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2024 Yukon River Quest calls halt at Carmacks due to wildfires

Organizers stopped the race over safety concerns about sending support vehicles and paddlers into fire zone north of Carmacks

On June 26, Yukon River Quest racers geared up to hit the waters to tackle 715 kilometres of endurance paddling through the Yukon River, from Whitehorse up to Dawson City. None of them would make the full journey as wildfires near the river and the roads that volunteers and support teams who would assist forced an early halt in Carmacks. 

At 9 a.m. on race day, all of more than 70 teams launched into the water from Rotary Peace Park. Race marshal Stephen Mooney noted that this year’s steady waters allowed a simultaneous start, unlike last year’s optional noon start for calmer waters. 

Wildfires burning between Pelly Crossing and Stewart Crossing threatened the safety and success of this year’s River Quest from early on. Visibility on lower Lake Laberge became hazy in the late afternoon on the June 26 as paddlers approached the second checkpoint. 

“Bring your passports to Dawson so you can drive around to get back to Whitehorse, if the road is closed for long periods,” read the briefing document to racers. 

Video taken the night of June 26 posted to the River Quest Facebook page showed trees candling on the river bank in one spot and the lead ten teams were briefly stopped at lower Lake Laberge by race organizers due to flaring fire.    

“With support from a patrol boat and a helicopter from Wildland Fire, it was determined that the fire had calmed down and the boats were texted to resume their journey. Several boats were held at Lower Laberge in the intervals that they arrived, and have been released,” a post from 10 p.m. on the June 26 reads.

By 1p.m. the following day the race had been called with a River Quest Facebook post announcing Carmacks would be its finish line due to “circumstances out of our control.” 

The North Klondike Highway remains shut down between Pelly Crossing and Stewart Crossing. A pilot car is leading vehicles through when possible based on conditions, per the Highways and Public Works department’s latest update on Facebook. Travel in the area isn’t recommended by the department. 

Seb Courville and Gaetan Plourde, in their tandem canoe, were the first to reach the Lower Laberge checkpoint. They covered the stretch to the final checkpoint before Carmacks in seven hours and 51 minutes reaching Carmacks at 7:53 a.m. on June 27. 

They were scheduled to resume racing on the waters after their ten-hour layover at the village’s Coal Mine Campground. The race was called before they could depart. 

Jake Paleczny and Robert Spinks, in their own tandem canoe, reached Coal Mine Campground just 21 minutes after Courville and Plourde. 

The race saw 11 teams scratch at Lower Laberge, five due to cutoff time and six withdrawals. On the Facebook page, race organizers reported challenging windy and smoky conditions at the lower end of the lake for these teams.  

The River Quest organizers acknowledged the disappointment for all those involved and thanked racers, volunteers and support crews for their patience. Times to Carmacks will be treated as the final result and an awards ceremony is being planned for 10 a.m. on June 28.

About the Author: Yukon News Staff

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