The small community of Eagle Alaska is a unique place on the Yukon Quest Trail. It is the only ‘hot spot’ checkpoint along the entire trail that is snow-bound in winter, shut in by the deep freeze and only accessible by plane, snowmobile, or dog team. Winter comes, the highway snows in, and the river stops flowing and becomes a long and often rough highway for snowmobiles and dog teams.
This makes for some unique challenges, similar to Scroggie Creek and Slavens Roadhouse. Two (not Scroggie) require a Vet presence as well as a race judge in attendance beginning to race end. These ‘troop movements’ are carried out by air whenever possible, but are very weather dependant. If air travel is not possible due to weather, snowmobile is the only alternative, although an extreme one. The nearest communities to Eagle are Dawson City, one hundred sixty trail miles away in The Yukon, in Canada, and Circle, Alaska, two hundred sixty trail miles over ‘challenging’ terrain to the north.
(One year the planes couldn’t fly due to weather, and as the front runner teams got closer to Slavens Roadhouse things got pretty tense. A vet presence was required at Slavens, as it was a designated dog drop, and the vet, sitting at Circle, could not get there in time. The race marshal, Doug Grilliot, asked me if I would/could transport a vet on my machine if needed. I was put on standby, and at the last, very last minute, the plane was available, much to my relief. Another adventure averted! This ‘plan B’ scenario would also hold true for the other two ‘outposts’, Eagle and Scroggie Creek, and would be an uncomfortable second choice…)
When the Yukon Quest ‘comes to town’ there is a lot of excitement and general local interest at all the roadside communities. Visitors from all over the planet and media too, stop in to check out the action and visit. Not so, in Eagle. Cut-off from the rest of the physical world for the previous three months or so, the community is more than ready for some engagement with new folks, and the dogs, of course. The usual presence of Quest fans and media is absent, and so Eagle offers a more intimate experience to mushers and the Quest personnel who are present in Eagle for the race. It’s really pleasant and comforting for all of us, and I always look forward to that experience if and when I make it that far.
Eagle is a Yukon Quest official checkpoint and so has the required vet and judge presence just like the other Quest checkpoints. In addition, it is also the first contact point for Quest personnel and mushers arriving from Dawson City, and all must be cleared by US immigration upon arrival. Quest personnel are pre-vetted well in advance of arrival. It was very strange to see a uniformed US customs guy show up after I arrived the first time in 2011. A real ‘oh ya’ moment of reality, after all the lumps and bumps and the surreal blizzard experience of the American Summit just a few hours before.
Eagle is also a dog drop location, where dogs can be dropped off if for any reason they cannot carry on. These dogs are flown out to either Circle or Dawson, depending on race direction, and are reunited with the mushers’ handler at that time.
Materials such as straw, trail markers, all get freighted into Eagle ahead of the road closure. Another piece of the puzzle that is part of the Yukon Quest logistics.
The following pictures are from my 2011 and 2012 trips by Snow Mobile to and through the Eagle Community while photographing for the Yukon Quest. I was well-received, well treated, and thoroughly enjoyed thawing out while there. Great!