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It's -40oC, you're in the Canadian wilderness and your food just froze...what do you do?

26 April 2017

In early February 2017, David Hartley took on a challenge like no other in memory of his mother in law Tricia Cousins and raised a magnificent £1,835.54! Here, in his own words David tells us about his physically and mentally challenging journey....

"The Yukon Arctic Ultra (in Canada) is billed as the Coldest and Toughest Ultramarathon on the planet and it did not disappoint. There are many different distances and disciplines available and I decided to take on the 100 mile version on foot. The race is nonstop and the goal is to finish as quickly as possible, although my only goal was to get through the race without getting any frostbite, a condition that unfortunately a few competitors encounter.

David and Peter

I was trekking with a friend, Peter and having someone to keep you company but also on frostbite watch was absolutely essential. The race started at 10:30am with around 100 competitors and the weather a very mild -20 degrees Celsius. The first 26miles took us over a number of rolling small hills, which were not easy hiking over the snow whilst dragging a sled carrying everything we needed for the race. Sweating is a real problem on a race like this so I constantly had to take on and off my various different coats and many layers of gloves to ensure I didn’t overheat. After a short stop at the rest point at the marathon finish, we carried on into the night before finding a place to sleep.

Sleeping was by far the worst part of the experience as I was just sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag covered with a bivvy bag (essentially just a waterproof cover for a sleeping bag). After 4 hours and approximately 1 hours sleep it was up again to carry on walking at about 3am (we were keen to get moving before the coldest part of the day at 4am). In the winter the Yukon is dark for much of the day and the night is pitch black other than the light from the stars. At this point it was about -35 degrees Celsius and the tiredness was really kicking in. We were walking along a tree lined pine forest but I was falling asleep whilst moving only to be woken up as I stepped into the deep snow at the side of the trail.

As the morning came and everything got lighter at around 8am, I immediately got a new burst of energy and felt much better. One thing that I looked forward to was at the end of every hour having a 5min break to have something to eat and drink. You are burning off so much energy and using so much water in an environment like the Yukon it is important to stay hydrated and well fed. The rest of the day was spent walking, eating and drinking with only a brief interlude to build a fire to help a fellow competitor who was showing the first signs of hypothermia. It was during these long hours that I thought a lot about Arthur Rank and why I was doing this race. Arthur Rank provided a lot of support to my Mother-In-Law and the whole family as she battled cancer. To know that I was here raising money to help the hospice provide support for other people in need was a real motivating factor in keeping me moving.

After a long 3 mile stretch up the largest hill on the race and then down the other side we arrived at Dog Grave Lake (named after the presence of a local grave for a Dog), the second checkpoint and about 60 miles into the race. After a brief stop next to a much appreciated fire, it was off again into the darkness before finally stopping to sleep at around 9pm. Now more exhausted than the night before, I fell straight asleep and woke up after circa 3hours. To my surprise, as the weather had turned even colder over night, all of my breath had turned to snow while I slept and my bivvy bag, sleeping bag and face were completely covered in snow. My beard and hair were also completely frozen. After quickly getting changed, it was back on the path for the final 30miles of the race.

The last 30miles flew by very quickly, compared to the day before, as we had a renewed sense of energy to get to the finish. However about 5hours into this part of the race the temperatures dipped even further getting below -40 degrees Celsius. At this temperature everything froze, all of the zips on my sled, my food was frozen and I started to develop quite an impressive icicle on my chin. This slowed us down considerably as we put on layer after layer to combat the cold. After a long period of not seeing anyone else we met a man on a skidoo about 15miles from the end and were told that it was a relatively flat race to the finish. Finally, after a hike across a frozen lake, some more hilly sections and a straight run to the finish line, we succeeded in pulling into the finish after 51hours. We were delighted to be told at this point that we had come in first in the 100mile race, although this was really just the icing on the cake as completing the race safely had been the goal, approx. 40% of people on the race had to drop out for a variety of reasons including mild frostbite, although no-one was seriously hurt. It was a privilege to have finished. 

Overall the Yukon Arctic Ultra was an incredible race and the scenery of the Yukon absolutely fantastic. One day I will go back again (probably not in a race though) to enjoy the environment again, however in the short term I will just focus on defrosting properly."

David’s challenge was an enormous and formidable journey which took extensive planning and training, as well as phenomenal endurance. All this alongside fundraising £1,835.54 in memory of his dear mother in law. For which everyone at the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity is immensely grateful.  

Has David’s story inspired you to find your ultimate challenge? Maybe there’s something on your bucket list that you want to tick off? If you’re searching for your once in a lifetime challenge but need a bit of help making it happen, get in touch with the fundraising team on 01223 675888 or click HERE to register your interest.  



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