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+  Turns All Year Trip Reports
|-+  2009 Backcountry Trip Reports
| |-+  January 2009 Backcountry Trip Reports
| | |-+  Jan 23-25, Northern B.C. Skijoring
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Author Topic: Jan 23-25, Northern B.C. Skijoring  (Read 7611 times)

Posts: 16

Jan 23-25, Northern B.C. Skijoring
« on: 02/01/09, 02:36 PM »

Quesnel BC, 3 days, 60 miles, 2 dogs, no turns

As a WA backcountry (tele) skier, I've been mostly a lurker on this site for a few years now.  I appreciate the tone and information to be found.  After the surprising number of skijoring reports from the Seattle Christmas snowstorms, I thought the following (somewhat lengthy) TR might be of interest. 

I like to skijor with my pet dog, a 4 year old chow mix named Bear.  Gradually I've met some real dogmushers, the kind with multiple sleds, dog trucks, and 16 dog kennels.  You can find them training out of Crystal Springs snowpark most weekends.

Last year these musher friends did this thing called the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run.  It starts in Quesnel, B.C. (about 500 miles north of Seattle, near Prince George) and travels east covering about 60 miles over three days.  It is a participation event, not a race, and people can do all of it or just certain stages.  It follows in spirit and at times actuality part of the original 1860's Gold Rush Trail through the Cariboo country of northern BC.  Mushers get sworn in as official mail carriers and carry special commemorative envelopes (about 2700 this year) from Quesnel to Wells.  Along the way the route passes through historic gold rush towns and communities including Cottonwood, Stanley, Barkerville, and Wells.  At the end the mail gets turned in to the postmaster, is hand-cancelled, and then continues to its destination through the regular Canadian postal system.

That's the background.  Well, these musher friends mentioned that one guy skijored the whole thing last year.  Somehow that idea lodged in my expedition hungry mind and as I ran with my dog through the summer, and biked, and did 3-day backpack trips, I kept returning to the thought that it all seemed like good training if I were to try this thing.  But 60 miles skijoring with only 1 dog?

This fall these same musher friends removed that last excuse by offering: "If you want to do it, why don't you borrow one of our dogs and go up there and skijor it with a 2-dog team?  So without for sure planning on it, I kept training.  I mean, as anyone on this site knows, good snowfall, powder days, and a season pass could easily derail the whole endeavor, and might have.

Then came the Christmas snows, pass closures, etc.  I switched from running and biking and started skijoring for longer tours, right out the door in Shoreline, early in the morning on unsanded roads.  The strange weather allowed for this novel training for days in a row and hours at a time.

Avi conditions kept the backcountry off limits and then the January floods/drought made downhill skiing unappealing anyway, so I kept up the skijoring, upping the distance and adding hills, going for back to back tours to build endurance.  Two weeks before the event I borrowed Reba, my musher friend's Siberian Husky/Chow mix for a weekend campout to make sure she'd run with me away from her pack and peeps.  We did a 13 and a 20 miler, including a climb up to Stampede Pass on the groomed 'biler road.

Wed. Jan, 21 we drove the 500 miles to Quesnel, with the thermometer dropping.   
We planned on tent camping between stages; I packed some extra winter stuff, and tested my 20-year old Toyota's radiator fluid: good to -34F. 

On Thursday evening was the traditional musher's orientation meeting; it was a bit intimidating to be the only whole-route skier with my micro dog team.

Friday the 23rd dawned cold, about -10F, and mostly clear.  This ended up being the warm day.  After the swear-in with the postmaster, the day's stage covered 24 miles over single track through the woods, snow covered logging roads (mostly ice, actually), and snowmobile tracks.  Beautiful rolling northern forest country.

I'd brought a small quiver of skis, but ended up using a pair of 195 cm Karhu XCD Pinnacles for their nordic dimensions, metal edges, and BC NNN bindings.  They worked well on the icy trails and crusty snow and I used them every day.  To reduce the risk of metal edges to the dogs I lengthened the tugline so I'd have a bit more reaction time.  The 24 miles took about 4 hours, better than expected, and we weren't even last.

There was a BBQ at the checkpoint, a bonfire, new friends, and associated merriment.  Meanwhile it was getting colder.

Day 2 was mostly clear and my backpack thermometer had bottomed out--again.  This stage was mostly uphill for about 15 miles before a downhill run finishing at Troll Mountain, a mellow community ski hill.  That night was a banquet and awards.  I was called up twice; recognized once as the only skijorer doing the whole 60 miles and once to receive the traditional 'red lantern' award for being last that day.

That night I seriously worried for my 20 year old truck.  I didn't really know how cold it was, but the cracking of the trees in the subzero air had taken on a deeper, sharper, more insistent intensity.  I guessed, correctly it turned out, that it was approaching -30F.  At 5 am I could not lay around covered in down any longer, got up, made sure every possible battery draw was switched off, and turned the key.  With much grumbling and misfiring I got it to start,  it was touch and go for a while as thick oil was pushed around, and then it settled in to a rough idle.  Oil seeped out here and there, but eventually it smoothed out and I left it on for the next 3 hours while I did camp chores, periodically warming stuff up (including one of the dogs) with the heater on full blast.

Several teams didn't run that day, either because of vehicle failure, sick drivers, tired dogs, or just the cold, with a low in Quesnel of -28F.  The ski hill remained closed too.  But there was still no wind, a clear sky, and sun on the way so I bootied the dogs, jacketed one, and gave it a go.

The trail was awesome, spectacular in places, bracingly cold.  Some of it followed the original Cariboo Waggon Road the goldrushers used back in the day, more a trail than a road, tight and overgrown through the forest and very cool.  Giant hoarfrost crystals sparkled in the still morning air, and on the trail the dogs were jazzed.  After about 15 breathtaking miles we hit Barkerville, a period gold rush town right out of the movies--way cool to swoop down out of the woods into 1860's Main Street.

Surprisingly, we weren't last and had 15 minutes until the restart for the final stage, the "Barkerville Dash", basically a mass start sprint race over the final 5 miles.  There was just enough time to dump my pack, slip my mail parcel into my parka, water the dogs, slam some cocoa, and change into skate skis.

All the other teams were lined out and ready, plus spectators and a generally festive atmosphere had my two dogs fired up to go, and off we went, finally on fast skis!  The first two miles were a rush and a blur, then we settled in to a fast trot.  It was a super fun run to the finish, with lots of passing back and forth on the wide flat trail.

There were spectators at the finish, prizes, mail bags were turned in to the postmaster, and the 17th annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run was over.  I am so proud of my little dog team!

Even if I had been missing powder skiing days it would have been worth it--I'm still buzzing from the experience.

But now, like everyone, I'm hoping for some fresh snow!

More info, and some pictures:

* IMG_0848_MR_swear_in.jpg (63.14 KB, 640x480 - viewed 1379 times.)

* IMG_0856_MR_Day_1_single_track.jpg (46.71 KB, 480x640 - viewed 1345 times.)

* IMG_0938_MR_finish.jpg (60.03 KB, 640x480 - viewed 1360 times.)

Posts: 122

Re: Jan 23-25, Northern B.C. Skijoring
« Reply #1 on: 02/01/09, 02:54 PM »

That is really awesome!  Thanks for the report.  -20 is about my limit.  I'm glad they let you use metal edges.

Posts: 162

Re: Jan 23-25, Northern B.C. Skijoring
« Reply #2 on: 02/01/09, 03:00 PM »

really enjoyed your trip report.  a guy i know in alaska has done 300 miles in two weeks.. but not sure how many dogs

Posts: 46

Re: Jan 23-25, Northern B.C. Skijoring
« Reply #3 on: 02/02/09, 12:33 PM »

Great TR!  That was a very enjoyable read.  I passed through Quesnel as a teenager moving from Alaska to Seattle.  It is a very beautiful part of the world and glad you got to enjoy it.
Randy Beaver

Posts: 238

Re: Jan 23-25, Northern B.C. Skijoring
« Reply #4 on: 02/02/09, 02:16 PM »

So cool. Bear would be a apt name for the (I'm guessing) darker dog on the right?


The mountain might get 'em, but the law never will

Posts: 16

Re: Jan 23-25, Northern B.C. Skijoring
« Reply #5 on: 02/03/09, 07:07 AM »

Thanks everyone for the kind responses.  Funny that my first TR is about skijoring...
Here's one more pic, from Day 1.

For those interested, the Mail Run website (see link at bottom of report) now has photos up, follow the obvious links and click 2009 Mail Run.


* IMG_0862_MR_Day_1_trail_sky.jpg (50.54 KB, 640x480 - viewed 1128 times.)
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