A new shelter hut will be built between White Mountain and Nome
By RB Smith
Last year, the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance and White Mountain Native Corporation partnered to replace the existing A-frame shelter hut between Nome and White Mountain with a new structure. Supplies were delivered to White Mountain and the cabin was supposed to be built two weeks ago, but construction was delayed due to the storm.
The existing cabin at the site, which is about 20 miles from White Mountain on the Iditarod Trail towards Nome, has long-standing flooding issues and is unusable for much of the year. The new cabin is meant to replace it at a slightly different location and provide much-needed protection for travelers caught in the region’s notorious storms.
The need for the cabin was underscored just two weeks ago when six Iditarod mushers were caught in a windstorm between White Mountain and Safety and were forced to retire. Some mushers were able to shelter in the Topkok cabin at the Nome Kennel Club, but those farther east were stranded in the storm. The two mushers closest to White Mountain were injured during the rescue efforts.
“There were some serious and scary moments on the trail,” said White Mountain Native Corp office manager Yorise Yakunin. She worked closely with the company’s land manager, Nicole Johnson Morton, to organize the project.
“It was a need, given that there have been more serious and frequent search and rescues there,” she said. The trail is most often used by local residents traveling between White Mountain, Council, and Nome.
The grant for the cabin, which was provided by the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance, was awarded in the summer of 2021. They ordered the supplies this fall, which were purchased from Nome. The Bering Straits Development Company helped deliver the supplies to the Council by truck and trailer, after which they were shipped to White Mountain on six boats and stored in the Public Safety Connex.
Yakunin said the project was a team effort, with many organizations including the Nome Kennel Club and White Mountain Search and Rescue and Volunteer Fire Department contributing time and equipment. “It was just amazing to witness,” she said.
Later that fall, a Bering Air helicopter transported foundation materials and six crew members to the site of the new cabin, which is about three miles from the existing A-frame cabin.
They have installed the foundations and plan to return by snowmobile on Wednesday March 16 to build the exterior. It would have been just two days before the disaster involving the Iditarod mushers. However, the project was delayed due to bad weather. “We would like to do the majority this spring,” Yakunin said. The plan is to install insulation and a woodstove on subsequent trips this spring and summer.
They may have another helicopter trip this summer to bring an outhouse, but the goal is to have the cabin fully functional by next winter. The cabin will be located right next to the trail. Yakunin is also making a prominent sign to mark its location and recognize the many organizations that have contributed to the project.
She said the close cooperation between the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance and local residents was especially good to see. “The good thing is that the IHTA really wanted to work with the people of White Mountain and wanted community members to be involved.”
“White Mountain volunteers, they are the ones who go on search and rescue missions,” she said. “I appreciate that the people we work with on this grant honor that and see the value in people here.”