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Februar 2022

MYAU 2022 Final Race Report

Copyright: MarkKellyPhotography.ca

Another Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra is history. It’s been a tough one. Well, every single race has had some challenges and of course normally we focus on or worry about the extreme cold. This time the initial concern was the Pandemic. It had looked so good initially and then our worst fear came true. A new variant of Covid-19 caused rules to be tightened once more. Travel became complicated and there was a real threat that we may be forced to give up right until the week before the start. Because of a Yukon Government recommendation we decided not to go beyond Mandana Lake. This and travel restrictions led to a large number of athletes cancelling. And not only the athletes were struggling. We also lost a lot of crew members who had really been looking forward to and prepared for the adventure.

When organising gets difficult I try to look at it as if it were a race. MYAU athletes have a hard time to every now and then. To get through it, it’s necessary to focus and take one step at a time. And of course to stay positive.

So, sure enough, there we were on February 3rd at the Shipyard’s Park start line in Whitehorse. It was a staggered start without a big crowd and without our traditional big (and crowded) start photo and countdown. But we started.

Because of record snowfall, overflow on rivers and lakes was a main threat. Also, the first few nights were pretty cold still.

First things first, though. In the marathon we had 8 athletes and 2 of them unfortunately did not reach the finish line. The trail was soft and that makes this distance difficult as the participants only have limited resources with them. Local Derek Cronmiller (Whitehorse) arrived at Muktuk just over 4 hours which is an amazing time even if the trail is rock solid. Sydney Flodstedt (Calgary) came 2nd overall and 1st woman, with a time of 5 hours and 16 minutes. 1 hour and 11 minutes later Lara-Rae Trotter (Whitehorse) came 3rd overall and 2nd woman. Next up were Sarah and Benjamin Hancock (Whitehorse) who needed 6 hours and 30 minutes. Our last marathon finisher is Keith Gayhart who came all the way from Los Angeles. It was his second time at the MYAU and it took him 7 hours and 40 minutes.

More participants had to end their adventure on day 2. Some of them had been really going strong but the cold and fatigue caught up to them. 2 athletes also did get stage 1 frostbite on their toes while they were approaching Dog Grave Lake, our next checkpoint. The trail continued to be soft and more snow was falling. Not only did the snow make it hard to maintain a good pace but it also led to athletes having more wet gear than they normally would. Some 100 milers, like Teri Polesky (Nakina/Canada) and Alla Bova (Stafford/USA), came really close to Braeburn but in the end had to admit defeat. Only Canadians Nathan Quinn (Vancouver), Connor Murray (Coldwater) and Brian James (Calgary) were able to finish the 100 mile distance within the cut-off time. It took them 64 hours and 36 minutes. Since they arrived at the same time they are all winners.

In the meantime, many of the 300 milers also suffered from the same problems and 9 of them did not reach Braeburn. At that point only Jessie Gladish (Dawson City/Canada), Kevin Leahy (Killarney/Ireland), Stephan Huss (Crailsheim/Germany), Daniel Benhammou (Littleton/USA), Aodh O Currain (Tralee/Ireland) and Phil Cowell (Gillingham/England) were left in the race – in that order. Kevin had a little „episode“ with his stove that resulted in a 6 hour time penalty which, in the end, did not influence his ranking. All of them had to go through quite a few ups and downs. Temperatures got warmer but we still had snowfall and incredibly strong winds on the lakes. The weather once more resulted in changing overflow conditions. It got so bad on the way to Mandana that we had to turn everyone around already on Frank Lake. On the way back Jessie said she had one of her best days on her fatbike ever. By coincidence hunters had „groomed“ the trail in front of her and it was hard enough so that she actually could ride her bike over quite some distance. When she finally reached a place called Overland Parking, just North of the Takhin River, we had to stop Jessie again. Reports of kilometres of overflow, some of it knee deep, meant we needed to decide how to continue. What an emotional roller coaster so close to the finish. The conclusion was similar to the one we had come to near Mandana. Snowmobile crew would struggle and rescues would be very difficult. Athletes could get in trouble and have a really hard time to deal with it. Not a good combination. I do have to admit that there is of course still room for discussions here. Overflow is part of this race and one might argue that athletes and we have to somehow face it and find ways to deal with it, even if it is extensive. Therefore, we will look into the subject more closely after this winter. To see what options we may have.

For Jessie and the others, this year, the decision was to move them by transfer to Takhini Bridge and let them reach the finish from there. We could have just stopped at Overland Parking but felt that letting the remaining athletes finish the final leg would feel better for them. At this point they all had found their pace and strategy to deal with the adverse trail conditions. For Phil it actually also meant that he was able to finish this year.

So, we waited for them all to come back to the Whitehorse finish line. Our finish chute was only up the front runners Jessie and Kevin. Jessie came in first – overall and in the women’s category. Winds were so strong the following morning that our banners were blown over, just secured by the rope and very heavy cement blocks. Of course for the following athletes that did not make much of a difference. They all were happy to have avoided dragging themselves through overflow for hours on end and being able to finally reach Whitehorse again.

After Jessie we were able to welcome Kevin who came 2nd overall, 1st man and 1st athlete on foot. Third overall and 2nd man on foot was Daniel, followed by Stephan, Aodh and finally Phil.

Needless to say that in my books anybody who came and tried is a winner. Especially this year. All athletes could have just said „… not this time, I will just stay at home.“ That would have been totally understandable. Instead, they came and tried. So, a big congratulatons to all participants!

As always I want to close my final report by saying thank you to all supporters and crew who made the MYAU 2022 possible:

Thank you Gary Rusnak for having gone out countless times to prepare our marathon trail and for helping during the race, too. Thank you Bernard Stehelin for breaking the trail to Mandana with your fellow Rangers and for setting up the checkpoint there. It was so frustrating that, after all that work, we had to turn around and could not see the beautiful spot you had picked for us. Thank you to all other Rangers who were involved in the trail breaking and marking effort. Thank you Jessie and Gillian for having helped me to make 1,500 markers! Thank you Pamela Brown and Eric Schroff for the great job setting up the Dog Gave Lake checkpoint, for having been there for so many days and also marking trail. Thank you Robert Siefke and Joe Bishop for helping with the above. Thank you to all other snowmobile crew – Hendrik Weise, Fabian Schmitz, Jason Wolsky, Gary Vantell and Brad Heron. Thank you Don Banks for helping us from a distance and hosting us at Scuttlebutt Lodge. Thank you Hiro for getting all that firewood, marking trail and having everything ready for us at Scuttlebutt Lodge. Thank you to all the volunteers – Ross Knox, Amanda Roblin, Willow Brewster, Tim Milsom, Anya Svet, Julie Pritchard, Callum Joliffe, Cameron MacLeod and Margo Millette. Thank you Diane Patrick for your help in finding this wonderful volunteer crew and preparing them so well! Thank you to our checkpoint hosts at Muktuk Adventures and Braeburn. Thank you to our sponsors Montane, Pertex, Kahtoola, Racelite, Coast Mountain Sports, Total North, Yukon Yamaha, Best Western Gold Rush Inn, Fraserway RV, Driving Force, Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters and Cumulus. It’s been a great pleasure working with you all.

Last but not least, thank you Mark Kelly, Jason Wolsky and Adrian Mccarthy for film and photography. Mark will make photos available for purchase soon and I will also start sharing videos with you – hopefully from tomorrow. Then we all can re-live our MYAU 2022 in that way.

Was it worth it? Hell yes! See you all again next winter.

For those of you reading this and interested in signing up for next year, bear with me. I am headed to Sweden soon for the very first Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra. After that, I will talk to the Yukon Quest regarding their timing for 2023. Once they know, we will set our start date. I am guessing it will be around early April when entries will open. Until then I hope you all still have some fun in the snow! Stay safe and healthy.

Race Director Update Days 6 to 8

Copyright: MarkKellyPhotography.ca

The trail conditions continued to be very challenging. Jessie who is our 300 mile overall winner even had  a day of fat biking that she described as the best time on the trail she has had. BUT it did not last long. When Jessie was about to head onto the Takhini River, on her way back to Whitehorse, we found out the this river had many kilometres of so called overflow – anywhere from ankle to knee deep. For the same reasons we ended up not going all the way to Mandana Lake, we decided to skip this part of the trail and bring all remaining 300 milers to Takhini Bride, for their final leg to the finish line. For Jessie, being the first and having to wait for a long time just south of Takhini River, it was a very difficult and emotional moment. However, she was able to adjust and pull all her strength together to become our overall winner, winner in the MTB category and of course fastest woman.

 

Kevin Leahy from Ireland was not far behind. He finished 2nd overall and first man and first in the foot category.

 

MYAU veteran, Daniel Behammou, came third. He had done a lot of the distance with Stephan Huss from Germany but about half way on the final distance, Stephan had to rest and Daniel preferred to push on. After some sleep, Stephan also reached the Shipyard’s Park finish line.

 

Aodh O Currain from Ireland was the next one in line. He had a rest at Takhini Bridge and then dit the remaining distance in one go.

 

Quite some distance back we had Phil Cowell. Slowly and steadily he was making his way towards Whitehorse. Like Aodh he took a rest at Takhini Bridge and managed to finish his race this morning.

Congratulations to all finishers and also all athletes for coming to the Yukon and for having tried a race this difficult in times of a Pandemic.

A summary race report will follow soon.

Race Director Update Days 4 to 5

Copyright: MarkKellyPhotography.ca

Nathan Quinn, Connor Murray and Brian James, all from Canada, win the 100 mile race. Yes, you heard right. They all win it because they arrive together in Braeburn February 6th at 03.16 AM! They are also our only 100 mile finishers. Unfortunately, non of the remaining athletes in this race distance were able to finish. Which is quite unusual. Normally, we see a higher percentage of 100 milers reach their goal. It just goes to show you how a lot of snow and relatively warm temperatures can be just as or even more challenging than extreme cold. And another fact seems to be that even in these „warmer“ temperatures athletes can sustain cold injuries. We already had one athlete with frostbitten toes and Jim Ryall had the same fate when he reached the Dog Grave Lake checkpoint. He was not aware of it but after his medical check crew had to tell him that he can’t continue. Both cases were not severe and we brought them out by snowmobile. I am guessing they got these injuries because the snow made the push harder and it also meant that there was more moisture/humidity.

We still had some more 100 milers in the race who, under normal circumstance (i.e. with a hard packed trail), would have finished the 100 miles in time. That’s Alla Bova (USA) and Teri Polesky (Canada). However, at some point during the night they had to admit defeat and rest. There was too much snow for them to reach the necessary pace and they also had issues with too much gear getting wet. Both eventually were brought to the finish line by our crew. The important thing is that they are safe and even though they could not get a medal this time, they really enjoyed the challenge and the Yukon.

Luckily, the 300 mile distance has seen no more scratches so far. Jessie continues in the lead and is going really strong. Even though she has had a significant amount of miles pushing her bike. Crazy. I mean, picture yourself pushing a bike with fat tires and this much snow for miles on end and being this fast … Kevin from Ireland is also doing well. He broke a gear related rule which resulted in a time penalty of 6 hours but this will likely have no influence on how he ranks if he reaches the finish in Whitehorse. It’s challenging for strong athletes like him because he had a plan and the snow just meant he could not stick to it. I believe he has now come around to accepting that fact, re-adjusted and is having a good time, taking a lot more breaks than he likely normally would.

Next up are Stephan Huss and Benjamin. They have teamed up because they seem to be comfortable with each others speed. While some seek the solitude they seem to have more fun, knowing someone else is not too far away.

Ireland is doing well this year because next up is Aodh O Currain who is also from this beautiful country. So, if we had a nation’s cup, the Irish could win it. Aodh is really enjoying it out there and fingers crossed, he continues to do well. Last in line is Phil Cowell from the UK. Yes, Phil is going at a slower speed but he is steady and has got a positive attitude – both key elements in being successful at the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra.

In the meantime, we had a development which resulted in a change of the position of our turnaround point and effectively shortened the 300 mile race to about 250 miles. We have had crew ready at Mandana Lake for several days already. The Canadian Rangers, Bernard Stehelin, our checkpoint host there being one of them, worked super hard to get the initial trail in. They had to fight their way through long patches of overflow on the many lakes. Once driven over these trails normally freeze and are then passable. Consequently Bernard and his team set up the camp and were eager to welcome as many athletes as possible. When our trail guides Robert Siefke and Jason Wolsky went in initially from Braeburn for another check they only encountered new overflow a few km before Mandana and got through it okay. The next day things had changed. Massive overflows had reappeared and they got stuck twice on their way to check on Jessie and the others. These areas would have been extremely tough for the athletes and also dangerous in potential rescues. Therefore, the decision was made to transport Jessie to the same location as Kevin, find a safe spot and set up an improvised and new turnaround point there. We still have to confirm for both Jessie and Kevin what time credit they will get for any waiting times/delays.

Race Director Update Days 1 to 3

Copyright: MarkKellyPhotography.ca

The Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra 2022 started February 3rd at Shipyard’s Park, Whitehorse. As planned we did a staggered start with the marathoners leaving at 10:30, the 100 milers at 10:40 and the 300 milers taking off at 10:50. Temperatures were about – 21 degrees Celsius.

It has been really tough out there! On Day 1, initially, the MYAU did not get too much snow. Local marathoner Derek Cronmiller took off like a rocket and was in the lead right ot the finish line. Sydney Flodsted from Calgary came 2nd overall and first in the women’s division. Yukoner Lara-Rae Trotter ranked 2nd woman and 3rd overall. Benjamin and Sarah Hancock who also live in Whitehorse were only 3 minutes behind. They were followed by Keith Gayhart from Los Angeles who participated for the second time. Corey Nislow (Vancouver) and Jeffrey Mackie-Deernsted (Dawson City) were not able to finish and Edward McLean was not at the start line.

Congratulations to all who participated!

At some point it started snow heavily again. In combination, athletes reported that cold spots and winds made it really difficult.

Manfred Krause (Germany/300 miles) , David Colley (UK/100 miles), Patricia Clune (Canada/100 miles), Dale Langford (UK/100 miles), Jade Hollenbeck (Canada/100 miles), Pat Cooke-Rogers (UK/ 300 miles), all had to end their adventure at Muktuk – all for slightly different reasons but often related to the fresh snowfall.

Then we went  into the first night, during which it snowed A LOT.  At this point it was already clear that it would – as is to be expected – slow the athletes down significantly.  Temperatures went to around – 25 degrees Celsius with relatively high humidity. Which is a challenging combination. As a consequence more athletes had to call it a day. Paul and Conor Murphy to the other side of Takhini River and called for help there. Alex de Sain twisted and injured his knee avoiding snowmobile traffic. That’s of course really unfortunate. He went to hopital and the injury was confirmed. Tomorrow he will fly home and get further treatment in the the Netherlands. We wish him a swift recovery.

Local athlete Greg Newby got as far as Dog Grave Lake but had to withdraw due to stage 1 frostbite. He was brought out by snowmobile at night. Canadian Mark St. Pierre was going very strong but an injury to his achilles he had before the race caught up to him and he scratched. Russ Reinbolt (USA) also was doing really well but in the end decided to withdraw because of making very slow progress only. Yukoner and race veteran Gillian Smith pulled out because of gear related problems. Fellow Yukon athlete Julia Gerlach also had to give in to the fact that the going was just too slow. Last but not least, Singaporean PJ Toh also decided that, at his pace, it would just take too long.

All these athletes needing assistance meant that the crew and myself have been very busy. Hence the relatiely slow speed of updates here on the website. For more frequent news – also going forward to the next few days – please check our channels on facebook and instagram, too.

All these athletes needing assistance meant that the crew and myself have been very busy. Hence the relatiely slow speed of updates here on the website. For more frequent news – also going forward to the next few days – please check our channels on facebook and instagram, too.

HQ with Julie did a great job in organising all support movement and the checkpoint crews at Muktuk really handled the challenges well. Thank you Callum, Cameron, Margo, Amanda and Tim.

Our crew at Dog Grave Lake, Pamela, Eric, Anya, Hendrik and Fabian soon were able to welcome Jessie Gladish (Canada/300 miles). Jessie already finished the MYAU 430 mile distance on foot and xc-ski. This year on her fatbike is „training“ for her as she want to complete the series and arrive in Dawson City on bike next winter. The soft snow meant a lot of bike pushing for her.  She had a good rest at Braeburn last night and left for Mandana this morning. All the snow meant we had to delay Jessie for a couple of hours to break trail in front of her. She will get time credit for the additional waiting time.  Luckily some locals also had gone in the direction of the chain lakes. So, the trail is better than expected. However, it’s still rough and just a few km south of Mandana there was some challenging overflow Robert and Jason had to get there way through. With a bit of luck this will now freeze over.

Our crew at Dog Grave Lake, Pamela, Eric, Anya, Hendrik and Fabian soon were able to welcome Jessie Gladish (Canada/300 miles). Jessie already finished the MYAU 430 mile distance on foot and xc-ski. This year on her fatbike is „training“ for her as she want to complete the series and arrive in Dawson City on bike next winter. The soft snow meant a lot of bike pushing for her.  She had a good rest at Braeburn last night and left for Mandana this morning. All the snow meant we had to delay Jessie for a couple of hours to break trail in front of her. She will get time credit for the additional waiting time.  Luckily some locals also had gone in the direction of the chain lakes. So, the trail is better than expected. However, it’s still rough and just a few km south of Mandana there was some challenging overflow Robert and Jason had to get there way through. With a bit of luck this will now freeze over.

Kevin Leahy from Ireland is on foot and currently ranked second. Like everyone else he is a lot slower than he expected. I was told he was very frustrated and had issues with his stove. The latter lead to him „retiring his stove“. It can of course happen that any gear fails. It’s part of the game. If we can, we help. Otherwise, athletes need a plan B. In any case, Kevin will get a time penalty for not keeping the stove with him. The interesting part is that Kevin is super cheerful and always in a good mood. I would say he just forgot about one of the very important rules which is to rest in time. About 12 miles from Braeburn he then finally did just that. He had a long bivvy and woke up a new man. I was not there when he came to Braeburn my crew tells me he was going strong and super motivated. He is now on his way to Mandana.

15 miles south of the 100 mile finish we have a group of athletes fairly close together – friends Connor Murray and Nathan Quinn and Brian James (all Canadian/100 mile). Not far behind Aodh O Currain from Ireland who is in the 300 mile distance.

26 miles back are Philip Cowell (UK/300 miles), Alla Bova (USA/100 miles) and Teri Polesky (Canada/100 miles). Alla and Teri had a really good rest. So, there is a good chance they will make the 3 day cut-off. For Philip it will just depend on what average speed he can maintain from here on forward. Fingers crossed it works out.

Right now it is now snowing but more snow is in the forecast. The temperatures are expected to around – 20 at night. Which means, for all those still in the race, it will continue to be challenging.

The crew at Dog Grave Lake gets a break now. At Braeburn we are looking forward to all coming in and Mandana will be really happy to receive Jessie and all those who will still follow.