It was a chilly but exciting start to the Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile Sled Dog Race Saturday, with 26 mushers leaving the Start Line in Whitehorse under a sunny sky and temperatures hovering near -35.
Despite the cold, hundreds of fans packed the chute to cheer on their favourite human and canine athletes. Defending champion Allen Moore was the first to hit the trail, followed by Brent Sass. Hugh Neff, who won the Yukon Quest in 2012, was the last musher to start this year’s journey.
Moore and Neff are two of four past champions in this year’s race, and it was another past champion, Jeff King, who led the pack into Braeburn. King arrived at 8:50 pm, well ahead of the next musher. He decided to stay and as of midnight had not left.
Moore was the second musher into Braeburn, at 10:58 pm, and he also made the decision to stay – although who knows for how long. Mushers this year have the option of taking a six-hour layover in either Braeburn or Carmacks, and they don’t have to declare it upon arrival.
As Moore pulled up, he was so bundled up to shield himself from the cold that he had a hard time hearing the checkers. He just wanted to know, “What time is it?”
Lance Mackey followed Moore into the checkpoint and he was super upbeat. Someone asked him how he was doing and he replied, “Awesome!” Mackey also chose to stay in Braeburn, for what he called “a visit”.
Next to hit Braeburn was Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who arrived at 11:31 pm, approximately 10 minutes after Mackey. Dave Dalton made his way in 15 minutes later, and Brent Sass was the first musher to blow through the checkpoint, arriving just after midnight.
Sass told officials the trail has been “awesome,” adding, “the northern lights are amazing!” He asked Race Marshal Doug Grilliot who else had blown through, and was informed he was the only one so far.
Scott Smith and Ed Hopkins were the next mushers scheduled to hit Braeburn early Sunday morning.
A large group is travelling close together in the middle of the pack, including Cody Strathe, Hugh Neff, Torsten Kohnert, Nicolas Vanier, Normand Casavant, Rowland Trowbridge, Ray Redington Jr., and Matt Hall.
Magnus Feren Kaltenborn was bringing up the back of the pack, around 40 miles from Braeburn.