The Yukon Quest in Dawson City: Day 1

On Tuesday, February 5th, I drove my Journeys by Van Dyke tour group from Whitehorse to Dawson for a 3-night stay during the mandatory 36-hour layover for Yukon Quest sled dog race teams. This is where we really get to see what goes on, both during the race and during the rest time, in a close up and personal way.

Our first stop on the 533-kilometer (331-mile) journey up the North Klondike Highway was at Braeburn Lodge. The extreme Yukon Arctic Ultra series of races was on, and the lodge was very busy. While I expected it to be busy, it was so busy that there was no place to sit and no indication that there would be any places to sit in the near future. So, we took our drinks and snacks back to the van for the break.

The Yukon Arctic Ultra at Braeburn Lodge
The drive was uneventful for most of the day – cloudy with the temperature around -25°C and what the road reports call “Normal Winter Driving Conditions” (snow-covered, with lots of icy places). About half an hour from Dawson, I pulled over to let a car by – they’d been behind me for quite a while, and I prefer to not hold anyone up. Then went by, and 5 perhaps 5 minutes later (just after 4:00 pm), they had slid off the road. I went back and told the driver I could cram them in and get them to Dawson. Then the back door of the car opened and I saw that there were 5 people in the car! That I couldn’t do, so I flagged down the next car coming by, and though his car was full of gear, he squeezed 2 in. Nobody was hurt, the car was likely not badly damaged and we soon had them at a friend’s home in Dawson. All part of the Yukon adventure πŸ™‚

Car off in a snowbank along the North Klondike Highway
By 5:00 we were settled in our rooms in the annex at the Eldorado Hotel – this was my room, #351. This was probably about the 30th time I’ve stayed at “the Eldo” – it’s always clean, with good food and great service.

The Eldorado Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon
On Wednesday, we went for a look around Dawson and the gold fields. I tried to get up the Midnight Dome, but it was too icy for a 2-wheel drive van, so I turned around. We then stopped at the network of cemeteries. Although the details were hidden by snow, the enormous size of the area could be seen.

Cemeteries in Dawson City in the winter
Our next stop was at the dog yard, in an RV park at the Bonanza Road junction. Normally it’s in the campground on the west side of the Yukon River, but the river hasn’t frozen yet (!). There were only about 5 teams in yet, so it was pretty quiet, but my guests could get a look at the level of care the canine athletes get.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
It’s interesting to see the wide range of accommodations that the various budgets allow for. Some are hi-tech, some very basic.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
The handlers were just building one of the camps.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
One of the more beautiful teams is Allen Moore’s. This little girl bears a stunning resemblance to my Monty.

One of Allen Moore's dogs in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Another look at Allen Moore’s dogs.

Two of Allen Moore's Yukon Quest 2019 dogs in Dawson City
A prime viewing spot for the race is up the Bonanza Road at Dredge #4, but sometimes the road isn’t in good enough shape to get there. We did reach it this time, and a few minutes later the first team was approaching. The musher is 78-year-old Jim Lanier, running his first Yukon Quest.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
The next musher to approach was Chase Tingle.

Chase Tingle in the Yukon Quest in Dawson City
Chase was brandishing an axe when he arrived, and stopped to tell my guests about a wolf who was following them just a mile back!

Chase Tingle in the Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Chase was soon on his way again, with a good story to tell in Dawson City.

Chase Tingle in the Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Dredge No. 4 built, in 1912 for the Canadian Klondike Mining Company, was the largest wooden hulled bucket lined dredge in North America. It worked in the Klondike Valley on the “Boyle Concession” until 1940 and then was relocated to Bonanza Creek and worked this valley until 1959.

Dredge No 4 in the Klondike gold fields at Dawson City
Next to approach was Hendrik Stachnau, from Hamburg, Germany, running his first Yukon Quest.

Hendrik Stachnau in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Hendrik is unique in the Yukon Quest, running a team of Greenland dogs and Alaskan Malamutes. He says he wants to show people what sled dogs used to look like.

Hendrik Stachnau in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
Hendrik’s dogs decided it was time for a break just as he passed us. As I write this on Day 10 of the race, they are in last place, almost 200 miles behind the leaders. This is why the “Alaskan huskies” are now the racing sled dogs of choice. The big dogs are beautiful, but they don’t win races.

Hendrik Stachnau in Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
We went back to the hotel for lunch. This was the view from the upper level of the Eldorado Hotel annex, looking down Third Avenue to the Red Feather Saloon and beyond.

The view from the upper level of the Eldorado Hotel annex, looking down Third Avenue to the Red Feather Saloon and beyond, Dawson City
The historic Westminster Hotel dominates the view to the north.

The historic Westminster Hotel in Dawson City
After lunch, we toured the Masonic Lodge, which was originally the Carnegie Library. A grant of $25,000 from American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie plus city and territorial assistance enabled construction of the library, which opened in 1904. It had over 5000 books and at the time was considered the most elaborate building in Dawson City. In 1920, due to water and other damage from a major fire, the library moved out of the building, and the Carnegie Library remained empty until 1934 when it was sold to the Freemasons.

Masonic Lodge in Dawson City
Lodge membership has declined to only 5 members now, and the building is no longer heated. It always feels colder inside that outside, but the tin walls and ceilings make this is very worthwhile visit.

Tin walls and ceilings in the Masonic Lodge in Dawson City
By 4:00 pm, we were back out at the Yukon Quest dog yard to watch more of what goes on there during the mandatory 36-hour layover. Once each musher’s 36 hours is up, their race will re-start here.

Yukon Quest 2019 re-start line at Dawson City
Sled design has come a long way since the 26 teams in the first Yukon Quest left Fairbanks in 1984 (20 of those teams would finish that race).

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
At the dog yard, I met my next-door neighbour and a friend from England, who are following the race working in support of Rob Cooke’s team. It sounded like they’re having a Most Excellent Adventure! πŸ™‚

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
With many more teams in, the dog camp was much busier than on our previous visit.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City
A fairly long lens enabled me to get a good look at the dogs and handlers without disturbing anyone.

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

Yukon Quest 2019 in Dawson City

It had been a busy day, and seemed to be a quiet night for everyone in my group. Many of us would have an early start the next day, though…


The Yukon Quest in Dawson City: Day 1 — 3 Comments

  1. Gosh this looks like such an incredible event and journey for first comers especially and yes the Allen Moore’s little girl does resemble Monty ~ those stunning eyes . Again thank Murray this was so much fun , even from afar .

  2. Wow, I love these pics, Makes you feel you are right in the heart of it all, Thank you so much for sharing!!!