Driving to Dawson City, back to the Yukon Quest

Having spent a couple of days driving to Skagway and Haines while the Yukon Quest mushers made their way to Dawson, we followed them yesterday. The plan was to get to Dawson as the first mushers arrive, and then spend 3 nights there during the race’s mandatory 24-hour layover.

We pulled away from Whitehorse at 08:00, and our first stop was Braeburn Lodge, where the temperature was -34°C (-29°F). Braeburn is a checkpoint on the trail of the Yukon Quest (The World’s Toughest Sled Dog Race), but it’s also a stop on the Yukon Arctic Ultra, “The World’s Coldest and Toughest Ultra”. The Ultra can be run by mountain bike, xc-skis, or on foot, as a marathon, or 100, 200, 300, or 430 mile race.

Braeburn Lodge, Yukon, during the Yukon Arctic Ultra
An Ultra contestant was heading off into the wilderness as we arrived.

Yukon Arctic Ultra contestant
All 21 Yukon Quest teams had passed through Braeburn, and only 3 dogs out of the 294 (14 in each team) were dropped there.

Yukon Quest status board at Braeburn Lodge
We got a couple of tables among the Ultra contestants and supporters, and enjoyed coffees and some of Steve Watson’s famous cinnamon buns. They’re huge, so 2 buns fed the 8 of us nicely 🙂

Braeburn Lodge, Yukon, during the Yukon Arctic Ultra
An Ultra contestant arrived as I went out to warm to van up. He could be the poster boy for the race to confirm the “coldest” part of their slogan!

Yukon Arctic Ultra contestant
A few miles north of Carmacks, we made a brief stop at Five Finger Rapids. It was the toughest spot on the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson for the steamboats of days past, and is still the toughest for modern canoeists.

Five Finger Rapids, Yukon River
Just before 2:00 pm, we reached Moose Creek Lodge, one of the best of the few remaining highway lodges. It’s always a great spot to stop for coffee and one of Maja’s wonderful pastries.

Moose Creek Lodge, Yukon
When the weather is good, the Tintina Trench viewpoint is a must-stop. One of the interpretive signs explains: “Beneath the Tintina Trench is a fault line along which the bedrock has shifted a minimum of 450 km laterally. Some 65 million years ago, the rocks presently beneath Dawson City were adjacent to those of Ross River! About 8 million years ago, the earth’s crust separated along the fault, creating a wide valley or trench.”

Tintina Trench viewpoint

Tintina Trench viewpoint
We reached Dawson City a few minutes before 4:00, and checked in to the Eldorado Hotel. Lead Yukon Quest musher Brent Sass arrived at 4:23, but nobody from our group had made it to the checkpoint to welcome him. By arriving first at Dawson City, Brent won 4 ounces of gold, as long as he reaches the finish line in Fairbanks.

Eldorado Hotel, Dawson City
After getting settled in my comfortable room (probably about my 30th stay at “the Eldo”), I went over to the lounge. Two of my guests were already there, and within a few minutes, the other 4 arrived, and we had a great chat before dinner.

Room 245 at the Eldorado Hotel, Dawson City
I love Dawson City, and never get tired of wandering around taking pictures. A block south of the hotel, across from the liquor store, a coffee shop was built in recent years beside the famous leaning buildings of the Third Avenue Hotel Complex (a.k.a. “the tiltin’ Hilton” 🙂 ).

Third Avenue Hotel Complex (a.k.a. 'the tiltin' Hilton') in Dawson City
After dinner, some of the group went over to the Yukon Quest checkpoint to have a look, but I waited until 9:30, when 3 mushers were expected to arrive within a couple of hours. Across from the Eldorado is the historic Westminster Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in the Yukon.

Westminster Hotel, Dawson City
The checkpoint was very quiet when I arrived. I went inside for a few minutes, but was dressed for -40 degrees, not +20, so was soon back outside.

At 10:08, Matt Hall and his team came tearing past the sternwheeler Keno and down off the dyke towards the checkpoint.

Yukon Quest musher Matt Hall arrives at Dawson City
As soon as the checkpoint is reached, race officials quickly check the sled over to make sure that everything is still legal. While that’s being done, handlers give the dogs all a treat.

Yukon Quest musher Matt Hall arrives at Dawson City
A special moment as Matt thanks one of his huskies. Seeing the relationships that every musher has with their dogs is probably the thing I like the most about the Quest, and the sport in general. The contrast to the lives that many “pet” dogs have is striking. One of Matt’s handlers posted a short report early this morning about the treatment the dogs get once they get across the river to camp – you can read it here.

Yukon Quest musher Matt Hall thanks one of his huskies
Ten minutes after Matt arrived, Allen Moore reached the checkpoint.

As I finish writing this at 05:45, there are 7 mushers in. Ed Hopkins arrived just before midnight, rookie Katherine Keith at 03:44, and Paige Drobny 20 minutes ago.

Starting at 10:00, we have a busy day ahead of us, exploring Dawson and the area as well as watching more Yukon Quest mushers arrive. We’ve lost the sunshine that’s been so wonderful the few days, but it warmed up overnight (it’s -27°C/-17°F at the moment), so it’s all good. Sunrise today will be at 09:35, and the sun will set at 17:29.


Driving to Dawson City, back to the Yukon Quest — 1 Comment

  1. Great pictures Murray, thanks again for sharing. What a nice post by one of Matt’s handlers, those dogs are lucky ones and they look so comfy.