Thomas Waerner

Norwegian rookie Thomas Waerner mushes on the Yukon River between Nulato and Kaltag, Alaska, during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Sunday, March 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Alaska Dispatch News, Loren Holmes)

Norway’s Thomas Waerner and his team of 12 dogs lead the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, as he was the first and only musher to reach the Elim checkpoint as of 9:30 p.m. Monday.

Waerner signed into Elim, which is 852 miles into the 975-mile race, at 9:07 p.m. Two checkpoints are standing between Waerner and the finish line on Front Street in Nome.

This is Waerner’s second year racing the Iditarod. In 2015 he placed 17th and won the Jerry Austin Rookie of the Year Award.

Aaron Burmeister, Mitch Seavey, Brent Sass, Wade Marrs and Fairbanks’ Jessie Royer were the only mushers on route to Elim, all having checked out of the previous checkpoint, Koyuk.

Of the five mushers between Koyuk and Elim, Royer was the first to leave. The 18-time Iditarod veteran departed with 13 dogs at 5:35 p.m. 

Burmeister followed seven minutes later and Seavey 28 minutes after that. Sass departed at 7:33 p.m. and Marrs signed out at 8:14 p.m.

Waerner jumped into first place on Saturday night, passing former race leader Royer and second place Sass as they were both taking their eight-hour mandatory layovers at the Katlag checkpoint.

Sass, of Eureka, won this year’s Yukon Quest 1,000-Mile International Sled Dog Race in February to become a three-time champion.

Forty-nine mushers were still running the Iditarod as of 9:30 p.m. Monday.

Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.