Nathaniel Hamyln and his team reach the finish line of the 2019 Yukon Quest in Fairbanks, Alaska, on a snowy Feb. 12 evening. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

Predictably unpredictable: Weather plays havoc with mushers and dogs alike during the Yukon Quest

After start date lows of -40 C, warm days and snowfall made Yukon Quest finish a challenge for all

The only thing you can count on in the Yukon Quest with respect to weather and the trail is change.

That was the message from Sgt. John Mitchell of the Canadian Rangers back on Jan. 31 in Whitehorse before the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometre) race to Fairbanks, Alaska, even started.

Conditions were cold at the start of the race — dropping below -40 C at the Braeburn checkpoint — but slowly warmed as the race continued, reaching the neighbourhood of -20 C by the time racers reached Dawson and warming up to between -10 C and -5 C by the time the leaders began to finish the race.

There was little to no snowfall during the Yukon portion of the race, but heavy snowfall started in Fairbanks as finishers approached and, unsurprisingly, Eagle Summit has had stretches of bad weather.

Whitehorse’s Hans Gatt said the start of the race was not what he had hoped for as far as temperature.

“First of all, it was cold at the beginning and I can’t deal with the cold very well anymore,” the longtime musher said. “That wasn’t any fun.”

During the Alaskan half of the race, drifting snow and high winds meant a number of the frontrunners’ dog trucks had to wait out the evening of Feb. 8 stuck near Eagle Summit on the Steese Highway, the only road in and out. They worked together early the next morning to shovel out and reach Circle, Alaska, in time for mushers en route from Eagle, Alaska.

Although clear skies and warm temperatures allowed the first group of mushers through, further back in the pack teams were forced to either climb Eagle Summit in near white-out conditions or turn back to wait for the storm to break.

“Wow, I didn’t get caught in a storm up here for once,” said third-place finisher Allen Moore at the finish about Eagle Summit. “But I knew someone probably would.”

The Steese Highway was closed for a portion of Feb. 12, and the group of Jason Biasetti, Rob Cooke, Andy Pace and Deke Naaktgeboren worked together to climb Eagle Summit before all four teams opted to rest at the Mile 101 checkpoint before tackling Rosebud Summit.

Veteran Nathaniel Hamlyn, who was the 2018 red lantern, told media at the finish line of this year’s race he had a bit of everything.

“Cold, ice, water – everything you could think of was out there,” said Hamlyn. “It was pretty crazy.”

He said the two hardest parts were Eagle Summit and the last stretch into the finish.

“Eagle was really, really strong headwinds and a vertical face you had to go up and the dogs went up and tried to turn back,” Hamlyn said. “I had to run and get them or else we would have gone right down the mountain which is not good at all.”

He had to stay in front of his team, leading the way 10 metres at a time.

“Last year was really cold, which I liked because there was no water and not a lot of snow. It was just hard, fast trail,” he said, before adding perhaps the understatement of the race. “This is not quite so good.”

As of midnight on Feb. 13, snow has stopped falling in Fairbanks and a couple groups of mushers were stopped at checkpoints waiting for conditions to improve before continuing.

Seven mushers were at Central, five are at Mile 101 and two are at Two Rivers.

Only Cody Strathe and Dawson City’s Brian Wilmshurst were on the trail, both on the way to Fairbanks from Two Rivers.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

Yukon Quest

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read