UPDATED 12:30 p.m.: The Yukon Quest announced midday that Hans Gatt has scratched from the race. From the Quest's Facebook page:
At 10:40 this morning, Hans Gatt officially signed the form, effectively scratching from the 2011 Yukon Quest. In an interview an hour later, he said "I had no choice; my fingers have level two frostbite. If not for Sebastian, it could have been much worse and all my dogs are OK. Twice this race, I was in situations that were out of my control; both times, other mushers helped me. I'm not used to that."
Gatt received help from two other top mushers over the weekend -- Brent Sass assisted him up American Summit, and Sebastian Schnuelle helped him fish his team out of Birch Creek after he went through thin ice. Schnuelle helped Gatt warm up and get safely to Central.
A four-time Quest champion, Gatt, who is signed up to race the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race starting March 5, won last year's Quest and then went on to place second in the Iditarod, his best-ever finish in the Last Great Race. During the 2009 Yukon Quest, he scratched in Dawson, citing a need to save his team for the Iditarod. He finished 10th in that year's Iditarod.
Original story: Hugh Neff continues to hold on to a significant lead in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Neff left Central Checkpoint, 169 miles from the finish line, without even seeing Hans Gatt, who pulled into the checkpoint in second place about 17 minutes after Neff hit the trail toward Mile 101.
The real story from the weekend, though, is another tale of heroics from Brent Sass, who earned accolades in 2009 when he went back down Eagle Summit to help out fellow musher William Kleedehn. This year it was Gatt who got a hand on American Summit, about 20 miles outside Eagle. From the Yukon Quest's YouTube channel:
After coming across a near-hypothermic Hans Gatt during a storm, Brent Sass lashed their teams together in order to make it over American Summit. Thanks to his lead dog, Silver, they made it safely over and into Eagle checkpoint.
Sass shot this video as he, Gatt and Silver tackled the summit:
As of Monday, Neff continued on in first place, with Gatt, Sebastian Schnuelle, Dan Kaduce, Dallas Seavey (who, with Allen Moore, is a contender for Rookie of the Year) and Ken Anderson all checked into Central by 8 a.m. Temperatures along Birch Creek, between the Circle and Central checkpoints, dipped to 50 below as teams raced their way toward Fairbanks. Leaders have encountered some other challenges; messages of support started appearing on Sass' Facebook page after news that a 7-year-old wheel dog, Taco, had collapsed and died on the trail, and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Monday morning that Gatt may scratch. In addition to his trouble on American Summit, according to the News-Miner, Gatt and his team broke through thin ice on Birch Creek Monday and had to be helped out by Schnuelle. Two more mushers -- Joshua Cadzow and Didier Moggia -- scratched Monday, bringing the total number of scratched or withdrawn mushers to eight.
Race analyst Gwen Holdmann discusses the challenges of this year's race in her most recent post:
The veteran teams Ken, Hans, Sebastian, and Brent are not setting any speed records and are surely disappointed with their positions, but will probably keep plugging away to fight for a top-5 finish. One or more of them might still be able to rally at the end though, too. On the other hand, I could picture one of them throwing in the towel and scratching -- all of them except Brent are also running the Iditarod in a couple of weeks (food drops for that race are due today here in Fairbanks). ... Getting wet in these temperatures is a very big concern, as I am sure Hans Gatt can attest to after his experience on American Summit. Any mushers that get wet on this stretch could be subject to serious frostbite if they aren't able to change clothes or dry out quickly.
Contact Maia Nolan at maia(at)alaskadispatch.com.