This will depend on snow conditions and temperatures. During the first few years hardly any athletes took along snow shoes. However, climate change has arrived in the Yukon, too. In past years “warmer” temperatures, fresh snow and more wind than normal have some times caused trail conditions which were better coped by with snow shoes. Our trail crew does travel back and forth with their snowmobiles a lot in order to pack the snow onto the trail but if weather conditions are bad they won’t be very fast. Then you may have bad trail conditions for many hours. Therefore, just check out the weather forecasts prior to the race. If you already have snow shoes take them along. Just in case.
Frequently Asked Questions
One thing is for sure, you should take along as much water as you can. In the cold you dehydrate very quickly and melting snow takes a long time. Athletes often can’t be bothered to get out their stoves to get snow melted. They decide to go on without drinking. Depending on how long the distance to the next checkpoint is, this can cause serious trouble.
If you take a CamelBak you should carry it on top of your first layer of clothing and underneath any other layers you wear. The tube and the mouthpiece should be insulated. There actually are CamelBaks for winter sports but it is also possible to do the insulation DIY.
Then you should use one or two thermos cans. These are quite heavy but there is nothing like hot chocolate or tea when you are really cold. A very efficient way of transporting liquid is to take e.g. a coke in a plastic bottle and attach a heat pad to it. If you wrap this in some piece of clothing it will stay liquid for quite some time.
The extreme temperatures go down to minus 50 degrees Celsius and colder. Don’t forget the wind chill, either. Minus 25 degrees and wind will make it extremely cold, too.
We have had athletes with serious frostbite and mild hypothermia. Never make the mistake of thinking it won’t happen to you. It can happen very quickly. Some things to keep in mind:
- If you have problems with the blood circulation in your feet or hands the YAU is not the race you should go to.
- Don’t wait until you get cold. Do something before that happens, i.e. put on a layer, rest, build a fire, sleep, drink something hot – depending on the circumstances.
- It’s important that you don’t get hot either. If you sweat and then later on temperatures get colder your clothes will freeze solid.
- In addition to having the right clothes for extreme temperatures, you might want to take along chemical heat pads. You can buy these in Whitehorse. They are not expensive and very good if your fingers are getting cold.
- If temperatures get too cold for moving to the next checkpoint, we recommend you make a fire. Building a fire will keep your body temperature up and the fire you can use to warm up and to melt snow/ice for a hot drink.
- Melting ice is more efficient than melting snow. That means if you are near a creek or lake it may be worth your while getting ice. However, you will need someting to cut the ice, like a small axe.
- You need to drink and eat well. Your body can deal a lot better with the cold if you take care of these basic needs.
- Make sure you can operate your stove and other equipment with gloves on.
- Under all circumstances try to avoid getting stove fuel on your skin when it is extremely cold. It can result in immediate frostbite.
- Be prepared for life threatening situations like extreme cold and getting into overflow. Develop scenarios how you deal with these situations. What to do first? Where are my matches and stromproof lighter? Where are my clothes for changing?
- Take along fire starter (several options available locally e.g. at Canadian Tire) in order to build a wood fire fast. Make sure you get it right the first time, i.e. use dry wood, don’t build the fire on a snow base (make a hole).
- If you have a down sleeping bag, use a Vapour Barrier Liner. Also, look into buying Vapour Barrier liner gloves and socks.
- If you borrow a sleeping bag or buy a used one make sure it has kept its loft. A sleeping bag that was stored the wrong way may have lost a lot of its capacity to warm you.
- Be very careful if you take your hydration bladder with you into the sleeping bag. Valves may defreeze and leak or the entire bladder bursts. Both has happened!
Also, please check out our section on Hypothermia & Frostbite.
Yes, all checkpoints will have hot water, tea and coffee. In some cases also hot chocolate. Upon leaving a checkpoint we will provide water for you. At the remote checkpoints it is good to let staff/volunteers know when you will need water and how much as water supply gets tight if everyone leaves at the same time and we don’t know about it in advance.
Regarding food, there is one hot meal for every athlete and usually a dessert. It is important that you note that it is only one meal, i.e. you can have this meal when you arrive or before you leave but you can’t have two meals. To complement the meals you get at checkpoints I recommend good and light weight freeze dehydrated expedition food. You only need to add hot water and within minutes you have a great meal. Also, keep in mind that you need extra food in case of an emergency and being stuck between checkpoint or if you get lost.
The trail is marked with Yukon Quest markers. These are wooden sticks with a fluorescent top. On some parts of the trail, e.g. the Dawson trail, there are also permanent markers which you can use for orientation. Thus it is difficult but not impossible to get lost. You will still need common sense at times, especially if snowmobiles have driven over sticks or new snow and wind are covering the markers.
People have gone to sleep next to the trail and gone the wrong way once they got up again. Dehydration and exhaustion are also likely to get you lost or in trouble, even if the trail is well marked. Remember that.
Under normal circumstances you will see our guides out on the trail at least once in 24 hours. Usually you will actually see them more often but in case of bad weather or evacuations they might be caught up and thus take a little longer to travel up and down the trail.
- For the drop bags please use something that does not break easily and can be labeled well. For example please do not use plastic bags. With all the loading and unloading they break and it becomes a big mess.
- When you label the bag with the checkpoint name and your bib number and/or name please keep in mind that a tape put on the bag also easily comes off (especially with the cold). Attach the label in a way that does not come off so easily.
- The bags may be in the cold for a couple of nights, i.e. in an enclosed trailer. So, please don’t put anything in there that breaks or explodes (e.g. coke bottle) if it’s in the cold.
- Don’t put anything in there that is fragile, e.g. cameras. We don’t through the bags around but they will be transported in a pile.
- Don’t put anything of great value in there (no passports, jewelery, cash). Your valuables should be with you or in the hotel safe.
- We try to bring the bags back asap but if you e.g. are signed up for the 300 and have to stop at Braeburn it sometimes becomes a challenge getting the bags back fast.
- The bags will be brought to the storage of the Coast High Country Inn – even if you are staying in another hotel.
How should I plan my arrival and departure dates?
If you do not have prior cold weather experience do not forget to include the training course in your travelling schedule. It always takes place the two days before race start in Whitehorse. If you do attend the training course, it’s a good idea to arrive at least one full day before. If you don’t do the training course it still makes sense to fly in a couple of days early. That way you can acclimatise and do last minute shopping without too much stress. And most important of all you won’t have to “freak out” if your luggage does not make it right away.
IMPORTANT: it always happens to some athletes that gear does not come on the flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse. The good news is, in all these year all gear has always made it in time for race start. It may be a good idea to pack some vital gear in your suitcase rather then a bulky luggage (i.e. with the pulk), if you do have a regular suitcase or duffle bag.
For departure don’t plan your schedule too tight, either. Normally, from the respective finish lines we try to avoid driving back to Whitehorse with just one athlete in the car. So, for example, you arrive at the finish at 6 PM. If we know there are at least a couple more athletes arriving later on in the night, we may ask you to stay the night at the finish before the transfer leaves next day in the morning. Having said that, no athlete has ever had to miss a flight. And if we do know ahead of time that someone has got a very tight timing we make sure to prepare for it.
Last but not least, when you do plan you flight back, consider that you may be very exhausted. It is always recommendable to put your feet up in a hotel room for at least a day before you go back and have to sit in a plane for hours and hours.
Most communites now have internet access. However, they are not necessarily set up for WLAN. So, really during the race the only place where athletes have a good chance to use the internet is in Carmacks. However, internet can’t be guaranteed there either since it may be used by kids from town, the organising team or other competitors.
Athletes who want to get a message or photo across to media who are following their progress can get in touch with me and we can find a way to send emails for you. Friends and family will be able to see your progress through SPOT, the results table and our news update.
You can sleep inside at Braeburn, Carmacks, McCabe Creek, Pelly Crossing, Pelly Farm and Scroggie Creek. This means at Rivendell Farm, Dog Grave Lake and Ken Lake you do need to sleep outside. That is if you want to sleep at these places. If you are a light sleeper it is sometimes better to rest before or after a checkpoint. Since at checkpoints there are often people coming and going, eating, sorting kit, etc. So, there is a certain noise level. Having said that, usually athletes are so tired it does not matter …
It depends. I would say more than 90% of our participants prefer the combination of a sleeping bag with a bivvy bag. It’s faster, weighs less and is less trouble in general. Of course it also protects less from the elements. Therefore, without a tent you need to make sure you pick a good spot for your rest, e.g. not in the middle of a river or lake.
I know that for normal expeditons in arctic regions tents are a must. But these expeditions normally have a totally different rhythm. They rest a lot longer in which case it does of course make sense to stay in a tent. Also, an expediton like often crosses landscapes that are very exposed.
I also often get asked if we provide a full GPS-track of the trail. The answer is „no“. Mainly this is due to the fact that the trail can change from one year to the next. And it even may change on short notice – due to overflow or other reasons. Athletes who are tired may make the mistake to follow their GPS rather than focussing on the trail ahead and the trail markers. If they do that, they can get into some very dangerous situations. It is still good to have a GPS, though. It can tell you at what speed you are traveling at. Which in turn will allow you to take a better guess as to when you reach a checkpoint, when to take a break, etc. Also, if you really do get lost, you can back-track with the GPS or find a way to a checkpoint (as we do have the co-ordinates for checkpoints). But please keep in mind that walking off a trail and cross-country to a checkpoint, certainly when it is still far away, should be your last resort. Don’t forget, if you do have a SPOT and even a good rest does not help you get back, you can push the help button.
We do give out maps of the trail but like the GPS these are for rough orientation only. Since the trail on the maps is based on a GPS-track that is not updated every year, the trail can be different. So, like I say every year: follow the trail markers and use common sense.
For a long time now the MYAU has been working with SPOT satellite tracking devices. It is mandatory for all ultra distances, i.e. 100, 300 and 430 miles. As with any technology, there are pros and cons. But overall the positive aspects are more than the negative ones.
If the tracking function is active a SPOT regularly sends its position via satellite. Thus we know where the athletes are and so does everybody back home. Friends and family can follow the MYAU participants. The link to the map will be placed in a prominent position on our website.
In addition the SPOT allows the athlete to send a “Help“, “911“, “OK” and a “Custom” message. The main reason we have SPOTs is for their 911 function. And thankfully, so far it has only been used a couple of times. The 911 button to us means there is an absolutely life threatening situation. This also means if there is no life threatening situation, IT CAN’T BE PUSHED! Please keep in mind that the cost for a 911 rescue operation can be enormous and it has to be paid by the athlete or his/her insurance. Obviously, if life is at risk it just has to be done. But if you are lost, tired, exhausted or have any other problem that a good rest and common sense can solve, do not push that button.
If a good rest is of no help, there is a button on the SPOT that is called exactly that: „Help“. It is a signal to the race organisation that you do have a problem and want to end your race then and there. But otherwise you are fine and will wait for us to come.
If the “OK” button is pushed, it means exactly that. An athlete shows us that he is fine and having a good time. There is no limit to how often a participant can push this botton.
Last but not least, the “Custom” message. It has to be pushed if an athlete has a longer rest between checkpoints. It shows us that he/she is not moving but there is nothing wrong
The cons of the SPOT are that of course sometimes people use the „Help“-button when they really could have solved the problem themselves. Or they decided to use that button rather than going back to a checkpoint. Mind you, if you can’t walk anymore, that’s fine. Push it. But being tired is no reason. Please just take a good rest and decide then. Because if we have to „rescue“ someone who is actually perfectly fine and at the same time something serious happens, it is bad to have resources bound.
Another con is that it’s technology and it does not always work. Usually this is due to not operating the SPOT correctly. But it also may be technical failure. Often it’s the wrong batteries. It means we don’t get a signal and people back home start to worry. In most cases race headquarter knows what’s going on, e.g. because we got in-/out times of a checkpoint or just recently had contact with the athlete.
To sum it up, the safety that SPOT brings to the race make it worth its while. The rental fee (tracking service, shipment and set-up included) is EUR 50/unit. If you bring your own SPOT, the set-up fee is EUR 20/unit. All athletes who bring their own SPOT need to let us know by mid December at the latest. If we have not heard from you we will assume you need a rental unit and we will order one for you.
All athletes who bring their own SPOT please note that you should create and save a separate “Message Contact Profile” for MYAU. Under that contact profile, we recommend you do not include family at home on either type of distress message (Help & SOS) as they may worry when there is nothing to worry about. Inclusion of family on the Check-in /OK message is fine. Within the contact profile you need to define and include recipients for the Check-in / OK message, which in the past has been, “Still smiling” (this is best programmed to send only to email); Custom Message, which has been used for, “I’m taking a bivy” (email only as well); “Help” should be both email and text. SOS has no email option. You program a phone number only. IMPORTANT: There is a notes section for SOS, and it should read like this: “User is part of a human-powered race on the Yukon Quest Trail. If SOS is being transmitted, please phone the primary SOS contact directly, as for the purpose of the race, use of SOS is defined to mean life or death. Race central # (contact = Jo Davies) at tbc. Race director, who will at times be out of cell phone range on trail cell phone = tbc. NOTE: tbc. = Cell for primary Jo Davies.” You do not want GEOS emergency response center to waste time calling family. You want race central to be the first call.
If you are bringing your own SPOT we will need to get your ESN-Number which is in the battery compartment and the URL to your shared link page.
Anyone using a SPOT – both own or rented – please keep in mind that you will need 4x AAA Energizer Lithium Ultimate (model # L-92) to power your device. The batteries are NOT included. Therefore, please bring these to the Yukon with you. Every year there are at least a few athletes who bring the wrong batteries, or partially used batteries. In the extremes of the Yukon, you are certain to experience tracker down time if you gamble on batteries. And the device may not work when you most need it.
One of the things anyone preparing for the MYAU should do, is to read some of the great literature that is out there. There are a couple of books that actually deal with the race itself (the ones written by Mark Hines and David Berridge) but there is also a lot of reading material on winter survival, expeditions in cold regions and so on. I asked in our facebook group, what books people found useful when getting ready for their MYAU or other Arctic adventures. Here are some of the suggestions:
- Yucan: Achieve any Big Goal using the 7P formula for success (English Edition) by Neil Thubron (winner MYAU 300 mile race, foot category, 2015)
- The Yukon Arctic Ultra: Ultra Marathon Adventure Racing Across Canada’s Frozen North by Mark Hines
- Fartleks & Flatulence by David Berridge
- Lure of the Quest: One Man’s Story of the 1025-mile Dog-sled Race Across North America’s Frozen Wastes, by John Balzar
- 8,000 Miles Across Alaska: A Runner’s Journeys on the Iditarod Trail, by Jill Homer and Tim Hewitt
- Into the North Wind: A thousand-mile bicycle adventure across frozen Alaska, by Jill Homer
- Ghost Trails: Journeys Through a Lifetime, by Jill Homer
- Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith, by Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan
- Trails That Never End, by Tim Kelley
- Performing in Extreme Environments, by Lawrence Armstrong
- To Build a Fire, by Jack London
- South Pole Epic: First Bike Expedition to the South Pole, by Daniel Burton
- Alone in Antarctica, by Felicity Aston
- 300-Mile Man, by Phillip Gary Smith
- Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic, by Jennifer Niven
- On Thin Ice, by Eric Larsen