First to White Mountain, Dallas Seavey chases his 6th Iditarod win

Dallas Seavey on Monday was leading the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and barring any disruptive weather, an error in his dog care, another rogue moose or other surprises, he could be poised to claim a record-setting sixth victory in the nearly thousand-mile contest.

Since leaving the Yukon River community of Kaltag on Saturday evening, five-time champion Seavey hasn’t stopped for longer than a few minutes in any checkpoint. Instead, he’s grabbed supplies from the checkpoints at Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, Koyuk and Elim before mushing onward, resting his team in shelter cabins and along the trail, out of sight of any competitors trying to chase him down.

“I’m doing really well, you?” Seavey said in a short exchange with a race checker upon pulling into Koyuk — 804 miles into the race — a little after 7 a.m. Monday, in a video posted to Iditarod Insider.

His dogs, 11 of them in Koyuk, looked excellent: alert, vocal, eager to keep running, in spite of having just crossed dozens of miles of open sea ice on one of the race’s most fickle stretches.

“I think I’m gonna keep on trucking,” Seavey said in the Insider video, opting not to stop in the small community at the top of Norton Bay, just as the trail veers west along the bottom of the Seward Peninsula on the way toward Nome.

Seavey stayed in Koyuk 12 minutes, stopping to rest 16 miles later along the trail.

After overtaking the rest of the front-pack mushers Sunday on the lengths of trail into and out of Unalakleet, Seavey has maintained a dominant position that could very well turn into his sixth Iditarod victory.


“It’s his to lose,” said race veteran and Iditarod Insider commentator Bruce Lee in a video from Koyuk after Seavey had gone through. “He’d have to really stumble big-time to lose this.”

[Iditarod reports second dog death of 2024 race]

The critical bit of maneuvering happened late Saturday night when Seavey overtook Travis Beals on the portage trail from Kaltag after Beals had maintained a lead all the way down the Yukon. On Sunday morning, a big group of mushers balled up at Old Woman cabin 35 Miles from Unalakleet. Jessie Holmes was the first out, followed a little while later by Seavey. But when they got to the checkpoint, Holmes stayed while Dallas pushed forward. Right around the time Holmes left Unalakleet on Sunday afternoon after 4 hours and 14 minutes of rest, Dallas set off from his resting point up in the Blueberry Hills, and has maintained a solid lead over Holmes overnight Sunday into Monday evening on the march up the coast.

The pattern repeated when Seavey blew through Shaktoolik, opting for rest instead at a shelter cabin at the foot of Island Point just before making the long northward run over the sea ice across Norton Bay into Koyuk. Holmes rested in the Shaktoolik checkpoint for 4 1/2 hours. From late Monday morning through the early afternoon, Seavey was stopped for almost exactly four hours out on the trail midway between Koyuk and Elim, while Holmes and Matt Hall, running nine minutes behind him in third place, rested at the checkpoint.

By forgoing the comforts of checkpoint breaks — hot water, a space to warm up indoors, conversation with humans — Seavey is able to leverage mystery into a strategic advantage. The mushers chasing him aren’t able to see when he’s readying to leave or where he might be stopping versus forging ahead.

Seavey is running about 12 hours behind his 2016 schedule, the last time he won on the northern route. That year he pulled into Koyuk at 7:31 p.m. Sunday. This year, he arrived at 7:11 a.m. Monday. For another point of comparison, Seavey’s 2016 timing was similar to Brent Sass’ winning 2022 schedule on the northern route, arriving in Koyuk a little before 7 p.m. Sunday.

In 2016, Seavey reached Nome at 2:20 a.m. Tuesday. In 2022, Sass pulled under the burled arch at 5:38 a.m. Tuesday.

Seavey arrived at White Mountain just before midnight, kicking off the mandatory eight-hour rest each musher has to complete before embarking on the final 77 miles into Nome. The time it takes to complete that final leg varies widely depending on weather conditions along parts of trail renowned for their mercurial weather, like the Topkok summit and series of natural wind tunnels nicknamed the “blowhole.” In 2016, Seavey made the run in 8 1/2 hours.

Based on those timetables, a winner in this year’s race seems likely to reach Nome sometime late Tuesday afternoon into evening.

If Seavey were to win, he would break Rick Swenson’s record of five victories, set in 1991 — a record Seavey matched in 2021. This is his 14th time running the Iditarod, and he has never scratched: Outside of his first two times competing in the race, Seavey has always finished in the top 10, never lower than eighth place, and more typically either in first or second.

Musher dropouts and sled dog deaths

By Monday afternoon, six mushers had scratched from the field. A flurry of competitors ended their races Sunday after an exceptional seven days of racing without a single withdrawal.

Two of those mushers, rookie Isaac Teaford and veteran Hunter Keefe, voluntarily scratched following the deaths of dogs on their teams. It’s the first time any dogs have died during an Iditarod since 2019, and under a race rule revised in 2018, mushers must scratch or be withdrawn from competition after the death of a dog on their team unless the race marshal determines it was caused by an “unpreventable hazard.”

For years, the event has come under scrutiny from animal rights organizations over the issue of dogs dying, most prominently People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has pressured businesses to stop financially supporting the race and called for the Iditarod to be dismantled. A group called Humane Mushing tracks such incidents from year to year, noting that in 2017 there were five dogs that died in connection with the Iditarod. In 1985, according to the group’s statistics, there were nine deaths.

The three other scratches Sunday were declared by race veteran Deke Naaktgeboren of Fairbanks and rookies Connor McMahon, from Carcross in the Canadian Yukon, and Erin Altemus of Minnesota. The Iditarod Trail Committee said the decision to scratch was made in the best interest of their teams, and that the dogs on the three mushers’ teams appeared to be in good health when they arrived at their last checkpoint.

On Monday, veteran Aaron Burmeister of Nome/Nenana scratched at 11 a.m. in Unalakleet “to help promote the mental wellness and health of my team in the future,” according to the Iditarod. This was his first scratch after completing 21 prior Iditarods.

In an interview with Iditarod Insider from Unalakleet the night before ending his race, Burmeister said that despite his dogs’ training and experience, the team never came together and clicked.

“They’ve been flat. Pretty much from Skwentna to here it’s been just no speed, no fire, no animation, no barking,” Burmeister said. “It’s not fun for them, and it’s not fun for me ... the fire’s gone.”

Burmeister had stepped back from the Iditarod after finishing the race in 2022 but was persuaded to return by one of the event’s founding fathers, Howard Farley, who died in January at age 91. Burmeister was carrying Farley’s ashes with him on the trail this year.

Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.