A musher and dog team take the Chena River out of Fairbanks
The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race started on Saturday morning. Fifteen teams left Fairbanks, with the goal of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in 9 days, give or take.
It was a rather chilly morning to be hanging out on the Chena River to cheer the teams on their way, but several hundred people turned out to do just that. It was -25F when I left the cabin, and it must have been -30 down on the river ice. Everyone, including the dogs, were bundled up.
The 1000 mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse first started in 1984. A 1983 bull-session in the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks, led to the race’s creation. Twenty-six teams left Fairbanks that first year. The winner, Sonny Linder, made it to Whitehorse in just over 12 days.
The Quest follows the historic gold rush routes between the Yukon and Alaska’s Interior, traveling frozen rivers and crossing four mountain ranges. Dawson City, YT is the half-way point. In even years, the race starts in Fairbanks, and in odd years the race starts in Whitehorse.
There are ten checkpoints and four dog drops, where dogs can be dropped off, but not replaced. Sleds can not be replaced without a penalty. The record run happened in 2010, when Hans Gatt finished in 9 days, 26 minutes. The slowest time happened in 1988, when Ty Halvorson completed the race in 20 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes.
The Last Great Race started this past weekend, and leaders arrived in the village of Takotna (Mile 329) on Tuesday night. Many mushers, including Mitch Seavey, who was leading at the time, stopped here for their mandatory 24 hour rest.
Norwegian, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, gambled and flew through Ophir (Mile 352) at 4:52am on Wednesday. Ulsom is expected to take his 24 hour layover further on down the historic trail in Iditarod.
Trail temperature was at 32 degrees on Wednesday, which will slow down travel. Depending on what happens with the weather, Ulsom’s gamble may or may not pay off. It should be noted that the 31 year old musher from Norway has never finished outside of the Top 10, and his best finish was last year when he came in fourth.
The next check point for Ulsom is the trail’s namesake: the abandoned mining town of Iditarod. The first musher to enter Iditarod, the halfway point in the southern route, gets $3000 worth of gold nuggets. Ulsom, is still running a full team of 16 dogs.
A musher comes into the Nikolai checkpoint. Photo credit: Loren Holmes/ADN
The Iditarod started this past weekend, as mushers and dog teams left Willow, AK on Sunday. Due to the lack of snow, there had been talk of changing the start of the race to Fairbanks, which is actually closer to the historical serum run that the race commemorates, but race officials decided to stick with the southern Willow Run.
Maybe, they should have come north:
With treacherous, snowless trail conditions, eleven of the sixty-nine mushers who started the race have already scratched. Another, has been withdrawn by race officials after an injury.
Scott Janssen, a 52 year old musher/undertaker from Anchorage , broke his ankle on a section of trail between Rohn and Nikolai. Known as the Mushing Mortician, Janssen said, “There’s a lot of heaven to be seen along the Iditarod route, but that part of the trail was all hell.”