BALTO'S TRUE STORY

History of the 1925 Nome Serum Run

January 31: (continued from p. 2) Starting out at Ungalik after dark, Seppala's lead dog, the famous Togo, leads the team straight through the dark, across the very dangerous ice of Norton Sound.  The team arrives at the roadhouse at Isaac's Point, on the far side of the route over the sound, at 8 P.M.  In one day, Seppala's team has traveled 84 miles (135 kilometers), averaging 8 miles per hour (13 kilometers per hour). 

February 1: After resting, the team set out again at 2 A.M., into the full raging power of the storm.  During the night, the wind increased to at least 65 mph (105 kph).  Seppala had the team travel back down onto the pack ice of the sound, following the shoreline.  It was risky as the ice was starting to break up.  They returned to shore in order to cross over Little McKinley Mountain, a climb of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters).  After descending to the next roadhouse at Golovin, Seppala passes the antitoxin to driver Charlie Olson...at 3 A.M.  The number of cases of diphtheria, in Nome, are now at 28 (the antitoxin en route is enough to treat only 30).  The winds by now are raging at 80 mph (129 kph), and Welch orders a stop to the relay until the storm passes, reasoning that a delay of the antitoxin's arrival is better than the risk of losing it entirely.  Messages are left at Solomon and Port Safety before the lines go dead.

Olson is blown off the trail, and suffers severe frostbite on his hands while putting blankets on his dogs.  The wind chill is now -70° F (-57° C).  He arrives at Bluff at 7 P.M. in poor shape.  The next driver, Gunnar Kaasen, decides to wait until 10 P.M. for the storm to break.  However, with it only getting worse, and fearing that the trail would soon be completely obscured by snow drifts, he risks heading out into a strong headwind, with his lead dog, Balto, up in front.  Kaasen travels through the night...through drifts and river overflow over 600-foot (180-meter) Topkok Mountain.  Balto leads the team through visibility so poor that Kaasen could not always see the dogs harnessed closest to the sled.  He was two miles past the town of Solomon, where he was supposed to pass the antitoxin on, before he realized it.  Making a decision which will trouble him later, he decides to go on.  The winds from this point onward are so bad, that the sled flips over, dumping the antitoxin into a deep snow drift in the dark.  Stopping the team, Kaasen rights the sled and desperately begins digging in search of the antitoxin.  Removing his gloves (and exposing his bare hands to the icy wind and snow), in order to better feel around for the package, he eventually manages to stumble upon it, but acquires frostbite on his hands in the process.  Getting the team back up, he presses onward.

February 2: Kaasen arrives at Point Safety ahead of schedule, at 3 A.M.  Ed Rohn, the next driver in the relay, believing that Kaasen and the relay were halted at Solomon, is asleep, which is how Kaasen finds him.  The weather has improved a little, so Kaasen makes a second decision which will trouble him down through the years...he does not wake Rohn (figuring it would take time to get Rohn ready, and his team harnessed), but again decides to press on after a short rest (and a chance to warm the antitoxin).  Kaasen goes back out to his team and drives them on the last 25 miles (40 kilometers) to Nome, arriving on Front Street in the town at 5:30 A.M., and pulling up to the Merchants & Miners Bank.  He stumbles to the front of the team, collapses before a few early-risen witnesses, who report that his only words (about Balto) are "damn fine dog".

Back to Page 2