With an “Oh, man” Brent Sass climbed off his sled, 12 dogs still on the line, after being the first musher to reach Dawson City, Yukon at 5:43 a.m. Thursday. The fans were in full force in the 1 degree Fahrenheit temperatures to cheer on his arrival.
It’s the second year Sass, from Eureka, Alaska, was the first musher into the Dawson City checkpoint, earning 2 ounces of Klondike placer gold and a much needed 36-hour mandatory break that all mushers must take here.
“It’s always fun to be back in Dawson,” Sass said. “It’s fun to be here first.”
Before he spoke about himself and the journey from Eagle to Dawson, he praised his dogs. “The dogs have done a really good job,” he said.
Sass said one stretch of trail on the Yukon River stood out to him.
“The run from Trout Creek to Eagle was really fun to see the dogs excel in some really challenging conditions,” Sass said. “For me, it was really fun to find some new leaders.
It was first-time leader Woody who guided the team through the checkpoint’s banner.
“I just experimented with a bunch of leaders,” Sass said. “That guy Woody up there, the white one, it was the first time he was leading a race. He did amazing. It was a lot of fun to see him."
Leaving Eagle, the mushers must ascend 3,420 foot American Summit. Sass said he and the team encountered no problems on the climb.
“It was windy but there were no issues," he said. "We took a seat on the high-side and scooted right around it. I was waiting for the tough stuff, but we came around and started going downhill and I was like ‘Oh, I guess we went through the tough stuff.'"
When teams depart from the Clinton Creek hospitality spot near Fortymile, they travel 56 miles along the Yukon River to reach Dawson.
“There was no ice it was mainly just blown in snow in all the sections all the way from Circle,” said Sass. “It was straight-up breaking trail. The trail was blown in.
“This run got super long. I was hoping this run would be a little shorter, but with the blowing wind and trail, it was a 6-mile-an-hour slog. But, we are here.”
“It really wasn’t that bad in the end," he said, "but there were definitely times where there were no trail markers and no trail and you are kind of just plowing through hoping you are on the trail.”
Sass said when he got into the Dawson City checkpoint, he felt he was operating at 30% and he was looking forward to a nice meal.
“It’s something I always ask for in a race,” Sass said. “It was fun. I just keep telling people it’s the Quest trail, I enjoyed it. There was definitely a lot of work in places. It was a lot of fun to work with the dogs and get them really listening and communicating."
Sass said he didn’t plan to be first in Dawson but that it’s always a good boost for the rest of the trail toward Whitehorse.
Michelle Phillips, of 10 Mile, Yukon, was the second team to arrive in Dawson, pulling in one hour, 11 minutes after Sass.
Like Sass, she arrived to a chorus of cheers from those lined along the chute. She dismounted her sled and loved up her 13 remaining dogs in turn, before sharing a long embrace with her husband, Ed.
Phillips dropped her dog Zeppelin in Eagle.
“He got a little sick earlier on, so he was a little thin,” Phillips said. “I was concerned about him being a little too thin. He’s young and thin so I didn’t think he needed to keep going.”
Departing from Eagle, Phillips said the team had no troubles on American Summit but that the pace slowed down once they reached the river.
“From Eagle, it was a lot better than I expected at American Summit,” she said. “I expected it to be a little bit more windy. Then it was blowing a bit on the river here. The trail was slow.”
Phillips praised her whole team, singling out two of the dogs.
“Mac and Dragon they were excellent, in some of the wind storms they did a great job,” she said. “The whole team just did wonderful.”
Cody Strathe of Cantwell and and Allen Moore of Two Rivers were the third and fourth mushers to reach Dawson City Thursday afternoon arriving near each other.
The Whitehorse Star is covering the second half of the Yukon Quest from the halfway point in Dawson to the finish line in Whitehorse, Yukon.