Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra 2015 – Final Report

Another Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra is history. It was a tough one. 

Temperatures of -45°C, in some places on the trail possibly even down to –50° C during the first couple of nights, which influenced the entire race. After all the warnings about frostbite and other cold-related problems, race organiser Robert Pollhammer was very happy to see all athletes arrive at Rivendell Farm in pretty good shape. That’s all except Ignatios Konstantin (430 miles) who had a bad cold and Renzo Moltrasio (300 miles) who had bad stomach problems. Both scratched at Takhini Bridge.

The marathon course was not easy. Robert believed a lot of water bladders froze at some point and running 42km with little or no water is difficult. But all athletes completed!

More ultra athletes scratched at the first checkpoint (CP) at Rivendell Farm. They did the right thing. Continuing may have caused serious problems and they had sustained no frostbite. Most of the problems experienced ocurred on the way to CP 2 at Dog Grave Lake and some after. It’s a long way to get there. It’s night and it’s still the beginning of the race when athletes have not had a lot of time to adapt to the cold conditions.

Reaching Dog Grave Lake without any major issues was a big challenge and even at the checkpoint things were not easy. At that point quite a few more athletes had decided to call it a day. Some did so before they ran into more difficulties. Some already had frostbite. “As much as I know it can happen, I always feel sorry for any participant who is faced with this problem. All the training, preparation and money spent and the race is over after the first night. I believe all athletes who did get frostbite will be fine. Sadly the MYAU’s first Polish competitor Michal’s Kielbasinski had to pull out due to fairly severe frostbite during the race, but he is recovering well and we are confident for his continued recovery” said Pollhammer.

With the exception of Kielbasinski, Robert reported everything else as being within the limits of what he would call “normal” for the world’s coldest and toughest ultra. But tough conditions this year highlighted the extreme nature of the MYAU. “One thing needs to be clear to all future athletes. And we have always said that. If temperatures do get that cold, this race is dangerous. We can monitor athletes as much as we want but the crew can’t be there all the time. Five minutes and one mistake are all it can take to get frostbite” Pollhammer emphasised.

Pulling out from the race is a brave decision. Athletes must weigh up their intensive training, time and often emotional investment in the race against their own safety in the face of extreme cold. So while congratulations usually goes to the finishers, we would also congratulate those who scratched, those who followed the race organiser’s instructions and dealt with problems as they happened and those who helped each other out along the way.

Whilst it was sad to see so many athletes scratch this year, it was also amazing to see that a lot of athletes got through the cold quite well. The 100 mile winner Kyle McCoy arrived at the finish in Braeburn looking in very good shape.

As the race progressed, temperatures warmed up considerably. At this point the worst was over but of course slightly softer snow, wind that made the trail disappear on the lakes, very tough trails on some river sections and simply the long distances still made the going tough. As a consequence some athletes who had pushed through the cold still needed to scratch, e.g. due to tendonitis, skin infections, flu, back or other problems. Therefore, the 300 mile distance only saw three finishers at Pelly Crossing. First in was Neil Thubron (UK) followed by Daniel Benhammou (US) and Ryan Shaw (UK).

On to the 430 miles. It was great to see how Derek Crowe (Whitehorse, Canada) made sure his fellow competitor Enrico Ghidoni (Italy) got help solving a problem with his fat bike. Unfortunately, the fix did not last long and Enrico basically pushed his bike all the way from Dog Grave Lake (CP 2) to Carmacks (CP 5). Once there he received a new wheel and there was no stopping him.

Enrico had already finished the 430 miles as a runner and cross country skier in previous years. In these categories he placed 1st each time. And he did it again this year but on bike. But what makes Enrico such a strong MYAU athlete is his attitude. No matter what difficulty he faced he kept a strong positive focus.  “No problem” was his catchphrase. Derek came second and really enjoyed his experience. He documented his race for Yukon News.

Up next were Hanno Heiss (Italy) and Peter Felten (Germany). Peter had overtaken Hanno before the finish line but decided to wait for the athlete from Pfalzen just in front of the finish banner and they crossed the line together. Hanno was the first athlete into the finish at Dawson on foot this year. He made it despite setbacks at CP 5 in Carmacks, where Dr. Mathias Steinach helped him take care of swollen calf muscles. After that point he flew.

Pat Cooke-Rogers (UK) came 5th with her fat bike, becoming the first woman from Europe to reach Dawson in the 430 mile category. Joel Jaile Casademont from Spain came 6th overall and 2nd in the foot category. He had bad feet for quite some time but did not let that get to him and just ploughed on. Mathieu Bonnier (France) ranked 7th overall and 1st in the cross country ski category.

David Erixon and Niclas Bentzer from Sweden were welcomed over the finish line to the sound of ABBA. They placed 8th equal overall and 2nd equal in the cross country ski category. They are also the only team ever to make it to Dawson and looked amazingly fresh at the finish. Their perfect strategy and steady performance were impressive. Like many others they were a great example of positivity throughout the race.

Bernhard Hasenbalg (Germany) came in as 10th overall and 3rd in the foot category. Followed by Jessie Thomson-Gladish (Canada) who placed 11th overall and was 1st in the women’s foot category. With her was Julie Pritchard (UK) who had skipped one stage and therefore did not get ranked. But I am sure had she not been sick for two days she would have made it.

Last but certainly not least, Sean Brown (UK). It was Sean’s 4th try at the 430 miles. The race organisers knew that if he made it through the first two nights it would be his year. And although he experienced pain and suffering, he managed it. Sean is tough and he had learnt from his mistakes of previous years. “To me it was very special to see him reach his goal. Something I certainly will never forget” added Pollhammer.

We at Montane would like to thank everybody involved in the organisation of the MYAU 2015 and the snowmobile and checkpoint crews.

Check out this video about the MONTANE® Yukon Arctic Ultra from Montane on Vimeo.

For further information on the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra, click here.

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