North

U.K. man mails his toes to Yukon bar for its 'Sourtoe Cocktail'

Nick Griffiths says he wanted his digits 'recycled and re-used,' after they were amputated last year because of frostbite he got in the Yukon Arctic Ultra race.

'I always wanted to get them to the Dawson City hotel really, so they could be recycled and re-used'

Nick Griffiths, of Bolton, England, mailed a couple of his amputated toes to Yukon to be used in the famous 'Sourtoe Cocktail' at Dawson City's Downtown Hotel. (Submitted by Downtown Hotel)

Many people who visit Yukon say they'll leave a piece of themselves behind. But Nick Griffiths didn't just leave a piece, he mailed it back.

Two pieces, in fact — toes.

The British adventurer recently packed up two of his amputated digits, preserved in little jars of alcohol, in a plain polythene envelope and sent it by mail to the manager of Dawson City's Downtown Hotel. 

"I hope you get these bad boys OK," reads an enclosed note. "Sorry it has taken so long to send them." 

The hotel bar in Yukon's Klondike capital is famous for its "Sourtoe Cocktail" — a shot of whisky served with a real, mummified toe bobbing in the glass. Drinkers must let the toe touch their lips in order to officially join the "club."

The tradition of slurping down cocktails spiked with a severed digit dates back to the 1970s, when a local man, Captain Dick Stevenson, discovered an amputated toe while cleaning out a cabin and used it to found the club and its rules. To date, the Sourtoe Cocktail Club has more than 100,000 members.

Griffiths lost his toes after suffering severe frostbite in the 2018 Yukon Arctic Ultra, a backcountry endurance race held in the dead of winter. Another competitor that year lost his feet to frostbite. (Nick Griffiths)

Griffiths promised to send his toes a year ago; they were amputated after he took part in the 2018 Yukon Arctic Ultra, a backcountry endurance race through the Yukon wilderness that takes place each winter.

He was one of several competitors hospitalized that year because of extreme cold; one competitor lost his feet to severe frostbite.

Griffiths made it home to Bolton, England, before it was clear that three of his toes couldn't be saved. He asked the surgeon if he could have the detached digits — a big toe and the two next to it. 

"I always wanted to get them to the Dawson City hotel really, so they could be recycled and reused," he said.

A 'generous toe-nation'

The hotel issued a news release on Tuesday, confirming that it had received Griffiths' "generous toe-nation."

"We couldn't be happier to receive a new toe. They are very hard to come by these days," manager Adam Gerle said in the statement.

The famous Sourtoe Cocktail is a shot of whisky with a real toe bobbing in the glass. Drinkers must let the toe touch their lips in order to join the 'Sourtoe Cocktail Club.' (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Griffiths said he was relieved to hear his package arrived. It took more than a month, and he was starting to get nervous it was lost, as he kept in touch with Gerle.

Griffiths said he didn't take any special precautions when mailing the package, beyond keeping one of the smaller toes safe at home, "just in case, as insurance."

He just went to his local post office and sent it by regular mail for £6, or about $10. 

It cost Griffiths about $10 to send his toes by regular airmail. (Downtown Hotel)

"When the [postal clerk] said to me, 'What's in the package?' I was … stuttering and didn't really know what to say. So she probably thought I was shipping a great big bag of cocaine or something," he said.

"In the end I said, 'It's got my toes in it.' And she said, 'You just need to put it on this form.'"

He wrote "novelty gift."

6 weeks to mummify

Griffiths' big toe will be preserved in rock salt before it can be served up in a cocktail. According to the Downtown Hotel's "toe master," Terry Lee, it takes about six weeks to properly mummify a digit.

This will be the 16th digit the bar has used since the tradition started in the early '70s.

According to Lee, there are three toes currently in regular circulation. He said he's excited to receive the new additions, as it's been a few years since they've had a big toe.

"The big toe is the money toe. That's what it started with … a big toe," said Lee. "We usually don't get frostbitten toes. Usually, they're from gout or diabetes, or they're lawnmowers or chainsaws or accidents.... To get a frostbitten toe, that's phenomenal."

Griffiths said while it took him a while to recover from his surgery last year, life with seven toes is not all that different than life with 10. Flip-flops, though, are out, he said.

He's also hoping to travel back to Yukon sometime soon, maybe even this summer. The Downtown Hotel has offered to fly him over — and serve him a drink.

"Hopefully it will somehow get sorted, and I'll get out there and get reunited with my big toe and join the club — join the Sourtoe Cocktail club."

With files from George Maratos and Philippe Morin

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