The top five teams were separated by less than two hours Wednesday night as the leaders of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race reached the final checkpoint before the finish line in Fairbanks.
Lance Mackey of Kasilof, an Iditarod veteran making his first try at the Yukon Quest, arrived at the Angel Creek checkpoint at 8:12 p.m. Wednesday. Quest veterans Hugh Neff of Skagway and William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon Territory, were both reported into Angel Creek just after Mackey, at 8:23 p.m.
David Dalton of Healy arrived at Angel Creek at 8:44 p.m., and Jon Little of Kasilof - like Mackey, an Iditarod veteran but a Quest rookie - arrived at the checkpoint at 9:50 p.m.
Mackey, Kleedehn and Little were running teams of 10 dogs, while Dalton had 13 and Neff had nine.
Mushers are required to take an eight-hour layover at Angel Creek so race veterinarians can conduct a final check of the dogs. Mackey was eligible to leave the checkpoint at 4:12 a.m. this morning.
From Angel Creek it is 100 miles to the finish line in Fairbanks, with one dog drop in North Pole. There are no significant climbs on the final stretch of trail.
As of 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, four mushers were reported on the trail between Central and Angel Creek, with four mushers remaining at Central. The 77 miles of trail between Central and Angel Creek include Eagle and Rosebud Summits - the second and third-highest points on the Yukon Quest trail.
One musher - Bruno Baureis - dropped out of the race late Tuesday in Circle, leaving 13 mushers still competing out of the starting field of 21.
For race updates, look on the Web at http://www.yukonquest.com.
The 1,026-mile Yukon Quest started Feb. 13 in Whitehorse. The race is in its 22nd year.