Leading Iditarod Teams Reach Yukon River

Mar 8, 2019

Musher Joar Leifseth Ulsom sorts through drop bags in the Iditarod checkpoint on March 7, 2019.
Credit Ben Matheson

The rough and bumpy trail to Iditarod and onto the Yukon River took it out of both mushers and dogs. Aliy Zirkle’s gamble to push ahead and take her 24-hour mandatory layover in the Iditarod checkpoint did not pay off. She is now farther back in the pack, and behind the top 10 teams.

Nicholas Petit’s team seems to have survived the bad trail conditions the best. The leader had still had all 14 dogs as he drove to the Yukon this morning. The Girdwood musher was the first to Anvik at 4:23 a.m., where a meal and prize money awaited him. He left at 8:58 a.m. with 12 dogs, dropping two at the checkpoint.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom was the first to reach the prior checkpoint of Shageluk, arriving shortly after midnight, a half-hour before Petit. With only 11 dogs in his team he decided to stay put, saying that his dogs needed the rest. Leifseth Ulsom has had to send home the two lead dogs who took him across the finish line in Nome last year. He completed his mandatory 8-hour rest in Shageluk, leaving at 8:15 a.m.

Jessie Royer was the third into Shageluk at 4:08 a.m., arriving after Petit left. She had a full team of 14 dogs and left four hours later with 13. Bethel’s Pete Kaiser followed with 12 dogs, and Mitch Seavey with 11. Aniak’s Richie Diehl still had all his dogs.

The rough section of trail from Ophir to Shageluk may have taken so much out of both dogs and mushers that many may be deciding to take their required Yukon River eight hours at this checkpoint, something the rules allow. Just two of the top 10 mushers at this point in the race have a full team as they prepare to head up the river and over to the coast.

Of the three Bethel rookies on the trail, Jessica Klejka is leading the way and taking her time on the bumpy 80 miles into Iditarod. Eight miles behind her on the same section is Niklas Wikstrand; Victoria Hardwick is still making her way into Takotna.