Four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser was the first musher to arrive at the Kaltag checkpoint, 346 miles from Nome, but his once formidable lead is no more. Former champion Mitch Seavey reached the checkpoint just 73 minutes later. Aaron Burmeister and Jake Berkowitz were both within about a half hour behind Seavey.
Breaking the trail, Buser turned in his slowest pace of the race so far, allowing the trio to make up more than two hours on him during the 60-mile run. "The following pack has brought Buser back to them, but they still havent passed him, a more difficult task than actually catching a view of him as he leaves Kaltag," Joe Runyon of Iditarod.com notes.
Jessie Royer and Iditarod rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom have also reached Kaltag, though Royer has yet to take her mandatory eight-hour rest.
Weather made life tougher for Buser, who told the Anchorage Daily News the trail was horrible. "It was like going backwards," he said. Buser's team, down to 11 dogs from the 16 teams allowed to begin the race with, may be showing signs of fatigue as well. Buser tried an unorthodox strategy of sprinting 177 miles out of Willow to begin the race before taking his mandatory 24-hour stop. Most mushers begin more conservatively and take their 24-hour break nearer to the midway point.
If Buser reaches Nome first, he would become the second musher to reach the five-win mark.
Defending champion Dallas Seavey, Mitch Seavey's son, moved up a few spots to 11th place. His team is down to 10 dogs, but he set a fast pace to Eagle Island.
Late Saturday, Michael Suprenant became the fifth musher to scratch.
Cindy Abbott, who has left Ophir for Iditarod, is in the red lantern position.