Eagle Summit is one of the more well-known locations on the Quest Trail. The name itself grabs you, and being relatively accessible to the media, it gets a fair bit of play.
It is a short snowmobile ride from either 101 checkpoint, or directly off the highway, one hill over. You can even walk over from the road if your legs work OK.
For the mushers, it’s all about the climb, the decent, and the weather. In odd numbered years the race heads towards Fairbanks, and the mushers who are still in the race have a very steep and long climb up up up to the top of a saddle between two hills. There are many stories of mushers helping each other on that ascent, staking their team to a tripod and walking back to help another lead their team up and off that steep hillside. Once there it’s a pretty ‘doable’ and much more gentle run down the far side, a short hop to checkpoint 101 and…..bacon!
Going the other direction in even years the situation is quite different. The hill up to the top of the saddle is a steady climb of moderate slope for a half mile, followed by a steep gut-wrenching drop down the far side into the valley below. Many a musher has been dragged down that decline off their sled and sideways, hanging on for all their worth.
All mushers share a common respect for this place and with good reason!
In 2006 a blizzard on Eagle Summit shut down six teams right up on the summit. The Alaska Air National Guard rescued the mushers and their eighty eight sled dogs out of the blizzard by helicopter twenty four hours later. All were safe and sound, but it illustrates the extremes that can catch a team on Eagle Summit.