Iditarod 2020 - March 15th

Episode 8- Kaltag to Shaktoolik. Waerner Busts A Move.

By Michael Rogers

Sunday saw Thomas Waerner make his move and he is now in the lead. He was third into Kaltag right behind Royer and Sass but beat them both out while they were stuck on their 8. He tore out of Kaltag at 10:03pm and made the run to Unalakleet in just over 12 hours with a moving average of over 7 miles per hour. He picked up the Ryan Air Gold Coast Award, an engraved gold pan along with $2000 in gold nuggets to fill it.

Thomas Waerner in his kennel back in Norway.

He was followed by Burmeister, Sass, Royer and Marrs an hour and a half later. The chase pack all piled into Old Woman Cabin for rest while Waerner opened up a nearly 20-mile lead on Wade Marrs, the first to leave Old Woman. I don’t know if the legend about the ghost of Old Woman is true, but Waerner ghosted Marrs by leaving Unalakleet before Marrs even got there.

Lance Mackey works with his dogs as local school kids watch in Unalakleet during the 2008 Idtiarod. PC: Jeff Schultz. See lots more of his photos here:

At this writing, Waerner is at mile 744, about 10 miles from Shaktoolik and Brent Sass is resting at mile 724, short on sleep and forgoing any rest in Unalakleet. Waerner’s speed was nearly 2 miles per hour faster than Sass from Kaltag to Unalakleet. While Waerner is nearly unknown in American mushing, he is an experienced and well-regarded musher from Norway who has won the Femund and Finnmark races this season. His team has looked fantastic all race. It will be interesting to see what happens overnight when his team hits the sea ice. In 2018 and 2019, Nic Petit had completely dominated the race, until the run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk.

Charlie Boulding Mushes on Sea Ice Near Nome.
Photo by Jeff Schultz. Consider becoming a patron of Jeff's photos at

The rest of the lead pack is in Unalakleet with exception of Sass and Burmeister. The leading rookie, for the bulk of the race, is Mille Porsild. She started mushing in 1992 but didn’t enter her first race until 2011. She has substantial experience running freight dogs for Arctic and Antarctic exploration expeditions, often spending months in the field. She is a member of Team Racing Beringia. The next rookie in the pack is Tom Johansen, currently in 22nd place. There are lots of strong teams giving chase to Waener, including Mille Porsild.

Mille Porsild of Denmark and her team.

At the back of the pack, Quince Mountain is now in Ruby after completing a 21-hour run from Cripple. The race at the back will be to get to checkpoints before race marshals close them. Everyone else with the exception of Kaci Murringer has made it to at least Galena. Going south, Jeremy Keller is in Yentna Station, about 50 miles from the starting line in Willow. He’ll be home in the morning.

Jeremy Keller of Knik, Alaska on a training run with his team.

The Shaktoolik checkpoint has been moved to the Old Shaktoolik townsite and volunteers from the village have made a Herculean effort to get some of the buildings up and running; providing power, water, heat and food for the mushers while providing some measure of protection for the village residents themselves. At this writing Thomas Waerner is about an hour out from checking out the new digs. Bravo to the volunteers at Shak, well done!

DeeDee Jonrowe runs on the slough just before the Shaktoolik checkpoint on during Iditarod 2015.  PC: Jeff Schultz follow his work here:

The Winter Storm Warning has been extended until tomorrow morning with more snow and wind expected overnight. Most mushers are reporting warm temperatures, sluggish speeds and overheating dogs. A bout of freezing rain had several mushers in rain gear, and for an unlucky musher who forgot his rain coat, a couple of garbage bags. Warm temperatures are just horrible to race in for man and beast. No additional scratches today.

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