Kiara Adams has fat dogs.
“They’re Quest dogs,” she said.
“But now I need to slim them down and make them faster.”
The 18-year-old musher plans to race in the upcoming Percy De Wolfe and in the Silver Sled. And she wants a competitive team.
Adams has not had the chance to train her dogs since being rescued from the top of Eagle summit with six other Quest mushers and teams early last week.
After the rescue, mushers were not allowed to continue with the race and Adams slowly made her way back to Whitehorse.
“I have been cleaning out the dog truck and putting away food and supplies, which was incredibly depressing,” she said.
Like many of the rescued mushers, Adams wanted to finish the Quest.
But that was not an option.
“It was all very confusing,” said Adams.
She thinks it would have made sense to have a meeting with race officials after getting out of the helicopter with her team, she said.
“Because at this point we hadn’t really received help.
“We’d been rescued, but they brought us backwards. We probably could have continued on with the race.”
But after the rescue, there was lots of confusion and, by the time the mushers realized racing might still be possible, they had all received outside help, which disqualified them.
“We were all kind of the guinea pigs,” said Adams.
There are things that could have been done better both before and after the rescue, she said.
But, given the circumstances, she doesn’t blame race officials.
“I mean, no one has ever been rescued by helicopter before during the Quest,” she said.
“And if it ever happens again, it probably won’t be so confusing.”
Given the choice, Adams might have continued with the race, but not if the storm was still raging.
“I probably wouldn’t have the heart to send my dogs back into that storm,” she said.
“We had just spent all day thinking we could die.”
And she is still thinking about it.
“I keep listening to books on tape, so as not to think about it,” she said.
When Adams left the Mile 101 dog drop, before the summit, she knew it was stormy on the mountain.
In fact, she had waited an additional six hours till daylight instead of leaving at midnight as she originally planned.
Three Quest 300 mushers left with her.
The trail was blown in at the foot of Eagle Summit and it was windy.
“But it was no big deal,” she said.
Soon after, a trailbreaker on a snowmachine, who had gone out ahead to fix trail markers, passed them.
He had turned around because there was too much snow. He couldn’t get through.
“This was troubling,” admitted Adams.
“But often dog teams can go places snow machines can’t.
“And going up the mountain was a cake walk.”
When she got to the top of the mountain, the wind was whistling and she had trouble seeing past her lead dogs.
“There was this voice in my head that kept telling me to go back to 101,” she said.
“But it didn’t seem rational to keep listening to this voice screaming in my head — it was a dog race, so I kept going.”
Eventually she became separated from the Quest 300 mushers, but found Quest rookie Phil Joy.
Together they inched their teams down the mountain over bare, rocky, mossy ground.
It was really steep with 128-km/h winds, said Adams.
“Our lead dogs couldn’t even hear us over the wind, so even if we knew where to go, we had no steering.
“And we couldn’t stop, so we just kept holding on thinking, ‘Oh, crap, I hope this is where we’re supposed to go’.”
Eventually, they came to a cliff and trying to avoid it, the two teams became tangled.
“By the time we untangled them, they were so scared they just lay down and didn’t want anything to do with it,” she said.
Adams lay on her sled for a while, but the wind was cold and Joy was having trouble.
Having already been up there a at least 12 hours longer than Adams, his hands were frozen and he and his team were in danger of severe dehydration.
It was impossible boil snow for water, because there was no snow, and if there had been, with such high winds there would have been no way to melt it.
“If we opened our sled bag things would blow out; coats were blowing off the dogs and disappearing into the storm,” said Adams.
Weighing very little and wearing a parka that acted as a sail, she almost blew away a few times, and Joy had to hold onto her.
After sharing some of her water with Joy and lending him a dry pair of mitts, Adams devised a plan.
One of them would walk the lead dogs forward and the other would guide the sled, then they would return and do the same thing with the second team, slowly inching their way down the mountain.
“We did this all day,” said Adams.
“And at one point I said, wouldn’t it be great if a helicopter came for us right now.”
Shortly thereafter a Blackhawk helicopter landed just above them on the mountain.
“We actually didn’t want to get onto the helicopter; we wanted to keep fighting,” she said.
“But we didn’t know if we were going in the right direction and at that point we were gambling with the dogs lives and with our lives, because with nothing to drink for over 16 hours they could have become hypothermic and even died.”
Adams was not sure they really had a choice anyway, and they had already made the choice to go with the helicopter if it arrived.
“But I was really torn,” said Adams.
“And as I was walking dogs to the helicopter, I was all teary-eyed.”
The dogs, who normally would have been terrified by the prospect of riding in a chopper, were scrambling to get in.
“We had to actually hold them back, it was like they saw this as their only way off the mountain,” she said.
The next day, when snow machines retrieved their sleds, it turned out Adams and Joy were just 900 metres from the trail and were heading in the right direction.
“It’s a bummer,” said Adams. “But we had no way of knowing.”
She is not sure she will race in next year’s Quest, she said.
“I didn’t plan to before,” she said.
“And I don’t want to let what happened at Eagle change a whole year of my life.”
This year, although she will still enter some races, she’s not interested in anything hard.
“If it’s a cake walk, that’s fine, but I’m not interested in being stuck on anymore mountains,” she said with a laugh.
Adams has been running dogs since she was 11 and is thinking of doing something else for a while.
“You can’t keep mushing forever,” she said.
She is considering the RCMP and may attend police school in Regina next fall. She hopes to become part of a canine unit.
Since she was eight, she did obedience work with her pet Jack Russell Aggie and wants to pursue this again, too.
“I want to see if we can get the next title up before Aggie’s too old,” she said.
Adams was at the Pelly Crossing checkpoint picking up her drop bags, which hold food and supplies for mushers to re-outfit with during the race.
It is hard watching teams come in, she said.
And she was not going to Dawson to watch the finish.
“I’ll be at the banquet though,” she said.
It coincides with her 19th birthday.