EAGLE - Defending champion Hans Gatt led mushers into Eagle on Saturday, reaching the first Alaska checkpoint in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race at 5:54 p.m. AST.
Gatt, of Atlin, British Columbia, was holding a lead of more than two hours Saturday as the mushers left the Fortymile River stop. Gatt covered 50 miles of smooth trail from Dawson City to Fortymile River, then left at 12:57 a.m. with 10 dogs.
Holding on behind Gatt was Martin Massicotte, a French Canadian from Quebec competing in his first distance race. Massicotte left Fortymile River at 3:15 a.m. with a dozen dogs.
Behind him out of Fortymile River was William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon Territory, at 5:35 a.m. followed by fellow Carcross musher Thomas Tetz at 5:51 a.m.
Also out of Fortmile River were Alaska mushers John Schandelmeier of Paxson at 6:14 a.m. and Hugh Neff of Coldfoot at 6:25 a.m. There was a big gap after Neff, with Bill Steyer of Fairbanks leaving more that six hours later, at 3:30 p.m.
The mushers left Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, last Sunday for the 1,100-mile run to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Gatt pulled into the cabin in the old Fortymile townsite at 6:16 p.m. He took an extended break, but didn't have any company until Kleedehn arrived at 10:09 p.m. Massicotte arrived at 10:19, Schandelmeier at 10:32, Tetz at 10:33 and Neff at 10:45.
At the Fortymile River, the trail turns off the Yukon River and follows the Fortymile for about 50 miles to the Taylor Highway, which isn't cleared in the winter. There are 50 miles of trail on the Taylor to Eagle.
From Eagle, the next checkpoint in the 1,000-mile race is Circle City, 175 miles down the trail toward Fairbanks. Several inches of snow had fallen in Eagle before the mushers arrived, which could slow the racers a bit.
Nineteen mushers remained in the race Saturday evening. Four mushers scratched at Pelly Crossing, early in the race, but none after that.
Juneau musher Deborah Bicknell was one of the mushers to scratch in Pelly Crossing, citing equipment problems with her sled. She also had problems with her knees and one of her lead dogs got loose on the trail. It was the second straight year Bicknell scratched.