Musher Ken Anderson commemorates one of the greatest Coast Guard rescues

Coast Guard sponsored Iditarod musher Ken Anderson could be headed toward a top five finish in the 2010 Iditarod. After starting in 51st position and being as far back as 19th as late as Cripple, Alaska, Anderson departed Koyuk in 4th place. Anderson’s Coast Guard sponsored run is reminiscent of another Coast Guard dogsled race in the late-1800’s.

A 114 years ago Coast Guard Lieutenants Jarvis and Bertholf along with Coast Guard surgeon Dr. Samuel Call ran an even more important race than the Iditarod. In what was called the “Overland Rescue Expedition,” an enthralled Nation closely followed the exploits of this small team of Coast Guardsmen. Between December and March of 1897-98, Jarvis’ team mushed over 1,000 miles from Nunivak Island to Cape Wales then on to Point Barrow pushing a herd of 300 reindeer and eventually rescuing 265 starving men stranded on whaling ships beset in the ice. For many years this was considered the greatest Coast Guard rescue ever.

Excerpts from Lieutenant Jarvis’ log:

“I thought the ice we recently passed over had made a rough road, but this was even worse, for here were all the crushings of the straits shoved up against the mountains that ran abruptly into the sea, and over this kind of ice we had to make our way. Darkness set in long before we had come to the worst of it, and a faint moon gave too little light for such a road. It was a continuous jumble of dogs, sleds, men, and ice–particularly ice—and it would be hard to tell which suffered most, men or dogs.”

The finish line near Point Barrow:

On March 26, 1898, a beautiful clear day, the relief party sighted the most westerly of the icebound whaling vessels. Jarvis describes the vessel, the BELVEDERE, as banked up with snow with little visible except her spars and rigging.

“We drew up alongside at 4 P.M., and going aboard announced ourselves and our mission, but it was some time before the first astonishment and incredulousness could wear off and a welcome be extended to us.”

Both Jarvis and Bertholf currently have large Coast Guard cutters named after them. Bertholf served as the first commandant of the Coast Guard.

“As Ken Anderson begins his final push to the finish line I am reminded of Lieutenant Jarvis’ heroic rescue,” said Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin, commander of the Seventeenth Coast Guard District. “Let’s hope Ken’s finish is nearly as rewarding.”

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