Athletes looking to test themselves against the frigid February air and the vastness of the Yukon lined up on the start line in Whitehorse’s Shipyards Park. At the end of a countdown they were off— taking their first steps in a 26, 100 or 300 mile test of will.
The Yukon Arctic Ultra, billed as the world’s coldest and toughest ultra, began its 2022 running at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 3. The race is sponsored by Montane, an outdoor clothing brand.
Volunteers using snowmobiles to pack the trail ahead of racers’ first leg reported fresh snow overnight but little overflow on the Yukon River that forms most of the ultra race’s route. Its route mostly follows the same trail that the Yukon Quest dog sled race uses to head north out of Whitehorse.
The ultra race is held between Feb. 3 and 11. The 100 and 300 mile courses are sure to take days of hard slogging for even the fastest and most experienced among the 29 who left the start line. Fourteen aim to stop their journey in Braeburn while 15 racers want to go the full 300 miles.
Marathon runners on the 26 mile route wrapped up their day at Muktuk Adventures just off the Takhini River. The 100 Mile and 300 Mile racers, towing pulk sleds behind them or with equipment loaded in panniers on fat tire mountain bikes were bound for points considerably farther north. The 100 mile route finishes in Braeburn while the 300 miler reaches Pelly Farm before returning south to the finish line at Pelly Crossing.
The day’s racing began with eight unencumbered marathon runners dashing off from the start line. Towing their pulks or pedaling heavily laden bikes those beginning the 100 and 300 mile routes began an measured march
“Start off like an old man and finish like a young gun,” said Alex de Sain of the Netherlands, summing up his strategy for the 300 Mile race as he straightened the gear in his pulk at the start line.
De Sain said he has unfinished business with the Yukon Ultra after failing to finish in 2020 after cracking through the trail’s crust into some overflow water beneath the layer of snow. He has been training in the French Alps to get acclimatized to punishing hill climbs and plans to do two other frigid ultra races this year, one in Lapland and one in Greenland, if all goes well.
Despite some ongoing travel difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic the 2022 race is an international affair with racers from Canada, the United States, England, Ireland, Germany and other countries in the field.
Mark Dunne, a newcomer to the Yukon Ultra hailing from Liverpool, said he has done long-distance races before but doesn’t think he’s experienced anything that could fully prepare him for the frigid cold and the 100 mile trail.
“It’s one of the attractions. They say it’s the coldest and toughest ultra race in the world and I think they’re right as well,” Dunne said.
He added that along with finishing, his goal is to have a smile on his face the whole way.
As evening fell on Feb. 3, live tracking saw most of the 100 and 300 mile racers pressing on in a pack around the 20 mile mark in the race. Some front runners were nearing the 30 mile mark. By morning some racers seemed to have pressed on through the night having passed the 40 mile mark or even approaching 50 miles from the start line.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com