Brent Sass's team first into Dawson City, halfway point of Yukon Quest

Brent Sass is the first musher into Dawson City, arriving at 4:22 p.m. Tuesday, while mushers Laura Neese and Ed Stielstra scratched in Pelly Crossing.

After a 36-hour mandatory rest period, Sass will depart Thursday morning

Brent Sass said both he and his dogs will enjoy their 36 hour layover in Dawson City. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Brent Sass was first Yukon Quest musher to arrive in Dawson City late Tuesday afternoon, the halfway point of the race and a mandatory 36-hour rest stop.

Sass was in a good mood as he spoke to onlookers.

"This is the fourth time in a row I've come in here first, and I'm not ever trying to come here first, my goal is the finish line, but it's always nice to come in here first," he said.

He said both he and his dogs will enjoy their stay.

Michelle Phillips made her way across the finish line as the Yukon Quest 300 champion and promptly praised her dogs. (Whitney McLaren/Yukon Quest)

"The dogs are moving real well. I'm real happy with how they look. I think this 36 hours will do them some good and then we'll just run the second half of the race," said Sass.

With clear skies and an open trail, sled dog teams are making good time in the early stages of the race. Sass reached Dawson City at 4:22 p.m. with the temperature at -27 C.

Hugh Neff, running in second place, is about an hour or two behind Sass.

Two mushers who were travelling together in the race have scratched in Pelly Crossing.

Laura Neese and Ed Stielstra train together at Stielstra's kennel in Michigan.

A short release issued by the Yukon Quest says Neese dropped out at 3:30 p.m. because "she did not feel she would be able to continue and keep her team in the top physical condition she would like to see them in."

It says Stielstra scratched one minute later.

"His decision was in support of Laura Neese's future racing plans and goals," the release said.

Trailbreaker says trail is fast this year

"It seems to me that it's faster than remembered," said Mitch Mitchell, the co-ordinator of the Canadian Rangers team breaking the trail.

"My trail team that is proving the trail ahead of the dog teams is actually in a day early," he said.  

Leading teams are beginning to come up to King Solomon's Dome, about 40 kilometres out of town. It's one of the highest peaks in the race at 1,230 metres. 

"From there it's basically downhill all the way right into Dawson," Mitchell said. "Once they get over the hill they'll want to push it a little bit because they can smell the hamburgers and beer in Dawson." 

One musher scratches

Alberta's Jason Campeau, who also ran the Quest in 2015, scratched from the race Tuesday morning at the Pelly Crossing checkpoint. Race officials say he made the decision "for the well-being of his yearling team."

Veteran musher Yuka Honda incurred a two-hour penalty after requiring assistance to repair her sled Monday and will have to stay longer in Dawson. Otherwise, race officials say the race has been smooth. 

Michelle Phillips won the 300-mile race Monday, crossing the finish line at 7:57 p.m. with her team of 12 dogs. The Yukon Quest 300 is a qualifying race for both the full Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. 

"It's going great, it's going fine. Everybody's having a lot of fun out there," said Fabian Schmitz, one of the race marshals. "It seemed like everybody is safe, the dogs weren't injured and that's the most important part." 

Mushers continue on the trail in the 1,600-kilometre course through Yukon and Alaska. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Mushers coming into Pelly Crossing said there were some minor issues with ice and snow, but the trail is holding up well.

"There's always some sugar and soft snow heading into a downhill," Gaetan Pierrard said. "Maybe the first musher will have a nice trail but everybody else is going to chew more and more."  

Hoping to get up close to the action? Scroll below to see photos and video from the trail.

At the Pelly Crossing checkpoint, sled dogs curl up with a warm blanket and a bed of straw. (Whitney McLaren/Yukon Quest)

with files from Cheryl Kawaja and Claudiane Samson