Off the mountain, back to the race

DAWSON CITY After a Blackhawk helicopter rescued five Quest mushers and six teams off Eagle summit on Monday, there has been talk of little else.


After a Blackhawk helicopter rescued five Quest mushers and six teams off Eagle summit on Monday, there has been talk of little else.

The event received international press, while mushers who made it off the mountain independently and continued with the race, were largely ignored.

“It’s time to get back to the race,” said William Kleedehn in Circle.

“I’ve gone over (Eagle summit) before when it was really windy and basically a storm and you know when you go and sign up for these events, this is what can happen.

“It is quite an experience when it blows on those hills and the first descent down is a catastrophe — the bottom falls right out.

“If it is blowing like that you shouldn’t go up there; you should go back to 101 and eat fatty bacon.”

After coming over the summit, Sebastian Schnuelle admitted he wanted to scratch in Central.

“But (race official Thomas Tetz) kicked my balls,” he said.

“Those mushers who were evacuated should have got together and gone on a camping trip,” said Hugh Neff.

They should have just continued following the Quest trail, even though they were withdrawn from the race, he said.

“What I said in Central, that someone could die up on that mountain, I wasn’t joking,” said Hans Gatt.

“The Quest has to sit down and figure out a different route or, one of these years, someone is going to get killed.

“It is a totally out-of control situation, and it shouldn’t be that way — trying to bring a dog team over there is not responsible.”

“But you have to go over the summit, it’s an inherent part of the Quest,” said Neff.

“It’s part of the old mail route; they used to light candles in tin cans to guide you over.”

At a press conference in Dawson yesterday, race marshal Mike McCowan said they would not consider re-routing the Quest to avoid Eagle summit.

Today Quest officials are holding a meeting to discuss what happened on the summit, and hear feedback from some of the evacuated mushers, several of whom did not want to be flown off the mountain but weren’t given a choice.

Trail conditions

This year, warm weather and a lack of snow have taken their toll on the Quest trail.

And Friday afternoon in Dawson, McCowan will meet with trailbreakers and Quest mushers to decide if the second half of the trail is fully passable.

There may be some parts that have to be re-routed and there is talk of the Quest finishing before Whitehorse.

“Seventy per cent of the mushers are expecting some sort of adjustment to the race because of trail conditions,” said Kleedehn.

There is very little snow where the trail goes 30 kilometres along the road to Pelly Crossing, said one bystander.

“The mushers will be able to go, but they won’t be able to stop. There is not enough snow to catch their brakes.”

The lack of snow and the severe glaciation leaving Fairbanks caused some mushers injuries that continue to haunt them.

Gerry Willomitzer is still limping after his wipeout before Mile 101. Kyla Boivin’s back was strained on this same stretch and a number of mushers dropped dogs at 101 because the trail conditions were so rough on them.

But according to head vet Kathleen McGill, the number of dogs dropped this far “is pretty status quo.” Thirty-six dogs have been dropped, most for muscle and ligament problems.

After too little snow, mushers leaving Central faced too much. The trail was drifted in and teams had to slog through sugary, powdery snow while breaking trail.

“It was pretty hellacious for everyone,” said rookie musher Ritchie Beattie’s handler Matt Hawthorne.

Then coming into Eagle after running 256 kilometres on the river, mushers talked about terrible overflow, the worst they’d seen in years.

“There were lots of little holes and patches, one after the other, so dog booties kept getting wet,” said Schnuelle.

“I had a really slow run; that river is the shits,” said Gatt, pulling into Eagle.

“I have never seen so much overflow on the Yukon River — it had just rained out there.”

So far Schnuelle has summed it up best: “Nothing is easy in this whole thing; everyday there is something new.”

“The river giveth and the river taketh away,” said McCowan.

And he was right.

After the hardships of the first river run, the next run into Dawson was harp-packed and fast, allowing standing champ Lance Mackey to run the 236 kilometres in a mere 24 hours.