Mushers navigate highs and lows along the Yukon Quest trail

Feb 10, 2015

Pelly Crossing, YK - Along the Yukon Quest trail, Mushers experience all kinds of highs and lows. Sometimes their dog teams cruise. At other times a rough trail and harsh weather can make even the toughest musher question why they signed up for he race.

In the last three days, almost every musher has had something to say about the persistent deep cold that has settled in over the Yukon. “None of us had thermometers with us because none of us wanted thermometers with us,” said musher Matt Hall.

Hall said teams in the middle of the pack have been running close together in part because of frigid temperatures. “So it was kind of fun. It made us kind of stick together,” he said. “You’d come around a corner and there’d be mushers grouped together and a big fire going and even though you’re competing against each other everybody would sit around the fire together and talk and it’s just a different side of things versus when it’s warmer and everybody spreads out more and you’re just all on your own.”

Despite the camaraderie, Hall arrived in Pelly Crossing in low spirits. “Yeah, I think I’m at what they call the wall,” said Hall.

He said his team just didn’t seem geared up, but he was convinced his dogs were responding to his own low mood. “Oh, I think it’s me. Everything feeds off of you,” he said. “You’re the coach so I think once we get to Dawson that will be the light that pulls us out of it.”

Hall dropped two dogs in Carmacks, and four when he arrived in Pelly.  His team left quietly from that checkpoint, but two hours later, he returned to scratch - perhaps an ultimate low for the up-and-coming musher who placed third as Rookie of the Year in 2014.

Highs and lows on the trail aren’t out of the ordinary for even the most veteran of mushers. “Just one minute everything’s great and then the next minute it’s like what the hell just happened? I’ve been referring to as being plugged in and unplugged,” said Lance Mackey.

 

Nearly every one of his fingertips is frost bitten in spite of battery powered glove heaters. “I can’t put it out of my head. It’s one of those things that’s a constant reminder,” he said of his aching fingers. “I need a replacement with a booty horn on one hand and a hook on the other or something,” he joked.

But the four-time champion is experienced enough to know the Yukon Quest is fraught with ups and downs even for the dogs. “Well coming through some of that jumble ice, I had [a dog] fall in a crack and as soon as it happened I knew she was going to be done,” he said. “So I stopped right away and apologized for not being able to control all the things and I go up there and I have my little talk with her and I’m walking back to the sled and then I fall in a crack and I fall on my head and I tuned back and ‘See?’ and we kind of laughed about a bad situation,” said Mackey.

And then there’s Thorsten Kohnert. “So far I was pretty leveled,” said Kohnert. “No high not low just average. But of course there will be moments you probably regret singing up like if you’re standing in your knees in some overflow in 40 below or something, that’s not so funny.”

The even-keeled Swede didn’t have much to report from the first 300 miles of his race. His plan is to take it easy into Dawson City.

“Well, I don’t believe in stressing things up,” Kohnert said. “Nothing good comes out of it, so I try to be leveled.”

Mushers are looking forward to 24 hours of rest in Dawson.  A few say they might consider staying longer. Whether they are serious isn’t entirely clear. The weather forecast is calling for a break in the cold over the next day or two, but few mushers say the trust that prediction.