PHOTOS: Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run attracts long-time and new mushers

Volunteers stamp envelopes for the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Thursday, Jan. 23. Because there are post offices operating in Quesnel, Wells and Barkerville on the route, the envelopes must all be hand-cancelled for those post offices, and the envelopes are also stamped “Carried by dogsled.” (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Sonja Maas (front) and Antonia Rottgen, who are here from Germany working with Jody Verge in Quesnel, run the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Kerry Onanski passes a mail bag to musher Ronny Roehnke Friday, Jan. 24 after participants were sworn in as official Canada Post mail carriers. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
After being sworn in as official Canada Post mail carriers, participants in the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run gather for a group photo Friday, Jan. 24 in front of the Quesnel Post Office. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Marius Kordina offers belly rubs as he helps get Sally Swan’s team ready for the start of the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Twelve-year-old Skyler Hanks (left) and 16-year-old Sean Houghton, who are both from Fort St. James, hook up their dogs before the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit, north of Quesnel. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Sally Swan of Prince George and Arthur Robic, who is from France and here helping out at Swan’s place, enjoy the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Tiffany McLean of Vancouver and her team run the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Megan McCullough of Quesnel and her team run the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit. This stage was their first time running with other teams on the trail. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Ronny Roehnke, who recently moved with his family and his dogs from Switzerland to Bouchie Lake, takes part in his first Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Jody Verge of Quesnel and her team run the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit, north of Quesnel. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Ann Douglas of Fort Fraser and her dogs are all happy to be running the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit, north of Quesnel. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Jody Verge’s dogs race along the trail at Umiti Pit during the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Friday, Jan. 24. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Sally Swan of Prince George gets her teams ready for the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Fifteen-year-old Lovis Hanks of Fort St. James and her dogs run the trail at Umiti Pit Friday, Jan. 24 during the first stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Teams get ready for the second stage of the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Ann Douglas of Fort Fraser and her dogs come along the trail at Troll Ski Resort Saturday, Jan. 25 during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Ann Doreen of Vanderhoof and her dogs make a tight turn on the trail at Troll Ski Resort during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Saturday, Jan. 25. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Britta Hanks of Fort St. James and her team run the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Jeff Hill of Germansen Landing and his team come out of a turn during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Judd Bakken of Vancouver did the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run on snowshoes. Here, he arrives at a turnaround on the trail at Troll Ski Resort Saturday, Jan. 25 during the second stage of the mail run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Kevin Sturt of Quesnel skies up a hill on the trail at Troll Ski Resort during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Saturday, Jan. 25. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Mayla Hill of Germansen Landing and her team come up the hill and get ready to make a turn Saturday, Jan. 25 during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run at Troll Ski Resort. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Mayla Hill’s team rushes by Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Ronny Roehnke and his team make a turn Saturday, Jan. 25 on the trail at Troll Ski Resort during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. Roehnke and his family recently moved from Switzerland to Bouchie Lake with their 12 Siberian and Alaskan huskies, and this is his first time participating in the mail run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Dogs speed past during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Ronny Roehnke and his team make a turn Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort. Roehnke and his family recently moved from Switzerland to Bouchie Lake with their 12 Siberian and Alaskan huskies. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Twelve-year-old Skyler Hanks of Fort St. James goes around a tight turn with his dogs Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Twelve-year-old musher Skyler Hanks of Fort St. James snuggles one of the dogs following their run Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Sonja Maas of Germany and her team come up a hill on the trail at Troll Ski Resort Saturday, Jan. 25 during the second stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
The team of visiting Mexican Scouts tries to make a fire during the Mushers’ Sports Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort. They finished fourth with 35 points. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Jeff Dinsdale leads a mushers’ meeting Sunday, Jan. 26 right before participants leave Barkerville and head to Wells for the third stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Antonia Rottgen, who is from Germany and is volunteering for Jody Verge in Quesnel, harnesses one of her dogs before the third stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run, which started in Barkerville Sunday, Jan. 26. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Kevin Sturt of Quesnel skis from Barkerville to Wells during the third stage of the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Sunday, Jan. 26. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Craig Houghton of Fort St. James is a second-generation musher, and he operates a sled dog kennel with his son, Sean, who is 16. Here, he and his dogs leave Barkerville and head to Wells for the third stage of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Sunday, Jan. 26. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Jeff Hill of Germansen Landing and his dogs leave Barkerville and head for Wells during the third stage of the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Sunday, Jan. 26. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Sonja Maas of Germany skijors from Barkerville to Wells for the third stage of the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Sunday, Jan. 26. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Jeff Hill of Germansen Landing and his dogs approach the Post Office in Barkerville Historic Town and Park as they finish the Barkerville Dash and the three-day Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Megan McCullough of Quesnel and her dogs arrive in Barkerville during the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Sunday, Jan. 26. This is McCullough’s first year participating in the mail run, and she and her dogs ran Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit and Jan. 26 from Wells to Barkerville in the Barkerville Dash. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Sally Swan of Prince George and Arthur Robic of France were the first team to arrive in Barkerville Sunday, Jan. 26 at the end of the Barkerville Dash, a race from Wells to Barkerville that concludes the three-day Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Mayla Hill of Germansen Landing and her dog team leave the Barkerville Post Office after completing the Barkerville Dash, the finale of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run, Sunday, Jan. 26. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Skier Kevin Sturt of Quesnel arrives at the Barkerville Post Office with his bag of mail after completing the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Sunday, Jan. 26. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Kerry Onanski — who works for Canada Post and also helps organize the mail run — picks up the mail bags from Cariboo Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run participants Sunday, Jan. 26 in Barkerville. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Musher Megan McCullough of Quesnel arrives in Barkerville during the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Sunday, Jan. 26. This is McCullough’s first year participating in the mail run, and she and her dogs ran Jan. 24 at Umiti Pit and Jan. 26 from Wells to Barkerville in the Barkerville Dash. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Tiffany McLean of Vancouver and her dogs come into Barkerville at the finale of the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Sunday, Jan. 26. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Marina Clouet of France (left) and Karen Joseph of Prince George come through Barkerville’s main street as they finish the Barkerville Dash at the end of the mail run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Jeff Hill of Germansen Landing passes his mail bag to Kerry Onanski Sunday, Jan. 26 in front of the Barkerville Post Office after finishing the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Ann Douglas of Fort Fraser celebrates completing the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run with her dogs Sunday, Jan. 26 at Barkerville Historic Town and Park. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
From left, musher Jody Verge, dog sled consultant Jeff Dinsdale, producer Damien Gillis and mushers Sally Swan and Karen Joseph discuss the making of the short film Shadow Trap during a special screening Sunday, Jan. 26 at the Sunset Theatre in Wells. Shadow Trap was filmed in Barkerville and Wells and features many local actor, as well as dog teams from Quesnel and Prince George, and it introduces viewers to the story of Gitxsan indigenous businessman-turned-outlaw Simon Gunanoot. Jody and Kim Verge and Swan and Joseph trained the lead actors to work with their dog teams in the film. To the left of the speakers is a klondike sled that Dinsdale built for the film. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
From left, Gilbert Johnson, Harvey Gunanoot, Damien Gillis, Jerome Turner and Brendan Bailey discuss the making of the short film Shadow Trap during a special screening Sunday, Jan. 26 at the Sunset Theatre in Wells. Shadow Trap was filmed in Barkerville and Wells and features many local actors, including Bailey, and it introduces viewers to the story of Gitxsan indigenous businessman-turned-outlaw Simon Gunanoot. To the left of the speakers is a klondike sled built by Jeff Dinsdale of Quesnel for the film. (Lindsay Chung - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

As the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run got underway Friday under sunny skies north of Quesnel, mushers and their dog teams, skijorers, cross country skiers and a snowshoer had a chance to relive history, as they carried bags of mail from Quesnel to Barkerville.

This year, volunteer filled 22 mail bags with more than 1,700 addressed to destinations as far as Japan, Australia, Germany and New Zealand, as close as McLeese Lake, and everywhere in between.

Participants were sworn in as official Canada Post mail carriers Friday morning in Quesnel and then carried the mail over three stages at Umiti Pit, north of Quesnel; Troll Ski Resort, and from Barkerville to Wells then from Wells to Barkerville, where they were joined by other racers in the Barkerville Dash.

Ronny Roehnke, who recently moved from Switzerland to Bouchie Lake with his family and their 12 Siberian and Alaskan huskies, was taking part in his first Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run this weekend.

“It’s beautiful, just beautiful,” he said. “I love the beautiful community around the mushing here. It’s like a little family. We met the people for the first time Friday morning, and everybody is so friendly. It’s a great run here.”

Megan McCullough of Quesnel was also taking part in the mail run for the first time.

“I kind of taught myself,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I started with my house dogs with a kicksled. I loved it, but they only wanted to do short distances.”

McCullough found her lead dog on Kijiji, and she bought him from Edmonton.

“He was pretty lonely, so I got a second dog from the same lady,” said McCullough.

McCullough bought a really good sled, and she bought two more dogs from the same woman in Edmonton so she could run a sled, and she ended up getting one more dog.

McCullough ran the first stage of the mail run Friday at Umiti Pit and the Barkerville Dash Sunday from Wells to Barkerville.

Friday was her first time running with other teams on the trail.

“It was awesome,” said McCullough. “I loved it. Seeing the dogs, they just love it, and seeing them hooked up, they’re screaming and happy. My older dogs are old race dogs, and I was relying on them to teach me, which they did — it was really cool.”

McCullough says her favourite thing about Friday was being able to run with other teams.

“Sally Swan, she took me under her wing,” she said. “I ran with her two teams, and I learned a lot, especially because I just have been learning on my own, by trial and error, so it was really handy to have someone teaching me things that I didn’t know.”

McCullough says she wanted to take part in the mail run because it’s a historic event, and she wanted to get a feel of the race atmosphere without the pressure of an actual race.

Craig Houghton of Fort St. James has been coming to the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run since the mid-1990s when it used to be a race and was a 200-mile qualifier for the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest.

“My father used to run this as well, and when it used to be a race, he’s won the races, I’ve won the races, I’ve done lousy in the races also,” he said with a laugh. “We like coming here. It’s a nice event. It’s friendly, the trails are good, the organization is nice to deal with.”

Houghton and his 16-year-old son, Sean, race all over Manitoba, Saskatchewan, northern B.C., the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, and Craig helps organize the Caledonia Classic Sled Dog Races in Fort St. James. They run Craig and Sean Racing Dogs Kennel.

“We’ve been at this forever,” Craig said, laughing. “I don’t remember ever not having dogs. I grew up with sled dogs, and this year, we’re fortunate we have a family from Fort St. James who have been helping with running our kennel, the Hanks family. We have a roughly of roughly 20 Alaskan huskies.”

From here, the Houghtons will be racing the Caledonia Classic Feb. 7-9 in Fort St. James, where Sean will race the 100-mile race. From there, they are headed to Dawson City, YT, for the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race, then they will race the Underdog, which is a six-dog 100-mile race in Yellowknife.

“I think one of the strengths the mail run here does is they continue to evolve and change to make it easier for the mushers, better for their volunteers, and it is a very unique event,” said Craig. “Another thing I really like about it is you get to meet a bunch of mushers you would never meet at a race, newer mushers, some that just simply enjoy it.”

Sean likes being with the dogs.

“I enjoy the challenge of it, and I like having the dogs come together as a team and work together,” he said.

Sean’s best Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run memory (so far) involves a race with his grandfather.

“Four years ago, my grandpa was running it that year, and we were actually racing the Dash, and I ended up beating him in the Dash,” he said. “A couple weeks later, he was travelling in Switzerland, and he had just got off the airplane there, and a guy came up to him and said ‘I know you.’ My grandpa didn’t recognize him, but the man said, ‘you were in Quesnel in Canada in that mail run there and got beat by a little kid.’”

Craig’s father started running dogs in about 1966, initially for trapping, and then they evolved into racing.

“When I was a teenager, I sort of got tired of slow dogs and made some changes, and my dad and I sat down and said ‘well, we’re going to do something a little different here,’ and since then, we’ve been racing,” said Craig. “My dad still traps, but the dogs are nothing like they were when I was a kid.”

READ MORE: Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run participants re-live part of Cariboo history

This year’s mail run volunteer contingent included eight youth and two leaders from Mexico, who joined the BPSA (Baden-Powell Service Association) Explorers from Quesnel and Prince George to help out throughout the three-day event. The Explores won a 48-hour competition that provided a week-long winter camp in Canada as the first prize, explained Ric Raynor, who is a scoutmaster and also president of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Association.

The winning team joined the mushers for the swearing-in ceremony Friday morning at the Quesnel Post Office and volunteered at Umiti Pit. They helped out with the second stage at Troll Ski Resort and participated in the Mushers’ Sports, spent the night in Barkerville in the Barkerville School and in tents then helped out with the final day’s activities.

“It’s great that Barkerville supports us for our volunteers to come out and do this, so it’s nice for Barkerville to do that, and we really appreciate that,” said Raynor.

The Mexican team spent a day learning to ski at Troll Monday, and then they were heading out to the local Explorers camp at Puntchesakut Lake, where Raynor says they will spend a week snowshoeing, ice fishing and curling with frozen jugs on the lake.

Raynor was very happy with this year’s event.

“I think this year was awesome,” he said. “We’ve had good weather all weekend, a little icy conditions on Friday, but [Saturday] at Troll, we had some great conditions, and the teams all had a lot of fun. The Mushers Sports went really well; we had five teams that were entered, and the competition there was pretty stiff, and one of the teams was the scouts from Mexico. Considering they haven’t set a leg hold trap before, they did really well in the snowshoeing, considering they haven’t seen snow, much less snowshoes. All the teams did really well. The Quesnel Ambassadors were our judges again this year, and we really appreciate them coming out to help out and judge our Mushers Sports, and that was really great. Today, you can’t ask for more beautiful conditions here. The snow conditions are great, the sunshine — it just doesn’t get any better.”

Raynor is grateful for the volunteers who make the mail run possible and says the organizers are hoping to recruit more people to help out.

“The important thing with the mail run is the support we get from our volunteers, and we’re always looking for more volunteers to be able to come forward to help out,” he said. “This event could not be done without the volunteers, and we really need some more people to come and help us to continue the tradition of carrying the only mail in the world, that I’m aware of, that is the official mail of the country, Canada Post mail, that is part of its trip is delivered by dog sled. I think it’s awesome that we’re able to keep the traditions alive.”



editor@quesnelobserver.com

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