Ulsom first into White Mountain, 77 miles from the finish

Joar Leifseth Ulsom’s dogs nuzzling in Unalakleet. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media photo)

Iditarod musher Joar Ulsom was the first to arrive at the checkpoint in White Mountain this morning, potentially setting him up to be the first into Nome sometime overnight.

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Ulsom arrived just before 8 am, three-and-half-hours ahead of Nicolas Petit. The arrival kicked off an 8-hour mandatory hold before mushers can take off for the last 77 miles to Nome.

Bad weather along the coast has made it difficult for media and support crews to reach some coastal checkpoints over the last few days. Ulsom told a camera crew from the Iditarod Insider that it was slow going when he left the checkpoint of Koyuk, and he had to walk along the sled.

But then, it got better:

“And then we went over the mountain and we were really rolling,” Ulsom said. “I decided to keep them going since we were doing so good. We had a trouble free trip here. It was awesome.”

Ulsom gained his lead Monday morning when the front-runner, Nicholas Petit, strayed off course on the sea ice between Shaktoolik and Koyuk on the Bering Sea Coast.

Petit accidentally veered east towards shore, then doubled back to re-find the marked trail. At the time, the area was facing strong northerly winds and a ground storm that severely reduced visibility.

Petit’s error created a window for Ulsom, who passed him and reached Koyuk first — taking away a lead many thought Petit had locked in.

Ulsom’s runtime between the two communities was a little over eight hours. Petit’s, by contrast, was more than 13. A few hours later, Mitch Seavey arrived in Koyuk, posting a 12-hour run time.

There were two scratches along the trail today. Wade Marrs stopped his race in Koyuk when his dogs refused to leave the checkpoint and rookie Tom Schonberger scratched along the trail between Grayling and Iditarod.