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BREAKING TRAIL – Members of the Canadian Rangers are out on the Yukon Quest trail to clear the route for the 26 dog mushing teams set to leave Fairbanks on Saturday. Photo by Fred D. Smith

Canadian Rangers on their toes in preparing Quest trail

Before the dogs and their mushers hit the Yukon Quest trails,

By Dustin Cook on February 1, 2018

Before the dogs and their mushers hit the Yukon Quest trails, a lot of preparatory work goes into the race to ensure the trails are safe and ready to go for the teams.

Especially with the fluctuating weather, it is no easy task for the trail breakers, which is once again members of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group on the Yukon side of the race.

The Canadian Rangers have been involved with trail breaking since the inaugural 1984 race and for this upcoming race, four patrols in Whitehorse, Carmacks, Pelly Crossing and Dawson City, are out on the course.

This includes about 50 Rangers covering over 550 miles of the trail.

Sgt. John Mitchell is the trail co-ordinator for the Rangers and he has been involved with the Quest since the beginning.

So he is used to the changing trail conditions and making sure backup plans are ready to be put into action.

“The trail just changes constantly hour to hour, day to day,” he said.

After preparing the trails, the initial Quest trail report was released Tuesday with significant changes.

A major difference is in the final stages of the race from Braeburn to Whitehorse. Rather than taking the Trans Canada Trail, as is the usual route, the teams will retrace the trail from Breburn to Coghlan Lake for 17 miles and travel south to Lake Laberge which they will follow to the Yukon River.

Mitchell said this is for the safety of the dogs and mushers due to snow conditions.

“It is a combination of lack of snow and in addition to that what little snow was packed onto the trail has turned to glare ice and it’s just too darn dangerous to take dog teams or even Ski-Doos,” he said.

But this alternate route is not unfamiliar to the Quest. The reroute from Coghlan Lake and across Lake Laberge was part of the original Yukon Quest trail before changing to the Trans Canada Trail in 1995.

The finish into Whitehorse will also be impacted with teams taking an overland route rather than going all the way along the Yukon River.

“Over the years ever since the finish has been in whitehorse, it’s always been touch and go whether we can get through to the finish line at Shipyards Park,” Mitchell said.

So for the first time coming into the finish, Mitchell said the race will venture onto an overland route just across from the mouth of the Takhini River. Dog teams will run a series of roads and powerlines and venture back onto the Yukon Ricer just across from the Yukon Trappers Association on Titanium Way.

Mitchell said this trail was used last year at the start running out of Whitehorse and the Rangers have since done bushing and clearing in the area to straighten out the trails.

But even with the trail report, Mitchell said nothing is set in stone and all 550 miles of trail will be followed very closely as conditions could change on a dime.

He recalled a Whitehorse finish year where the Yukon River conditions were so fluctuant that they had to modify the trail four times in a day and a half. The modified finish from Braeburn into Whitehorse this year will shorten the course by about 15 miles.

The work isn’t over for the Rangers who will further monitor the trail conditions now that everything is set to go.

Today, Mitchell will be picking up three Rangers in Whitehorse and they will inspect the new overland route and ensure it is safe and conditions are still holding.

“It will be monitored as the mushers come in to make sure it hasn’t deteriorated,” Mitchell also said of the new course.

The team of four will then run the full trail backwards from Whitehorse to Dawson and plan to arrive on the 7th, when the Quest leaders are expected to arrive.

“That will allow us to give them an update of the trail between Whitehorse and Dawson,” he said.

Before the leaders leave Dawson on the usual trail route after the mandatory 36-hour layover, Mitchell said they will send another team of four out to be one step ahead of the leaders on the way back to Whitehorse and monitor the conditions as the teams approach.

As for Dawson, Mitchell said conditions on the regular trails are looking good and the only obvious impact is the open water on the river in Dawson, forcing the relocation of the dog yard.

The yard will be moved to Bonanza Road and departing the dog yard the trail will run the usual route up to King Solomon Drive.

“It puts it right along side of the regular race route that would go past Bonanza,” Mitchell said of the relocated dog yard spot. “It’s the most accessible point.”

Comments (1)

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John firth on Feb 1, 2018 at 7:45 pm

Two corrections:
Trans Canada Trail was first used in 1996, not 1995
In 1984 teams were trucked from Carmacks to fox lake due to trail conditions and safety concerns. Teams ran down fox lake then onto fox creek and out to Laberge, reaching the lake north of Richthofen island.

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