The Yukon Quest is a 1,000 mil sled dog race that takes place annually between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. It is run in February, during extremely harsh conditions, making it a top choice for the world’s most difficult sled dog race. The competitors must negotiate difficult trails with very limited support from spectators. The race dates back to 1984, and lasts from ten to 20 days. The musher is backed up by a team of from six to 14 dogs. The route was chosen to mirror the Klondike gold rush of the 1890s, and includes Dawson City as an intermediate location. Each sled is allowed 250 lbs of food and equipment between each checkpoint. If a dog needs to drop out, it can be left at a checkpoint or dog drop but cannot be replaced. No help is given to mushers except in Dawson City, which is the midpoint. Some of the checkpoints are over 200 miles apart.
Veterinarians monitor the dogs and can remove animals if necessary. The teams must withstand mountain ranges, frozen rivers and isolation. It can get pretty cold during the race, as low as -60 degrees F accompanied by 50 mph winds. You’d think only madmen would think up such a punishing ordeal, but it was actually four Alaska residents at a bar in 1983 that hatched the idea. They wanted something different from the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, which has many more stages and checkpoints. In their minds, survival was the real test of a sled dog race. They organized some fundraising in August of 1983, and the start date of February 25, 1984 was chosen. It cost all of $500 to enter that race. The first race saw 26 mushers depart from Fairbanks, each driving a 12-dog team and 300 lbs of food.
The first race was quite an ordeal. The snowmobile that was to clear trail failed, so the mushers had to do so themselves. Racers had to put up with missing trail markers, and the reception at the Dawson City midway point was haphazard. A 60 mile snowless portion of the trail meant the teams had to be trucked that distance. They subsequently encountered a flowing Yukon River that hadn’t frozen due to high temperatures that year. The winner, one Sonny Lindner, got a meager welcome at the finish line. Today, the event has blossomed into an affair of international import that has captured the imagination of rugged outdoors persons and comfortable spectators alike. Now, there is even several lines of merchandise dedicated to capturing the spirit of the Yukon Quest in precious metals and stone.