The Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra will follow the Yukon Quest trail, the trail of the world's toughest Sled Dog Race.
The marathon finishes on Rivendell Farm just off the Takhini River. The 100 mile racers will go from Whitehorse to Braeburn. The 300 mile racers will keep on going all the way to Pelly Farm. There they will leave the river to turn around and go back to Pelly Crossing on the farm road. The 430 mile athletes will not return to Pelly Crossing. Instead they will continue on the Quest trail to Dawson City. The new 200 mile race will start in Pelly Crossing and finish in Dawson City.
WHITEHORSE TO TAKHINI, RIVENDELL FARM (26 MILES)
Start of the YAU is Shipyard's Park, Whitehorse. You have plenty of room there to get ready for the start. Also, the washrooms are not far, which might be handy in the excitement of the last minutes before the start ...
From the start line the athletes will get on to the Whitehorse Millenium trail which leads along the River in a northerly direction. Soon athletes have passed the downtown core of Whitehorse and the trail veers of to the right to go onto the river ice of the frozen Yukon River.
For the next 12.5 miles the trail stays on the river ice along the left shore. The exact location of the trail will be clearly marked and may at times be on the shore of the Yukon, but mostly on the ice. In two locations small creeks enter the Yukon from the left and some open water may be encountered. This will be very narrow and shallow and should not be difficult to cross.
If there are dangerous spots they will be marked by two poles that are crossed. However, due to vandalism along the trail those poles may also be torn out of the ground. Therefore, you always have to be alert.
Once the confluence of the Takhini River is reached the trail turns left into the Takhini. Upon turning left you will pass underneath the Klondike Highway, under the Takhini Bridge. Due to the characteristics of the river the trail will cross the river several times. This is mostly for safety reasons and athletes must stay on the trail. High cut banks indicate areas of strong current, deep water and weak ice. The trail stays always on the shallow side of the river, where the ice is stronger and the current slow.
Clear markings with Quest markers and spray paint will indicate the turn-off from the river ice. The trail leads from the river up on to snow covered farm land. It is important to stay on the marked trail otherwise you may destroy plants that are burried in snow. Our little checkpoint is only about 200 metres away.
There will be a fire to warm up and dry your shoes and other items. However, if everyone gets there at the same time it may be a bit crowded.
RIVENDELL FARM TO DOG GRAVE LAKE (37 MILES)
Back on the river you will follow a trail that leads you to the Dawson Overland Trail. This trail also has additional Trans Canada Trail markers. These markers will be of help in navigating to the next CP at Dog Grave Lake. They are mostly 0.5 to 1.5 miles apart and the trail follows an old woodcutting and coach trail all the way to Braeburn.
This trail is dating back to the Gold Rush era and has been used since by trappers, and more recently by recreational snowmobilers. Some years ago, the trail was formally recognised as part of the Trans Canada Trail. With this new designation, the trail underwent considerable upgrading. The clearing and trail-markers contribute to making this a better trail.
There are several farms, outfitting operations and ranches along the trail, along with some grazing horses. Though horses are no immediate danger to athletes they can create hazards on the trail if they walk on the packed trail and leave deep hoof prints. So, watch out for those hoof prints in order not to injure yourself.
Between mile 3 and 9 on the Dawson Trail there will be several branches off the main trail. All turn offs will be clearly marked and the tracks of the lead snow machine will give additional indication of which trail to take. Generaly all turns in this section will be to the right. As the first section follows an active part of the road and crosses at two locations, care should be taken not to conflict with local traffic.
Since the trail goes over watersheds, several gradual and at times steep climbes should be expected. It can be narrow and winding at times and you will cross several small creeks. Overflow is often frozen but be prepared for some shallow open water. Even frozen, overflow is not easy to navigate since the surface is not even and flat but rough, bubbly and very slippery. If proper precaution is not taken crossings can result in bad falls on hard surfaces. Creek banks can be very steep but are mostly less than a meter high. Once racers encounter the first big lake they are approaching CP 2. The long inclines are a good indication since they are inside of 6.5 miles of the CP. Dog Grave Lake will greet you at the top of one of the inclines and you will walk right into it. There is no chance to miss it since the trail does a sharp turn to the left right at the CP.
DOG GRAVE LAKE TO BRAEBURN, FINISH OF 100 MILE RACE (36 MILES)
Out of CP 2 you turn right on the trail and start with a short, gradual uphill section. Good news is, once you are at the top you have passed the highest point on the leg to Braeburn. You will have a gradual decline, still with some small hills to cross, to Braeburn Lake and Braeburn Lodge.
The 1998 Forest fire has barely touched this section of the trail and vegetation is denser and trees will be larger than on the section before Dog Grave Lake. There are some open spaces with beautiful views over valleys and mountains.
Approximately 9 miles after Dog Grave Lake you will encounter the first wide creek crossing with strong possibilities for overflow. At the beginning of February this all should be frozen solid but warmer temperatures may change this. The crossing can be a bit disorienting when you approach the creek since willows block the view to the opposite shore. The trail takes a gentle turn to the left on the creek and once you are passed the willows it will become obvious where the trail is.
From here you have a steep climb to the site of a CP we used the first couple of years and the location of a Roadhouse during the time of the stage coaches. There is only a large open space left and nothing remains of the old buildings at Kynocks.
The trail starts to widen shortly after Kynocks but is set with ruts that run perpendicular to the trail. Watch your step and your sled on this section. Especially since here you will have some nice views that may distract from the trail.
After another 9 miles you find a small private cabin just to the left of the trail and in plain view. The cabin is not locked and would make a great emergency shelter if needed. Please respect the property of the owners and use only if absolutely necessary. There is a stove inside, but not to much firewood around. What also may be useful is an outhouse, a short distance of the trail to the right, opposite the cabin. Even so there is no toilet paper, it provides a place to sit down in relative comfort to do ones business instead of squatting in the snow and possibly in plain view of the next racer coming around the corner.
This spot also marks the half waypoint between Dog Grave and Braeburn.
When Mike travelled this section a couple of years ago he found many tracks of big game, moose and bison. And he shared the trail with a wolverine for about 5 miles. It ran in front of his snow machine and was not willing to veer off to make room for him. Remember to keep your distance to all animals encountered! Pass information about animal sightings on to the guides on snow machines to warn others.
The trail is wide and well kept in the next section. However there are two more shallow creeks to cross, which are known for their overflow. Be prepared for slowly rising water, possibly snow covered. The worst of the two can be recognized by its surroundings. You enter a flat valley bottom with fairly dense willow growth. The opening in the willows is the trail. Staying close to the edge provides some support from the bushes and is likely to have the best ice cover.
After this you start to get close to Braeburn Lake. It is to your right, but you won’t get to see it until you turn onto it. In some places trails lead into the bush to the right of the main trail. Many of those lead to the edge of the Lake or a nice lookout above the Lake. Those could be nice places for a break but may cost you several minutes of extra walking. The forest becomes much denser as you get close to the lake. The turn to the right will be clearly marked with flagging tape and/or markers and/or spray paint. It is a treacherous, steep and long descent to the surface of the lake.
The trail crosses the lake in a gentle left turning curve for the opposite shore. This section is usually very well and hard packed snow. At the opposite shore the trail gets narrow and windy with some steep but short up hills. The sight of the lodge comes as a surprise since it is hidden from view almost till the last moment. As you come out of the bush you just keep walking and you get right to the main building, where hot home cooked meals and hot and cold beverages wait for you.
PLEASE NOTE: You will arrive at the back of Braeburn Lodge. Go straight ahead and walk around the building on the left side. That way you will get to the front and see the entrance.
Under normal circumstances you will actually have covered 99 miles. However, depending on how the trail is broken, this entire stretch may actually be as long as 115 miles. By the way, dog teams manage to cover the distance in about 12 to 14 hours.
Braeburn is a small highway lodge, located halfway between Whitehorse and Carmacks on the Klondike Highway. The lodge is well-known for its dinner-plate-sized cinnamon buns and hamburgers.
Lee and Steve, the owners of Braeburn Lodge, are once more looking forward to hosting us. There will be a room for the 100 mile and a separate room for the 300 mile racers. It will be warm but not luxurious.
The finishers get to rest here and will be transferred back to Whitehorse. We haven't got a transportation schedule as such. There will likely be at least one shuttle in the evening. If you miss that you might have to stay in Braeburn over night. That in itself can be quite an experience! Because apart from mastering the challenges of the trail and the cold, it will be meeting the people of the Yukon that will make this trip such an unforgettable experience.
BRAEBURN TO KEN LAKE (44 MILES)
The trailhead is across the airstrip close to the right end facing it from the lodge. You start out on a driveway with tire ruts. When you find a sign indicating private property, the trail veers to the left and climb a good size hill.
The first section is frequently open field and marsh, followed by a tight bush trail through the forest. Once you hit the first lake it will be intermittend lakes and forest. Both sections vary widely in length from a few hundred meters to several kilometers of lake or forest. lThe first large lake – Coughlan Lake – marks the half way point between Braeburn and Ken Lake. On the Lakes it is very important to stay on the trail. There are several places with possibilities for overflow and some lakes have "soft spots" in the ice which, if you travel across may break and you could end up in the water. Stay on the trail where it is safe.
Ken Lake CP is just behind a sharp left turn around a point. There will be a sign and the CP is on the shore to your left. A cabin just uphill from the wall tent is the guide shack. Should the CP seem deserted just jell or go to the cabin to get assistance.
KEN LAKE TO CARMACKS (35 MILES)
Will be updated.
CARMACKS TO MCCABE CREEK (38 MILES)
For about 12 miles you will follow the Freegold Road, an old mining road. Afterwards you will get onto a bush trail which will take you on and off the Yukon. The terrain will be very rough and hummocky with stumps and fallen trees.
The final stretch to McCabe will be right on McCabe creek. While notoriously rough, this section of trail is very photogenic, and photographers may capture some particularly beautiful images of racers navigating the rolling, ragged ice and snow of McCabe Creek.
The Kruse family always welcomes the Quest mushers. They serve warm drinks and food, and have a warm shack for mushers to rest in. Since 2003 Jerry and Kathy Kruse have been hosting the Yukon Arctic Ultra, too. There will be a heated shed but no beds. So, you will need your sleeping bags.
MCCABE CREEK TO PELLY CROSSING (28 MILES)
After McCabe Creek you will follow a bush trail that parallels the Klondike Highway . You will cross a couple of small lakes, and a number of gullies with makeshift bridges (some of which can be quite treacherous). The trail goes through a forested area devastated by fire. There are thousands of standing fire-killed trees, along with thousands of fallen trees. It has taken a tremendous amount of work to get a functional trail in place through this area, work done by members of the Selkirk First Nation (in Pelly Crossing).
For the last bit of the way you will follow community roads.
In Pelly Crossing we have used various locations as a checkpoint - depending on availabilty. We will let you know at the briefing which place it will be this time.
PELLY CROSSING TO PELLY FARM (30 MILES)
If the ice on the river is not too rough it is likely the Rangers will break trail there. Otherwise you will take the farm road which parallels the river and is quite easy to travel. Unless, of course, there is plenty of fresh snow.
Pelly Farms, our 8th checkpoint, is definitely one of the most remote places I have ever been to. It is about one hour of driving on the farm road to get there. The land surrounding their property is densely populated by the black bear. Therefore, the Bradleys who own this place can actually plant potatoes and do some bear watching at the same time. It is an amazing place and I am sure you will be welcomed just as friendly as we have been welcomed during our first visit.
PELLY FARM TO PELLY CROSSING (30 MILES)
In Pelly Farm we turn around and take the farm road. If the river can't be accessed on the way to the farm, it means you will go back the same way you came from. If you came to the farm on the river and travel back on the road it will be interesting. It's a different perspective and often the river is blocked from your view. When you see the bridge in Pelly Crossing you will know you are almost there!
PELLY FARM TO SCROGGIE CREEK (76 MILES)
The following is Mike Simon's trail report from Pelly Farms to Dawson City – a trip which he did from February 25th to February 27th, 2006. Thanks Mike!!!
My odometer on the snow machine registered a total of 177 miles from Pelly Farm to the Eldorado Hotel in Dawson. Since this section is supposed to be 171 miles my distances given may be off for our race by as much as 6 or 8 miles, give or take. However, distances between locations are accurate to my odometer.
Here we go:
At mile 12 I encountered the first section of heavy overflow and glaciations. The water can be easily avoided but the ice is sloped by 30 deg. and extremely slippery. The trail crosses at the bottom and rises on the ice to proper trail again. I could not stand on this ice without sliding down again. Around the edges, especially at the top of the glacier the ice is thin and there is knee deep water under the ice and snow. The bottom edge of the ice seemed best for crossing.
8 miles down the trail there is a small trail going off to the left. About 50 meters down the trail is a small, rough trapper’s cabin with a huge stove. This cabin was in use until the Quest came through but could be considered as an emergency shelter if somebody gets their feet wet in the previous overflow. Most of the trail past the farm is easy to recognize as an old road. The cut through the forest is between 3 to 5 meters wide. Where forest fires went through the trail narrows drastically but is still easy to spot by the cut trees which open the trail.
There is high potential for overflow at miles 30, 33 (long), 50, 51.5, 56, 59 and 67. All above marks had frozen water on the surface with signs of mush or water around the edges. During my trip I could cross all of them without breaking the ice or hitting water. Caution is adviced. At mile 40 I found a rough tent frame which could be made into an emergency shelter, unstaffed, by throwing a tarp over it and prepare some fire wood for the athletes. It is a nice spot with a view and easy to spot. This could also be the “hand over” place for the snow machine patrol. Section to here could be covered from Pelly Farm in under 3 hours and from here we could cover the trail from Scroggie Creek.
As of mile 62 (this distance is approximate but close) the trail more or less follows the Scroggie Creek. Most sections from mile 62 up to mile 76 – Scroggie Creek CP are single lane only!! The trail is very narrow with high steep banks on the right (going north) and the creek two feet to the left. Where there is more room the trail winds through dense growth, mostly willows. There is also a risk of avalanches in this section. If somebody gets caught in an avalanche there would not be much risk of being buried since the hills are not very high. The main risk is being washed onto the creek ice which showed lots of signs of being unstable or covered with overflow. Attempts to get water from the creek or to travel on it for the ease of the flat surface should be absolutely discouraged.
Scroggie Creek CP has a small (12 X 12) cabin with a good woodstove, bench and table. This is where we will have our checkpoint.
SCROGGIE CREEK TO DAWSON CITY (101 MILES)
The trail drops onto the river. To the left the "airstrip" was set up for planes to land near the cabin, the trail crosses the river and then turns upriver, to the right, on the far side. The trail follows the river past Maze Mae – Buildings are visible from the river, before it turns left onto land again. The river section was about 6 – 8 miles and is not always used. There is an alternate trail basically opposite from Scroggie Creek which passes through the woods behind Maze Mae (this is information from Ranger Mitch in Dawson).
The trail is a small bush trail for a few miles and then widens into a "road" again. The trail follows mostly the middle of the open path. As of mile 87 I hit several places with glaciated creeks. In places those were more than a hundred meter wide and had sections with steep slopes. I had to pick my way carefully across to avoid the slopes but was able to make it easy enough. There was no overflow or open water at this time but the potential is there.
The first relics of modern mining are visible from here on. Big old fuel tanks, rusting caterpillars and overturned pick ups line the trail. There is a good amount of buildings, some open, but they seem to be for summer use only – no stoves – or for mining only – oil stoves. The valley widens here as well and the width of the valley is bare of trees. Athletes will be exposed to wind and weather with little chance for good shelter with firewood. Snow on both sides of the trail is knee deep or more and hard to travel in. It might be good to get athletes to carry a avalanche shovel – plastic and light weight – to dig a snow cave or at least have means to build some kind of snow shelter to stay warm and out of the wind.
I noticed ice on the trail in several locations. This means there is potential for overflow all the way along this valley. However, during my travel from here to Dawson I had no problem with water under the ice/snow any more. Athletes still have to watch their footing since most ice was covered by a skiff of snow and I did not see it. I could only guess at the ice from the sound of the skis on the surface.
By mile 108 I am in the trees again. But from here on it seems to be uphill all the way to Dawson City. Anybody attempting this section has to be out of their mind. If they make it to the top of even the first peak they will be rewarded with spectacular views for miles and miles. The top of the mountains and the trail following the ridge is extremely exposed and windy. The quest trail, just two days after the last musher went through, was covered in snowdrifts up to 1 meter high in places and it was not easy to follow the trail.
Some minor side hilling on slopes is required and camps should be picked in the lower sections of the trail. The exposed sections range over several miles and everybody needs to be aware that there is no shelter and basically no fire wood to be found at the top.
After several drops into valleys with subsequent climbs up the hills again I finally hit the first section of cleared road and thought I had it beat. This was at mile 155. I was told that the Hunker Creek Road has always been cleared to a point past where it meets the Quest trail. There are possibilities here to get our crew and possibly an emergency shelter in to this point by truck. I had a Suburban pass me on this section of the Road.
Just when I thought the rough stuff was over, the trail turned of the road back up a mountain. This year the trail picked up the Ridge Road Trail, which is hated by the mushers for the steep sidehilling. Again, sections with little shelter, trail is hard to make out and the wind swept snow is rock hard on the mountain slope. If somebody starts sliding they can easily go down 100 to 300 meters until they get stopped by the trees at the bottom. Getting back up would be very difficult. If I was on foot, I would not attempt this section without any kind of crampons.
I felt uncomfortable with the snow machine on these slopes and had to watch the skimmer, which tried to slip down the hills. The snow was packed so hard that in some places the skis from my snow machine did not even make marks in it.
When the trail started to drop again, about 15 miles before Dawson, it was finally the last descent. At the bottom I hit a small mining road which joins the Bonanza Creek Road between Discovery Claim and Dredge #4. From here on it was all easy road travel, mostly level until the Highway. The trail then turns left, follows the Highway for a short section until it winds through the woods to the Klondike River, then the Yukon River and into Dawson. Finish at the Eldorado Hotel at mile 177 on the odometer, less than 6 hours hard ride on reasonable trails from the Steward River.
The race was founded in 2003 and has run every year since except 2010.
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