British adventurer conquers Yukon Quest trail on foot

A British adventurer overcame frostbite on his fingers and a few broken ribs to walk the entire distance of the Yukon Quest trail. Mark Hines, 37, started the 1,600-kilometre trek on Feb. 1 in Fairbanks, Alaska.

A British adventurer overcame frostbite on his fingers and a few broken ribs to walk the entire distance of the Yukon Quest trail.

Mark Hines, 37, started the 1,600-kilometre trek on Feb. 1 in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Warmer temperatures meant the trail was softer this year, he said, making it more difficult for him to pull his sled.

“It usually sits on hard-packed snow and there’s hardly any resistance,” he said.

“This year it meant the sled had to plow through the snow, rather than glide on its surface. I wasn’t expecting that.”

Hines, who says he spends the rest of the year volunteering at refugee camps in Serbia, is used to travelling long distances.

He’s completed the Yukon Arctic Ultra – a 700-kilometre race between Whitehorse and Dawson City – on three separate occasions, in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

And he’s also competed in the Marathon des Sables, a six-day, 250-kilometre race held in the Sahara Desert.

Walking the Yukon Quest trail presented its own unique challenges, he said.

This year, impassable ice jams between the mouth of the Fortymile River and Dawson City meant the Quest trail had to be rerouted to the Top of the World Highway, resulting in an additional 760-metre climb.

That’s where Hines faced strong winds and snowdrifts, which caused his sled to constantly tumble over sideways.

“At one point I had to kneel down over the sled with my body and shift it sideways back onto the trail,” he said.

“While I was doing that I was imagining the chaos that it would have been for the Yukon Quest mushers. That was the lowest point for me.

“But I kept telling myself that nothing lasts forever, and the weather quickly improved.”

The weather improved so much, in fact, that Hines let his guard down between American Summit and Forty Mile, where temperatures dipped once again.

One morning he spent a bit too much time fixing his snowshoes, which was long enough for frostbite to set in.

That made it almost impossible to fasten straps, access his food and fix his equipment, he said.

It almost ended the expedition. Once he reached Clinton Creek, he decided that Dawson City might be his final destination.

But when the temperature warmed up once again and his fingertips were out of danger, he knew he had to carry on, he said.

The Canadian side of the Yukon Quest trail was “the best by far,” Hines explained, because Canadian Rangers pack it down so well.

Hines began recognizing the trail more and more as he walked by spots he had been to during the Yukon Arctic Ultra.

But he wasn’t out of the woods just yet. His most serious accident came near Scroggy Creek, about 160 kilometres past Dawson City, where he slipped on a piece of ice and fell onto a tree trunk.

Hines’s background is in physiology and biomechanics, so he knows a thing or two about sports injuries.

Having broken ribs before, he knew he could keep going if “there wasn’t anything overly concerning.”

When he reached the cabin at Scroggy Creek, his luck turned. One of the five people already there was a paramedic.

“When it comes to ribs you can bind them but there’s nothing much else you can do,” he said.

Although Hines was able to continue, he was in too much pain to lie down in his small bivy, or bivouac sack.

One night he slept on top of a spruce mattress and worried about waking up in the middle of the night to something staring back at him.

Hines had already seen a lot of wildlife on his trip including moose, caribou and wolves. At one point he says he even saw cougar prints in the snow.

“Actually the only thing I saw when I opened my eyes in the middle of the night was the northern lights,” he said.

“It was a lot better than seeing an animal looking down at this human burrito.”

After 39 days on the trail, Hines made it to Whitehorse on March 10.

A few friends from the United Kingdom were there to greet him upon his arrival, he said.

Hines said he’d like to come back to the Yukon next year but doesn’t know which adventure he’ll embark on.

He might bike all the way up the Dempster Highway or take part in the Yukon River Quest, he said.

“I fall in love with it every time I come here. It’s the views, the solitude, the peace and moving through this spectacular landscape.

“But I do need to see the Yukon in a season other than winter.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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