RAINY PASS, Alaska -- Three-time champion Martin Buser of Big Lake held a narrow lead Monday as front-runners in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began their long climb into the Alaska Range.
Buser left the Finger Lake checkpoint at 8:58 a.m. local time with a light breeze blowing, bright sunshine and temperatures hovering near zero. It's a 30-mile run from Finger Lake to Rainy Pass, through rolling hills, dense spruce forests and over frozen rivers.
Three-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park was nearly a half-hour behind Buser. King left Finger Lake at 9:25 a.m., followed in short order by John Barron of Montana Creek, Linwood Fiedler of Willow, Ramey Smyth of Big Lake, Charlie Boulding of Manley and Sven Engholm of Karasjok, Norway, who left at 10:04 a.m.
By midday, 13 mushers had passed through the Finger Lake checkpoint. They were expected to reach Rainy Pass by midafternoon. Rainy Pass, surrounded by snowy peaks that rise to 6,000 feet, is the highest point on the trail.
Fifty-five mushers are competing for a share of the $450,000 purse. The winner will collect $54,000. Prize money is paid to the first 20 finishers.