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PADDLING HARD– The Yukon River Quest, though cancelled, saw about 20 craft take to the water on a day paddle on June 23. Most were going to the Lake Laberge campground, though one team, Solstice Solderworks, went all the way to Dawson City.

‘Race to the Klondyke’ river race to begin August 14

The Yukon River Marathon Paddlers Association (YRMPA) has announced a new river race to replace the 2021 Yukon River Quest (YRQ), which was cancelled at the last minute due to rising water levels deemed unsafe to race in by the organizers.

By Morris Prokop on July 16, 2021

The Yukon River Marathon Paddlers Association (YRMPA) has announced a new river race to replace the 2021 Yukon River Quest (YRQ), which was cancelled at the last minute due to rising water levels deemed unsafe to race in by the organizers.

“Race to the Klondyke” is scheduled for the long weekend of Aug. 14-16.

Racers will start at noon in Carmacks and race to Dawson City.

There will be limited safety cover and volunteer support along the river. The event will run under a previously approved COVID-19 plan and similar rules to the YRQ.

Only Canadian teams will be allowed to run in the race, unless there is a change in COVID travel restrictions.

“After we cancelled the previous race, the real race, the big race, the way we cancelled was pretty horrid, at the last minute,” said Peter Coates, the president of the YRMPA.

“We had to do it; it was the right decision. We really wanted to do something for the local paddlers, because that’s two years in a row we haven’t had the big race.

“Last year there was practically no racing of any sort. We looked to see what we could do that was easy to put on, what we could do what we could put on without it costing too much money.

“Cancelling two races, finances weren’t as good as they once were, and so we looked at various options,” Coates said.

“This option is nice because it is cheap and easy, it covers much of the same course, it avoids the lake, Lake Laberge, and I wanted to make sure that whatever it was we did, had the least possible chance of being cancelled again.

“If you have a lake involved, high winds can cause you problems. Fire is a risk– it’s one of the few horsemen of the apocalypse that hasn’t hit us this year.”

The structure of the race is one Coates had used before, not under the River Quest auspices.

“But we’ve done these races where you have this required eight hour stop overnight, and run, in fact, on the Discovery Day weekend,” Coates said.

“We’ve had races like this on the Teslin, the Stewart, the Pelly, on the Nusutlin, and the Dezadeash. Those were put on … 2009 to 2015, thereabouts anyway.

“It’s a lovely format for paddlers. You start at noon, you paddle for maybe 10 hours, you have a proper night’s sleep, a long day paddle on the second day, a 16-hour day, and then maybe a second night on the river, and then a short day into Dawson.”

Most paddlers will require a second night on the river, Coates believes.

“Some will get into Dawson in one night, and it’s just a fast camping trip. It’s really fun.”

The theme for Race to the Klondyke seems to be “keep it simple.”

“We wanted a race that was easy to put on,” said Coates.

“It doesn’t require many volunteers, it doesn’t require a huge organization, we wanted one that was safe and reasonably risk-free.

“The Yukon (River) from Carmacks on down – yeah, it’s big… but there’s no big risks like Lake Laberge.

“There’s Five Fingers (rapids), and we’re hoping that there will be someone sitting there with a powerboat to watch for the couple of hours the paddlers will be going through.

“We’ve made it quite clear in the rules that while we’re tracking people, using their Spot or InReach, we are not responsible for their safety.

“Each paddler is expected to have someone who is monitoring them, and will know what to do if they get an email from Spot saying they’ve pushed their help button,” Coates added.

“What the paddlers are doing … yeah, they’re being tracked, yes, they’re in a race, but what they’re doing is a fast camp trip from Carmacks to Dawson.”

Unlike the YRQ, there is a mandatory stopover built into this race.

“The plan is that we start in Carmacks at noon… then they have to stop for eight hours each night. They have to be stationary between 11:15 (p.m.) and 6 a.m., which is basically the hours of darkness.

“By the time we get to the middle of August, we have dark. And it’s not a good idea to have people paddling, when the light conditions are such that you really can’t tell what is hard and what is water,” said Coates.

Asked why the race won’t start in Whitehorse, Coates replied, “The lake. Lake Laberge is not something that I’m hugely comfortable having paddlers out on without any safety cover.

“Even if there is safety cover, it’s dangerous. If we hadn’t cancelled this year’s race, we might have had to stop paddlers on the lake, because on the 23rd of June, it got pretty damn rough.

“I know that there were two solo kayakers, and a solo canoe, that headed up the lake at race start time, and all three of them – and at least one of them is a very robust paddler – were stormbound,” Coates said.

“They stopped and waited for the lake to drop, because by the time they got to the north end of the lake, they were dealing with four- to five-foot waves.

“And the following day … same weather conditions, a paddler drowned. So Lake Laberge is probably the biggest risk point on the Yukon River, certainly this side of Dawson, and we wanted to have a race which wasn’t going to be cancelled.

“We’ve cancelled because of plague, we’ve cancelled because of flood, I don’t want to cancel because of high winds or whatever,” Coates added.

“I don’t want to cancel again, at all, ever, in my life – it’s no fun!”

He has a scientific way to project how long the race will take.

“I’ve configured the software so that it knows about this race and the particular rules we’re using, and I’ve run it through a couple of times using race data from a couple of River Quests, and a few of the paddlers get into Dawson on the Sunday evening, so 20-something hours.

“Most of them finished on the Monday morning, or early afternoon. That is unrealistically pessimistic data, because I was taking data from a Yukon River Quest, because I was taking people from Carmacks who’ve already paddled 24, 30 hours, from Whitehorse to Carmacks.

“So those are slower times then we can reasonably expect. And of course by mid-August, although the water levels will have dropped, we’re still going to be in fairly high water, at least for that time of year.

“So I’m expecting a good half of the fleet to get into Dawson on the Sunday evening, which is to say less than 26 hours paddling time, and the other half probably Monday morning.”

Coates said the biggest challenge for racers may be dealing with whatever weather conditions are thrown at them.

“Of all the race formats I’ve come across, and actually paddled in, this is the easiest format for a long distance race.

“The worst thing that can happen is bad weather. You can have high winds which slow you down, you can have vicious sunshine which cooks you.

“The nastiest, when we had this format down the Stewart River from Mayo to Dawson, it rained,” Coates recalled.

“And it rained hard, and it rained all the time. So the first night on the race, you’re OK, because you’re starting with dry camping gear, but then you pack it up wet, and the second night on the river is really pretty special. But other than that, it’s like being on a camping trip, but you have a mission.”

The race is limited to 50 teams. Registration, which opened Wednesday, is $50 per person.

Like the River Quest, classes will include solo and tandem kayaks and canoes, SUPs, and C4 and voyageurs canoes.

There will be no prize money, but racers will receive finisher certificates and pins.

When it comes to the number of participants he expects to race, Coates is cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t know how many paddlers we’re going to get. In optimistic moments I’m thinking two dozen, maybe more.

“When I’m thinking pessimistic, I’m thinking maybe a dozen. But it doesn’t really matter.

“It’s an easy race to put on, as long as we have more than three teams, we’ll go ahead.”

It’s nice to have something actually happening, Coates said.

“I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Big forest fire between Carmacks and Dawson somewhere, or another big COVID flareup, and either Carmacks or Dawson might say ‘No. You’re not coming here.’

“If there’s been any lesson from the last two years, it’s don’t make any assumptions that things are going to happen. We just stack the dice in our favour, but you’re still rolling dice.

“I really, really, really wanted to have something for the paddlers this year, for the long-distance paddlers, because calling the race at the last minute, like that just was miserable.”

Comments (5)

Up 0 Down 3

Conrad on Jul 20, 2021 at 6:08 pm

With the Liberals all things are possible.

Up 7 Down 4

Lost In the Yukon on Jul 20, 2021 at 8:41 am

“We’ve made it quite clear in the rules that while we’re tracking people, using their Spot or InReach, we are not responsible for their safety.”

Sorry Buddy, but you require an entry, you ask for money, you set the course, you set the rules for how it is to be done … guess what - you are liable.

Up 5 Down 1

Denise A Caposey on Jul 18, 2021 at 11:38 pm

Only open to Yukoners! But what if the road opens ? Will you let some of us veteran Skagnificent racers in ?

Up 2 Down 0

Allison Ireland on Jul 18, 2021 at 7:25 am

Great article. As a follower of the YRQ, I really hope you get good conditions for the local paddlers.

Up 3 Down 0

Joe OBlenis on Jul 17, 2021 at 7:36 am

Good job Peter on putting together this new race so quickly. I hope conditions are ideal and the race is a complete success. I wish I could make it up to take part, I'd really enjoy this one.

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