2021 Summit Quest 300 mushers tackled one or both of the intimidating summit climbs and descents late Saturday and Sunday.
Veteran musher Dan Kaduce of Chatanika led the charge over the summits — both windswept with little snow — with veteran Hugh Neff of Fairbanks hot on his heels. After Rosebud Summit, at Mile 101 checkpoint, the pair were separated by only three minutes, with only eight minutes difference at Central checkpoint after Eagle Summit.
Mushers are required to take a six-hour layover at Central, during which every dog in the race will be checked by veterinarians.
Veteran Deke Naaktgeboren of Fairbanks reached in Central in third place, only five minutes after Neff, with rookie Eddie Burke Jr. another 30 minutes behind.
While the tandem of summits lived up to their reputations — Rosebud as a long, steep climb, Eagle as a steep climb and hairy descent — leaders in the race found less notorious parts of the trail more challenging.
“Toughest part of the run was coming in here,” Kaduce said at Mile 101. “It was punchy with glare ice and a little water.”
Neff said he got drug across the ice for a minute or so.
Naaktgeboren reported the worse overflow encounter. One of his dogs found water deep enough to submerge his whole body.
“Dogs don’t naturally want to run over really slippery glare ice, so they try to skirt to the sides, which is the worst place to go, which is where overflow is deep,” he said.
Burke Jr. didn’t have any big problems with overflow, but said his first trip over the summits lived up to their reputation.
“Tackling everything the famous Yukon Quest throws at us. … Solid climb up, wild ride down,” he said while feeding his dogs a mixture of beef, beef fat and high-performance kibble among the frosty, snow-draped trees of Central.
Naaktgeboren said his overnight trip on Rosebud was stunning with a little bit of northern lights. As for descending Eagle Summit? “It’s just mind-bowing how scary that is. It’s a plunge,” he said.
“I grab my snow hook and hold it against my handlebar so it doesn’t pop loose and hit me in the face, and I just slam on the brake bar and lift up on the handlebar to really drive it in, and hope that I don’t tip,” Naaktgeboren continued.
Rookie musher Lauro Eklund of Two Rivers is running a team with veteran dogs, a big help in tackling Rosebud Summit. “I got literally drug up there because I was the weak link and on the parts I should be running, I was walking,” he said with a chuckle at Mile 101.
With summits out of the way, leaders and mid-packers will turn their attention to their first of two trips on Birch Creek, on which they can expect a chilly night.
“Should be a lovely run. Cold and long, baby,” Burke predicted.
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