Results/Times - 2016
Race Reports - 2016
Tuesday 8th March (3 days until the start)
Welcome to this year’s 6633 Arctic Ultra, it only seems like a year since I was last writing these reports.
Over the last few days all the athletes from around the World have been arriving in this awesome Country. Even though we are a small race in numbers, the quality of the entrants shines through, and will be representing 9 different countries, including Wales, Scotland, England, France, Zimbabwe, Romania, Australia, USA and Singapore. We have 4 returning athletes, 3 from 2015 and PJ from 2010. This is the first time that no lady is on the start line, which gives the men a chance to win this flippin tough event.
So what’s been happening…
Well, earlier today we met for our official race meeting. Nearly everyone had already met one another over the last couple of days, but it was great to officially welcome everyone to the 2016 edition of this madness. All the athletes were presented with their respective race numbers and then the Race Director (me) went through all the details of the forthcoming days, including itinerary, safety concerns, weather reports, checkpoints etc etc. Our Medic for this Year (Jonny Davies) is a former finisher of the 350 mile race, gave a quick overview of medical issues and concerns which raised a few eyebrows as the reality and magnitude of this event started to sink in.
Following the Race briefing, all the athletes headed out to Schwatka Lake about 2 miles out of town with their sleds, bivvys and cooking equipment for one last check of mandatory kit before the travel north tomorrow.
Everyone seems in incredibly good spirits. There is the usual panic amongst athletes as they eye one another’s kit and inevitable conclude they need that one piece of equipment that someone else has…. But the long and the short of it is that this year’s entrants are as well prepared for this year’s events as any that have preceded them in the last 7 years.
Tomorrow we start the 2 day journey north to the start at Eagle Plains, with a pit stop tomorrow night in the incredible town (they call it a city) of Dawson. Report to follow….
Wednesday 9th March (2 days until the start)
Hello again…..A mixed day of fortunes that on balance has comprised more good than bad.
The bad was at the start of the day with the unfortunate withdrawal from the event of Gary Parker who unfortunately has to return to the UK. Gary was a competitor in last year’s event and was here to complete unfinished business. Gary has already confirmed that he will be back for 2017.
The other bit of crappy news was that a bag that has been missing with Air Canada since last Saturday for Roddy Riddle still didn’t arrive last night, so as of this morning Roddy is missing a whole load of compulsory kit. Air Canada have promised that it will arrive in the Yukon at 4.10pm today, but that is about 6 hours after we are scheduled to leave. After considering all the options, my right-hand man Kevin is going to stay with Roddy until this afternoon then travel the 6-7 hours up to Dawson once said bag is in their hands.
For everyone else, the journey up the North Klondike Highway was a spectacular eye opener to the beauty of this region. The usual critter spotting saw sightings of numerous elk, and one moose. By late afternoon the main convey of vehicles arrive at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson and all were ensconced in the bar soon thereafter. Those that hadn’t previously enjoyed the delights of a SourToe Cocktail (amputated frostbitten toe in a shot of Yukon Jack Vodka) were soon downing this delight in the witness of Capt Jack.
As of 10.10pm this evening Kevin and Roddy have arrived in Dawson with stray bag back in its rightful place. One very happy Roddy……. And to add to that joy, Kevin and Roddy had the absolute honour of seeing a very very very rare sighting of a family of lynx alongside the road.
I don’t think there is anything else to add to today little report – I am sure they will get a bit more interesting when we enter the pointy end of the reason that we are doing all this (from Friday onwards).
Tomorrow we head up the Dempster on a final 250 mile journey to the start. Whilst todays drive from Whitehorse was perceived as stunning by those visiting the area for the first time….. they have seen nothing when compared to what they will see tomorrow. More to follow….
Thursday 10th March (1 days until the start)
It’s me again…..
What a freaking gorgeous, stunning, amazing’ beautiful, awesome drive to Eagle Plains. The Dempster never fails impress, and I could drive this every day and never get bored.
So we have all arrived at the Start Line and all the athletes have now been reacquainted with their sleds. Most have reassembled the “best mate” for the next week little jolly along the Dempster and ultimately the Ice Road to Tuk.
As I write this many of the athletes and support crew have retired to the bar for a drink or two – all the work has now been done….. the fun truly starts tomorrow.
The forecast for tomorrows start is looking like it is going to be very kind to the athletes. Likely to be in the early minus 20’s and as it stands at the moment, the winds on Wright Pass (50 miles away) are calm. Can never underestimate how conditions can change here on a whim….in the last month three 64 ton tankers have been blown off the road on this notorious section, the last of these being recovered this afternoon.
I think it’s time for me to join everyone for a beer or two….. and then in the morning, yahoooooo…we are off.
I have purposely not overly name dropped so far, but once we are on the road, I will endeavour to mention as many of the athletes as I can in each report so that you know what’s happening. That said, we are likely to not have any internet connection until Sunday night at the earliest, so if you don’t hear anything from us, please don’t assume the worst.
Beer calling….see you tomorrow.
Friday 11th March - Start
And we are off!!!!
This is just a quick update to let you know that the race started as planned at 9.05 this morning.
All the athletes are in good spirits and possibly the best prepared group that have ever started on this madness.
The weather is currently being very kind – its about -18C on the start line and very little wind. Absolutely ideal conditions for the athletes to bed themselves into the event as it will undoubtedly change for the worse as the event progresses.
If we get a chance to update the website and or facebook later today we will do so, but failing that, its going to be a few days before you will hear from us again.
In a nutshell, its all good here…..so far!!!
Friday 11th March – Day 1
So….. as previously reported the race started this morning at 9.05am in a glorious -18c and very little wind. For all concerned this is flippin ideal as it allows the athletes to bed into the race before it starts to get serious later this evening and in the early hours of tomorrow.
As today has unfolded all the athletes have made excellent and as I type everyone is now through Arctic Circle at 23 miles.
Leading the field is Tiberiu Useriu from Romania who has already created a 6km lead over his chasers. Next on the trail is Roddy Riddle from Scotland who is competing in this event for the first time and is doing an incredible job and is looking confident. Roddy has a serious point to prove both to himself and to a far wider audience, but I will leave it a few days before I reveal the real challenge that he is taking on…. Which is immense!!
Coming up a little behind are four athletes, from England we have the wonderful character known formally as Tony Ellis form the UK, followed by Andrieu Rosu and Vlad Tanase from Romania and our great friend PJ from Singapore.
We then have in hot pursuit the trio from the US and Australia namely Hully, Alex and Frank. These 3 have raced together all over the World, and it’s a great privilege to have them competing on the Dempster this year. Their intentions are to race all the way to Tuk together, if they do, they will be first group to successfully do so as many previously have tried, but no one has yet finished with those they started with.
As I type this, the final 4 in the event are just leaving Arctic Circle and all doing incredibly well. Erick Basett from France, along with returnees George Economou and Mark Strathern from Zimbabwe and also Richard Balukiewicz from England.
It is very early in this event and a lot can still happen, but I can honestly say that these athletes are an incredible bunch and I have high hopes of some brilliant performances.
If you want to see a whole load of photos, these are being uploaded to our Facebook page – HERE.
We are now going to be out of internet reach for a little while, but fingers crossed we will be able to update in due course from Fort McPherson.
Saturday 12th March – Day 2
Today things got surprisingly serious, but before we get to the fun part, let’s update you first on what happened last night after we posted the last report.
By early evening yesterday, all the athletes were on the trail between Checkpoint 1 at the Arctic Circle and the unofficial checkpoint at Rock River. Continuing his blast up the trail Tiberiu (Romania) still leads with an every changing pack of athletes comprising PJ (Singapore), Vlad and Andrei (Romania), Roddy (Scotland) and Tony (England) in hot pursuit. As the evening wore on the temperature certainly dropped and whilst the athletes were still yet to reach the notorious Hurricane Alley, the first of the Arctic Winds provided the athletes with a little glimpse of what was to come.
As of midnight on Friday, only Tiberiu had passed Rock River without stopping and was already on his way up to Wright Pass.
Further back down the trail Mark and George from Zimbabwe were making fantastic progress, building of their experience last year which proved to a massive learning curve, 2016 they are looking and delivering the part.
Hully, Alex and Frank also continued to make good progress reaching Rock River in the early hours of the morning, and then heading off up Wright Pass whilst the ominous feature was still shrouded in darkness.
Towards the back of the field, Richard and Erick opted to bivvy out at 24 and 18 km short of Rock River, making the choice to race conservatively without pushing themselves too much in the early stages of this event. It’s a flippin long way to Tuk, so conservation of energy can be the prudent thing to do. However, luck wasn’t to be on either of their sides. As daylight broke, Richard slipped on the icy road injuring his back and consequently making the chance of pulling a pulk all the way to Tuk and impossibility. He has vowed to come back!!. Likewise Erick also succumb to the bad luck gods and had to withdraw due to a cold injury to his face.
As day broke today, Tiberiu was the first to pass over Wrights Pass, having encounter a little of the ferocious winds that were to follow. His descent down to Checkpoint 2 was dauntingly quick and with very little respite at the James Creek, he was on the next stage to Fort McPherson.
Second over Wrights Pass and certainly experiencing the flippin awful conditions was PJ. You would struggle to find a man anywhere in the World who smiles as much as PJ, but if there was ever a time when that smile was to be wiped from his face….this was it. But in good ole fashion PJ style he topped the pass after telling the Race Director how much he loved him – I kid you not.
Frank, Alex and Hully were next on the ascent. I think it’s fair to say that this was a MASSIVE wake up call to all of them. Having had a very mild introduction to the Arctic yesterday today was a day when the environment said “don’t mess with me”. After a lot of huffing and puffing plus a temporary split in the group (it was way way too cold to stick together if one person is stronger than another) the three men passed into the Northwest territories and regroup within a few kilometres on their way to James Creek.
Vlad, Andrei, Roddy and Tony likewise experience the harshness of the winds and the bitterly cold making steady progress over the Pass, having the scary experience of the 60mph winds nearly taking them off their feet.
Bringing up the rear, but very much in control of their race were Mark and George. Like the team of three up ahead, the harshness of the conditions split the two of them for the ascent, before they regroup and the descent to James Creek.
With varying strategies, the athletes passed through the James Creek checkpoint either with very little break or in some cases utilising the facilities to have some respite from the conditions.
As of 10pm this evening on the 75km stage to Fort McPherson, Tiberiu is about 30 km from Checkpoint 3. Vlad and Andrei are a further 21km back with Roddy and PJ a mere 1 km further back.
About 9km out of James Creek, Hully, Alex and Frank have topped the last significant mountain (albeit there are still one or two still to go) and are preparing for a long descent before the course slightly flattens out, whilst Tony is just a couple of kilometres out of Checkpoint 2. Mark and George are just heading out of the doors of James Creek, working to a plan that will see them arrive in Fort McPherson in time to have a good rest and be out of CP3 by midnight tomorrow.
So it’s been an eventful day and for absolute certain the athletes got what they came for. For some it was a good experience, for others it was a big wake up call……but all who went through it, did so with flying colours. This race has been described by others as the toughest in the World…. Today is why this accolade is not misgiven.
More tomorrow when we will be in Fort McPherson and then on our way to Tsiigehtchic.
Very Best Wishes….Martin
Sunday 13th March – Day 3
I am back!!!!!
As of this time last night, everyone was now on the trail heading to Fort McPherson, with Tiberiu leading and everyone chasing his heels.
Overnight temperatures dropped into the -30’s with the wind in places exacerbating the cold making some serious extreme conditions.
Tiberiu arrived in Fort McPherson with a still very commanding lead of 4.5 hours over his compatriots Vlad and Andrei. Spirits still remain high amongst these wonderful Romanian characters as they methodically make their way along the course.
This 3rd stage is always a beggar as it is 77km long and contains enough undulations in terrain of considerable note that it is easy to underestimate its difficulty. Plus it is still exposed and open to some serious winds…..and its snowing!!!!
During the night many of the athletes (PJ, Tony, Mark and George), independently opted to bivvy out for a few hours, whilst others endeavoured to plow on through the night all the way to Fort McPherson.
Apparently at some stage independent of each other both Roddy and Frank managed to get lost. I don’t know the details of these misadventures, but credit where credit is due, to get lost of a trail going in one direction with no significant deviations, detours or turning takes some doing…. But in each case they managed to get themselves back on track.
Without exception everyone arriving in Fort McPherson looked absolutely flippin knackered. But a few hours in the warmth of the school, a short sleep and some hot food all but Mark are now back on the trail heading to CP4 at Tsiigehtchic. Mark is still sleeping as I type and is due to leave at midnight tonight. His partner in crime for the last few days (George) as an entrant in the 120+ category as his right has decided to finish at Fort McPherson, making him the winner of the 120 mile event. I for one am absolutely chuffed for George – going from being completely and utterly out of hid depth in 2015, to come back and finish the 120 mile event in complete control of his actions is a credit to the man….. and a thoroughly nice man he is too!!
I am currently located at Fort McPherson as I type this. Before midnight Tiberiu should be in Tsiigehtchic, and I believe his plan is to have a very short break and then head straight back out towards Caribou Creek. It might still be too early to think about records, but over the next couple of day we shall see if he can continue his relentless progress and if as a consequence Mimi Andersons record from 2007 is to be threatened.
The remaining athletes will be running through the night and should start arriving at Tsiigehtchic from early in the morning onwards.
Will be back tomorrow with more news.
Monday 14th March – Day 4
So what’s been happening today, I hear you ask.
As of last night all the athletes had left Fort McPherson and were now on the comparatively easy 38 mile stage to Tsiigehtchic. When I say easy, the temperatures were in the late minus 20’s and there was a lot more wind than usual….and it was snowing.
The first bit of news to report today is unfortunately not good news. Just after midnight, Mark had to call it a day. He had left Fort McPherson with an ankle injury which he hoped would wear off as he progressed up the trail. Whilst to the casual reader this might sound like a dumb idea, for those who have done events of this nature will know that frequently minor injuries do have a tendency of disappearing. Alas that wasn’t the case this time, and Mark had to bivvy down to await the return of the support vehicle. I am sure Mark is a bit disappointed, I equally know that he will be well chuffed with his performance and is already considering his return in 2017 along with his father who was a competitor in 2015 and a friend who has previously been a participant in the 6633 Arctic Ultra.
Another common feature in races of this nature is the onset of the dreaded sleepmonsters. Typically between (say) 2.00am and 5.00am athletes frequently have to fight off the incredibly hard urge to sleep, regardless of how well rested they are or indeed how long they have been on their feet. The ever popular athlete Tony was one such athlete to succumb to the sleepmonster and 20km out of Fort McPherson he was forced to bivvy down for a few hours sleep. In addition Tony is currently suffering from some epic chaffing in a region of his body where it’s none too good to have chaffing.
Still out in front is ever repressible Tiberiu who has from the start of the race been relentless in his progress. Working to an obvious plan, Tiberiu is resting very little at the checkpoints, but is frequently bivvying for short catnaps along the trail….. and it seems to be working. About 5-6 hours behind are his compatriots Vlad and Andrei, with our great friend PJ chasing non to far behind.
Hully, Alex and Frank have over the last couple of days woken up to the fact that this is one freaking hard event, and are now starting to bed into a nice rhythm…. In a nutshell, they are looking stronger and more at home by the day and expressing thoughts that this is by some margin the hardest event they have taken part in.
The final athlete to report on is our Scottish buddy Roddy. This man is a flippin hero. I mentioned in an early post that Roddy is taking part in this event in circumstances beyond the norm, well perhaps now is the time to say what those circumstances are. Against normal convention, a Type 1 diabetic doesn’t take part in sports this extreme. Having to constantly battle his diet to balance his blood sugar levels and having an intravenous insulin pump into his gut, in addition to battle the elements he constantly has to monitor his body. With some high tech instruments that are beyond my comprehension, Roddy together with a watchful eye from our chief medic is making awesome progress up the trail. On current form, I see no reason that we won’t see him on the finish line in a few day’s time – and if that happens, he will have my full and utter admiration.
As the day progressed, Tibi made his usual quick passage through the Checkpoint at Tsiigehtchic. PJ has progressed up to 2nd place is about 24km behind our leader. Vlad and Andrei are next on the long straight and flat trail to Caribou Creek approx. 10km back from PJ. The three Musketeers (Frank, Alex and Hully) are likewise still going well and are about 6km back behind the Romanians and at the time of typing, Roddy has left Tsiigehtchic and is about 16km up the trail. Unfortunately Tony has had to withdraw from the event. The chaffing was too painful, albeit I have declined the offer of a personal inspection.
All in all its been a good day. Disappointed to see Mark and Tony out of the race, but undoubtedly they have done an awesome job.
Tomorrow we should see some of them passing through Caribou Creek and then arriving in Inuvik…. This is race is rushing by.
Oh!!!! One last thing…. Internet access is a nightmare. Will be uploading photos to the facebook page as soon as I can, but don’t hold your breathe.
Tuesday 15th March – Day 5
Right!!!!....We are back.
For the whole of today all the athletes are on the mentally sapping section between Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik, with the Caribou Creek in-between.
It seems like groundhog day here when I say Tibi is out in front, but that is the fact of the matter….the man is doing flippin brilliant. As has been his norm, Tibi passed through Caribou Creek in his typical speedy fashion, his strategy is to take more short bivvys along the route – it’s a strategy that so far seem to be working. That said, he has now developed a bit of a problem with his shins which by the time he had reached Inuvik by late afternoon, needed the attention of the medic to strap him up and ultimately send him on his way down the Ice Road by 20.45 this evening.
PJ is the man in hot pursuit. PJ is certainly not rushing through the checkpoints, but is then not stopping on the trail. On leaving Caribou Creek he was within 15km distant of Tibi, but by the time he reached Inuvik he had cut this lead to a mere 10km….. in fact passing and shaking hands with his adversary (Tibi) as one arrived and the other left the checkpoint. PJ is in very good shape, so I think its fair to say that its “game on” as to who might ultimately win this event – but I think it is probably now a two man race to the finish line at Tuktoyaktuk.
The brilliant Romanian duo of Andrei and Vlad are covering the ground well and are looking pretty solid in third place, but having lost ground to PJ during the day, and likewise perhaps also losing a little bit of ground to their chasers (Hully, Alex and Frank). The pace between this two groups on the ground are very similar, but what might make the difference is the time spent in the checkpoints, which of late has seen the trio a bit quicker and slicker than the duo. At the time of writing, the Romanians are about 18km out of Inuvik, with Hully, Frank and Alex a 11km behind.
The last of the athletes to report on is Roddy who is the current “Lanterne Rouge” His progress between Tsiigehtchic and Caribou Creek hasn’t been as swift as much of his progress in previous days. Whilst he has to contend with his Diabetes (albeit that seem to be something he is controlling extremely well), he is now suffering big time with a bad back. Bar stretching and changing his gait there is little that can be done to assist, but as of 20.00pm this evening he has finally reached Caribou Creek.
Whilst many of the athletes are carrying niggling injuries of one type or another, at about 200 miles into this race, most have completely bedded into the race and are perhaps looking stronger now than they did (say) 2 days ago. It’s a strange ole thing.
Tomorrow will see most heading out onto the Ice Road to join Tibi. It’s a stunning beautiful place to race, although I am not sure how much the athletes will appreciate the awesomeness of this place. But I will endeavour to take loads of photos to show you what a cracking magical amazing place this is.
Although I might be taking the photos, I can’t guarantee that I will be able to upload many. Internet access up here is like hens teeth to get hold of…. But we will do our best.
That’s it for now. If there are any live updates, pop over to the Facebook page where we will post updates as things unravel.
All the best from the Arctic….Martin and the best support crew in the World!!
Wednesday 16th March – Day 6
It’s been a long long day for the support crew.
But your are not interested in that, you want to know what’s happening with the athletes… :)
In the early hours of the morning, Vlad and Andrei arrived at Arctic Chalets looking pretty darn fresh, albeit pleased to have finished the comparatively easy stage from Caribou Creek. About 3 hours later, Hully, Alex and Frank likewise arrived at Arctic Chalets, so perhaps there is now a race brewing between these two groups of runners. By mid afternoon both groups headed out of Arctic Chalets within 1 km of each other, but this time with the three musketeers taking the lead. This is going to be an interesting tussle down the Ice Road.
The man who is fast becoming a legend in his lifetime, otherwise known as Roddy, had a long rest at Caribou Creek and didn’t leave this checkpoint until this morning when the sun was up. Never wishing to write Roddy off, but his pace over the past few days would leave you questioning whether he was going to run out of time to finish this race. The race officially ends at 9.00am on Saturday, so time is of the essence. It was a bit daft of me to think that Roddy might not be aware of these as during the day he has powered his way between Caribou Creek and Inuvik, and there is now no question about it – he has positioned himself that if he can maintain a similar pace over the next few days, we will see him crossing that pesky line at Tuktoyaktuk.
At the sharp end of the race, Tibi was on the Ice Road last night and was making great progress towards the finish. But as the day has worn on, the injury he is carrying is definitely holding him back. PJ had a much longer break at Arctic Chalets and after a fair bit of phaffing about started out on the Ice Road at 4.30am this morning. Chasing down a 16km deficit to Tibi, during the day PJ got within 5km of the leader before bivying up. Undoubtedly PJ is the quicker man over the ground, but Tibi is resting far less and for shorter periods. This race isn’t over yet.
At the last time of checking, Tibi currently has a 13km lead.
This is only a short report, because I am beggared and need to get some sleep.
More tomorrow when we will see all runners on the Ice Road.
Thursday 17th March – Day 7
Before I start and belated by the time you read this – Happy St Paddys day to all our Irish friends.
Right, back to business.
As of last night, only one man remained off the Ice Road, and that is our hero from yesterday Roddy. Roddy left Arctic Chalets in the wee hours of the morning hoping to be able to maintain his awesome pace of yesterday. During the day his progress was swift, albeit perhaps not as quick as he would have liked and perhaps not as quick as the time limits of the race dictate. Unfortunately by late afternoon having covered 50km of the trail to Swimming point, the combined factors of time and a back that was causing grief, Roddy called it a day. The man will live to fight another day, but when we come to reviewing this year’s race, he will definitely be getting a mention in dispatches both for his efforts in the race, and for competing with the added task of managing his diabetes.
At the sharp end of the race, PJ has been making considerable ground up on Tibi all through the day, which culminating in both of them arriving at Swimming Point within ½ mile of each other. Tibi is struggling with his leg injury, but looks determined. PJ is his usual cheery self and doesn’t seem to be bothered with the effort he is putting in. I don’t know if there are any plans of them continuing together, but that is a distinct possibility.
Then there are the two groups of runners. All through the day the Romanian duo have been stalking their adversaries by about 1km. I think their might be a bit of tactical shenanigans going on, but why the heck not – it’s a race after all. Will be watching this with interest. Of these athletes, Andrei is looking strong, as is Alex….. I think it’s fair to say that all the rest look knackered.
I am writing this a little bit before the end of the day and remote from Swimming Point, but all of them should be at the final checkpoint before the end of today, with just one stage left to go to morrow to Tuktoyaktuk.
Keep watching – it’s going to be interesting!!
Results - 2015
Race Reports - 2015
Tuesday 17th March – Three days to go
Welcome to the 7th edition of the Likeys 6633 Arctic Ultra.
Over the last 3 days 27 athletes representing 12 countries have descended on Whitehorse in the Yukon Region of Canada, ready for possibly the biggest challenge of their lives.
With the benefit of past knowledge that has been passed on from veterans to rookies of this race, I think I can say with some confidence that on the whole the competitors this year are better prepared for the event than ever before. I am sure there will be one or two who might have underestimated the challenge ahead, but putting my head on the line from the outset, I think we are going to have some good results over the next couple of weeks.
Whilst the athletes and crew have unofficially been meeting and greeting one another over the past few days, this afternoon at the High Country Inn in Whitehorse was the official welcome to the race for the athletes. Race numbers were distributed, and a brief overview of the event was presented before a fairly concise medical presentation was given by Katie Rollins that naturally focused on the pertinent considerations for those mad enough to race in Arctic conditions. This was followed by the distribution of Race goodies and the team photo outside the hotel.
Once we leave Whitehorse tomorrow, there is little (if no) chance to address sled issues that might arise following the transportation to Canada. So this evening, as we have done every other year, all athletes are required to attend the outdoor clinic where they pull their packed sled to the near by frozen lake on the outskirts of town, then set up their bivy and make themselves a cup of coffee. This little exercise soon threw up a few sled issues for some athletes to attend to overnight, and additionally it show us as the organisers that those taken part do have the ability to get themselves into a warm bivy and look after themselves when they get out on the trail.
With it being St Patricks Day, whilst not over indulging many of the athletes ultimately enjoyed a drink or two, before the fun begins tomorrow.
More to follow tomorrow when we will be in the barmy, but equally awesome God Rush town of Dawson.
Wednesday 18th March – Two days to go
Hello again….. Well we have arrived in Dawson. This authentic gold rush town still boasts the wooden sidewalks and gravel roads and additionally provides an incredible welcome to the Likeys 6633 Arctic Ultra.
The drive up to Dawson today took 6+ hours which included a number of stops along the way to see both some wonderful views at certain vantage points and the replenish food and drink to see us through to our destination. The most striking thing about today was how unusually warm the weather has turned. In past years we have typically seen temperatures in the -20 as we leave Whitehorse and dropping accordingly as we travel north to perhaps -30 by the time we get to Dawson. This year the whole journey was at a barmy 0 degrees give or take a degree or two.
A lot can happen in a day or two in the Arctic, but I reckon a few athletes might still be in for a shock if they have become complacent. We have on a number of years travelled up to the start line in beautiful sunshine only to find the road closed at Eagle Plains due to high winds and severe cold only 40-50 miles up the road. Tomorrow will see if this happens again… Although as I write this, the road over Wright Pass is open, so we will see.
This evening everyone has had the chance to get themselves a bite to eat in the bar of the Downtown Hotel. This was followed by the annual SourToe Cocktail for anyone who hasn’t had one before. For those that don’t know, a SourToe Cocktail comprises a shot of 40% proof Yukon Jack with an amputated pickled toe in it. The tradition requires the drinker to bolt the drink and to make sure the toe touches their lips. Daft as it might seem, 58,000 have done it before (from memory, my membership card is 20,005).
After this little tradition, everyone is now back in their rooms hopefully getting a good nights sleep before we head up the Dempster from Klondike Corner tomorrow. The journey is always beautiful and never disappoints.
More tomorrow from Eagle Plains – Start Line of the Likeys 6633 Arctic Ultra 2015. Bring it on.
Thursday 19th March – One day to go
Right, we are back.
A little more encouraging this morning, we did wake up to double digit minus temperatures…. And the difference was startling compared to yesterday’s unseasonably tropical temperatures.
Although no mad rush to leave Dawson, by 10am all vehicles were on the road heading up the Dempster to the start line at Eagle Plains. From Klondike Corner (the start of the Dempster) the meandering drive up through the Tombstone Mountains, followed by the Ogilvie Mountains is in my humble opinion one of the most beautiful and magical roads you could wish to drive on. A few stops along the way to take in the vast open landscape and mountains can but leave you a little humbled – at least it does it for me every year.
And arriving in Eagle Plains after 5 hours, guess what??....... Although predicted last night as a bit of a throw away comment…. The road north through Wright Pass and Hurricane Alley is indeed closed!!! It is hard to believe this sat here in the comfort of the Motel, but 40 miles up the road winds are currently blowing in excess of 60 mph and the snow is drifting up to 4 foot deep. The athletes might yet get the extremes they have been secretly wishing for, and equally they might regret wishing for those conditions come 24 hours time….. We will see.
After food and drink in the bar at Eagle Plains, all the athletes have now headed to their rooms for their last nights sleep before we (hopefully) start the race tomorrow morning at 9.00am.
More to come tomorrow…..
Friday 20th March – Race day one
OK…So today is Race Day!!!!
But as is always the case in the Arctic, you can’t predict anything. That said, we have been in this situation before in previous race…..
The situation is that at 6.30 am this morning, whilst it appeared to be a beautiful morning here at Eagle Plains, the high winds a few miles up the road have not abated overnight. The result is that the trail going north is closed with drifting snow up to 4’ high meaning little to no chance of it opening today.
With this news in mind and wishing not to delay the start unnecessarily we started the race behind closed gates with the intention of racing to the Arctic Circle and then returning to Eagle Plains.
However, the situation didn’t improve through the day, it fact it got worse, with more and more drifting snow.
All the athletes made it to the Arctic Circle in some very demanding conditions, but instead of continuing north towards the Northwest Territories border, they have had to retrace their steps back to Whitehorse. Whilst every did make it to the Arctic Circle, unfortunately it was here we got our first casualty of the race. Eoin Scott had to pull out with a recurrence of previous knee problem. I haven’t seen him to speak to him myself (due to being stranded either side of a series of snow drifts), but I understand that whilst disappointed his spirits remain high.
So as we passed into night time, the chances of clearing the snow off the trail become more and more fruitless. Drifts up to 4’ high that had been impressively cleared earlier in the day were simply blown back in within hours. As a result, contingency plan “G” kicked into place (you have to be flexible organising a race of this nature and in this environment) – although we had positioned a trailer, vehicles and a medic at the Arctic Circle, for those front runners who managed to get back to Eagle Plains before midnight, after resting, simply had to return to the remote Airstrip situated 20km away.
Whilst everyone would love to be proceeding up the Dempster, Mother Nature has other ideas today, and there is nothing we can do about it.
As we continued through the night, the race found a few more casualties. Scott Larvan, whilst not officially out of the race, is currently the only remaining athlete still in the Arctic Circle area suffering from severe shin splints – so is highly likely to be a withdrawal in the morning. Denis Conroy has similarly succumb to the brutality of this environment pulling out with a few km’s of the return to Eagle Plains. Again it was a former niggling injury that reared its head. Finally our Italian friend Marco Civardi decided to call it a day once back at Eagle Plains. Marco is up there as one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet, which it makes it all the more disappointing – but he will be staying with the race and supporting the remaining athletes.
So whilst that covers the withdrawals, there are some mightily impressive performances out there too. Sam Hawkins from Wales is absolutely steaming along the trail and is currently about 10km ahead of second place. In second are Nics Wetherill and Natalie Taylor who are working very well together. Time will tell, but it will be interesting to see if Sams lead will be maintained as the two ladies are certainly determined.
Right, I would like to write more, but I need to bet back out on the trail to “juggle more eels” in this mad event.
Fingers are very firmly crossed that the winds will die down in the morning and the drifts can be cleared. It’s a big ask, but I know there are quite a few people apart from ourselves who want to crack on up the trail.
If there is no report tomorrow, its good news, we are going North. If I am still ensconced in Eagle Plains, it means we are still being hampered by some very humbling weather. I don’t think any other race could boast such challenging conditions – so hats off to those taking part…. They are awesome.
Saturday 21st March – Race day two
It’s day 2 here in the Yukon. I would like to be saying “it’s day 2 here in the Northwest Territories” but the weather and trail conditions had other ideas. Unfortunately the road was not cleared this morning, and as I write this (late evening) it still hasn’t been cleared of the excessive drifting snow that is so prevalent here.
All that said, in the words of the famous Freddie Mercury, “The show must go on”.
So let’s start with some bad news….. Scott Larvan who was the only athletes stuck on the wrong (Arctic) side of the snow drift that separated us last night pulled from the race this morning. Shin splints are not something that will disappear overnight, so it was an inevitable, but sensible decision.
Although not ideal, in order to make sure athletes are getting the miles in their legs, we are having to do repeats of the distance from Eagle Plains to the Arctic Circle. The terrain over this 23 mile distance is NOT easy and includes a significant descent of about 7 miles followed by a significant ascent of about 7 miles and for the remainder still provides a good number of undulations. So not only are the athletes have to deal with the unavoidable disappointment of not being able to proceed up the trail, the part they are having to repeat is possibly the most physically testing 23 miles on the whole route. There haven’t been too many cases of “sense of humour” failure, these are a hardy bunch of athletes in every respect.
In the 120 mile race we have unfortunately lost a couple of athletes during the day. Gary Parker and George Economou have pulled out, but four athletes are still going strong. Of these, Jorgen Thorsted (Norway) is currently leading, with Erick Basset (France) hot on his heels. Mike DeNoma (US) is currently in 3rd place with Philippa Crocker (England) in 4th.
Whilst in the 350 race we have also had a few withdrawals today, primarily due to cold related injuries, namely Ben Ollivere and David Smale, whilst Rob Coleman’s withdrawal was from a recurrence of a back problem. Still going strong at the front are Sam Hawking and Nat Taylor, closely followed by Nics Wetherill. Although I haven’t got time on this occasion to name them, all the remaining athletes are looking good as we head into day three, and hopefully some positive news that the road ahead will open.
Sunday 22nd March – Race day three
We have woken up this morning (actually that is a lie – we never went to sleep) to a more positive feeling that the road WILL open today. As of early this morning, this optimism might not have been shared by everyone, but with this thought in mind we decided to direct our athletes forward through the drifts that had been cleared the previous day. Our hope being that if all else failed we would at least reach Rock River, which would offer a change of scenery if nothing else.
But before we get to the excitement of covering new ground, the front runners in the 120 mile race arrived at the finish line. Leading pretty much from the start, a flippin awesome performance from a very resourceful athlete saw Jorgen Thorsted from Norway cross the finish line early this morning in a time of 46 hours 30 minutes In second place the ever smiling Frenchman Erick Basset likewise crossed the finish line in 47 hours 38 minutes. For Jorgen, I believe this will be a much appreciated result having been ill during last months MYAU which resulted in a far below par performance. It is wonderful that all his training has ultimately been put to good use. Still with plenty of time available, Mike DeNoma and Philippa Crocker still have some way to go to the finish line, but at the time of typing, Mike is looking like he will comfortably finish within the time limit, whilst Philippa will possibly be very close to the mark….Go Philippa Go!!!
At the front of the 350 event, it is firmly becoming a two horse race between Sam and Nat. Two very different approaches so far….Sam goes hell for leather on the trail and then rests longer at checkpoints, whilst Natalie is very steady over the ground, and equally steady (but quick) through the checkpoints. No idea which way this one might go – I reckon the weather might be the deciding factor with good weather favouring Sam, and poor weather favouring Nat. Unfortunately this evening Nics Wetherill who has been running in 3rd place all day has sensibly withdrawn from the event along with father and son team, Kirk and Mark Strathern from Zimbabwe, both of whom arrived at the temporary checkpoint of Rock River, but alas quite a bit of time down on a schedule to be able to finish the event in time.
This year we have a good contingent of Irish athletes who are adamant that one of them will become the first Irishman to cross the 350 mile line. And to be fair, there are one or two of them that are looking like they are taking up this mantle with some enthusiasm. Of these Gavan Hannigan is currently (as of midnight on Sunday) leading the charge with Daithi O’Murchu close on his heels just 2.5km behind. Jonathan Davies is also looking comfortable a further 22km back, whilst our good friend Paddy Craig is about 18 km further back. Paddy has been suffering, so we might see an unfortunate result tomorrow, albeit fingers crossed I have got this one wrong.
Of the other nations represented…..
Des Mathias from Wales is going very well and is currently alongside Gav on the trail. Lynne Hewitt from Australia is looking very focused and is here to address a DNF from 2013. Albeit she is perhaps flirting with time left in this race, I reckon there is a glint in her eye that tells me we will see her in Tuk within the 8 days. Than Juang from Thailand is likewise looking comfortable and as far as I can see there is nothing for me to have concerns about. Paul Fosh (England) is very well prepared for this event and it is showing. He doesn’t seem to like mornings, but during the latter part of the day and into the evening he seem to thrive. Again very very pleased with his progress. Hendra Wijaya from Indonesia is your typical Duracell Bunny…. He just keeps going and going. I was quite concerned about Hendra both before the start and over the first day or two…. But all ill founded. Hendra has most certainly found his feet and is doing brilliant. He is close to the time where completing this event in time might be difficult, but there is still plenty of time to address that without panicking.
Hopefully I have given everyone a call, but if I have missed anyone, I will address that tomorrow.
Finally some GOOD NEWS…. The road opened this evening, so with this in mind we are treating Rock River as the final checkpoint on this part of the race. As athletes wake from their bivy at Rock River, we will move each athlete up the trail to their respective start point, having calculated the distance they have covered over the last few days. Going the furthest up the trail will be Sam Hawkings, who will be dropped off 15km north of Tsiigehtchic, whilst currently bringing up the rear will be Hendra who will be dropped off at Fort McPherson.
Time for some sleep….Good Night!!!
Monday 23rd March – Race day four
A mad morning this morning moving athletes up the trail to where they would be positioned had we not be hampered over the last few days….
I won’t bore you with all the details, but it is such a relief to have the athletes on the route in their correct positions…. Now the race can begin!!
However, before we get into the fun of today, unfortunately at first light and at the time of moving everyone forward, Paddy Craig withdraw from the race. This hasn’t come as too much of a surprise as I know he has been suffering for some time…. On discussing this later in the day with him, I think we concluded that we are both old buggers albeit we like to think otherwise. I recommend golf… although wasn’t brave enough to suggest this to his face.
Back on the trail and already heading towards Caribou Creek…. With her typical quick time through the checkpoint, Nat Taylor got a head start on Sam Hawking. At one point her lead was up to 10 km, but I reckon Sam is a tough begger, so this isn’t over yet.
Because of the adjustments to distances, with the exception of the 2 front runners, everyone else is stretched between Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic. With some a mere 18 km from this established checkpoint, it was a bit of a pleasant dash to reach this shelter. Other’s had considerably further to go, but by this evening everyone had arrived at Tsiigehtchic, and quite a few have already departed on the very tough stretch to Caribou Creek.
Going to keep this report quite short as I have to make a mad dash up the trail… But in summary, what a relief to be running back where we should be!!!
Tuesday 24th March – Race day five
Sorry for the short report yesterday, but a lot is going on all at the same time and over an 80km spread.
Overnight Natalie has maintained her lead as the 2 leaders headed into the next stage from Caribou Creek to Inuvik. This is a nice stage for the athletes in that it isn’t too long, it undulates gently and doesn’t comprise of long never ending straights. Both Nat and Sam covered this distance in short time arriving at Arctic Chalets in Inuvik at 11.55am and 1.20pm respectively. Both opted to take comparatively sensible breaks here as it’s the last checkpoint of substance before the end. Nat left and headed out on to the Ice Road to Tuktoyaktuk at 7.00pm, with Sam following 9.20pm
Back up the trail we were gutted to hear the Des Mathias has pulled out. He has been having problems with his feet for quite some time in this race, a factor that was starting to severely hamper both his time and his progress. This will have come as quite a shock to most people who know him or know the competitors in this race… Before this race started on Friday, I think it would be safe to say that if a bet was made as to who was going to finish this race (not necessarily win it), then I think Des would have been that choice.
On a more positive note, Daithi made it to Caribou Creek and at the time of writing is fast approaching Inuvik. Jonathan and Gav both made it to Caribou Creek, completing one flippin tough stage that I can announce brought tears to the eyes of one of the Irishmen, whilst Paul is continuing in his now trademark steady uncomplicated way and is currently bivvying down under the Northern Lights about midway between Caribou Creek and Inuvik.
Although I haven’t had a chance to travel back up the trail to see them today, Than, Hendra and Lynne have neigh on broken the back of the stage to Caribou Creek. That will be massive achievement as the stage from Tsiigehtchic to Caribou Creek is soul destroying by anyone’s standards.
Tomorrow should see most of the athletes heading out on to the Ice Road – what a wonderful place to be…
Wednesday 25th March – Race day six
I think today can be regarded as heading into the final stretch of this year’s race.
Up at the front, the lead that Nat had built up over the last 36 hours was quickly cut down overnight by Sam, and Sam has now taken a lead that looks pretty commanding. There is still some way to go in this race, but the lead man really does have a steely look in his eyes. By late evening Sam is already through Swimming Point and on the last 50 mile stage to Tuk. At the time of writing, a mad dash, which I think he is capable of, could see Mimi Andersons record challenged. Nat is having a deserved shortish break at Swimming Point and will be heading after Sam soon.
In the next group, Daithi arrived at Arctic Chalets at 3.00am this morning with spirits high and talking incessantly. The man is as mad as a bag of frogs and has become one of the most popular athletes in this race. I have no idea what he is talking about half the time, but one thing for sure, he is getting the job done with a smile on his face most of the time. After 5 hours break at Arctic Chalet, Daithi was back on the trail heading onto the Ice Road and Swimming Point. By late this evening, he has made considerable inroads into this stage and we hope to see him at Swimming point late tomorrow.
Paul, Gav and Johnny, whilst not necessarily always together, have likewise arrived at Arctic Chalets in Inuvik and have this evening heading off onto the Ice Road.
Hendra and Than have both had their best stage to date, covering the 38 miles from Caribou Creek in good time, and including a lot of running to make up this time. Just before midnight Hendra headed off onto the Ice Road, with Than planning to leave soon.
Unfortunately today, we have lost Lynne from the race. I haven’t had a chance to speak to her yet, but I can say that I am bitterly disappointed to see her withdraw. I know how much completing this event meant to her, and equally know how capable she is and that a finish is certainly within her grasp…..Gutted!!!
Tomorrow everyone is on the Ice Road. The Ice Road can be lovely at times, at other times it’s a flippin nightmare….Let’s see what the morning brings.
Thursday 26th March – Race day seven
So today started with a mad dash for us up to Tuk. Sam has certainly shown that he has the speed to cover a lot of ground quickly, and with this in mind, it was feasible, if not perhaps a little optimistic that he might just arrive on the banks of the Arctic Ocean earlier than we had planned.
However, on reaching the mid point of the last stage into Tuk from Swimming Point, our first encounter was with Natalie, who was her ever chirpy self and was maintaining the very speed she started this whole race. If ever there was a model of how to succeed in this race, Nats was displaying it. Totally in control at all times, never stressing, but always moving forwards. Nats had resigned herself to second place understandably believing that Sam had disappeared into the distance for the final time many many hours earlier.
Little did she know that Sam was bivvying 15km up the Ice Road.
A few hours later the two met once again for the final time and from what I can tell, declared an honourable truce and decided to see this little jaunt out together. So with an anxious support crew and further well wishers waiting patiently at the finish line, Sam and Nats casually walked the final 30km into Tuk to finish as joint winners of the 2015 editions of the 6633 Ultra…. And I for one think that is a cracking result!!!
With everyone else also proceeding up the Ice Road, Daithi was quickly through Swimming Point in the early evening, and whilst he has his moments of despair, on the whole this popular man is doing a cracking job. I am 100% certain that late afternoon/early evening Daithi will be crossing the finish line.
With the three usual suspects follow, Paul has got a slight lead on Johnathan, whilst Jonathan has a slight lead on Gav, but all within spitting distance of one another. At the time of writing, all three are approaching Swimming Point and I would expect will be on their way in the early hours of the morning.
Hendra is continuing methodically and with every day that passes looks more and more comfortable in these surroundings. If I have to be honest, before the race I thought Hendra was likely to be an early casualty….. I am so flippin chuffed he has proved me wrong and has done it in style. He wont reach Swimming Point tonight, but should be there early in the morning. A quick turn around at Swimming Point will surely mean that he will remain in time to finish by 9.00am on Saturday.
As for Than….. Where do you start? The Man is brilliant. He is currently propping up the rear of the racers left in, but I would imaging is the happiest man on the course. Whilst conscious of the time of the finish, Than seems to be attracting the attention of all on sundry on this desolute road. At one stage he had gone missing, but was ultimately tracked down to a reindeer herders hut drinking tea…. Next thing is that he is walking alongside a lady who is cycling around the World. Than, I would like to believe, is totally in control of his pacing and timing, and whilst he is currently at the back, I am certain he will be in Tuk before 9.00am on Saturday.
Its been a mad day, but it wonderful to be back in the harsh yet beautiful location, watching amazing people achieve incredible feats. This race has been dubbed by many as the toughest race on the planet…. It’s a reputation that is being maintained and justified.
More finishers tomorrow, I am sure…
Friday 27th March – Race day eight
We are most definitely now in the home straight.
A quick check up the trail provided a very positive indication that today was going to be a momentous day in the history of the Likeys 6633 Arctic Ultra. The most finishers we have had in the past of the 350 mile event is four (2013), but if all went according to plan, that figure was likely to be doubled today.
The first man we met on the trail (and therefore the man nearest to the finish line) was Daithi, who with 44km to go looked strong, composed and cheerful. I know Daithi has suffered considerably during this race, but the smell of the finish line has certainly bolstered his spirits. Daithi has a commanding lead over his fellow competitors, with Paul at 61 km from the finish, Jonny at 62km and Gav a little way back at 69km.
Hendra, who up until now had been a distant consideration to the above three has moved well and truly up the trail and at the time of seeing him had literally just left Swimming Point at 75km having had a short rest. Whilst at Swimming Point, Than arrived at the checkpoint and was planning a short stop.
No drama with any of them, which I think is probably a good thing.
Leaving them to get on with it for much of the rest of the day, Daithi arrived within spitting distance of the finish line early this evening, having had the company of a lady cycling around the world for the last few hours. Crossing the finish line a little before 8.00pm, Daithi has certainly provided us with one of the most emotional finishes in all the years of the race, and he certainly deserved every ounce of emotion for what he has been through this last 7 days.
A little way back up the course, rumour was flying that Gav had now caught Jonny, an both were running like men possessed. With 6km lead Paul Fosh was possibly at risk of being caught, if the manic pace at which they were now covering the ground could be maintained.
As I have mentioned before, Paul has been meticulous with his preparation and execution of his race, and a mad scurry behind him wasn’t going to deviate him from his plan….. And as it turned out, he didn’t need to worry in any case. Arriving in Tuktoyaktuk 20 minutes before midnight, Paul was our fourth person across the line in 2015.
Looking back across the McKenzie Delta just as Paul was finishing, it was possible to see the head torches of his pursuers. Jonny and Gav had certainly made up some considerable time on Paul, but ultimately crossed the line together just after 12.30am.
Now awaiting the final two, Than and Hendra had once again joined company and were heading at pace towards Tuktoyaktuk. At 3.00am they were within a few kilometres of the finish line, but a few technical issues with a flag that Hendra wanted to display, meant that this two exceptional athletes finally finished this years Likeys 6633 Arctic Ultra, making a grand total of eight awesome finisher in 2015.
With a loooong drive home starting tomorrow, I am going to say goodnight.
120 Miles - Kevin Hollings - 2013 - 34hrs 35mins
350 Miles - Mimi Anderson - 2007 - 143hrs 25mins