The COVID-19 shortened Iditarod "Gold Loop Trail" just got a little bit shorter.

On Wednesday, race marshal Mark Nordman announced that the mushers will not do a 20-mile loop around the mining ghost town of Flat before heading back to the finish line in Deshka Landing.

He said the conditions were "challenging."

"The Iditarod trailbreaker crew has had a challenging time breaking the trail open due to the sheer volume of accumulated snow, and has been unable to dig out a safe, well-marked trail to allow teams to travel to Flat," Nordman said. The decision does not affect any mandatory layovers.

The elimination of that loop makes the trail 832 miles, with Iditarod as the halfway point.

Also Wednesday, Two Rivers rookie Brenda Mackey scratched in Nikolai for the well-being of her dogs. She had nine dogs in harness.

That leaves 43 mushers on the trail. At the front of the trail, Eureka musher Brent Sass leap-frogged to the lead when he was the first musher out of Ophir. Aaron Peck and Mille Porsild followed. None of the three have taken their 24-hour required rest. The next checkpoint, in Iditarod, is the last one in which they can do so. Porsild is also the only one of the three to have taken her first required eight-hour rest.