While following what news is flowing from the Yukon Quest, I am reminded of Hudson Stuck's book 10,000 Miles With a Dog Sled, in which he describes his 1906 trip from Fairbanks to Circle City and beyond. Like the musher's racing the Quest, it was quite cold while Stuck was mushing his way toward Central, though he was traveling the opposite direction.
Stuck wrote "The old-timers in Alaska have a saying that "travelling at 50-degrees below zero is all right as long as it's all right." If there be a good trail, if there be convenient stopping-places, if nothing go wrong, one may travel without special risk and with no extraordinary discomfort at 50-degrees below zero."
Stuck described falling into deep overflow at extremely cold temperature, writing "...I had not gone six steps from the trail when the ice gave way under my feet and I found myself in water to my hips. Under Providence I owe it to the mukluks I wore, tied tight round my knees, that I did not lose my life, or at least my feet. The thermometer at Circle City stood at 60-degrees below zero at dark that day, and down on the ice it is always about 5-degrees colder than on the bank...
My moose-hide breeches froze solid the moment I scrambled out, but not a drop of water got to my feet. If the water had reached my feet they would have frozen almost as quickly as the moose hide in that fearful cold."
Hans Gatt and Sebastian Schnuelle can probably relate to Mr. Stuck's circumstance very well. According to an article on the Yukon Quest web-site Gatt found hmself standing chest deep in overflow last night. "This year, Schnuelle says, “going through Birch Creek was like taking swimming lessons in the middle of the night.” He was running behind Gatt but he knew something was wrong when Gatt shone his light directly towards him, waved it back and forth and yelled to him for help.
When Sebastian pulled up, Hans’s sled was stuck in overflow. He had separated his dogs from the sled and was pulling them back to ground. Hans was covered in ice to his chest. About halfway across what he thought was ice the whole team fell through a thin film of ice into chest-high overflow. Sebastian helped Hans pull the dogs to Sebastian’s sled. They recovered Hans’ sled. from the overflow and drove to a spot where they could stop to care for the dogs and Hans.
Sebastian made a fire, took off Hans' soaked boots and jerry-rigged new boots for him out of dog blankets with burlap bags over top, tied down by neck lines and tug lines. The dogs dried by rolling in the snow. After about an hour beside the fire, they continued into Central.
Now in Central, Hans is apparently reconsidering his options. Sebastian said he intends to finish the race, but believes his chance of a second place finish are gone.
According to the Quest's Live Tracking feature, Neff is the only musher beyond Central. His unit hasn't recorded data in over 2 1/2 hours, but I'm guessing he is probably approaching the base of Eagle Summit. Stuck also wrote about that bit of geography.
"We were able to hire a man and two dogs to help us over the Eagle summit, so that the necessity of relaying was avoided. One man ahead continually calling to the dogs, eight dogs steadily pulling, and two men behind steadily pushing, foot by foot, with many stoppages as one bench after another was surmounted, we got the load to the top at last, a rise of one thousand four hundred feet in less than three miles. A driving snowstorm cut off all view and would have left us at a loss which way to proceed but for the stakes that indicated it.
The descent was as anxious and hazardous as the ascent had been laborious. The dogs were loosed and sent racing down the slope. With a rope rough-lock around the sled runners, one man took the gee pole and another the handle-bars and each spread-eagled himself through the loose deep snow to check the momentum of the sled, until sled and men turned aside and came to a stop in a drift to avoid a steep, smooth pitch. The sled extricated, it was poised on the edge of the pitch and turned loose on the hardened snow, hurtling down three or four hundred feet until it buried itself in another drift.... and from bench to bench the process was repeated until the slope grew gentle enough to permit the regulation of downward progress by the foot-brake."
As you think about Hugh and the other Yukon Quest mushers approaching Eagle summit, keep in mind that in 1906 Hudson Stuck was traveling the opposite, much easier, direction.