Thrilled and tested, the top 10 Iditarod mushers arrive in Nome

NOME — Top mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race fought through illness, treacherous whiteout conditions and a highly competitive field to reach the finish line under the burled arch in Nome, capping off a nearly thousand-mile race that brought a distinct set of challenges to each dog team.

This year’s Iditarod also ushered in two records: one for Dallas Seavey’s historic sixth championship, and another for the most women to finish in the top 10.

Cantwell musher Paige Drobny arrived in fifth place Wednesday, Denmark’s Mille Porsild in seventh, Idaho musher Amanda Otto in eighth and Montana’s Jessie Royer in 10th.

“This has been a year of women,” Royer said, noting Emily Robinson’s win in the Junior Iditarod and the Knik 200, and Anny Malo’s Open World Championship Sled Dog Race victory at Fur Rondy.

The successful season hasn’t gone unnoticed by the mushers as they’ve crossed paths at checkpoints. Eleven of the 38 mushers competing in the 2024 Iditarod are women.

“We were talking about it with Paige (Drobny) at White Mountain, and it’s a really neat part of history to be part of,” Otto said.

Women have been blazing trails in the Iditarod dating back 50 years. Mary Shields and Lolly Medley ran in the race’s second edition in 1974, and champions Libby Riddles and Susan Butcher earned titles in the 1980s. The previous high number for women in the top 10 was three — a mark set in 2019 by Royer, Drobny and Aliy Zirkle.


On some level, the women just want to be acknowledged as mushers, Royer said: “It’s a dog race. So as far as we’re concerned, we’re just out here running our dogs.”

But she also said it’s clear more women are getting into mushing, and the sport is a good model for anyone looking to buck convention.

“We’re just doing our thing, but it’s a good thing for other girls and women (to see),” she said. “Here’s these women that are doing a pretty tough, harsh thing. When you think of mushers, you think of burly, bearded men because that’s, you know, Jack London and ‘The Call of the Wild.’ But there are a lot of extreme sports that women do too.”

Among the Front Street bystanders cheering as Royer crossed the finish line was Robinson, now a three-time Junior Iditarod champion.

“To be there and watch that is really cool. It’s amazing for the sport,” Emily Robinson said. “Women have proved they can be in the top time and time again in this race by winning.”

[Our favorite photos from the 2024 Iditarod finish in Nome]

Veteran racers follow Seavey into Nome

After Seavey made history with his win Tuesday, a pair of strong perennial contenders followed the champion into Nome.

Two Rivers musher Matt Hall finished second, arriving at 9:57 p.m. Tuesday. It was an improvement for Hall, who finished fourth a year ago. He’d hoped to improve his time, and while his mark of 9 days, 6 hours, 57 minutes and 56 seconds was a few hours slower than his 2023 run, he was still happy with his team.

“That’s a new record in a way,” he said. “I’m very happy with this run. Steady as she goes and try not to let those guys get too far ahead.”

Jessie Holmes, who mushes out of Brushkana, followed Hall in third place for his third-straight finish in the top five. Holmes, who has run the last seven Iditarods, was contemplative when considering his place in the standings.

“You know, talk about winning a lot, but I think being out here, training and thinking about something every day of the year and working hard doing what you love, there’s so much more to this race than winning,” he said. “You’re winning to have such a passion and to be out here in rural Alaska running your dogs in these communities along the trail.”

Holmes arrived at 11:18 p.m. Tuesday with a team of eight dogs, half of which were making the trip to Nome for the first time.

A trio of mushers arrived early Wednesday, led by Fairbanks’ Jeff Deeter, who made a hard charge down the stretch to finish fourth.

“I think we were all kind of suffering from some nerves in the first two days of the race,” Deeter told Iditarod Insider at the finish. “The dogs had a little stomach bug, it just kind of passed through pretty quickly. I think rest really paid off. Because they weren’t taking in the fuel, I had to add in some rest, and that paid dividends the second half of the race.”

He arrived at 2:52 a.m. Wednesday. Drobny followed in fifth place, crossing the finish line at 4:12 a.m. Seward’s Travis Beals, who led the race along part of the middle stretch, arrived at 5:39 a.m. to claim sixth place.

In a taxing race with resilient teams, Porsild’s run may have been the toughest. She arrived at 8:23 a.m. to place seventh despite spending a portion of the race struggling with the effects of pancreatitis. Last Thursday, Porsild’s team reported on her Facebook page that the Danish musher had a pair of mild attacks on the trail and had to visit a clinic. After getting the inflammation under control, she took her 24-hour rest in Takotna before getting the OK to continue the race.

At the finish, Porsild said that although she was “really sick along the way,” she was thankful to arrive in Nome with her multinational team, which includes dogs from Kotzebue, Sweden and Norway.


[Snowmachine strikes dog in Iditarod team between checkpoints]

‘I couldn’t see my hands a foot in front of me’

Pete Kaiser is a veteran of more than a dozen Iditarods with the 2019 championship on his resume. The Bethel musher has only rarely been rattled on the trail.

But Kaiser, Otto and Royer ran into the notorious “Blowhole” area on the race’s final stretch from White Mountain early Wednesday morning that was as harrowing as nearly anything he’s experienced.

The stretch near the Topkok Cabin 20 miles outside of White Mountain along the Bering Sea coast has produced treacherous conditions in previous editions of the race.

“I’ve been through a lot of high winds in there and they’re usually like, 10- to 15-minute stretches, followed by a little break, and then you hit another wall,” he said. “This one was like, a steady hour and a half to two hours, and there was some really gnarly spots.”

Otto was blown off the trail and ended up more than 20 feet off. Royer passed by and asked her if she needed a hand. Otto told Royer she’d be OK when she got her team back on the trail. Kaiser arrived shortly after and helped her on the trail, and the two mushers ran side by side for 45 minutes.

The whipping wind lowered visibility to almost zero while temperatures hovered in the minus-double-digit range.

“I was nervous,” he said. “There’s been very few times I’ve been nervous in this race. And I had — there was a little bit of nervousness thinking, it would only take one big gust to swing the team off the trail, and then there was some icy spots too. It was kind of nip and tuck.”


Royer said many of the trail markers had been destroyed and the blowing snow made visibility even harder.

“I wasn’t really that worried, but then I got to a spot where it was blowing so hard, I couldn’t see my team,” she said. “I couldn’t see my hands a foot in front of me.”

She stopped her team and found a marker but couldn’t locate the trail. She ended up running on sea ice.

Royer said she cut back and went into the wind while Kaiser shined his light from the trail to give her a point of reference.

“I don’t think I got off the trail more than a mile tops, but I probably did, like, a big U,” she said.

Finally, as the trio all grouped together, the blowing snow started to subside after another 30 to 45 minutes. Otto arrived at 9:24 a.m. Wednesday in eighth place — a strong showing in her second Iditarod. Kaiser crossed the finish line just six minutes later in ninth place, and Royer arrived at 9:49 a.m. in 10th.

[Snowmachine strikes dog in Iditarod team]

Six more mushers arrived in Nome on Wednesday. Nenana’s Wally Robinson, running Josh McNeal’s dog team, finished in 11th. Robinson, who placed 40th in his only other Iditarod in 2001, finished this year in 9 days, 23 hours 22 minutes.

Nicolas Petit (12th) and Matthew Failor (13th) finished just over an hour apart as afternoon turned to evening on Wednesday. Ryan Redington, the winner of the 2023 Iditarod, finished in 14th in a time of 10 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes. He arrived at 8:48 p.m. About an hour later, Josi Thyr became the first rookie to cross the finish line, finishing in 10 days, 6 hours, 43 minutes.

The final finisher to cross Wednesday was Jason Mackey, who arrived in Nome at 11:16 p.m. to take 16th place.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.