A relatively unknown musher from Quebec was the first musher to lead his team out of the Pelly Crossing, Yukon Territory, checkpoint today during the 20th annual Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
Martin Massicotte and his team of 13 dogs headed for the next checkpoint of Dawson City, Yukon Territory, 203 miles away, at 5:11 a.m. Yukon time today. The run to Dawson includes the grueling climb to the top of King Solomon's Dome, the Quest's highest point at 3,800 feet. Mushers have a mandatory 36-hour layover scheduled in Dawson City before they can continue on their journey to Fairbanks.
While he's a rookie in the Yukon Quest, Massicotte's Web site lists races the musher has run dating as far back as 1995, and a note (in French) said he spent 15 years as a sprint musher. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner said Massicotte, 34, only rested twice for 45 minutes apiece during his 100-mile run from the race's start in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Braeburn, Yukon.
Trailing 23 minutes behind Massicotte were defending champion Hans Gatt of Atlin, British Columbia, and his team of 13 dogs. Two-time winner John Schandelmeier of Paxson left at 5:51 a.m. with 13 dogs, followed by Thomas Tetz of Carcross, Yukon Territory, and his 14 dogs at 5:59 a.m.
William Kleedehn of Carcross (14 dogs) and Hugh Neff of Coldfoot (12) both left at 6:09 a.m. to round out the lead pack. Four other mushers also had left Pelly Crossing by midmorning today.
Twenty-two mushers remain in the race. Alden West, a rookie from Fairbanks, became the first musher to scratch when he pulled out of the race in Pelly Crossing this morning. Three mushers - including Juneau's Deborah Bicknell, were still making their way from a non-checkpoint dog drop in McCabe Creek to Pelly Crossing. Bicknell was in 20th place when she arrived in McCabe Creek, 45 miles from Pelly Crossing, at 8:32 p.m. Monday, nearly three hours ahead of the last two mushers.
Race officials said overflow and ice are common along the first 100 miles of this section of trail.
This year's race was shortened by about 79 miles after race officials decided to skip the section of trail between Braeburn and Carmacks, due to a lack of snow dangerously rough conditions. The race was restarted Monday at Carmacks.