The Far North 2016

1000 miles of Sled-Hauling, from Alaska to the Yukon

 

   

When: February to March 2016

 

Purpose:

To follow the Yukon Quest on foot, from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.

 

Overview:

Each year the Yukon Quest sled dog race takes place across 1000 miles of sub-Arctic Canada and Alaska. The direction changes each year, with the start alternating between Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and Fairbanks, Alaska. On odd years, the race begins in Whitehorse, and those of us who have competed in the human-powered race along that trail, have had the privilege of watching the dog teams leave on the Quest, the day before our own departure. Our route was only ever as far as Dawson City, less than half the distance to Fairbanks. After successfully reaching Dawson City on three successive occasions on foot, it was time to look to the full distance, and to discover what I have been missing out on all these years.

The Yukon Quest is considered to be the toughest sled dog race there is, and the Quest dogs are the fittest endurance athletes in the world.  The dogs will run approximately four marathons a day, every day, hauling their musher and equipment, until their 1000-mile journey is complete.  My full trail days were approximately 35 miles, with some short days, half days and rest days, and a few long slogs of around 40 miles.

I left Fairbanks on the 1st February, hauling all my food and kit for this solo journey. The Yukon Quest sled dog race began on the 6th February, so for a few days I was met with trail crews and mushers along the route. The main climbs of Boulder Summit over Rosebud Ridge and the climb up Eagle Summit were fairly brutal. Overall, the trail on the Alaskan side was broken but not packed, allowing the sled to sit deep in the trail and making it a real effort to haul it through. The toughest sections of the trail were during a few days along the Yukon river before Eagle and over American Summit, where a couple of inches of snow (up to 4 inches on the trail where it had teamed up with the wind), made progress far more exhausting than the rest. I later declared my love to the family who happened to pass by on that Yukon river section and break the trail for me with their snowmobile.

Aside from the physical hardship of hauling a heavy sled along a soft trail, there were only tough moments, not tough days overall. Reflecting on each day, I think of the outstanding beauty of the rivers and mountains. When surrounded by so much that draws in the mind and captivates it, the hours and miles pass by almost too quickly. Sometimes I would just have to lie back on my sled and bask in the wonders around me.

The trail was a busy one with non-human traffic as I passed along. I saw moose and caribou, rabbits large and small, hundreds of squirrels and the back end of a black wolf. The trail itself spoke of dozens of wolves, probably every day, a few lynx and a couple of mountain lions. After an unfortunate accident at Scroggie Creek, 350 miles from the end, I slept without the struggle of climbing into my bivi, instead building a mattress of spruce and placing my sleeping bag on that. Passing the night as a human burrito I often wondered which animals might show up to socialise, and what I might see when I opened my eyes. On the second night of sleeping that way, what I saw was a stunning display of northern lights. The best show of all was as I left Braeburn during the last hundred miles, with the lights weaving and dancing across the sky. I forget how many times I tripped over my feet or trekking poles as I looked up and behind me on that southward march.

Some miles were tough, most were easy - just putting one foot in front of the other for every mile and every hour. The sled was heavy but I was in no rush. The days took care of themselves. As one the mushers said to me as we chatted "It doesn't get any better than this." A journey of about 1000 miles came to an end after 39 days of sled hauling.

 

 

Route of the Yukon Quest sled dog race.  In even years the race begins in Fairbanks and finishes in Whitehorse.  More details about the route and the sled dog race can be found on the Yukon Quest website.  The full map can be found here.


My approach was taken from my 'fast and light', ultra-endurance background.  I carried the minimum equipment necessary to successfully complete the expedition, having anticipated a reasonable variability in conditions and hardships.  I was not carrying any luxuries, and survived mostly on cold foods, as this saved the time otherwise spent melting snow for water to rehydrate meals.  Because I wanted to assess my strengths and skills for unsupported Polar expeditions, I carried all my supplies with me, not making use of potential resupplies along the way.  

This expedition was made possible by the fantastic support and generosity of a number of sponsors.  First and foremost is Rab, who are fully supporting this journey and who have provided almost all of my clothing and most of my equipment.  One of the most important aspects of a big expedition, and one of the biggest expenses, is food.  I am hugely grateful to the support from Serengeti Trading in Canada, who have provided almost all of the food.  Thank you to Coast High Country Inn, Whitehorse, where I stayed after completing the expedition.  Thank you to Fourpure Brewing for financial support and a few fantastic beers.  I am also grateful to the ongoing and kind support of all my other sponsors, and in particular Salomon, Suunto, Sena, Kovea / Mercator Gear, Bloc Eyewear, MyRaceKit and Overboard.

 

Sponsors

 

Title Sponsor


 

Associate Sponsors


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am hugely grateful to all my sponsors for helping to make my adventures possible, and for supplying me with some the best equipment in the world.

 

I will be writing a book about my journey, and keeping a video diary along the way.  Updates on progress of these will follow.  I will add a link to my tracking device closer to the start of the expedition, where anyone can observe my progress along the trail.  Updates on the expedition can be found on my Facebook and Twitter pages.

 

Photo taken in a cabin near Indian River, Yukon Territory, approximately 50 miles from Dawson City.  Photograph taken by Yann Besrest-Butler.

I detailed my first adventure in the Yukon, including training, preparation and race experience, in my book on the 2009 trail race along part of the Quest route (~450 miles).  This was my first taste of adventuring in a sub-Arctic climate, and my first glimpse of the Yukon Quest trail.  Buying options for this and my other books are detailed below.

 

I give lectures and courses around the UK on subjects relevant to endurance athletes, coaches, personal trainers and therapists.  Details of these can be found here.

 

 

The Books

 

My books are available from Amazon as ebooks and as printed versions.

 

             

 

 

 

 

The content of this website is provided free of charge, and I hope it is of value to those reading it.  Anyone wishing to donate to help support me is welcome to do so here.  I am extremely grateful for any and all support received.

 

 

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