The Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race action started early today in Dawson as Brent Sass finished his 36-hour layover and headed for Pelly Crossing at 12:21AM. He and his team of 13 had their work cut out for them, pushing through the wet and sticky snow that had accumulated throughout the day.
Before Allen Moore went out at 2:19am, he led his 13 dogs in a chorus of howling. His plan? "Get to Whitehorse before Brent."
A half hour later Hugh Neff’s team of 11 pulled up to the starting line, the blue LED collars of his two leads casting a warm glow on the surrounding snow and trees. Neff went up and down the line talking to each of his dogs, hugged a couple fans who had travelled from Germany to watch his Quest run this year, and then was off to tackle King Solomon’s Dome.
Matt Hall timed his departure down to the second, stealthily approaching the staging area just two minutes before his scheduled time of 5am. Game plan: "Beat some teams to Whitehorse."
Back at the arrivals checkpoint, Laura Neese and Andrew Pace arrived almost in tandem. Neese was her usual plucky and jovial self, saying happily that, yes, there had been some snow up on the Top of the World Highway, but it had pleasantly reminded her of home. Pace, meanwhile, described the weather as “every different kind of bad in rapid succession” and declared Laura his saviour for helping lead his team in.
Not long after Ed Hopkins’ departure for Pelly Crossing, a second competitor, Hank DeBruin scratched from this year’s race in Eagle Summit for the morale and health of his team.
Mid-afternoon saw the arrival of trio Luc Tweddell, Cody Strathe and Paige Drobny. Drobny detailed their weather-related struggles on the trip in from 40 Mile. “There was a lot of snow up there. It was whiteout. So we decided that it would probably be best to go back to [a survival shack] four miles the other way, and we turned around and started to go but there was so much snow you couldn’t even see our tracks anymore.” Drobny said they then hunkered down in a more sheltered area off the trail and waited until the snow stopped before making the last push to Dawson.
An emotional Rob Cooke hit town next, describing a scene where he was battling weather and encountered lead dog issues. “The dogs didn’t quit I just couldn’t get a dog to lead. For hours we tried different leader combinations,” explains Rob. “We just camped out for three or four hours. This morning I still couldn’t get anybody to lead, so I decided to walk them out. After about 30 minutes they decided they were going, so fortunately we did run off. It was a really intense night,” Rob continues. “It’s really good to be here.”
With Tony Angelo having made it to Clinton Creek for food and rest, Tore Albrigsten, Sébastien Dos Santos Borges, and Gaetan Pierrard were Day Seven’s last checkpoint crossers. Tore mentioned a moose encounter, Sébastien lamented having to have learned what jumble ice is, and Gaetan described his trip in from 40 Mile as “insane.” “I was kicking downhill!” he exclaimed. In between these arrivals, Torsten Kohnert and Tom Frode Johansen completed their mandatory layovers and began the second half of their race.
After much leap-frogging amongst the lead pack, the latest tracker update shows Hugh Neff in first, 30 miles from the Stepping Stone checkpoint; Allen Moore resting at 39 miles out; Brent Sass and Matt Hall in third and fourth, both under 50 miles from Stepping Stone; and Ed Hopkins in fifth, nine miles from Scroggie.
Check the SPOT Live Tracker for up-to-the-minute locations of all the competitors.