The first annual Yukon River Quest is scheduled to start in Whitehorse, Yukon, on Wednesday, June 9, 1999, travel 460 miles across Lake Laberge and down the Yukon River to Dawson City in the Klondike Valley - home of the world's last great gold rush.

It will be the longest endurance marathon canoe race in the world. The Klondike River Quest has it's roots in the two successful Dyea-to-Dawson races, held in 1997 and 1998, that attracted 108 competitors from Canada, the United States and Europe. One of the organizers of that race, Skagway's Jeff Brady, can actually be credited with founding the new race. He informed interested competitors that Whitehorse resident John Firth would organize the new, shorter, annual event. Firth discovered he was organizing the race when people from Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and the Yukon started calling to ask him about the race.

"When there's that much interest in an event that doesn't even exist yet, you can't very well say 'no', says Firth, who went on to explain that the race route was dictated by economy and logistics. Some competitors had suggested started the race on Lake Bennett, approximately 80 miles south of Whitehorse.

"The cost of getting teams onto the southern lakes and ensuring their safe return was prohibitive. We could increase the safety margin and cut the cost by half, for both competitors and organizers, simply by starting in Whitehorse and heading north. It also makes for a faster, more exciting race." The event will have a LeMans style of start, where competitors will run or walk from downtown Whitehorse to a gravel bar where they will load their gear into their canoe, put on their spray skirt (mandatory for crossing Lake Laberge) and start paddling. There will be an eight hour mandatory stop at Minto, approximately halfway, which is also the only point at which the competitors can receive outside assistance.

"For this first year, we will restrict the type of canoe to two-person recreational canoes. In the future, we will introduce more categories to appeal to a wider range of competitors." Professional marathon canoeists compete as individuals, teams of two or teams of six in most races. Their boats tend to resemble rowing shells rather than the traditional canoe that most people are familiar with.

A cash purse of $5,000 U.S. is what the organization hopes to offer in 1999, says Firth. This will be divided among the top three finishers in each of the men's, women's and mixed categories. The entry fee will be $400 U.S. Entries in 1999 will be limited to 60 teams.

"We have calculated that we should be able to break even on this event. We cannot afford to run an event like this in the red. If the entry fees and sponsorship money is less than we have budgeted for, we will scale back things like the purse, or the pre and post race goodies. But we will not
compromise on safety along the river."

The race will be a production of Yukon Quest International, which stages the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest sled dog race between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska, each February. "This will be easier than putting on the Quest. There's no trail to put's already there."

They will be assisted by the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club. A web site is currently being developed for the event. It should be on line before the end of November. An entry form, detailed information and the full set of rules will be on the site which organizers hope will be linked to other paddling industry web sites. The address is:

John Firth can be reached at (867) 667-2144 for further details.