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Top Teams Head for Eagle Summit

Central, AK - The Yukon Quest changes direction each year.  In odd years, the run up and over Eagle Summit is notoriously challenging.  Frontrunners are headed for the climb.  These are arguably the toughest miles along the trail, notorious for high winds, whiteout conditions and biting cold.

The 2011Yukon Quest still haunts Hugh Neff.  That year he led the race all the way to the base of Eagle Summit, where his team balked and one of his dogs died.  This year, Neff is once again leading the pack toward the summit. “Oh, I’m completely nervous," Neff says.  "You know it’s just a mountain, but I have a lot of history with it.  The Quest has a lot of history with it.  I just gotta be patient.  I don’t really care what place I come in.  I just need to get over this mountain.”  In nearly 24 hours of travel between Eagle and Central, the Tok musher took less than four hours rest.  He was visibly tired when he pulled into the Central checkpoint, his dogs trotting in front.  A few laid down as Neff checked in.  It was clear he’d given the trail ahead of him lots of thought. “So, now we’re at the point I’ve been waiting two years for, so it will get interesting I guess,” says Neff.

Less than an hour later, Allen Moore’s lead dogs, Quito and Olivia came loping into Central.  “I mean they’re jumping right now, so that’s why we gave them a little bit more rest at this last checkpoint so they can get us over this next little hill,” says Moore. He's had more rest than Neff, but not much more.  He also had a difficult climb over Eagle Summit two years ago. “I think anyone in the Quest thinks about this hill the whole race, so I’m just looking forward to conquering it.”

A storm that blew in over the summit earlier this weekend has since moved on.  Musher Brent Sass is hoping for more bad weather.  “You gotta have respect for that mountain, but I’m not scared of it.  I enjoy when it’s blowing and it’s harsh up there," says Sass. 

Jake Berkowitz has his eye on Sass.  The two have been running within striking distance of each other for much of the race.  This is Berkowitz second Quest, but he’s tackling the summit from this direction for the first time.  “I’ve never been worried about a  diog team quitting on me and I’m not worried about this one, but anything can happen and it’s shown that on Eagle Summit,” Berkowitz says. 

The run between Central and the next checkpoint at mile 101 on the Steese Highway spans 28 miles.  Winds are forecast between five and 20 miles per hour, with scattered snow showers.  After teams pass through mile 101, they’ll climb Rosebud Summit next.