North

Yukon Quest: 364 dogs (and 26 mushers) start running today

The 35th annual Yukon Quest starts today in Fairbanks, Alaska. CBC takes a look at the mushers, the trail and a few things teams can expect to see along the way.

Race will see mushers travel 1,600 kilometres across high elevation, frozen rivers, icy trails and deep snow

Dogs in the race wear boots as well as jackets to help protect against the cold weather. Most of the animals are Alaskan or Siberian huskies. (Archive)

Twenty-six mushers are expected to leave Fairbanks, Alaska, this morning. They'll be pulled by 364 barking dogs. 

This year of 26 competitors, 11 are rookies.  

Mushers come from around the world, though they are overwhelmingly American: sixteen mushers are American, six are Canadian, two are German, one is Swedish and one is Swiss. Veteran musher Rob Cooke, who lives outside Whitehorse, has dual citizenship in the UK and Canada.

Of the Canadian mushers, Cooke, Jason Campeau, Ed Hopkins and Luc Tweddell are returning as veterans. They'll be joined by two newcomers, Nathaniel Hamlyn and Jennifer Campeau.  

Ed Hopkins is one of the Canadian veterans returning this year. This will be his 10th Yukon Quest. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Alaska side prepares for deep snow

As is the case every year, the trail will offer all kinds of conditions over 1,600 kilometres.   

Volunteer trail breakers in Alaska have reported deep snow. This might be welcome in some sections but can also create snowdrifts and obstacles. 

The Yukon Quest trail report warns of large snowdrifts on top of the American summit. That section is one of the toughest parts on the Alaskan side, as mushers gain about 700 metres of elevation before crossing the border into Canada. 

A section of the American summit is above the trees and the wind can be especially tough there. 

The mushers will travel from Alaska to Yukon crossing and climbing. (Yukon Quest / provided)

Some detours on the Canadian side

Canadian Rangers cut trail on the Canadian side. This year they've had to find detours where snow is too low or where there is open water. 

 "We're looking at a major change in the race trail this year," said John Mitchell, a Yukon Quest race coordinator.  

One example is that the Yukon River at Dawson City did not freeze over. The open water requires a detour farther upstream. The community's dog yard to be moved as a result of this different route.

Mitchell says the snowpack is especially low in southern Yukon past the checkpoint at Pelly Crossing. 

He says when Canadian Rangers reached Braeburn they realized last year's route would not be possible. 

"The hills in that area were nothing but clear ice, so we decided we'd go back to the original Quest route," Mitchell said. 

The old route was shorter and was changed when the race was expanded to more accurately reach a round number of 1000 miles, or 1,600 kilometres. 

Past the penultimate checkpoint at Braeburn, mushers will cut from Coghlan Lake up to Lake Labarge and onto the Takhini River into Whitehorse. 

Teams are expected to arrive sometime between Feb. 12 and 17 at Shipyards Park. 

The race is a boost for winter tourism in Yukon and Alaska. Fans are shown at the starting line in 2017 in Whitehorse. (CBC)

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