“Steady,” I reassure them, “Steady.” I keep my foot firmly on the brake to stop the sled from taking a tight corner too fast.
Left to their own speed, the dogs would send the sled slipping and sliding into the trees or topple over the snow embankments.
I shift my weight to the right as the dogs race around another corner, bringing the sled up against low lying tree branches. I’m sure they do that on purpose.
We’re out on the Dawson Trail, about half an hour out of Whitehorse in the Yukon, on our last day of our dog sledding trip. We’re following a fraction of the Yukon Quest trail, which takes us through stunning snow-covered scenery. It’s a more leisurely and relaxed ride for the dogs - and us mushers - although we still have to pay attention to the dogs and sled.
“Stay tight Dobby. Kaze, stay tight.” It stops the two lead dogs from running too far apart. I’m sure they’re the only two who listen to me.
Hawk just does his own thing and doesn’t like it when we stop for any reason whatsoever (person off their sled, tricky section coming up, bank up of dogs and sleds).
Alsek is fairly calm and trots along with the team and is generally well behaved.
Tom, on the other hand (a replacement for the highly excitable Sprint) is equally excitable and vocal, jumping up and down whenever the sled has stopped.
Pretty good insight for a non-doggy person.
“Steady,” I say more forcefully. Not that it makes much difference. The dogs equally ignore 'whoa' and 'wait' whenever we come to a stop. In fact, it’s quite an effort to hold them back despite having both feet on both brakes. The dogs’ excitable nature and eagerness to keep running edges the sled forward regardless, often ending up the backside of the sled in front (while the dogs following behind me end up entangled between my legs and sled).
“Kaze! Dobby! Stay.” Well, that worked for about five seconds.
“Good girl, Askel.”
We take off again, the dogs chasing the snowmobile in front of us; they’re happiest when running.
And if you fall off the sled … well the dogs just keep on running until one of the support team catches up with them, while you trudge through the snow to take possession of your sled again (ahem, see below).
- Size: 483,450 km² (about the size of Spain), situated east of Alaska, between British Columbia and the Arctic Ocean.
- Population: 40,000 people - 30,000 live in the capital city of Whitehorse.
- The name Yukon originated from the Gwich'in native word "Yuk-un-ah," meaning "Great River," referring to the Yukon River that flows across the territory, through Alaska and into the Bering Sea.
- Climate: Summer (June-August) temperatures as high as 26 degrees Celsius. Winter (November-March) temperatures can drop to -40°C with daily highs of -13°C.
Yukon Quest FAQs
International Sled Dog Race, covering 1,600 km between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska.
The event takes place every February when weather conditions can be the coldest and most unpredictable.
The Yukon Quest Trail crosses frozen rivers and four mountain summits.
The race lasts from 10 to 16 days.
Up to 50 dog teams consisting of one human musher and 14 canine athletes.
Mushers carry mandatory equipment, food and supplies at all times.
Sleds cannot be replaced without penalty, and mushers are not permitted to accept any assistance, except at the half-way point in Dawson City.
All dogs are checked by the race veterinarians and supported by the Yukon Quest Veterinary Program at checkpoints and dog drops throughout the race.
There are nine checkpoints; some separated by more than 200 miles.
Many thanks to Glenn at Adventure Professionals for organising this trip, and to a great bunch of fellow adventurers: Linda, Neil, Valerie, JJ and Ellie.