Kasilof musher Jon Little surged to the lead of the 22nd annual Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race on Saturday as the race crossed into Alaska.
Little, an Iditarod veteran who is making his first Quest attempt, was the second musher to leave the mandatory 36-hour layover at the checkpoint in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, early Saturday - trailing frontrunner Hugh Neff of Skagway. But Little jumped ahead out of the Fortymile River cabin rest stop, 50 miles from Dawson.
Little left Fortymile at 2:25 p.m. Yukon time (1:25 p.m. Alaska time) Saturday, followed seven minutes later by Yukon musher Gerry Willomitzer. Lance Mackey - another Quest rookie from Kasilof - left Fortymile at 2:45 p.m., and Neff hit the trail at 2:46 p.m.
Little is running with a team of 11 dogs, while Willomitzer has 13 and Mackey and Neff have 10 dogs apiece. Neff was the first musher to reach Dawson City, and was the first to leave at 12:59 a.m. Saturday, followed by Little at 1:24 a.m.
As of 11 p.m. Yukon time Saturday, three other mushers were reported out of Fortymile - William Kleedehn, David Dalton and Sebastian Schnuelle - while five more mushers were at the cabin. The two remaining mushers had left Dawson City and were en route to Fortymile.
For race updates, look on the Web at www.yukonquest.com.
From Fortymile River, it is 100 miles to the checkpoint at the village of Eagle - the first checkpoint across the U.S.-Canada border. Race officials expected the first teams to reach Eagle early this morning.
Between the Yukon River towns of Dawson City, elevation 1,214 feet, and Eagle, elevation 880 feet, the mushers must cross 3,420-foot American Summit.
The 1,026-mile Yukon Quest started last Sunday in Whitehorse. The finish line is in Fairbanks.
Seven teams have scratched from this year's original field of 21. Kelley Griffin pulled out on Thursday at Stewart River and early leader Sam Perrino withdrew on Friday in Dawson City. Bruce Langmaid set out from Dawson City on Saturday, but returned late Saturday night and withdrew from the race.
The Juneau Empire sports desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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