Yukon River Quest | Bart de Zwart Defends Title in 444-mile Race
More than just a river race, the Yukon River Quest is a grueling test of a paddler’s physical and mental fortitude.
Every summer, an eclectic group of endurance paddlers converge upon Whitehorse–the capital of Canada’s Yukon Territory–for this legendary event. The task? Paddle 444 miles through the Canadian wilderness on the Yukon River.
Over the course of three days, paddlers face everything from sleep deprivation and muscle fatigue to grizzlies and moose crossing the river.
This year the 19th annual Yukon River Quest kicked off on June 28. Before the race started, paddlers were given a sobering reminder about the dangers of the Yukon in the form of an orange garbage bag. One they were asked to hang on a tree to alert rescuers if they happened to find the body of a paddler who had gone missing on the river.
Putting that unsettling news in the back of their minds, 88 teams of paddlers charged into the race on a diverse array of crafts including kayaks, canoes, standup paddleboards and traditional Voyageur canoes–originally used for trading furs in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Leading the field of eight SUP teams was last year’s inaugural SUP champion, Bart de Zwart. After paddling the initial 24 hours without stopping, he opened up a 45 minute lead by the time he arrived in the town of Carmacks–the first of two mandatory rest stops.
He was pursued by Canadian paddler Jason Bennett who matched de Zwart’s pace for the rest of the race, but was never able to close that initial deficit. The defending champion crossed the finish line with a time of 52 hours and 16 minutes, setting a new course SUP record and finishing nearly two hours quicker than his time from last year.
While paddling over 400 miles is hard enough, the greatest challenge is simply paddling alone through the wilderness for hours on end. After a certain point, most paddlers struggled to stave off their urge to just fall asleep mid-stroke.
That’s exactly what happened to standup paddler Joanne Hamilton-Vale, before being rudely awakened seconds later by a plunge into the chilly waters. After a two-hour power nap in the wilderness, she continued and would eventually finish with a time of 59 hours and 28 minutes–a new record for the women’s SUP division.
In the end, six SUP teams would complete the epic journey. Not for the glory or prize money–de Zwart would only pocket $864 for his efforts–but instead for the personal pride and gratification of completing the toughest race in standup paddling.