Yukon River

Craig Springer / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The preseason outlook for Yukon River salmon anticipates a Chinook run similar to last year. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Yukon River area manager Holly Carroll says the run is predicted to

Crane Johnson, Hydrologist / NWS Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center

Ice is breaking up on the upper Yukon River, including at Eagle and Tanana.

 


02-12-20 Midday Yukon Quest Update

Feb 12, 2020
Lex Treinen / KUAC

02-12-20 Midday Quest Update

Lex Treinen (Whitehorse, Yukon) In gusting winds along the Yukon River, Cody Strathe said he was looking over his shoulder the whole way into Whitehorse, where he arrived early Wednesday morning.

The 42-year-old musher crossed the line in third place, the best finish in his career. For much of the past thousand miles, Strathe had fought for third place with three-time Quest winner Allen Moore, but finally, around Pelly Crossing, 300 miles from the finish, Strathe knew he had to make a move.

“Around Pelly I started trying to stay ahead of him, but still wasn't too concerned if he passed me, I don't know where he's at right now, but I was looking over my shoulder the whole way,” he said.

That continued all the way through the last 100 miles into Whitehorse. Strathe says he’d had experience getting passed by Moore in the final sections of trail and that was on his mind as he slogged through the gusts of wind and deep snowdrifts.

“We've run the Copper Basin with him for years and suddenly he'd come running around the corner and he'd have two ski poles on the back of that sled and it looked like it was like this crazy spider with all these things flailing around and I kept thinking that was gonna happen tonight, he was gonna come around the corner and catch up with me but he didn't haha,” said Strathe.

But Moore was nowhere to be seen - in fact, he was thirty miles behind Strathe, who had no real reason to be worried. Back in Carmacks, Allen Moore even told reporters that he wasn’t making any serious effort to catch Strathe, who he knew had a faster team. At the time, Moore said he was hoping he could just stay enough out of sight to make Strathe nervous and hopefully make a mistake. But Strathe did no such thing and continued to put time into Moore throughout the final run.

In fact, his moving speeds - the average speed his team ran not including rest times - were faster even than frontrunners Brent Sass and Michelle Phillips. It’s something he said he did through compassion for his dogs. "It's probably just me projecting cause I'm a wimp. My dogs are really tough but there's certain times where I'm like, 'I don't want my dogs to have to do that' and so then, but then sometimes we're just out there and we have to do it and it's not a big deal. They're so tough they're so amazing,” he said.

Before the race, Strathe said that he had the team to win and that it would be up to him to make good to them. While he improved his previous best finish - 12th last year - he said his fear of pushing his dogs too hard kept him from making a more decisive move. Still, he said that if he were in the right situation, he might be able to find a way to improve on his finish - if he gets the chance.

“It's just dependent on the situation, I mean I can't say it's like if the right moment would have happened here, I would have gone for it. I took specific times where things were going right and I took a chance,” he said.

During the early part of the race, Strathe said he had a realization that he doesn’t care about winning as much as some of his competitors. He was on the Yukon River breaking endless miles of trail - he was grumpy, his attitude transferred to the dogs, and the whole situation spiraled into misery. He said he never wanted to experience that again and threw out his goal of winning.

“The goal was not to try to win it, the goal was to do the best we could do with our dogs so that they could finish happy and strong and I mean I knew that the team possibly could win it, but I also didn't figure I would just because the kind of person I am, I probably wouldn't push them that hard, I wanted to be in the top five, but I didn't really care.”

And reach the finish line happy and strong his dogs did. Unlike Phillips and Sass’s dogs, which were visibly exhausted at the finish, Strathe’s dogs were barking energetically and jumping in their harnesses in the finish chute. Strathe said he’ll now go have a shower, a beer, and deal with some lingering injuries he’s accumulated over years of mushing. While he was sure to keep his dogs in top shape throughout the race - the dogs didn’t quite return the favor, but he’s okay with that. His injuries, he says, were from them.

“It's partly from just life with dogs - they beat us up, in a good way,” he said. ###

02-11-20 Midday Yukon Quest Update

Feb 11, 2020
Lex Treinen / KUAC

02-11-20 1PM Quest Update

Lex Treinen, KUAC (Whitehorse, Yukon) Brent Sass is just a few miles from claiming his 3rd Yukon Quest title. Making his way toward Whitehorse well ahead of 2nd place musher Michelle Phillips, both mushers are pushing through deep fresh that fell overnight.

Tuesday morning, snow blowers, shovels and snow plows were working at full steam to clear the walkways and side roads around Whitehorse so that pedestrians and cars could move through.

Out on the trail, nobody will be helping remove the foot of snow that fell around the area - 27 centimeters - in Whitehorse according to an official measurement.

It took some of the racers by surprise as it also warmed up to about 20 degrees.

"At this point I'm sopped all the way through to everything, so I gotta get these guys taken care of right now and then get dried up a little bit and then well I'll think about that," said Sass. Sass arrived in Braeburn at 3:37 in the afternoon yesterday after plowing trail for 30 miles.

Sass said he'd have to think of some way to use the lead to his advantage, but he was coy about what exactly that would be.

"But it's 100 miles and I gotta go, so you know, obviously it's gonna take a heck of a lot longer than it normally does, so some sort of plan is going to have to be established, because I'm not gonna just say, I'm gonna just get on my my sled and run 100 miles straight through 10 inches of snow, so I don't know," he said.

Still, Sass said, being in front in Braeburn was his goal, so he'll have to take whatever advantage he can get. ###

02-07-20 Midday Quest Update

Feb 7, 2020
Lex Treinen / KUAC

02-07-20 Midday Quest Update

By Lex Treinen, KUAC (Dawson City, Yukon) In Dawson City mushers are required to take a 36-hour layover, a much-needed break after the first 530 miles of racing. They get across the finish line, have their passports checked, answer media questions and then get ready to head off to the dog yard.

Friday morning, in the middle of a media interview, rookie Nora Sjalin is called to from just outside the fencing by a man wearing a Wild and Free jacket. She runs over for a hug. It’s Mark Sass, Brent Sass’s father, who is a constant presence at the checkpoint in between all of his other duties. Sjalin is borrowing some of Sass’s dogs, so the two have paid close attention to each other’s progress and the dogs’ health. "All the kids are doing good, huh ?" he asks. "Yeah, no they're doing great," she says.

But Mark Sass has plenty of other duties as well. After driving over thirty hours from Circle to Dawson City, you’d think he’d be tired, but immediately after Sjalin’s finish, he offers to drive me across the Yukon to visit Sass’s dogs. He describes what he’s been up to : it’s not much in the way of resting. “I clean the dog sled out, took it to the RMC, thanks to them, they give us a heated provided place where we can dry things out, so I dry out all the stuff and then I service the whole sled,”he says. Reliable handlers are a must have, and they take their jobs seriously. Making sure the sled is properly maintained is one of Mark Sass’s most important tasks.

As we cross the ice bridge over the Yukon River on our way to the dogyard, Mark Sass tells me how just how thorough he is. “Checked every bolt and nut, changed a piece on the brakes, one of the brakes broke and just make sure that it’s okay and then check the tool kit to make sure everything is there so if it did break, he's got enough stuff with him to fix or at least get by so he can carry on,” he says as he drives his truck across the ice bridge on the Yukon River. As much as his job is, Mark Sass is just an extra hand though. Official handlers stay out at the dogyard while he gets to sleep in a cushy hotel. “They have an Arctic Oven tent which is a heated tent and they stay out there and then they've been rotating back and forth,” he said.

Mark Sass unloads two heavy buckets of warm water for the dogs, taken from the checkpoint. He puts them on a sled and starts his trek past the other mushers’ camps that are set up along the way. It’s a decent walk, but Mark Sass is jovial throughout, stopping to chat with other mushers and their handlers. When we arrive at Brent Sass’s camp, the musher hard at work packing his sled. He’s intense about it and a bit snappy, but as he explains once he’s done, the next section of trail is one of the trickiest to pack for. “ It's a long trip over to Pelly, a couple hundred miles so there's a lot of dog food and a lot of gear. and you gotta pack for every situation you could possibly have, so you just gotta make sure you got what you need, you're all along out there for the next two hundred or so,” he says.

While almost all of the work in Dawson City is done by the handlers, packing a sled is something mushers tend to like to do themselves, just in case. Brent Sass says he has super reliable handlers in Mike Ellis and Steve Stoller, longtime friends and aids, but he still isn’t willing to give up all that trust. 1:00 “I trust em but it's better for me to see it go into the sled, and I think they want me to see it go in. Mike Ellis: it doesn't matter what I want” But he doesn’t want them to leave, either. “It's super nice for these guys to be here and watch it, especially Mike who's run many Yukon Quests. He kind of knows what I need, so it's nice for him to be watching and be like hey, do you have this, this would be a good thing to have, you know, double checking everything, and he's obviously watching me put everything in to see what I got too, so that's really handy and nice to have and you know, that kind of knowledge in a handler.”

And the handlers aren’t just watching over equipment, they’re also up at all hours taking care of dogs, and even protecting the mushers from themselves. Brent Sass says he’s slept almost 20 hours in the time he’s been in Dawson, thanks to them. “ Steve you know my personal assistant and making sure I fall asleep and taking my phone away and making sure I just get sleep here is super important and food, so I've had a really good stop I'm gonna get one more nap here I'm gotta few more hours and we'll be ready to go,” he says. With a 230-mile unbroken stretch of trail before him, that extra sleep will come in handy over in the next 24 hours. ###

02-06-20 AM Yukon Quest Update

Feb 6, 2020
Wild and Free Mushing

02-06-20 AM Quest Update


02-05-20 Midday Quest Update

Feb 5, 2020
Lex Treinen / KUAC

02-05-20 1 PM Quest Update

02-04-20 Midday Yukon Quest Update

Feb 4, 2020
Lex Treinen / KUAC

02-04-20 1PM Quest Update

02-03-20 Midday Yukon Quest Update

Feb 3, 2020
Lex Treinen / KUAC

02-03-20 1PM Quest Update

Tonight's upcoming winter snow storm for the Interior may slow down some river break-ups this month. But the Kuskokwim and Tanana Rivers have seen record early breakups this year, and it’s likely the Yukon will follow suit.


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