20 years after the very first edition took place, the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra 2023 is history. Just like these last two decades went by very quickly, the last 2 weeks happened at what seemed lightning speed. The days leading up to our start were busy and for the first time we all have been guests at the Sternwheeler Hotel in Whitehorse. To me as the organizer this was pure luxury. Not only did we have the full support of General Manager, Nicole & her entire team, but also a lot of space to get organized, preparing rental gear, checkpoint kit and interacting with the athletes for any remaining paperwork and things like the briefing and gear check. On February 3rd we had a great dinner, prepared by Tony’s Restaurant, and on February 4th, from 9:45 am, we started transporting sleds to the Shipyard’s Park start line. Already before that, Gary Rusnak from our guide team had made a final trail check of the Yukon River and we were good to go. At 10:31 we had our count down and 7x marathoners, 12x 100, 5x 300 and 24x 430 mile athletes started their journey north.
The first checkpoint and finish of the Marathon distance was Muktuk Adventures. As always Manuela, Jeff and their team took great care of us. It’s a place for people who love dogs and since we all are in that category, it’s a real highlight for crew and athletes. It’s also a checkpoint that is very busy over a period of just a few hours because the participants are still close together. At about half way, at Takhini Bridge, we had a crew to give any marathoners who wanted it, hot water for their flasks. In some years it is also a place were an athlete or two may need to scratch. Not this year.
The marathon was won by Cheng Lun-Chiang (Taiwan/4:58). 2nd place went to Christina Bigrigg (Canada/4:59) and third in line was Greg Newby (Canada/5:02). All other marathoners reached Muktuk, too. It was great to see Jeffrey Mackie-Deernsted (Canada) finish. In his first try, last year, he did not reach the Muktuk. This time, after 9 hours and 18 minutes he made it and he got another medal for his collection.
100 miler Trevor Messent looked good on his way to Muktuk. He took plenty of breaks which made him arrive a bit late but that’s okay. It was mainly because of gear related issues that he could not go any further. Some athletes had caught a stomach bug, one of them being Joel Rennie from Australia. While the others continued, in the hope of getting over it soon, Joel clearly was too weakened by it. Because it was not an extreme weather year, I was able to offer him to recover and re-join the 430 mile race as an unranked athlete later on. Which he did.
Everybody else went into the first night.
Even if temperatures are not -40, it’s quite normal that we get a fair number of so called “help” messages during the first night, meaning athletes signal us with their SPOT tracker that they decided to quit. Talking about SPOT trackers, I want to say a big thank you to MYAU veteran and volunteer Scott Thomson who did an excellent job making sure that we had the maximum amount of trackers working from day 1. This year we did not get a single early “help” message!
While all this was happening, race volunteer Lorrie Lech went for a trail check from Braeburn to Dog Grave Lake and back. To make sure it is well marked and there are no other issues. Hiro Miyahama was with her as well. Unfortunately, Lorrie had an accident with her snowmobile. She hurt her shoulder. Not severely but bad enough for her not to be able to continue with the crew beyond Braeburn. @Lorrie, thank you for your support and for having been eager to help us for the full 13 days. It did not work out this time but there is always a next MYAU!
On the way to Braeburn a couple of athletes eventually did run into difficulties and were not able to continue. Arnie Owsley from the USA who is a finisher of the very first MYAU (2003 edition), Paul Fosh (England), Palle Andersen (Denmark) and Gillian Smith (Canada) all had to scratch. Arnie injured his knee, Paul had problems with one of his feet and Gillian was experiencing problems with Asthma. The entire MYAU team wishes you a quick recovery and we hope to see you again.
Chad Barber pushed very hard in the 100 mile race and he reached the finish line in a very good time (Canada/26:16). Next came Guillaume Grima (France/28:11) and third overall and first woman was Rebecca Ferry (England/34:41). All other 100 milers also reached Braeburn well before the cut-off time. Congratulations to all of you! The 300 miles are waiting for you 😉
At this point in time, things were going very well for most 300 mile athletes. Only 300 miler Jacob Myers decided to pull the plug between Mandanna Lake Checkpoint and Carmacks. He was experiencing problems and decided to stop before things got worse. Considering his work and project of reaching the South Pole, it was the right call.
Dirk Heller from Germany was eventually the first 300 miler to reach Pelly Crossing. Like the 430 mile athletes, he then went to Pelly Farm on the Pelly River. But instead of continuing further north, the 300 milers come back to Pelly Crossing on the loooong, hilly and winding farm road. Dirk took 173 hours and 9 minutes to reach the finish line. Elise Zender (Germany) and Josh Tebeau (USA) not only were new to the world of extreme winter ultras, they also are a couple. Combined with their physical fitness, their participation in Jessie’s MYAU training course and the right attitude, they did really well. And I got the impression that they still talk to each other 😉 The last finisher in the 300 mile race is Dirk Groth from Australia who I think has got a love hate relationship with the cold. It’s never easy to finish a race like the MYAU when you come from a hot climate country but Dirk did really well and we wish him and the other 300 mile finishers good luck for their future adventures.
Overall, things were still going really well for the 430 mile participants. However, with Michael Faergegaard (Denmark), Tania Halik (Canada) and Pat Cooke-Rogers (England) three more of them had to give up. Tania was very strong but would not have made the cut-off in Carmacks. So, she ended her race in Mandanna. Pat already finished the 430 miles a few years ago. She had set out to do it one more time. Unfortunately, she had technical issues with her bike and also did get very tired trying to reach the McCabe checkpoint. In the end she decided to push the “help” button and our guide Hendrik Weise picked her up on what was a very long day for him. Michael made it to McCabe but was unable to continue.
In the meantime, McCabe and then Pelly Crossing got pretty busy. The latter was challenging for both crew and athletes because, for reasons beyond our control, we were not able to use the checkpoint we normally get. I want to thank Selkirk First Nations, Sue Bradley and the School of Pelly Crossing for finding a solution on short notice. A smaller space, at the school instead of the so-called Link Building, meant for a couple of days it was a bit tight and thus “louder” than normal but it worked out just fine.
On the way to Pelly Crossing the sisters Josephine Bush and Roisin Ward had to end their race. Roisin was one of those affected with stomach issues and she finally had to admit defeat. Considering the difficulties, she had along the way, she got very far and because they are a team Josephine decided not to continue alone.
All remaining 430 mile athletes had an 8 hour mandatory stop at Pelly Farm. Because we still had a fairly large number of 430 mile athletes in the race, there was a lot of work to do at the farm. As always Dale and Sue, with the help of our crew, took great care of our athletes. Even tough they all hardly got any sleep, they and we were really happy to a) be back at this magical place and b) to have so many athletes making it this far. After all, we have had years with only a handful of athletes reaching Pelly Farm.
At this point in time, our crew usually gets stretched out over a pretty long distance – certainly in years with strong bikers like Jessie. So, we were still busy in the south but also had crew arriving in Dawson City. The advance team had the task to set up our last remote checkpoint at a place called Indian River. Luck was not on our side as it turned out that a shortcut we usually take to get there was not available due to large areas of glaciation. It meant that our crew had to go the regular trail form Dawson – which is longer and this year also was extremely difficult due to windblown trails. The team got stuck many times and also this trail had some areas with bad overflow. In the end they made the call to set up camp about 19 miles short of Indian River. That’s never an easy decision – especially knowing that athletes are already on the way. Luckily, we were able to let all of them know that Indian River was in a different spot. And Jessie and Matt who had been in the lead, knew that the Assistance Point would not be there for them. They both preferred to keep on going anyway and since the temperature did not go below – 35 degrees Celsius, I decided not to make them wait.
I don’t think Jessie and Matt regretted their decision. For them it was more important that someone broke the trail again. Which our crew did and when they finally ran into Jessie she was really relieved – after hours of pushing her bike through deep snow.
Winds kept on blowing in the trail. Gary, who went out again the day after the camp setup at Sulphur Creek, sent messages about horrible whiteout conditions. Luckily, it was not only us travelling this section. Mushers from the Yukon Quest started to arrive and teams from the Ranger and the Quest also helped keep the trails open.
First into Dawson City was Jessie Gladish (Canada/202:50). After having already finished the 430 mile race on both foot and ski, she now is the first women to accomplish this amazing feat in all three disciplines. Only Enrico Ghidoni also managed to finish this trilogy of extremes a few years back. And I don’t get tired of saying it, what makes this so special is the fact that Jessie hardly ever looks exhausted when she comes across the finish line. She is always injury free, smiling and seemingly could go on forever.
Matt Weighman was not very far behind and thus became first athlete on foot and 2nd overall (Scotland/213:02). 3rd overall is Laura Trentani from Italy (238:12). 4th overall and 3rd athlete on foot is Tommy Chen from Taiwan who came to repeat the 430 miles exactly 10 years after his first finish in Dawson. This time it took him 246 hours and 9 minutes. It’s been great to hear from this very friendly athlete who competes and places really well in many international races, that the MYAU is special to him – which is why he came back to repeat it.
All other 430 milers who were still in the race also finished before the cut-off. It was so great to seem them arrive! Gareth Hardcastle, Henrik Benzon, John Nakel, Chad Bustin, Brian James, Enrique Trull Maravilla, Javed Bhatti, Joaquin Candel, Russ Reinbolt and Steven Jones, congratulations! Special mention and thank you also to Joel Rennie who had continued unranked from Carmacks and helped Russ Reinbolt achieve his goal of making it all the way to Dawson City.
I want to thank all athletes who joined us this year. Yes, we had temperatures that were not as extreme as in some of the other years. But I am convinced that one reason why we have seen so many finishers was that many athletes had great strategies. Good resting times were combined with the right speed. Also, almost all athletes were really good with their SPOTs, i.e. pushing the “bivy” button and the “okay” button on their devices when they needed to. That was valuable for our work at Race HQ. I am very pleased with the way the athletes used their 2-way communication devices (mainly Garmin inReach), too. It helped on several occasions to answer athlete’s questions out on the trail or to inform them about certain situations, e.g. a changed location for the Indian River Assistance Point.
Thank you to all the crew:
Diane Patrick who helped recruiting our volunteers from abroad. All the volunteers – Sam, Anya, Jo, Jim, Daniel, Sabrina, Beth, Tony, Phil, Ellie, Scott, Margo, Sylvia, Peter and Callum. Our fantastic checkpoint hosts at Muktuk Adventures, Pamela and Eric at Dog Grave Lake, Steve, Leigh and team at Braeburn Lodge, Dan, Patrick and Bryan at Mandanna. Thank you Peter Heebink for letting us use your cabin! Thank you to Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation and the team at the Carmacks Rec Center – special thanks to the folks from the Culinary Course who spontaneously fed us on the last day with some absolutely amazing snacks! Thank you Kathy and Jerry Kruse at McCabe, Selkirk First Nation and the school in Pelly Crossing, Sue, Dale and Valentin at Pelly Farm.
Thank you to our snowmobile guides Gary (Rusnak), Joe, Robert, Hendrik, Fabian, Gary (Vantell), Tom, Chad, Ken, Hiro and Lorrie.
Thank you to race chaplain Pat who was there for others before and during the race.
Thank you Mark Kelly for the great photography and Callum for the amazing social media posts!
Thank you to the Yukon Quest for sharing resources and thank you Canadian Rangers for the many, many hours of work on the trails.
Thank you to our local sponsors, the Sternwheeler Hotel, Downtown Hotel, Total North, Driving Force, Coast Mountain Sports, Yukon Yamaha, Fraserway RV and Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters. And thank you to our international sponsors Montane, Kahtoola, Pertex, Cumulus and Racelite.