Ice Crossing Challenges Mushers

Mar 11, 2019

Credit Zachariah Hughes

In the dark, four mushers were feeling their way through bad ice on Norton Sound overnight. In past races, this is a place where the Iditarod has been lost by teams that seemed to have it in the bag. It’s also a place where those who took the chance going out in poor conditions have won it. 

Last night, it was Bethel’s Pete Kaiser who was out in front breaking trail. The question is did he lose the trail, or did he swing closer to shore because of bad ice? In prior years, race watchers would have to peer into the night looking for headlamps on the horizon and speculating. These days, fans, family, and reporters turn to technology: the race's GPS tracker.

The story unfolding this morning was dramatic. The tracker showed two teams had taken a turn to the east of the trail, toward the shore. At 6 a.m. on Monday, Kaiser’s team was 3 miles in front of Joar Leifseth Ulsom, making their way towards the next checkpoint of Koyuk. At 6:40 a.m., when Pete’s team was about 5 miles outside the village, Jessie Royer also took a right, following the trail made by the other two teams. Nicolas Petit remained behind, resting just off of a section of trail at the last point of land before it heads out across the ice. 

It was 7 a.m. today when Kaiser’s team made it back to land. At that point, the Bethel musher disappeared from the tracker. From then on, Kaiser’s team flickered on and off the tracker screen as he advanced up the coast toward Koyuk. Meanwhile, Leifseth Ulsom and Royer continued to follow behind him.

Aniak musher Richie Diehl made it to the coast last night and was resting in Unalakleet this morning. Bethel’s three rookies are all on the Yukon River. Jessica Klejka is closing in on Kaltag, the checkpoint that marks the beginning of the overland route to the Bering Sea. Niklas Wikstrand is about 20 miles behind her, and Victoria Hardwick is resting in Grayling.