Kaiser first into White Mountain with Ulsom hot on his heels

Bethel musher Pete Kaiser arrives at the McGrath checkpoint of the 2019 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on March 6, 2019. (Ben Matheson/KNOM/Alaska Public Media photo)

Update:

Pete Kaiser was first into White Mountain this morning at around 8:05 a.m. Joar Leifseth Ulsom arrived less than an hour later.

Original story

At the front of the 2019 Iditarod, Bethel musher Pete Kaiser and his dog team are closing in on White Mountain this morning. Kaiser must continue to hold off the defending champion — Joar Leifseth Ulsom — to secure his first Iditarod victory.

Kaiser moved into the lead after Nicolas Petit’s team quit Sunday night on the sea ice between Shaktoolik and Koyuk, not far from where he veered off the trail in last year’s Iditarod, allowing Ulsom to slip by and win.

Petit, who had led most of this year’s race, eventually scratched. He told a reporter for Iditarod Insider the dogs got into a fight right before balking on the sea ice, and he says he thinks they remembered having a bad time in that area in 2018.

Upon reaching Koyuk, Kaiser described that stretch as a difficult to see, “marker-to marker trail”

“Yeah the first, I don’t know, fifteen to twenty miles out of Shaktoolik were real nice and then it was 30 to 40 mph snow, blowing snow, drifting,” Kaiser said.

About and hour behind into Koyuk, Ulsom says he’ll do his best to win the race to Nome.

“Pete has a beautiful team …and I didn’t leave very long after him from Shaktoolik and he was here an hour or more ahead of me now,” Ulsom said. “So, he’s obviously traveling a lot faster, so we’ll see. But he’s a good guy to have in front”

Last night, Kaiser maintained a lead of 50 minutes over Ulsom going into the Elim checkpoint. But Ulsom appears to have cut rest and left just a couple minutes behind Kaiser very early this morning. Heading toward White Mountain and a final, mandatory 8-hour rest, Kaiser was only a couple miles ahead of Ulsom, according to the race GPS tracker.

If Kaiser’s team can hang on all the way to the Burled Arch finish line in Nome, it’ll be his first Iditarod win in 10 races, which include five top-10 finishes. Ulsom, hot on his heels, has never finished outside the top 10 and still has a shot at winning this year.