint. With all of the gear, the bitter temperatures and wind, a 2-mile walk can be lengthy and frigid. Did you know they have a taxi in Shaktoolik? Of course they do, Pam’s Taxi Service. Pam will be waiting at the airstrip when flights are scheduled to arrive and shuttles people from the airstrip to the village. Her taxi is a yellow snowmachine with a covered sled hitched to the back properly fitted with comfortable bus seats.

The Red Throne

The Red Throne

Going to the restroom in remote villages in Alaska can be entertaining and tricky. If you need to relieve yourself while at the Armory in Shaktoolik, you will find yourself climbing the stairs to the “Red Throne.” You head up the stairs, turn yourself around, all while trying not to fall, and do your business. Then, you close the lid and exit. When the lid closes the “Red Throne” turns the waste into compost.

Looking out from Shaktoolik into Norton Sound, the natives can see Besboro Island, located 11 miles off the coast. A view of the island is shared by the natives of Unalakleet and Shaktoolik, and is used for subsistence and recreational activities as well as a safe harbor for ships in stormy weather. The shape, size, and color change by the minute. An explanation for this change is due to cold air trapped near the ice by warm air. Typically what happens is a mirage occurs. Imagine being a tired musher who has been out on the trail for hours and coming upon this image. Natives use Besboro Island as their weatherman, watching for changes to come.


We keep getting closer and closer. 171 miles to Nome. Next up, Koyuk.

Ideas for students:

1. Winds in Shaktoolik can reach hurricane speeds. How fast is the wind blowing in a 1.Tropical storm  2. Hurricane  3. Tornado

2. What is the most unique taxi you have seen?

3. What is the coldest your town’s temperature has reached?