Day 6 of the 35th Yukon Quest began its takeover of the Dawson checkpoint at 4:21am with the arrival of current second place musher Paige Drobny.
When asked about her longer rest time at Earl and Sandy’s famed hospitality stop, the collected Drobny said she “didn’t like the way that [the dogs] looked coming into Clinton Creek and rather than just push on and come here for the 36, I’d rather stay there and make sure they came here looking good.” Drobny also described the surreal trip into Dawson through the combination of ice fog and wood smoke: “I couldn't see anything. I felt like I was in chicken soup or something.”
Third place Matt Hall crossed the line just under an hour later, a little tired of the frigid temperatures that won’t seem to relax their grip. “It was definitely a little colder than I expected it to be. There was a headwind the whole way – the whole 50 miles. So that was pretty chilly.” Hall was pragmatic in describing his tactics for the second half of the race. “These guys are ready to rock and roll, but we don’t have the front-end power, so I don’t think we’re gonna be making up 5 hours and 45 minutes like we did last year at the halfway point. We’ll see. You never know. It’s still a race.”
Ed Hopkins’ longer rests helped him make up some ground, passing Laura Neese and Vebjorn Aishana Reitan to make the Dawson checkpoint in fourth place at 8:28am. Hopkins said the already brutal temperatures were not helped by the fact that he forgot an extra-extra layer he had meant to put on all the way back in Fairbanks. The Yukon musher said he would be spending at least a couple of his layover hours in a warm bath.
Next in with only 15 minutes separating them were Vebjorn Aishana Reitan (10:15am) and Laura Neese (10:36am). After the requisite check-in procedures and a passport inspection from Canada Customs, Reitan was handed a thermos by his handlers and took questions from the scrum while sipping a coffee. “It got a little bit windy, and I got a little bit frozen, but still doing good,” said the rookie from Kaktovik.
Neese, meanwhile, was her indomitably cheerful self, calling her trip from Eagle a “beautiful, super fun run,” and said her team was “cruisin’.” The veteran Michigan musher’s plans for the 36-hour layover? “Love up some dogs first, get ’em all warm and cozy, a good meal in their bellies, and then go take a nap.”
Rookie Tim Pappas had a huge day, jumping from 12th to seventh arriving in Dawson at 6:15pm. Pappas was elated with his team’s performance, saying they were “Incredible! I’m just completely blown away by my team. I feel honoured to be the guy standing behind them right now.”
Torsten Kohnert was the final musher to complete the first 500 miles of the race today, pulling up for passport check just before 9pm. When asked how his team did, Kohnert replied, "Pretty good. Not too fast. Pretty slow. To be expected. A lot of young dogs on the team."
Claudia Wickert, Alex Buetow, Bernhard Schuchert, and Luc Tweddell left Clinton Creek in a convoy around 7pm and at time of writing were spread out between 30 to 35 miles out from Dawson, with Nathaniel Hamlyn and Riley Dyche trailing them 25 miles back. Hugh Neff arrived at Clinton Creek around 11am and remains there. Rob Cooke reached Clinton just before 5pm, and Dave Dalton joined them circa 7:30pm.
At the back of the pack, Red Lantern Severin Cathryn was 10 miles out from Clinton at day’s end.
Two mushers left the race today: Jason Campeau is withdrawn after hitting his SPOT tracker’s assistance button due to injury; Jennifer Campeau scratched in Eagle for personal reasons.
Also today, Sgt. John Mitchell of the Canadian Rangers provided his briefing on current trail conditions for the next 500 miles. After three passes of the trail, Mitchell said overall the conditions are favourable. Mushers will find it well marked, a bit light on snow in parts but that means no drifting, the jumble ice minimal and manageable, and with very little in the way of glaciers all the way to Whitehorse.
Standings as of 11:59pm:
1. Allen Moore
2. Paige Drobny
3. Matt Hall
4. Ed Hopkins
5. Vebjorn Aishana Reitan
6. Laura Neese
7. Tim Pappas
8. Torsten Kohnert
9. Claudia Wickert
10. Alex Buetow
11. Bernhard Schuchert
12. Luc Tweddell
13. Nathaniel Hamlyn
14. Riley Dyche
15. Hugh Neff
16. Rob Cooke
17. Dave Dalton
18. Severin Cathry