FAIRBANKS — For much of this year’s Yukon Quest 1,000-Mile International Sled Dog Race, Allen Moore, Hans Gatt and Michelle Phillips were jockeying for position with Brent Sass at the front of the pack.
Sass ultimately pulled ahead to earn his second Quest victory Monday, though the remaining three continued to leapfrog one another just like they had throughout the 1,000-mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Fairbanks.
Moore’s team was the second to leave Two Rivers, the final checkpoint located about 70 miles before the finish line, behind Sass early Monday morning. Despite the fact that Moore, a three-time champion and last year’s winner, had 13 dogs pulling his sled, the advantage wasn’t enough to hold off Gatt, the four-time champion from Whitehorse who finished the race with eight dogs.
Gatt took second place, arriving at the finish line located behind the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center at 2:19 p.m. Moore reached Fairbanks at about 3:50 p.m. and then joked that he tried his best to hold off Gatt during the final run.
“I tried to tackle him, but I missed him,” Moore said, drawing laughs from the crowd that stuck around to see him and his team arrive. “He and Brent — as far as speed goes, they were both pretty fast, a lot faster than I was. (Gatt) only had eight dogs, but they were fast eight dogs. I knew he’d probably catch me.”
Phillips, of 10 Mile, Yukon, secured a fourth-place finish when she reached Fairbanks with a team of nine dogs about an hour after Moore. There was a discrepancy in the official total run times on the Quest website, which a race official was unable to explain by press time.
Gatt and Phillips were running the Quest for the first time since they both scratched during the 2011 race. After reaching the finish line, both of the Canadians described Eagle Summit — a 3,685-foot climb between the Central and Mile 101 Steese Highway checkpoints — as some of the toughest trail they faced this year.
“Eagle Summit was a bit of a different story this year,” said Gatt, who was passed by Phillips on the summit Sunday afternoon. “I never had any problems there in the past, but somehow my dogs just decided they were afraid of the wind coming down the mountain and all the snow blowing in our faces. They just didn’t want to go up.”
“How brutal it actually was, it softened my mind a lot,” Phillips said. “Walking in front of my leaders, I realized how steep it actually was.”
Gatt, who said he was running a young team, was able to gain some momentum going up Rosebud Summit, the 3,640-foot peak teams faced after Eagle Summit and before reaching the Two Rivers checkpoint, located about 30 miles away from the community of the same name.
After all the teams spent a mandatory eight-hour layover at the final checkpoint, Gatt’s outnumbered team continued to thrive during the run into Fairbanks.
“When we went up Rosebud, even though there was only eight dogs, they were just cranking up that mountain like it was nothing,” Gatt said. “After 30 years of mushing, I know when a dog team is running well. They did run well, and I knew they were going to pass people.”
Regardless of their final placements, the three Quest veterans said they were happy to be done with this year’s race.
“It’s good to be here,” Moore said. “It seems like we’ve been gone for a month, at least.”
“The Quest is definitely tough,” added Phillips, who noted the first thing she was going to do after finishing was take a bath. “You definitely feel like you’ve gone 1,000 miles when you finish it.”
Matt Hall, the 2017 champion from Two Rivers, was about 11.5 miles outside of the finish line at press time. Another Quest veteran, Paige Drobny, of Ester, was about 13.5 miles from Fairbanks.
Follow News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal on Twitter at @FDNMQuest for updates from the Yukon Quest trail.