The 1,600km (1000 mile) route retraces the historic winter routes followed by the prospectors, adventure seekers, mail and supply carriers travelling between the gold fields of the Klondike and those in the Alaskan interior during the 1800 and 1900's. The route runs along frozen rivers, over four mountain ranges, through valleys, dense bush and Northern towns. Temperatures can range between minus 51 ºC and +8 ºC, while wind speeds have been clocked over 80km/hr. Due to the difficult trail conditions, extreme weather and limited support between checkpoints, the Yukon Quest has often been referred to as "the most difficult sled dog race in the world".
Along the way there are ten checkpoints and four dog drops where veterinarians and race officials are present to record times, check gear and to ensure the health of the pups. Mushers are not allowed receive outside help along the route with the exception of when they are in Dawson City, the halfway point.
Mushers, and their dogs, have a mandatory 36-hour layover when they reach Dawson City. The first team into Dawson and, who later completes the race, receives a four ounce bag of placer gold. Now, that is cool!
All teams pack aprox 100kg of gear, equipment and enough provisions for the mushers and pups to see them through between checkpoints. Mushers are permitted to leave dogs at any checkpoint or dog drop but they cannot replace them. Sleds may not be replaced.
The longest race time recorded was in 1988 when Ty Halvorson took 20 days, 8 hours and 29 mins to finish the race. The fastest time occurred in 2010 when Hans Gatt completed the race in only 9 days and 26 mins.
Last weekend we had the privilege of welcoming the mushers and their teams to Pelly Crossing, one of the official checkpoints. What a wonderful experience it was to meet them, their handlers, race officials and veterinarians and, of course the dogs who are the real hero's of the Quest. Weather during this year's race had been unseasonable mild with temperatures recored as high as +8 ºC. Due to the warm conditions, many mushers elected to run their teams at night when temperatures, and snow conditions, were more favourable for the pups.
While in Pelly, the mushers had the opportunity to resupply their provisions, have their dogs checked by vets and allow the pups some much needed rest if required. Bales of hay were made available for the dogs to snooze on.
This year the race attracted teams from Norway, Siberia, across Alaska and from the Yukon. Twenty-three teams began the Quest in Fairbanks, Alaska, on February 4th. As of 7:40pm this evening, seventeen teams have crossed the finishline in Whitehorse with the final two teams expected to complete the race later tonight. Five teams either scratched or withdrew from this years race.
Congratulations to all mushers, their pups and handlers, race officials and veterinarians for a fabulous race. See you next year when the race kicks off in Whitehorse.
In the meantime I encourage you check out the official website of the YUKON QUEST for more information, race updates, images and bio's of the mushers and their dogs. You can also check out a video of this year's Quest
Here's a neat tid bit of info - Brent Sass, one of the mushers, mentioned that he purchased 4,000 pairs of booties for the Quest (apparently many are lost along the way).
More pictures from Checkpoint Pelly available shortly. Hope all is well in your corner of the world.
UPDATE: 21:34 (Feb 19) - the final two teams have crossed the finish line in Whitehorse. Congrats!!