Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The Rest of the Story

This is the story that the Quest put on their website -

Winter Weather Brings Benefits and Challenges

Friday saw a winter storm system descend on the greater Fairbanks area and stretch up towards the Yukon Quest Trail where team are running. This system brought benefits to trail conditions and challenges to race logistics.Trail conditions were reported to have improved between Dawson City and Eagle by John Schandelmeier after he arrived at the Eagle checkpoint late Friday night . Areas of jumbled ice on the Yukon River had been filled in with the addition of a few inches of fresh snow. Snow and blowing snow can fill in uneven trail sections quickly and winds were moderate between Dawson City and Eagle. Trail reports from downriver on the Yukon also indicated that new accumulations had occurred with improvements noted to both jumbled and icy sections of the river between Eagle and Circle. While blowing snow can obscure the trail and the tracks of teams in front of mushers, the benefit of a small amount of new snow certainly outweigh any downfalls.The winter weather system also brought logistical challenges, especially when the race is moving between Dawson City and Circle. This section of the Yukon Quest Trail is covered by aircraft, not ground transportation, and yesterday's weather system made aircraft movement awkward.Two aircraft attempting to fly out of Fairbanks to move Race Personnel further to the North were held on the ground due to high winds, blowing snow and low visibility. This necessitated shifting flights and personnel movements for the three aircraft already stationed in the Dawson City - Eagle - Circle corridor to ensure that all trail locations were prepared for the arrival of dog teams.By late Friday evening both Slaven's Roadhouse, the next stop for the front runners, and Circle Checkpoint, the first checkpoint on the Alaska road system, were populated with Yukon Quest Judges and Veterinary Team members awaiting the arrival of the first teams. While teams are not anticipated to arrive in Circle until midnight Saturday, unpredictable weather conditions made it prudent to position Race Personnel at the earliest possible opportunity.Saturday's reported clearing weather should allow race organizers to complete the flights delayed by Friday's weather system, and the accumulating snowfall should continue to improve trail conditions for Yukon Quest mushers and their dog teams.

And this is the 'Rest of the Story'....

Once the 'Back of the Pack' hit Dawson City, it was time for the bulk of the race personnel to get on the move. I was to be flown to Eagle along with Eagle checkpoint manager, Scarlett Hall. I was thrilled to meet Scarlett as I've heard lots of wonderful stories about her and her husband, Wayne over the years. Scarlett and Wayne live 'in the bush' outside of Eagle, Alaska. Wayne is a Quest veteran, as well as a participant this year, so Scarlett was doing double duty as a handler/volunteer.

After a morning of hanging around the checkpoint waiting for a plane we were finally dropped into the hands of our pilot, Phil. Phil quickly refueled and filled out the necessary paperwork for flying across the border before we took off. The delays from earlier in the day meant that we were just squeezing our flight in before dark.

I actually quite enjoy flying in small planes and loved the opportunity to see the countryside and bits and pieces of the Quest trail on the flight over to Eagle. As Eagle is accessible only by plane, snowmachine or dogteam in the winter, Scarlett has made alot of flights into town over the years and despite the noise of the engine, she pointed out a few landmarks along the way.

As we got closer to Eagle a wall of dark clouds appeared in front of us. In short order it began to snow hard. Phil dropped down low over the river and tried to find a path through the clouds, but it was to no avail. We turned around and were alittle distressed to see that the weather had closed in behind us too. Phil tried to tried out a few lighter spots in the clouds, but it quickly became apparent that he wasn't going to find a way through the weather.

Thanks to a tip from Scarlett, Phil headed over to the mouth of the Forty Mile river to look for the 'landing strip' that the Quest had put in for their 'Hospitality Stop'. It took two passes over the area to locate the strip and one more low and slow pass to make sure we could actually land on the strip of semi packed down snow.

The actually landing was a bit rough, but nothing like what I expected. We climbed out of the plane and hiked up to the Sebastian and Shelley's cabin that acts as the Quest Hospitality stop. A couple dog teams were parked outside and as we entered the cabin we were greeted by warmth and the smell of delicous moose ribs warming in the wood stove.

After a bit of time visiting and making sure a message got to Quest officials that we were safe and sound (but stranded for the night), Sebastian took Scarlett upriver to the cabin of Earl and Sandy. The thought was that Earl may be able to take us by snowmachine to Eagle in case we couldn't fly in the morning.

Phil and I each enjoyed a plate of ribs while chatting with Kyla Boivin as she did the same.

After alot of discussion and debate, it was decided that we would spend the night up at Earl and Sandy's so as not to crowd the Hospitality stop and in the morning Phil would move the plane up to Earl and Sandy's strip (the one we landed on was not going to allow Phil to get up to take off speed with both Scarlett and I onboard - it was just too rough).

We snowmachined the 4 miles or so up to the cabin, where Earl and Sandy happily opened their Clinton Creek home up to the 3 stranded travellers. As the cabin was also open and marked for Quest mushers, Sandy had a great spread of food on the stove. Despite the relatively recent feed of moose ribs, I managed to find a bit for room for some buffalo stew. We chatted late into the night before crawling into our sleeping bags.

Around 1:30 am a Quest musher interrupted our sleep. It happened to be Wayne Hall, who was simply shocked to find his wife hanging out there. After taking care of his dogs, Wayne chatted with us for a bit, had a bit to eat and a few hours sleep before hitting the trail again.

In the morning we had coffee and breakfast before the guys headed up to the Forty Mile strip to warm up the plane so Phil could move it up river while the rest of us hung out and chatted.

In the 60's an asbestos mine operated in the Clinton Creek area -,_Yukon Over 500 mine employees and their families lived in the associated mining town 9 miles from the US/Canada border. When the mine closed in the 70's the company sold off all the buildings and put the 400 + acre town site up for sale. It sat on the market a long time before Earl and Sandy discovered and purchased the property. They have build a big spacious log cabin on the banks of the Yukon River where they now live year round. The property is accessible by road only in the summer months, in the winter they make their journeys to either Eagle or Dawson by snow machine.

They are a fascinating couple living in a fascinating home in a fascinating location. It was a great getting to meet them and see it all.

Around 11am Phil showed up with the plane. We exchanged contact information and piled thanks upon our hosts for a wonderful night.

The weather had completely cleared and our trip to Eagle was quick and uneventful!
As I'm sure you all beginning to expect by now, there are more pictures up on my Picasa site


Earl and Sandy's homestead at Clinton Creek
Looking back from the runway.

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