Baked Alaska not on menu for one man and his dogs

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AN Aviemore sled-dog racer mixed it with some the world’s best mushers as part of preparations for, arguably, the toughest endurance race on the planet.

Talented musher John Stewart successfully completed the International Cantwell Classic sled-dog race in Alaska over the weekend, spending more than 16 hours exposed to the elements.

 Aviemore’s John Stewart gets off to a flyer at the Cantwell Classic in Alaska.

The 22-year-old was the first Scot to have taken part in the race. He finished an impressive tenth out of 32 senior race entrants after expertly leading his pack of 12 elite sled dogs on a 200-mile journey in bone-chilling temperatures.

After completing 10 hours of racing on Friday, John crossed the finishing line on Saturday after putting in another six-and-a-half hours on the sled.

He and his racing dogs finished just 35 minutes behind the overall winner, Austrian Hans Gatt.

After completing the challenge, John said he had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“It was great to meet all the mushers and to mix it with some of the world’s best,” he said.

The gruelling course sent the racers off from Cantwell to Maclaren River Lodge and back, covering stretches of the Denali Highway along the way.

Race officials revealed that temperatures dropped to as low as –40ºC during the competition, with a slight wind making things even tougher for the entrants.

John joked though that he had been too busy to be able to feel the Arctic temperatures.

“It was not that cold really. On the trail itself you don’t really notice it that much!” he said.

The Cantwell Classic was an official qualifier for two of the world’s hardest sled-dog races – the Iditarod and Yukon Quest.

John is set to join Cantwell Classic winner Gatt in the world-renowned Yukon Quest next month.

The mushers will pair up and head deep into the Arctic, with Gatt attempting to win a fourth Yukon title.

The race runs more than 1,000 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon, during the depths of the Arctic winter.

The route takes competitors along frozen rivers, through four mountain ranges, and passes through isolated villages, in temperatures as low as –40ºC and 100mph winds. The endurance race is due to start on February 9.

If he performs well, John is also in talks with Gatt to run the experienced musher’s team on his own in the Yukon Quest in 2009.

The young musher has accepted the offer, but needs to raise at least £25,000 in sponsorship over the next 12 months to be able to do so.

Sled-dog racing is to get a national audience later this month, thanks to the efforts of John’s father, Cairngorm Sled Dog Centre owner, Alan Stewart.

The experienced musher will bring the sport to the attention of the masses when footage of a recent training trip into the Cairngorms is broadcast on STV.

A new sports and outdoor adventure programme presented by Scottish sports journalist, Gerry MacCulloch, will be aired next Thursday and Friday (January 24 and 25) at 5.30pm.

The show covers a recent training trip undertaken in the Cairngorms by Mr Stewart, in which he gave Mr MacCulloch a sneak peak at some of the mountain range’s harshest and most unforgiving terrain.

The journey was part of Mr Stewart’s attempts to get his pack of athletic dogs fit and ready for action on the European sleddog scene next month.

The pack includes three Alaskan Huskies – Budweiser, Dingo and 2 Steps – that Mr Stewart took possession of in November. They are the first racing dogs of their kind to be based in the UK.

The trip received the backing of a number of local firms, including Spey Valley Hire and Macdonald Aviemore Highland Resort. Tomintoul-based businesses the Gordon Hotel and Whisky Castle coffee shop also supported the venture.

Mr Stewart’s expedition into the Cairngorms was dedicated to the memories of the late polar explorer and former Laggan resident, Sir Wally Herbert, and sleddog king, Alec ‘Scotty’ Allan, who was brought up in Rothiemurchus.

Source: Scottish Provincial Press

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