Hans Gatt won the Yukon Journey this morning, pulling into the Whitehorse industrial area finish line at 10:34.
“The dogs were unbelievable, unbelievable, they just skied their heart out as hard as they could, and it was enough,” Gatt told reporters.
The Yukon Journey, a 255-mile race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse, kicked off on Feb. 24. Eleven mushers participated: Gatt, Jacob Heigers, Susie Rogan, Marcelle Fressineau, Kyla Boivin, Connor McMahon, Jason Biasetti, Martine Le Levier, Nathaniel Hamlyn, Paul Hamlyn, and Ed Hopkins.
Hopkins finished in second place about three minutes behind Gatt. Biasetti finished third just after 11 a.m.
“We were pretty even the whole race, so I figured that 30 minutes (in the lead) should be enough,” Gatt said.
“But when we hit the Takhini River, my slides just stopped … I couldn’t even make a slack, it was like pulling a log and totally my mistake, I forgot black plastic in Braeburn, so I had this yellow plastic … and so I could see Ed coming up behind me and the rest is history.”
Gatt said the Journey trail was “beautiful” from Pelly Crossing to the first rest stop in McCabe.
“The weather was with us there, it was nice and hard, I’ve never gone from Pelly to McCabe that fast,” Gatt said.
The trail remained smooth from McCabe to Carmacks, but became rough from Carmacks. Eight inches of fresh snow made the trail “tough going,” he said.
“The last stretch was supposed to be really fast, but that was my mistake,” he added.
The remaining mushers are expected to land in Whitehorse today, with the last racers crossing the finish line late tonight.
The mushers journeyed 255 miles with two checkpoints at Carmacks and Braeburn. The mushers left the starting line at two-minute intervals around noon on Feb. 24.
“We definitely had a few hiccups at the start,” a race organizer posted to the Journey Facebook page that evening.
“Susan Rogan and Marcelle’s dogs decided it was more fun to duck under the flagging tape after leaving the start line and go visit the Gas Station. Paul Hamlyn took the scenic route out of town, adding about 10 miles.”
|Mushers Hans Gatt, left, and Ed Hopkins smile for the camera after crossing the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place and second place respectively. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)|
Mushers reached the first time station at McCabe Creek that day. Gatt was the first musher to arrive in two hours and 19 minutes. McMahon was the first musher to arrive in Carmacks at 8:22 that evening. Gatt was close behind at 9:25, followed by Biasetti at 9:42, Le Levier at 9:43, Nathaniel Hamlyn at 10:03 and Rogan at 10:06. Following them was Boivin, Fressineau, Hopkins and Nathaniel Hamlyn.
Gatt was the first musher to reach the Mandanna Lake time station the following day at 6:23 a.m., with Hopkins, Le Levier, Biasetti, Boivin, Nathaniel and Rogan close behind.
Le Levier moved to the front of the pack later that day on Feb. 25, finishing at the Braeburn checkpoint at 2:59 p.m. Hopkins, Gatt and Nathaniel finished close behind. In a YouTube video posted by race organizers, Le Levier said she was forced to break trail coming into Braeburn.
“I was hoping someone would catch me up,” she said, with a laugh. “It’s a lot of work.”
Gatt told race organizers in Braeburn that the trail was “just as bad as in early Quests. I am glad I stayed three and a half (hours) in Mandanna and did not leave first.”
Biasetti took a different tune to the trail, saying “That was not breaking trail. That was just three or four inches of snow.”
All 11 mushers had arrived in Braeburn by 7:47 p.m. on Feb. 25. Hopkins was the first to leave for Whitehorse at 8:22 p.m.
The three-day race culminated after five months of organizing. Susie Rogan, organizer and musher, said planning the event from the ground up was an “insane” amount of work, but the community support was excellent. The event kicked off with a long list of sponsors and about 50 community volunteers.
“The support was there, and people seemed really happy,” Rogan said.
Creating a COVID-safe race required extensive planning and permission from First Nations located along the trail. Musher rest stops were located away from community centres to keep things safe for those rural communities, Rogan explained.
The trail was forged by volunteers with some help from Canadian Rangers. Kwanlin Dün land stewards also helped forge the trail between Braeburn and Mandanna Lake.
The planning had to pivot as COVID-19 restrictions changed. When self-isolation was reintroduced to the Yukon, five mushers and a veterinarian had to drop out of the race.
“A lot of people were probably wondering, are they even going to be able to pull this off? There’s no way. We didn’t have very much money compared to the Quest, but we managed and everybody worked their butts off,” Rogan said.
“There’s a lot of laughter and relief that it’s really happening … It’s not just a rag-tag bunch going down the trail, we’ve got a professional, well-established race.”
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at email@example.com