Northern lights shine on mushers during their first night

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Musher Jennifer Campeau is seen at the 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race’s downtown Prince Albert starting line on Tuesday. The Okotoks, Alta., based musher’s six-dog team was first of two in her category to cross the finish line at Elk Ridge Resort, arriving 10 minutes after midnight on Wednesday, having travelled 120 kilometres in 11 hours and 38 minutes, including a three-hour break. 

Driving between check-stops on Wednesday, 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race president Gill Gracie reports a “beautiful run” during mushers’ first night out.

 

Northern lights accompanied brightly-lit stars, illuminating northbound sled dog teams during the hours that followed their Tuesday afternoon launch from downtown Prince Albert.  

Click HERE for a story, slideshows and a video from Tuesday's downtown launch.

“I think that the organizers are really happy,” Gracie said during the early afternoon on Wednesday.

“It’s going well and the weather is pretty great. It’s -18 C in La Ronge right now, which is perfect weather, and the wind has dropped, which is huge … Everybody’s pretty happy.”

The same as previous years, this year’s challenge has been divided into a 120-kilometre six-dog open race, a 320-kilometre eight-dog race and a 520-kilometre 12-dog race.

The six-dog race concluded shortly after midnight on Wednesday, with Jennifer Campeau the first of two participants to cross the finish line at the Elk Ridge Resort.

Headed by lead dogs Cleo and Jagger, the Okotoks, Alta., musher crossed the finish line at 12:10 a.m., having travelled 120 kilometres in 11 hours and 38 minutes, including a three-hour rest.

Belgian musher Stijn Bouckenooghe crossed the finish line at 12:48 a.m., concluding his 12-hour and four-minute northbound journey, which included a three-hour and 10-minute rest.

Bouckenooghe arrived in Canada in November to experience the northern lifestyle and raced his uncle’s dogs.

Gracie said that she expected to see eight-dog teams begin finishing their 320-kilometre treks by early Wednesday evening, with the final few teams arriving in La Ronge by early Thursday morning.

It’s going well and the weather is pretty great. It’s -18 C in La Ronge right now, which is perfect weather, and the wind has dropped, which is huge … Everybody’s pretty happy. Gill Gracie

The 12-dog teams will loop back south toward their Elk Ridge Resort finish line, arriving some time on Friday, she said.

Several of the eight and 12-dog teams dropped dogs from their teams by late afternoon on Wednesday, with team handlers picking them up at check-stops along the way.

“They get tired, and you know how the snow is this year -- it’s not really packable, it’s really sugary, so it’s really hard for the dogs because they punch through all the time,” Gracie said.

“It’s just harder for them to walk so they get some wrist injuries.”

As of late Wednesday afternoon, Christopher Lake musher Bart de Marie’s 12-dog team was in second place, behind musher Warren Palfrey’s team from Quesnel, B.C.

De Marie’s brother, Stefaan, won last year’s 12-dog race and is serving as de Marie’s handler this time around. Half of de Marie’s team is made up of dogs from last year’s winning group.

At latest update, de Marie was down one dog while Palfrey still had all 12.

La Ronge musher Sid Robinson was last noted to be trailing in at last place for the 12-dog race.

The 12-dog teams must each take an eight-hour break before reaching La Ronge and a five-hour break between La Ronge and the finish line, Gracie said.

Eight-dog teams must also take a five-hour break before reaching the finish line.

At latest update, Shellbrook musher Luke Naber’s eight-dog team was fifth place in his category and he hadn’t dropped any members.

Visit the Daily Herald website throughout the balance of the week for the latest 2014 Canadian Challenge Sled Dog Race news.

Organizations: Elk Ridge Resort, Daily Herald

Geographic location: La Ronge, Prince Albert, Okotoks Canada Christopher Lake Quesnel Shellbrook

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