Quest Teams Surmount Eagle Summit Under Clear Skies
Lex Treinen, KUAC
(Central, Ak) The Steese Highway pullout at mile 101 is the first rest Yukon Quest teams get after the race’s first big challenge of the trail going over Rosebud Summit.
“Great snow out there for the first time ever that I’ve done it,” said 300 racer Jennifer LaBar on Sunday morning.
To get over the treeless pass that connects the trail from Chena Hot Springs Road to the Steese Highway, mushers often have to run alongside their and push it up the hill. LaBar, ladling her dogs some meat stew, said she was the weakest link of her team on the climb.
“I had a couple dogs just stopping and barking, like ‘why are we stopping?’ I said, ‘cuz I’m not in as good of shape as you,’” she said.
550 musher Deke Naaktgeboren described the trek up the climbs even more painfully.
“You just push and run till you feel like you’re gonna be sick, then you do it again, until you feel like you’re gonna be sick, and hopefully you’re not sick,” he said.
300 musher Ron Stiffler said he was down to his base layers huffing and puffing behind his team. He almost missed the view on the clear night.
“It was gorgeous, full moon, you could see all the mountains around you up there, I didn’t get to enjoy it till I got to the top,” he said.
Shaynee Traska, racing the 550, also enjoyed the view.
“You can just see for miles and miles all the valleys and mountains around,” she said. “It’s just stunning, it’s hard to describe really.”
She, and most of the other mushers got to see the other challenging summit of the Yukon Quest under the sunlight. Eagle is known as the steeper, more intense of the two climbs on the Quest trail. Around noon on Sunday, the wind was blowing steady with temperatures hovering above zero degrees, significantly warmer than in the valleys below.
After cresting the last, steep pitch of the climb to the summit, Traska, speaking from the back of her sled as her dogs pull her along the trail, said the snow cover is some of the best she’s seen. But she’s not taking any chances.
“This is such a steep drop,” she said. “I actually have chains I just dropped on my runners to generate more frictions. Hopefully it will help us out a little bit.”
She, and most of the other teams make it over Eagle Summit without much incident.
At Central, teams pull in throughout the afternoon Sunday, their first stop after Eagle Summit. 300 musher Ashley Dove arrives with a sense of relief.
“Eagle Summit: Up, over, donzo,” she said.
Inside, the chefs at Central Roadhouse are busy dishing French fries and bacon burgers -- free for the mushers. For 300 musher Samantha LaLonde, who pulls into Central under the subarctic twilight, it’s tempting.
“It sure is, those cheeseburgers,” she said.
But she said she’s headed off to camp on the trail in order to stick to her run-rest schedule. 550 musher Nic Petit is also ready to get down the trail. He said he’s glad he’s done with the climbs – at least for a while. He doesn’t like running behind the sled. Why not?
“Because I’m not an athlete,” he said.
He’ll get a break from running on the cold and windy section of trail to Circle along Birch Creek. But for Petit and the other 550 mushers, they’ll be running back up the summits after stopping in Circle. ###