Three-time winner Susan Butcher pushed into the lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race today during a treacherous crossing of ice-covered Norton Sound on the Bering Sea.
After a short rest, she mushed on toward Nome and the final 171 miles of the 1,158-mile race.
Defending champion Joe Runyan, Butcher and Lavon Barve had left Shaktoolik in that order within eight minutes of each other late Monday night, but Butcher passed Runyan during the nighttime 30-mile ice crossing, and she built a lead of 55 minutes.
Butcher was running only 12 dogs to Runyan's 15.
Barve was 3 1/2 hours behind Butcher with 14 dogs.
Hoping to stay out front for the rest of the race, Butcher rested her team for 3 1/2 hours, then struck out on the westward trail along the Seward Peninsula.
The winner is expected to reach Nome late Wednesday.
Tim Osmar and Robin Jacobson were last reported crossing Norton Sound between Shaktoolik and Koyuk. Four-time winner Rick Swenson and Dee Dee Jonrowe had yet to leave Shaktoolik.
The mushers head out onto the ice of Norton Sound trying to save time and miles, but it is one of the most dangerous segments in the marathon from Anchorage. Open water leads in the ice can force time-consuming detours, or at worst, swallow up an unwary team.
"Once they get onto the (Bering Sea) ice, they can expect sudden storms and an ample supply of wind," Gail Somerville, an Iditarod spokeswoman in Anchorage, said Monday night.