Deep snow, deep cold confront Polish adventurer on 1,600 km backcountry run

Michal Kielbasinski's run from Whitehorse has literally slowed to a crawl since crossing the border into Alaska, and he's not sure how to continue. 'I was crawling in the water and the deep snow for about nine hours.'

Michal Kielbasinski is trying to run the Yukon Quest trail from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska

'All the trail is now covered by snow, no trail markers, and I really don’t know what to do,' said Polish adventurer Michal Kielbasinski, who's running from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska. (Michal Kielbasinski/Facebook)

Michal Kielbasinski, a Polish adventurer who's in the middle of a grueling, 1,600-kilometre backcountry run through Yukon and Alaska, is also in the middle of a conundrum — the going's getting tougher, and he's not sure he can go on.

"So the question is, what now? And I will have to think about it. I don't want to give up," he said via telephone from Central, Alaska, pop. 134. 

He's already covered more than 1,300 kilometres since leaving Whitehorse at the beginning of February, and is now just 250 kilometres from his goal of reaching Fairbanks, Alaska.

But there are a couple of mountains to get over, and the Yukon Quest trail he's been using is getting harder to follow. The annual sled dog race has come and gone, so the trail is getting buried in snow and in some places, water.

"I couldn't see this, but I felt it. It was what you call 'overflow,'" Kielbasinski said. "So I was crawling in the water and the deep snow for about nine hours."

Kielbasinski says at times, he's been slogging through snow half a metre deep — "moving very slowly," he says. A lack of trail markers has made the going that much tougher.

He's also expecting some colder nights ahead, with temperatures dropping below –30 C at night. 

Elevations along the route of the 2017 Yukon Quest. Michal Kielbasinski is in Central, Alaska, facing the Eagle Summit. (Yukon Quest)

Attempt at Eagle Summit

Kielbasinski is going to attempt to keep going, over Eagle Summit, but he may be forced back if it's impassable. That's when he would abandon the Yukon Quest trail and instead follow the road to Fairbanks — but that's not his preferred option. 

Kielbasinski said Tuesday that he was going to attempt to continue over Eagle Summit, but he may be forced back. (Michal Kielbasinski/Facebook)

His determination to finish his run is borne of disappointment. Two years ago, he was sidelined from the Yukon Arctic Ultra race because of severe frostbite. His friend, Mike Tribes, said Kielbasinski came back to overcome any feeling of defeat. 

Tribes thinks it will be a "very hard decision" to alter his course.

"He's got to choose what's safer for him to do, and what he really has his heart set on, which is following the Quest trail," Tribes said. 

"Every step that he makes is further than I thought he was going to get, but he's just so determined."

With files from Cheryl Kawaja


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