The Yukon Arctic Ultra:
Ultra Marathon Adventure Racing across Canada's Frozen North
The Yukon Arctic Ultra claims to be the world's coldest and toughest ultra. The trail covers more than 430 miles, stretching out across frozen lakes, rivers, hills and mountains. In 2007 the race was stopped when temperatures dropped below minus 60 Celsius. This book is the story of how I came to be one of the first people ever to complete this epic race.
In keeping with the style and format of the other books in the 'in extremis' series, The Yukon Arctic Ultra includes an in-depth scientific review, this time on exercise in the extreme cold, and a comprehensive appendices with recommendations on clothing, food and equipment.
The book details an extraordinary volume of training in the build-up to the event, and is permeated by tales of what many consider to be the 'Spirit of the Yukon'. The pace and distance of this event lends itself to far greater insights into the nature of ultra-endurance adventure racing, including the psychology and philosophy, which helps each racer to either succeed or fail in this harshest of environments.
Excerpt: To Indian River
Ideally, I would have been off the top off the ridge, but as I could not perceive for how long I would be up there, I had to assume that my current predicament would continue unabated. I was at risk of dehydration so I needed water, and some food would help to fuel me to Indian River and keep me warm along the way. When I came to sit down, though, the relief was immense. I melted into the pulk bag and all of the tension that had built-up during the climb and rush around the mountaintops was released into the earth, causing me to feel instantly refreshed and peaceful again. I felt the cold attacking my clothing too, as it searched and probed for a way through.
I maintained focus on timings during the break; I had to be on the move again before I cooled down. I also needed to reach Indian River before I became too dehydrated. The water was beginning to freeze within the thermos flasks now; the caps had been frozen in place and had taken some effort to crack free.
It was not that I had an insufficient capacity to carry water; it was that the spreading ice within the flasks threatened to steal my water away from me. I did not want the delays of melting snow for water, particularly if I had nothing serviceable to pour the water into. Were I to attempt to drink directly from the metal pot, I would then have the excitement of working out how to detach the pot from my lips to manage.
On the move again and I found it was not merely the elements that were trying to test me. Fatigue now wanted to join in the fun too. Once more the sleepmonsters were coming out to play. As I headed down one short descent I spied a beast stood by the side of the trail. Frozen in time the ten-foot giant leered across the trail, awaiting the moment that I would pass along directly in front of him.
A part of me still knew that it was just a tree; its top metre or so bent forward over the trail due to the weight of snow; snow which had built up on that rounded top to give the appearance of a head, with a large dark eye created by a circular area devoid of snow in just the right place. I knew it was a tree with snow on it, but my eyes were fixed on it during the approach and as I passed. As I moved in front and beyond I stared over my right shoulder; waiting for him to pounce out after me. He let me pass; perhaps he had already laid a trap for me further along. I remained vigilant to this as my encroaching tiredness clawed after my pace and attempted to freeze my momentum.
By the time I began my descent into the valley I was feeling exhausted. Where oh where was the checkpoint? How much further could it be? I descended into another mining area, the trail snaking its way through. The associated machinery and buildings gave me something to stare at and focus upon. An old dormitory building looked appealing as a safe shelter. But I did not wish to stray so many metres through deep snow for the sake of a break, and I expected to arrive at the checkpoint in good time to sleep for the remainder of the night. To the front, the hills on the other side of the valley were silhouetted by the starlight, and wisps of what at first appeared to be cloud betrayed the subtle movements of the Aurora borealis, its green tinge the irrefutable confirmation.
As the trail led around a right turn I came across the 5-km marker for the checkpoint. I did not believe it. I did not think that I was close enough yet, and the sign had only rarely been used during the race thus far. I stopped and looked around, half expecting someone to jump out and declare that they were just kidding, and that this was all a part of some absolutely hilarious ruse. I even made the point of tapping the sign a few times with my trekking pole, rather firmly to be entirely honest, just to check if it was, as far as my senses could discern, really there.