Alaska News

Just 2 minutes separate Moore, Sass heading into final run to Fairbanks finish

MILE 101 CHECKPOINT -- Two-time defending champion Allen Moore claimed the lead in the Yukon Quest on Sunday night at this desolate Steese Highway checkpoint, saying his team "chugged right over" the daunting 3,652-foot Eagle Summit.

Moore arrived at about 10:20 p.m., about two hours after Brent Sass at Mile 101, but chose to cruise through the checkpoint after picking up supplies. Sass remained behind to rest after arriving drenched in sweat and blanketed in snow but hustled to leave after seeing that Moore wasn't staying.

By Monday morning, both mushers were into the Two Rivers checkpoint, with Moore arriving two minutes ahead of Sass at 5:36 a.m. Consequently, the 1,000-mile ultramarathon from Whitehorse to Fairbanks comes down to a 70-mile run from Two Rivers to the finish line. There's a mandatory rest at Two Rivers, so both mushers should return to the trail with fresh teams Monday afternoon. A finish expected late Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Moore said Eagle Summit was "the best I'd ever seen it" and that his dogs made the climb with him running behind the sled.

Sass had to work much harder, hoisting his team over the top of Eagle Summit, then surviving a harrowing ride down the far side of the summit. The Eureka musher, who has helped pull stalled competitors over the top in previous races, said it was the first time he'd ever had to carry his own team.

"That was the most work I've had to do on that summit," he said upon arriving at the Mile 101 checkpoint at 8:15 p.m., more than five hours after departing Central.

Earlier that afternoon, Sass left the Central checkpoint about two hours ahead of Moore.

Moore and Sass said they've viewed Eagle Summit as a critical juncture in the race since its early stages. Moore gave his team additional rest to better position it for a strong finish in the mountains, while Sass built a lead of eight hours.

Eagle Summit has destroyed plenty of race plans, including Moore's rookie effort in 2011. He had to carry his dogs individually to the summit after they ran out of power on the way to the top, an eight-hour ordeal that contributed to a sixth-place finish.

"It can take anyone at any time, and it will try," Moore said before leaving Central.

The first two mushers managed to pass over the summit just before a winter weather advisory was forecast for the area, expected to bring gusty winds and blowing snow Monday morning.

On the way to Central, Moore was able to trim his big deficit after Sass overslept during a rest early Sunday morning roughly 30 miles from the checkpoint. He dozed off again after his alarm went off, stretching the Eureka musher's planned six-hour rest to more than nine hours.

"We've got a race now," Sass said before departing the Central checkpoint. "I don't know if I wanted it, but it's what we've got."

Sass decided to take a break at Mile 101, time he said was needed to rest his dogs and allow his clothes to dry.

Moore, of Two Rivers, believes he has a decided advantage as the race shifts to his home turf. He said his final three pre-race runs before the Quest were from Two Rivers to the Cushman Street bridge in downtown Fairbanks, where the finish line is located.

Moore has said that he'd win the race if he was within an hour of Sass at Two Rivers – never mind in the lead.

After fretting about Moore's position for days, Sass said he's more at ease as he heads toward Fairbanks with a tight race.

"I can't really worry about Allen Moore's race anymore," he said. "I need to worry about mine."