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Dog dies on Quest trail

Jewel died on the Yukon Quest trail, Sunday.The five-year-old female husky was running on Yuka Honda’s team.

Jewel died on the Yukon Quest trail, Sunday.

The five-year-old female husky was running on Yuka Honda’s team.

She’s the first dog to die on the trail since 2002.

“We think she expired around 10 a.m.,” head race vet Vern Starks said late Sunday night.

Honda arrived in Carmacks with the dead dog in her basket, at 11:51 p.m.

“She is understandably very distraught,” said Starks.

Two miles out of Braeburn, Honda’s leaders got in a tangle.

Fresh out of the checkpoint, the dogs were excited and Honda anchored two snow hooks before running up to untangle the lead dogs.

On the way back, she noticed Jewel was slightly tangled and bent down to unsnap a tug line.

The rest of the team, lunging at the lines, popped the snowhooks.

Honda was knocked over by one of the dogs and couldn’t grab the sled as it sailed by.

She was running down the trail after her team when rookie musher Brent Sass picked her up.

Ten to 12 miles later, she found her team stopped on a lake.

Jewel was dead when she got there.

“Losing a team is the biggest dread for any dog musher,” said race marshal Mike McCowan on Monday.

“When that happens, your heart just drops to the bottom of your feet.”

Quest vet Matti Kiupel performed a preliminary necropsy on the dog Sunday night.

The dog choked on its own vomit, he said.

“There were no other underlying problems.”

This can occur when a dog is traveling at high speeds, or is extremely stressed and isn’t able to breath normally and has trouble getting the vomit out, said Kiupel.

Without a musher on the sled, it’s hard for the dogs to balance, said McCowan.

“The sled keeps rocking back and forth and it doesn’t track properly.”

After hearing what happened, McCowan had a long talk with Iditarod musher Bill Cotter, who owns Honda’s team.

“And Bill said, ‘I’m going to tell her I want her to get that dog team to Fairbanks,” said McCowan.

Honda was “gut-shot,” he added.

“She had a long way before she got here and she was still crying when she arrived,” he said.

McCowan saw Honda off at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

“For her to continue on is good for her and the dogs,” he said.

This is Honda’s second Quest.

Last year the Japanese musher was plucked off Eagle Summit during a storm that saw five mushers and six teams airlifted to safety by the US military.

Sass, who picked up Honda, also carried Quest 300 musher Randy Chappel to Central during last year’s race, after he lost his team on Eagle Summit.

The trail between Braeburn and Carmacks, where the accident happened, is crazy, said Carcross musher Catherine Pinard.

“It’s amazing we all survived in one piece,” she said while munching bannock in Carmacks on Sunday night, before she heard about Jewel.

“It is sad to see some dogs I was expecting to finish with injuries, but it’s no wonder with all those sharp corners, glaciers and steep downhills.”

It’s a completely crazy course for the dogs, she said.

“It’s almost too much.

“It would be good to be there and take pictures — if you could see our faces,” she added.

The brakes don’t work on hills that steep, and neither do commands.

“I say, ‘Whoa,’ maybe for myself, or maybe I’m talking to the sled, to see if it can do anything,” said Pinard with a laugh.

There was one vertical hill in particular, with a mountain of ice at the bottom and a tree stuck in the middle that had mushers shaking their heads.

“They put that tree in the middle of the glacier for extra thrills,” said Alaskan musher Kelly Griffin over salmon chowder.

Despite wayward trees and steep hills, all mushers agreed the trail is the best it’s been in years.

Griffin wasn’t expecting it.

And the good trail tired out her team.

“They’re going faster than I expected, and this has gotten them more tired,” she said. “We’re still on schedule, but I’m not sure for how long.”

The Rangers did a great job on the trail, said Dawson’s Peter Ledwidge.

“But there’s one tree I didn’t miss.”

Amazed he didn’t break his neck, Ledwidge came away from the crash a bit stunned, checking himself over to see if he was still in one piece.

“It looks like several others hit it too,” he said.

Ledwidge hauled into Carmacks with a dog in his basket.

“It sucks carrying a dog 60 miles,” he said.

“It puts you back a little bit.”

And it tires out the team.

Frank Turner, bleary-eyed and exhausted, agreed.

He one-upped Ledwidge, arriving with two dogs in the sled.

“Banshee got the bottom and Shyllo got the top,” he said.

Trying to stay focused, Turner is just thinking about getting to Fairbanks with the 12 dogs he has left.

The trail’s hard and fast, he added.

“If you have a great team, with the weather and trail, this is the year to let it rip.”

The fast trail sent Alaskan musher John Schandelmeier flying.

Coming down one of the hills, his snow hook caught a tree, slinging his sled into a bigger tree.

With a broken stanchion and bent runners he hobbled into Carmacks.

“It was like driving a snowplough,” he said.

Able to fix the sled with his repair kit, Schandelmeier didn’t seem fazed.

“If we weren’t bitching about the hard trail, we’d be bitching about the soft trail,” he said with a grin.

“Whatever the trail is, we’ll find something to bitch about.”