mulberry store york Musher who runs border collie mixes returns to Quest after 30 year absence
FAIRBANKS Mark Stamm doesn’t remember much about the last time he ran the Yukon Quest. It was, after all, 30 years ago.
But he remember the bitter cold. At the time, Stamm and his border collie Alaska husky mix sled dogs lived in Monroe, Washington northwest of Seattle and hadn’t adjusted to the winter weather they’d face in a race that bills itself as the toughest sled dog race in the world. The race started hard, but they learned as they went, Stamm said recently during his trip from Washington to the Yukon Quest start line for his second running of the race.
“It was really cold that year. I was running from cabin to cabin and checkpoint to checkpoint,” he said. “My dogs weren’t acclimatized and were sick before the start of the race. I was in 48th place, but we ended up placing 18th.”
The Yukon Quest has changed enormously since the last time Stamm ran it, thanks to faster dogs, lighter equipment and conditions that have generally trended warmer. Stamm’s middling 1988 finish time of 15 days, 5 hours and 29 minutes was almost a week slower than the 2017 Red Lantern winner.
Of all the other mushers who ran the race with him in 1988, only one is signed up for the 2018 race. Dave Dalton, of Healy, who has started more Yukon Quest races than any other musher.
Stamm chose to come back for the 2018 Yukon Quest because he just turned 60 and had always wanted to return to the race.
“Now was the time when I could still do it. I’m starting to get arthritis in my back and my arms. It’s going to be a tough race,” he said. “I’ve got good dogs, I’ve just got to be able to hang on.”
Stamm now lives at an elevation of 4,300 feet on the eastern side of the Cascade Range north of the Colville Indian Reservation. He feels more prepared for the cold weather he’s likely to encounter on the Quest.
In the three decades since his last Quest he’s done many other races, including the 2005 Iditarod. In 2007 and 2009 he won Montana’s 300 mile Race to the Sky.
Stamm’s dogs this year are all descendants of his 1988 team. They’re Alaska huskies from a George Attla line, mixed with border collies. Stamm’s leaders Elmly and Blaze are each half border collie.
Stamm has always run border collie mixes, and he bred more collies into his line when the collie genetics became too diffuse.
“I was losing their brainpower and their mannerism and their loyalty,” he said. “I really like that about the border collie crosses, so I put border collie in there again.”
The only problem with the breed is sometimes it’s too loyal, he said. If a friend runs his team and passes him, sometimes the dogs will turn around to look at him instead of running on down the trail.