First Dog Team Arrives On The Coast

Mar 15, 2020

Jessica Klejka prepares straw for her dogs in the Galena checkpoint.
Credit Zachariah Hughes

The Norwegian musher Thomas Waerner has lengthened his lead in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. He came into Unalakleet on Norton Sound a little after 10 a.m. on March 15 with more than a 30-mile lead over the rest of the pack. Nineteen sled dog teams are behind him on the trail from the Yukon River to the coast this afternoon, led by Wade Marrs and Jessie Royer. 

Pete Kaiser and Richie Diehl are both among those out of Kaltag and headed to Unalakleet. Diehl left at 7:48 a.m. and Kaiser followed him 12 minutes later after completing over 13 hours of rest in the checkpoint. Kaiser’s team has shrunk to 10 dogs, while Diehl has 11.

The number of dogs and their strength will make a big difference as mushers make their way around Norton Sound towards Nome. Waerner, the first musher to make it to Unalakleet today, has 12 dogs. So do Marrs and Royer, who are still enroute to the checkpoint.

Further back on the trail, Bethel’s Jessica Klejka came into Nulato on the Yukon River at 5:16 a.m. with 13 dogs in her team. As noon approached, she and her dogs were still resting in the checkpoint.

The challenges ahead are tough. Due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, mushers and dogs will have to navigate one of the stormiest sections of the Iditarod trail without the shelter usually provided at the checkpoints on their way around Norton Sound to Koyuk. The Shaktoolik checkpoint has been eliminated. Instead of shelter and staff, mushers can expect only supplies and straw at the old village site two miles away from the normal checkpoint.