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LONG LINEUP – A group of Yukon Arctic Ultra racers start out on the trail in Feb. 2020 from Whitehorse.

2022 Yukon Arctic Ultra to follow the revised Yukon Quest trail

The 2022 Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra will follow the revised Yukon Quest trail this year.

By Morris Prokop on January 31, 2022

The 2022 Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra will follow the revised Yukon Quest trail this year.

The trail goes from Whitehorse through Braeburn to Mandanna Lake, then turns around and comes back through Braeburn to finish at Whitehorse.

There was no 2021 race last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Ultra will start on Feb. 3 at 10:30 a.m. from Shipyards Park, and will run until Feb. 11.

There are three categories for the Ultra. The marathon finishes at Muktuk Adventures just off the Takhini River. The 100 mile racers will go from Whitehorse to Braeburn. The 300 mile racers will go to Madanna Lake, then turn around and come back to Whitehorse, the same as the mushers in the Yukon Quest. Racing modes include mountain bike, cross-country skis or on foot.

GPS’s are recommended.

The race only goes to Dawson every other year. It’s not going to Pelly Crossing this year, either.

“That was a pandemic-related decision because of the government recommendation not to travel to the communities and some First Nations communities not being keen on getting visitors, we made that decision,” related Ultra organizer Robert Pollhammer.

The obvious question is why do this crazy race?

“It’s a question I hear often,” said Pollhammer.

“From an athlete’s perspective, I can only guess. It’s an inspiration for people. It is a positive thing in their lives, even if they may be suffer during the experience, it gives them something they will remember forever. It gives them a lot of mental strength, even physical strength, and it’s just positive.

“It’s enriching their lives. It makes them feel alive, and it’s an interesting experience for them to see where their limits are, to maybe find out that they can actually achieve more than they thought.”

Pollhammer explains the time frames involved with the race.

“The marathon is done late-afternoon, early evening. The 100-milers, they have three days to complete it and the three-hundred miles will have eight days to reach the finish line.”

There are obvious concerns about keeping people safe during this race. People have lost fingers and toes during the gruelling event.

“That is correct,” stated Pollhammer.

“We do a lot. It starts of course, with the gear people have ... the ones on foot have pokes with all the gear they need to be comfortable and survive all sorts of dangerous situations. People who bike usually have it all attached to their bike.

“Then you need to have the skills. Either people come with the skills already, because they’ve done something similar in the past, and those people who maybe don’t have all the skills, they participate in a four-day training program.

“Then we use SPOT trackers. I think we were one of the first events world-wide to adapt SPOT trackers at the time, so we can follow the people. They can call for help or push the 911 button.

“We have more checkpoints than the Quest has, because we travel at a slow speed.

“And we have snowmobile crews who go out during the day every day to check on the athletes to identify any new situations on the trail that maybe need taking care of.

“We have of course the checkpoint teams, including people who can be there to help with first aid if need be.

“What is new this year is that in addition to the SPOTs, every athlete in the Ultra distances (the 100 and 300) they also have to have a communication device with them. So a satellite phone or something like the Garmin inReach. Because in the past we had some situations where it could have been resolved better if people would have been able to communicate with us. And of course if there is somebody in a life-threatening situation, and we get a bit more information than just that one message, that 911, and that’s it. So if we can establish, ok, it’s actually ‘I’m in agonizing pain, or I fell and I think I’m going to be unconscious,’ – it’s just a little bit of information. We feel that adds an element of safety,” added Pollhammer.

Of course, there are medical personnel on the trail.

“We have volunteers who have qualifications that allows them to help if need be,” said Pollhammer.

“We’ve had paramedics, people with specific training in wilderness first aid. We’ve had doctors; it depends on the year.”

Pollhammer explains what led to instances of frostbite in the past.

“Each case is a little bit individual. It’s tough to say the cause. It can have many causes. It’s very important that people hydrate well and eat well. They all know that. Of course, if they kind of ignore that advice, because something else is being the priority, they’re immediately more likely to suffer from that problem. People know of course when they have a problem, then they should immediately of course try to fix it.

“If somebody’s got cold feet, and he feels like he can still go 10 km because that’s where the checkpoint is, and he’s not taking care of his feet, then that’s probably asking for trouble. I think it’s sometimes mistakes that are being made. People know better, but, for whatever reason, they just prioritize differently and that’s when it happens.”

“Sometimes people, they just push too hard, not sleep enough and that’s what leads to them, at some point, suffering from frostbite.

“And of course we’ve had years where it was just brutal for everyone. It was just borderline of us having to stop the race and sometimes, we did stop the race and waited for it to warm up and wait a little bit and then we continued, but it just stayed cold for an entire week, so at some point, it catches up too people,” added Pollhammer.

The race doesn’t have a shutdown temperature, but has other ways of dealing with an ultra-chilly situation.

“We have a whole protocol for each temperature range. In simple terms, we cannot continue with the race when ... the machinery doesn’t work anymore. That’s definitely the cutoff. When it’s that cold, that snowmobiles don’t work reliably, or cars get flat tires and stuff, when all that kind of happens, then of course we – there’s no question about it. That’s when the race is halted.”

There is an alert status, and the organizers have different things they can do as safety measures and see if they can continue.

There are no mandatory rest stops on this journey.

“It’s a so-called non-stop race, so the athletes can decide when to stop. We don’t enforce any stops. Everybody’s got a different rhythm, a different speed, or endurance. Some people like to go hard, and then sleep longer. Others like to go slower, but be on their feet longer,” related Pollhammer.

“When we go to Dawson for our 430 mile, people have a mandatory stay in Pelly Farm, for I believe it’s 12 hours. Because we want to make sure when they go that last stretch, where it’s potentially the coldest, the most remote, we want to make sure they are rested.”

There are 40 people signed up for the race.

“We got a lot of cancellations when the last rule changes came about and Omicron hit the world.”

Nine people are in the marathon, 14 are entered in the 100-mile race, and 17 are entered in the 300-mile race.

The age range of the racers is 18-72. Yes, 72. The 72-year-old is David Colley, a Canadian.

As with any event these days, there are concerns about COVID-19.

“Yeah, of course. There have to be,” stated Pollhammer.

“It’s not so much that people in the race are afraid that they can catch COVID, and COVID as such can cause problems for them. Everybody in the race is fully vaccinated. And I daresay the people who are still left in the race are feeling quite confident with their vaccination status. We’re more afraid of course that people do catch it while they’re here, and that means they can’t participate. I know to some people this may sound like a bit of a funny statement, but these people have trained for this for a year or even more. They spent a considerable amount of money on gear; the entry fee, the travel. And if you see it all go down the drain, because you’re catching COVID, then that’s of course bad news.”

“The people who were really worried about that, they were the ones who immediately cancelled when they still had the chance.

“Of course we take the communities very seriously and the First Nations in their desire to try to keep people out if possible. But I do respect it and that’s why we did decide not to go through the communities.”

“But because we are a small event, we are not a marathon race with a few hundred people and because our athletes spread out over a long distance fairly quickly, we feel confident that we can oblige with the rules.”

The Ultra will have wall tents set up at Braeburn to keep people warm when there are too many people in the checkpoint at Braeburn Lodge.

Not surprisingly, Pollhammer is happy the race is a go.

“I’m glad we’re here. I think I can say that for all the athletes as well. I’m glad the rules allowed us to be here. I hope it’s ok for most of the Yukoners that we’re here, and I’m just in the group of people who hope to and try to get back to a new normal.

“For me the race is a little bit of a symbol for normalism ... every single person in the race has had their challenges because of the pandemic and I’m pretty sure they are really happy that they had the race to look forward to, to train for, to prepare for, and now to be able to come to the start line and to do the race.”

Pollhammer adds a message for anyone wishing to come out to see the fearless racers off this year.

“Normally I would say please locals come to see us at the start line, but unfortunately this time ... I have to say, we would love to see you, but stay home,” he implored.

“Hopefully next year we can have people at the start line again and a normal start with lots of people watching and cheering everybody on.”

Comments (2)

Up 3 Down 0

dog musher on Feb 1, 2022 at 10:26 am

The Yukon Quest starts on Feb. 19, so no dog teams will be on the trail while these people are on the trail. The Canadian Rangers put the trail in.

Robert uses the Yukon Quest trail every year for his international race. I think it is one of a series that he puts on in various locations around the world. The Arctic Ultra usually starts right after the YQ teams leave, (a day later?). They use the YQ checkpoints as well.

This year the YQ made their race start two weeks later to accommodate the Alaskan side Yukon Quest (wanted enough time for teams to come over to run the Yukon side as well if they wanted to). Robert chose to stick with his original date. The Rangers agreed to put the trail in early to accommodate the Arctic Ultra, and will be going over it again before the YQ.

The Yukon Quest changed the race route so it won't go into Pelly or Carmacks, when the government came out with more restrictive rules on gatherings. It wasn't going to be possible to abide by those rules while entering buildings in the communities.

Up 1 Down 0

Olav on Jan 31, 2022 at 3:02 pm

It is going to be a busy trail, the Quest, the Ultra and the KSA is organizing a guided snowmobile trip to Braeburn and back on the same Saturday.

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