Halverson wins Iditarod Red Lantern for second time

Mike Campbell

Ellen Halverson of Wasilla became the only repeat Red Lantern winner in the history of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday morning.

Much like the race for the championship between John Baker and Ramey Smyth, the race to avoid the Red Lantern was a battle to the finish.

Halverson left White Mountain at 8:25 p.m. Saturday night, four minutes ahead of Heather Siirtola of Talkeetna. But Siirtola passed Halverson en route to Nome, arriving at 10:24 a.m. Halverson crossed under the burled arch 21 minutes later.

Despite claiming her second Red Lantern in five years, there was much to cheer about Halverson's performance.

• Out of Shaktoolik, as mushers raced down the Seward Peninsula, Halverson was nearly three hours behind Siirtola -- but surged to pass the Talkeetna veteran into White Mountain.

• Halverson's last place time of 13 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes was the second-fastest Red Lantern time in race history, behind only Celeste Davis' 13 days, 5 hours, 7 minutes, set a year ago. In fact, 10 Iditarod champions took longer to reach Nome than Halverson. And her time was more than 18 days faster than the inaugural Red Lantern captured by John Schultz in 32 days, 5 hours 19 minutes.

• This year's time was nearly three days faster than Halverson's 2007 Red Lantern of 16 days, 11 hours, 56 minutes. Cutting that much off any racer's time is difficult, no matter where they finish.

But there's no doubt the Big Lake area psychiatrist is one determined musher, and her 2007 and 2011 Red Lanterns add to a collection she's earned from other races.

"Apparently, I have a talent for coming in last," she told the Daily News four years ago.

To finish that Iditarod, she survived two broken sled runners, stiff winds on the Bering Sea coast and a wrong turn that almost took her past the finish line in Nome.

She scratched from her two previous Iditarods because her dogs quit on her. In both cases, she said she made errors that cost her the team's confidence.

In her rookie year of 2002, she thought her team could make the short journey from McGrath to Takotna before taking a mandatory 24-hour layover, she said. Her dogs thought otherwise, and waged a sit-down strike on the trail. Halverson eventually got the team going, but it took her 22 hours to cover the 20-mile stretch.

"Even though I'm a psychiatrist, I think dog psychology is way different, " she said in 2007. "I didn't understand the importance of being consistent with them."

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@adn.com or 257-4329.