PELLY CROSSING, Yukon Territory -- Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race officials were waiting Thursday morning for word on race leaders from volunteers staffing a dog drop at Stewart River.
Front-runners in the race left the Pelly Crossing checkpoint Tuesday night, with William Kleedehn of Carcross holding on to a lead. Quest officials were not sure that continued Wednesday.
Kleedehn left Pelly crossing at about 6:30 p.m. Alaska Time on Tuesday. David Sawatzky of Healy was in second place, leaving Pelly Crossing about four hours after Kleedehn. Tim Osmar of Ninilchik followed a half hour behind Sawatzky. Rounding out the top five, John Schandelmeier of Paxson Lake left shortly after 11 p.m. and Frank Turner of Whitehorse left shortly before midnight.
Stewart River is 102 miles from Pelly Crossing. Dawson City, the next checkpoint, is another 101 miles.
Dawson is the halfway point in the 1,000-mile race to Fairbanks and it's there that the mushers take a mandatory 36-hour layover. They weren't expected to arrive in Dawson until Thursday morning at the earliest.
As of Wednesday, 29 teams remained in the race.
Jack Berry of Homer was the first to scratch. Berry dropped out in Carmacks after his five lead dogs fell victim to shoulder injuries. His team trained on well-packed trails all year and were now faced with softer conditions and fresh snow, he said.
John Gourley also scratched and had a much more miserable fight to get to the Carmacks checkpoint. The 52-year-old Two Rivers musher spent a miserable, soaking wet night on the Yukon River after his dogs refused to budge unless following another team.
"I had front-end problems," Gourley told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.