2020 Yukon Quest leaders reach Circle checkpoint

Michelle Phillips goes through her mandatory checks after arriving at the Circle checkpoint in the early hours of Feb. 3 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Rob Cooke keeps an eye on his team while they rest at the Mile 101 checkpoint on Feb. 2 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Some of Rob Cooke’s team curl up for a rest at the Mile 101 checkpoint on Feb. 2 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Jason Campeau and his team arrive at the Central checkpoint on Feb. 2 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Jason Campeau gets instructions on where to park his team after arriving at the Central checkpoint on Feb. 2 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Teams sleep in the dog yard at the Central checkpoint nestled between the trees on Feb. 2 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)


Yukoner Michelle Phillips was the first musher to reach the Circle City checkpoint of the 37th Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race, arriving in Circle, Alaska, at 3:45 a.m. local time on Feb. 3.

The veteran musher was followed in by 2019 Quest winner Brent Sass at 4:29 a.m., veteran Cody Strathe at 4:32 a.m., and three-time winner Allen Moore at 5:27 a.m.

Phillips said her team was doing well.

“They’re moving along nicely. A couple little issues here and there, but overall pretty good,” said Phillips. “They’re starting to jell together as a team.”

She said Birch Creek — a notorious stretch of trail known for being long and cold — did not have any bad overflow and was “good.”

Phillips said she’ll be dropping one of her dogs, Indy, because of a sore back leg.

“I don’t think she needs to keep going,” said Phillips.

From Circle, mushers have a 96-kilometre stretch to the hospitality stop at Slaven’s Roadhouse and a further 160 km to Eagle, Alaska — the final checkpoint on the American side.

In Eagle, mushers are required to spend a four-hour mandatory layover before tackling the 1,042-m American Summit on the 240-km stretch to Dawson City where teams will have 36 hours of mandatory rest before resuming the journey to the finish in Whitehorse.

As of 7:30 a.m. local time, four mushers are resting in Circle, 10 are on the trail between Central and Circle, and one is resting at Central.

Earlier on Feb. 2 at the Central checkpoint — a general store, restaurant and hotel all rolled into one — the Superbowl provided the background noise as handlers, veterinarians and race officials waited for teams to arrive.

“Dog team coming in!” was the exclaimation from those seated nearest the windows, letting all inside know a new musher was arriving and creating a stir as people scrambled to zip up parkas and head outside.

Musher Jason Campeau arrived in Central at 3:24 p.m. local time, making it inside for a hot meal just after the Superbowl halftime show ended.

He and his team had a scary experience coming down Eagle Summit, with hardpacked ice making it impossible for Campeau to slow his sled. His dogs, too, were unable to find footing and he said his sled and dogs got tangled up during the incident.

“The downhill was not good. It wasn’t good,” said Campeau. “I was more worried for the dogs because they were free falling, so it was kind of tough on them. Some of them got wrapped up in the sled and stuff.”

He said that his dogs appear to have made it through unscathed, but that the experience was frustrating.

“I was a little frustrated with that because you work so hard to train them and keep them healthy,” said Campeau. “I’ve experienced it on this race going down Rosebud the other way where there was no snow. I guess my only concern is for the dogs. You never like to see a dog lose control — that was the part that frustrated me.”

Campeau suffered a concussion during his last Yukon Quest in 2018, and he said if he’d known the shape the trail was in he would not have attempted a descent.

“With my past concussions, I definitely wouldn’t have done that run if I knew it was like that,” said Campeau. “(It’s) not something I would recommend and hopefully I’ve told them that it’s pretty dangerous (and) to just give a warning to whoever else is coming through.”

Asked about her trip down Eagle Summit, Phillips echoed that it was not an easy run.

“It was pretty intense,” said Phillips. “It was drifted hard-packed snow with rocks and tundra. It was pretty wild.”

Further back on the trail at Mile 101, teams rested after ascending Rosebud Summit in preparation for climbing Eagle Summit and the steep descent.

Rob Cooke and his team were taking their mandatory layover of four hours — the layover can happen at either Mile 101 or Central — during the afternoon hours and Cooke said he was happy with his team over Rosebud Summit and the race as a whole so far.

“The dogs were super motivated,” said Cooke. “We were running up behind Chase (Tingle) and a couple other teams that were having some issues getting up there, but these guys were super motivated and really wanted to go for it.”

Tingle received a one-hour penalty per the race rules for replacing broken parts on his sled at the Mile 101 checkpoint. That penalty will be served in Dawson City.

Cooke said being in Mile 101 was a relief, given it appeared no bad weather was imminent.

“Last year we obviously had the issues on Eagle Summit,” said Cooke, alluding to the whiteout conditions he faced alongside Andrew Pace, Jason Biasetti and Deke Naaktgeboren. “It was kind of on my mind that we could get caught again, but there doesn’t seem to be any weather advisories.”

The News spoke with Cooke while Campeau was on the trail between Mile 101 and Central.

Cooke is one of the mushers on the trail between Central and Circle.

In the Yukon Quest 300, race leaders are on the trail between Central and Circle, including Yukoners Nathaniel Hamlyn and Claudia Wickert.

Once mushers in the 300 reach Circle, they’ll head back to Central and the finish line.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

Yukon Quest

Just Posted

Yukon Fish and Game Association opposed to moose management proposals

Executive director Eric Schroff said he thinks Yukon government needs to be more transparent


Wyatt’s World

Casino taking more time with mine proposal

Statement not expected to be submitted to YESAB until Dec. 31, 2021

New act allows Yukon College to become Yukon University

The official launch of Yukon University will happen May 8 with a convocation ceremony

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in to hold general election in April

On top of voting for chief, three councillors, citizens will vote for a deputy chief for first time

Yukon’s minimum wage set to increase by $1 to $13.71 in April

The increase will make the Yukon’s minimum wage the fourth-highest in the country

City news, briefly

Some of the decisions made at the Whitehorse council meeting on Feb 17

Yukonomist: Three questions on Yukon Zinc and China

The case heard recently in Yukon Supreme Court is particularly troubling

Commentary: Highway plans will negatively impact safety

The proposed Alaska Highway work will impact our safety, our communities and our environment.

Olivia Webster is the final musher to finish the Yukon Quest

‘I guess I’ve always been a grandpa’s girl and he’s my best friend, so I kind of wanted to be like him and so I did it’

Yukon’s Rob Cooke and company finish 10th in the 2020 Yukon Quest

Cooke and his 14 Siberians crossed the finish line at 9:07 a.m. on Feb. 15 in Whitehorse

Lights Out Yukon Invitational Basketball Tournament bigger than ever in sixth year

“Honestly, it was the smoothest tournament I think we’ve run yet”

Most Read