Before dawn on Friday, two more mushers joined leader Aaron Burmeister in Huslia as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race reached its halfway point.
Ken Anderson of Fairbanks and Hugh Neff of Tok were the latest to arrive, with Anderson checking in at 6:09 a.m. and Neff following 66 minutes later in fifth place.
That put them well behind Nome musher Burmeister, who arrived at 9:47 p.m. Thursday with 13 dogs in harness.
Burmeister, a veteran whose best finish in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was fourth in 2012, averaged a pace of a little slower than 5.5 mph on the long run from Galena. Defending champion Dallas Seavey followed Burmeister into Huslia at 11:40 p.m. and rookie Thomas Waerner of Norway reached the checkpoint at 1:21 a.m. All but Burmeister have completed their mandatory eight-hour rest.
Anderson had the highest average speed on the 80-mile run from Galena to Huslia, average 6.7 mph behind his 15 dogs. Neff was the slowest, averaging 4.8 mph. The last time the Iditarod moved north to start in Fairbanks, Anderson, a veteran of 14 runs to Nome, had one of his best races, finishing fifth.
Looming back in 10th and 11th places are two veteran champions who should join -- and perhaps pass -- the leaders late Friday. Four-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park came off his 24-hour layover at 5:31 a.m. and checked out of Galena, which is about 80 miles south of Huslia. Mitch Seavey of Sterling, a two-time champion, followed 51 minutes later. They face a 12- to 17-hour run to Huslia, but none of the racers ahead of them have completed their layovers yet.
By reaching Huslia first, Burmeister earned the Dorothy Page Halfway Award, usually awarded at Cripple (on the traditional northern route) or Iditarod (on the southern route). The award, sponsored by GCI, includes a trophy and $3,000 in gold nuggets, which he'll collect at the Iditarod banquet in Nome after the race is over.
This marks the second consecutive year Burmeister has won the award. He was the first musher into Cripple in 2014 and crossed the finish line in Nome in 10th.