TAKOTNA, Alaska – A 61-year-old rookie Iditarod musher turned up on the wrong trail Thursday, hours after she was believed to be missing.
Deborah Bicknell of Juneau was spotted from the air driving her team on a trail through Ptarmigan Pass, a route formerly used in the race, said race spokesman Chas St. George.
"It appears she took the wrong trail," St. George said.
She was seen driving her dog team 18 miles from the Rohn checkpoint.
"That would be a pretty good indication that she's all right," St. George said.
The Iditarod race marshal has the authority to remove mushers from the race if they are out of the competition, but St. George said reaching the Rohn checkpoint would indicate Bicknell was still able to race.
An aerial search was started for Bicknell after she failed to show up at the checkpoint. Bicknell was last seen at 9:12 a.m. Wednesday, leaving the Rainy Pass checkpoint, 224 miles into the race from Anchorage to Nome, said Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers.
St. George said "sweepers" on snowmobiles positioned behind the last mushers failed to spot her on the trail. Sweepers keep their distance from mushers in the back of the pack but help out if needed.
Another musher also mistakenly took the Ptarmigan trail.
The search for Bicknell included an Alaska State Troopers helicopter and two planes affiliated with the race.
Rainy Pass Lodge is 1,835 feet above sea level and mushers climb another 1,325 feet in the 48-mile leg to Rohn.
According to Iditarod officials, the climb is gentle but the terrain is barren except for a few willow thickets. Wind packs the snow hard and the trail often is icy.
After crossing a lake, the trail climbs to the summit, then starts a steep descent along Dalzell Creek. The creek runs to the Tatina River and continues about five miles to the Rohn checkpoint.