Yukon River Quest racers are persevering through challenging conditions, with 69 boats out of 106 still in the running.
The fastest teams are expected to finish in Dawson City this evening.
As of 8 a.m. on June 24, three teams had passed the final checkpoint in Thistle Creek.
Team Something Else Entirely, a four-man canoe hailing from Whitehorse and Ontario, according to the Quest roster, led the pack into Thistle Creek at 6:30 a.m.
The www.tyreorder.com Elite Team, a men’s tandem kayak from Estonia, followed 22 minutes behind.
Team Pagunpogo, a seven-man voyageur from Whitehorse, Alberta and Manitoba, checked in just 8 minutes after, followed closely by another voyaguer, Hatchet Lake, hailing from an isolated community in Northern Saskatchewan.
The Quest launched on June 22 amid warnings that dangerously high waters should warn away all but the strongest paddlers.
About 106 teams launched on Wednesday, and five competed in a half race that ended in Carmacks.
Deb Bartlett, assistant race marshall and president of the Yukon River Quest, told the News on June 23 that several teams decided not to paddle at the last minute.
A few more people withdrew early in the race, after lower Laberge Lake and at the first road out at Little Salmon.
About one-third of racers scratch every Quest, Bartlett said, and this year is not yet proving to be much higher.
That’s partially because the weather has been “very, very fickle,” with fast weather changes meeting some paddlers with smooth sailing and others with storms, wind and pouring rain — and 20 minutes making the difference.
One boat scratched after hitting five of those storms in a row, she said.
“They got here and said, ‘Oh, this was great, but Lake Laberge,’” Bartlett said with a chuckle. “And then they said some bad words.”
About 38 teams had withdrawn by early morning on June 24.
Speaking to the News at the Carmacks check stop on the afternoon of June 23, Bartlett conceded that the water was moving fast and high. There weren’t many spots to pull off between checkpoints.
There was also a moderate amount of debris, with the occasional appearance of big logs demanding paddlers’ attention.
“It is physically and mentally tiring…. Instead of being able to take a little break on the river, and maybe you float for 15 or 20 minutes, you couldn’t do that as much because you need to pay attention to the water,” Bartlett said.
The Quest’s race tracker estimates that teams will begin crossing the finish line around 3 p.m. on June 24 in Dawson City. Teams have until 9 p.m. on June 25 to finish.
Most teams are expected to finish on the final day of racing, with a few potential Friday finishes on the top third of the leaderboard.
“I’m going to guess that we might break a record this year,” Bartlett said. “There are some pretty fast teams, and the water is fast.”
Three or four teams, including leaders Something Else Entirely and Pagunpogo, checked in with record times at Carmacks around 6:30 a.m. on June 23, she continued.
The last teams pulled into Carmacks that evening.
This year, the racers launched at two start times — 9 a.m. and noon — on June 22.
Bartlett said the staggered times seemed to work as intended, because they kept teams closer together on the route. She said she was hearing stories of paddlers lending dry provisions, like sweaters and food, to their competitors after boats tipped or supplies got wet. Paddlers were also calling communications to request help after nearby boats flipped, making response times faster.
“[That makes it safer] because there’s people around you,” Bartlett said.
The awards ceremony will take place on the morning of June 26 in Dawson City.
– With files from Lawrie Crawford
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