Trail Sections

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Section Name Mile Section description Sponsored by
Dawson Mile 1-5

Teams in the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race depart from the historic post office on King St, symbolizing the importance of Percy’s role as mail carrier. In Percy’s time, mail was one of the only means of communication between the isolated northern communities and the rest of the world. Mushers in the Percy race still carry mail along Percy’s historic trail, and the “Percy Post” is possibly the only mail in the world to still be carried by dog team!

The Holmes family
Fort Reliance Mile 5-10

Al Mayo and Jack McQuesten established Fort Reliance as a trading post in 1874. It was the major trading post in the area until gold discoveries on the Stewart and Fortymile Rivers in the mid 1880s drew people away. Fort Reliance was abandoned in 1886 when Mayo and McQuesten established a new post near the mouth of the Stewart River.

Judith Blackburn-Johnson
Quebec Creek Mile 10-15

Though it is only a little over an hour into the trail, mushers in the Percy races may meet their first major challenge in this section. There is a bend in the river here where the wind can really howl. Drifting snow can quickly obscure the trail, meaning that teams can easily get off the packed track into the deep snow. A good lead dog is invaluable in this situation, both to help find a blown in trail, and to keep the rest of the team moving in difficult conditions.

Whitehouse Cabins
Chandindu Mile 15-20

There is often overflow coming from the mouth of the Chandindu River, leaving glaciers or hollow ice along the Percy race trail. Overflow occurs when water flowing in a creek or river forces its way up through cracks in the surface ice to flow on top of it. Mushers often need to stop and change overflow soaked booties on their dogs after passing through this area - allowing wet booties to freeze on dogs would cause problems for their feet!

Georgette McLeod
Fifteen Mile River Mile 20-25

Like the Chandindu, the Fifteen Mile River is often overflowing. Wet overflow on a trail can range from a minor annoyance to a major obstacle for a musher, depending on the situation and temperature. In places where overflow is frequent, such as at the mouth of the Chandindu and Fifteen Mile Rivers, layer upon layer of overflow freezes and builds up huge glaciers.

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Halfway Cabin Mile 25-30

The DeWolfe family homestead was at the mouth of Halfway Creek, roughly half the distance between Dawson and Fortymile. Percy’s wife was a First Nation woman named Jessie, who was raised by a family that lived near the Chandindu River. Jessie’s experience in this lifestyle would have greatly contributed to the success of the family homestead, where they kept horses as well as dogs. The family grew hay and operated a fish wheel in the summers to feed the animals. The DeWolfes had six children before Jessie’s death in 1918. Percy never remarried.

Bonnie Barber
Woodchopper Creek Mile 30-35

This is a long, straight section of river, which can be psychologically difficult for both mushers and dogs alike. It seems to take much longer than it should to get to the next bend in the river, and spending so long looking at the same scenery can make both people and dogs feel like they are not making any progress along the trail.

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Cassiar Creek Mile 35-40

There is a modern cabin on the bank of the river at Cassiar Creek. In Percy DeWolfe’s time, there would have been many more cabins, homesteads and even Northwest Mounted Police outposts along the river between Dawson and Eagle. For these river people, Percy’s regular trips provided a link to the rest of the world. Often these homes would have a wooden mailbox on the river bank for Percy to leave mail in. The original door to door delivery!

Dawson City Town Crier & Buyer
Forty miles - but not Fortymile! Mile 40-45

You would think that Fortymile would be in the “mile forty” section, but it isn’t! In the early days on the Yukon, non-native traders and prospectors named many places after their estimated distance from Fort Reliance, which was about six miles down river from the present site of Dawson. These distance based names came to replace the traditional First Nation place names which were often descriptive of the site or activities that commonly took place there.

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Looking forward to Fortymile Mile 45-50

Mushing along this section of trail, Percy DeWolfe would almost certainly have started to look forward to seeing his old friend Pete Anderson. The two men had come north together in 1898, and formed a hunting and fishing business. After Percy got the mail carrying contract, Anderson moved to Fortymile and the two maintained a fast friendship for many years. Upon Percy’s death Anderson was quoted as saying “I doubt if two men ever got along better than we did. If it had been my own brother who died it couldn’t have taken more out of my heart.”

Grant Allen
Fortymile Mile Mile 50-55

Gold was discovered on the upper Fortymile River in 1886. Because the Fortymile could not be navigated by sternwheeler, a town was established at the mouth of the river as the supply and service centre for the gold miners working in the area. By 1896 when gold was discovered in the Klondike region there were close to 1000 people living in the town. It is commonly believed that Fortymile became a ghost town when the Klondike strike happened, but in fact people lived there until the 1950s.

Sebastian Jones
Post Office Trail Mile 55-60

Most of Percy’s old bush trails have grown over and become unusable through lack of use and erosion of the river banks on the approaches. This section of bush trail, which is locally known as “the post office trail” is kept open by a local trapper, who is based on the Fortymile River. Mushers in the Percy Race can either stay on the river or use the bush trail.

Cathie and Alex Findlay-Brook
Cliff Creek Mile 60-65

The Post Office Trail rejoins the main river trail in this section. In the days when Percy carried mail, he maintained many bush trials along his route, either to shorten the distance he had to travel by cutting off large bends in the river, or to avoid sections of river where travel was often difficult because of drifting snow or large ice jams.

Fargey sisters
Old Man/Old Woman Rock Mile 65-70

The rock cliffs on either side of the river in this trail section are known as Old Man Rock and Old Woman Rock. The First Nation story about this place tells that they are ancient ancestors, but after an argument the two became separated and the Yukon River changed course to flow between them, keeping them apart for all time.

Jody Beaumont
Memories of the Iron Man Mile 70-75

Salmon fishers in this area have reported stories of pulling up remnants of harnesses in their fish nets.  It seems likely that these harnesses may have belonged to Percy Dewolfe’s animals, as there are many stories of his teams of dogs or horses going through the ice on his mail delivery trips. Amazingly, Percy always managed to save the mail!

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Dozen Islands Mile 75-80

If you stopped to explore the several small islands in this wide section of the river, you might find remains of abandoned wood camps. These camps were responsible for supplying cord wood as fuel to the many steam boats which travelled up and down the river until the 1950s. There have also been many fish camps in the area over the years, where both King and Chum salmon were pulled from the river.

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Fanning Creek Mile 80-85

Twenty-two miles from Eagle is Fanning Creek, where Percy DeWolfe used to stop for a break during his mail run. Old Man Fanning operated a roadhouse on this 160-acre homestead. In the spring of 1937, an ice jam wiped out the roadhouse, and the homestead was flooded. Fortunately Percy arrived in time to save Fanning, who was marooned on the roof of his house.

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Caribou Sightings Mile 85-90

This section of the trail is the most likely area to spot caribou during the race. When a dog team catches sight of caribou, it will become obvious to the musher because the dogs’ ears and tails will perk up as they pick up significant speed. Unlike moose who may present a real threat to a dog team, caribou typically run away or continue about their business as usual when confronted with dogs or people.

The Wickham family
Bush Trail Mile 90-95

Most of the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race takes place on the Yukon River, however in this section, teams leave the river and travel on bush trails the rest of the way to the Eagle checkpoint. Mushers often say the bush trails come as a relief because travelling so many miles on the river becomes extremely monotonous for mushers and dogs alike.

Ed Christensen
Eagle or Johnny’s Village Mile 95-100

Eagle Village is located just upriver from the town of Eagle and was established by the Han Kutchin Native people in the area before the turn of the twentieth century. The village was also known by non-Native people as “Johnny’s Village”, because “John” was the English name of the Village Chief during this time.

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Eagle Checkpoint Mile 100-105

Eagle, Alaska is the halfway point of the race, and mushers must take a minimum 6-hour mandatory rest here. For thousands of years, Eagle was home to the Han Native people, though in the late 1800s it became a supply and trading centre for miners working in the area. Currently home to around 100 residents, Eagle volunteers welcome mushers into the school house for a warm place to get some sleep, a place to dry their clothes and a delicious meal to refuel after the long trip.

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Eagle Checkout Mile 105-110

During the race, mushers are typically preparing to leave Eagle and get back on the trail before the first light of day. Their regimented routines include preparing meals for and feeding their dogs, repacking their sleds and placing booties and jackets on their dogs before hooking up. Before they are allowed to leave, checkers in Eagle will ensure they have their mandatory gear, which includes items such as an axe, sleeping bag, snowshoes, dog food and more.

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Heading Home Mile 110-115

Like the mushers in the race, Percy DeWolfe and his dogs would have been feeling refreshed at the start of their return trip after a rest in Eagle, where he would have dropped off the mail from Dawson and picked up a new load to carry back upriver. The dogs Percy used were much larger, and slower than the race dogs running the route today, however they were probably also stronger - Percy was known to carry 200lbs of mail, plus all his gear, and some frozen fish to feed his dogs!

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Back on the Yukon River Mile 115-120

In this section, the trail takes the dog teams back onto the mighty Yukon River for the majority of the trip back to Dawson. At 3190 km long, the Yukon River is the fifth-longest river in North America. It flows from Northwestern BC, through the Yukon and Alaska, and finally empties into the Bering Sea. The total drainage area of the Yukon River is bigger than Texas or Alberta!

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Canada-U.S. Border Mile 120-125

Heading up river on the Percy trail, the two national flags which mark the Canada/United States border can be seen. This is located at the 141st degree of west longitude and was established in 1825 between Russia and Britain. For over fifty years, hundreds of surveyors took on the huge task of marking the border in this remote wilderness. Since the race involves crossing the border, all mushers must carry passports and vaccination papers for their dogs.

Morgen Smith
Poppy Creek Mile 125-130

Today only one residence along the remote Yukon River between Dawson and Eagle is occupied year-round, and it is located here at Poppy Creek. This family may well be the western-most residents of Canada! This section of river often presents a long stretch of glare ice, where it is difficult for dogs to keep their balance, and also for mushers to steer their sleds.

Dawson City Town Crier & Buyer
Snack Time! Mile 130-135

As teams approach the Dozen Islands, they are reaching the halfway point between Eagle and Forty Mile. Some mushers may consider this a good time to provide their dogs with a tasty snack. Dogs are fed small pre-cut chunks of meat or fish as snacks every 2-4 hours. Since it is typically warm during the race in late March, fish is a favourable choice since it has a high water content which helps to rehydrate the dogs. And dogs LOVE it!

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Cliff Creek Mile 135-140

Cliff Creek marks the deepest section of the Yukon River along the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race trail. Even when the water runs shallow in the winter, this section of river can be up to 100 ft deep. When salmon were more abundant, they were an important source of food, and fishing provided a living for many people on the Yukon River over the years. The deep eddy at Cliff Creek was once a prolific producer of Chinook salmon for local fishers.

Ben French and Marc Richard
Coal Creek Mile 140-145

During the turn of the 20th century a coal-fired power plant operated 12 miles up Coal Creek, A small narrow-guage railway also freighted coal down the creek to fuel steamboats on the Yukon River. In its early years the Percy race was less competitive, and mushers in the race enjoyed stopping in at Coal Creek for a social visit and a drink or two with the homesteaders who lived there.

Fellers Family
Fortymile River Mile 145-150

The Fortymile River has been an important hunting, fishing and trading site for First Nation peoples for over 2 000 years. It was also one of the first places that First Nations interacted with newcomers to the upper Yukon River valley prior to the Klondike Gold Rush. Before Percy DeWolfe got his contract to deliver mail between Dawson and Eagle, he also freighted gear to miners at the Fortymile town site.

Peter Nagano
Sunset Creek Mile 150-155

While Fortymile is usually considered to be the halfway point between Dawson City and Eagle, the race’s true halfway point is usually in this section of the trail. Also in this section, Sunset Creek throws a lot of water onto the Yukon River, creating a glacier that can be very wet in the spring. Dog bootie changing time!

Dawson City Town Crier & Buyer
Snow Creek Mile 155-160

This creek probably gets its name from the fact that ice persists in the narrow creek valley long into the summer. This is also one of the places where a bush trail leaves the river, though it is not commonly used any more. With less river residents and less traffic along the trails, many of Percy’s old bush trails have become overgrown to the point that they cannot easily be travelled.

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Happy Creek Bush Trail Mile 160-165

Percy racing legend Bruce Johnson, will always remember Happy Creek as the place he was duped by two devious greenhorn mushers. In the days when pranking and head-games were just part of the fun, the two rookie mushers took the time to fell a tree across the bush trail with the aim of stopping Bruce’s team in its tracks. We would love to know what form Bruce’s retribution took!

Dawson's Tr’inke Zho daycare
Woodchopper Creek Mile 165-170

In April 1919, Percy DeWolfe fell through the ice just a few miles from his Halfway Creek home, losing two horses valued at $600, and barely escaping with his life. While turning off the river onto a winter trail the horses crashed into open water, leaving the mail sleigh perched precariously on the edge of the ice. DeWolfe managed to rescue himself by grabbing an overhanging limb, and then returned to the sleigh to save the mail!

The Potoroka family
Halfway Creek Mile 170-175

In 1947, Percy was making a mail trip in an extreme cold snap, and did not arrive when he was expected. The Dawson post master grew concerned for Percy’s safety and organized a ground and air search. When pilot Pat Callison flew over Percy’s home at Halfway Creek, Percy emerged from the house and cheerfully waved at the plane, completely unaware that there search going on!

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Fifteen Mile River Mile 175-180

This section provides mushers with one of the most challenging river crossings in the race. The river jams here in the fall, and the pressure of the river’s current pushing more ice down from upriver can cause giant, house sized pieces of ice to be heaved up where they freeze in place creating huge fields of ice bergs known as “jumble ice”. Rough trail in jumble ice sections can injure dogs, break sleds, or crush a musher’s spirit. SLOW going in this section!

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Chandindu River Mile 180-185

Sisters Jessie and Mary Phillips were raised by a family who lived at the mouth of the Chandindu River. The two First Nation women later married Percy DeWolfe and his friend/ partner Pete Anderson. For newcomers to the north like Anderson and DeWolfe marrying someone who was skilled at living in this country, and had family connections in the area eased their way.

Marta & Graham Sherwood
Quebec Creek Mile 185-190

One of Percy’s old bush trails is still visible from the river around the mouth of Quebec Creek. The bush trails were of vital importance to Percy, being much more reliable than the river trails, which were constantly destroyed by wind. Before the age of snow machines, breaking trail on the Yukon was no enviable task. Each fall, Percy and his crew worked diligently to prepare the inland trails for the winter season.

Whitehouse Cabins
Fort Reliance Mile 190-195

This section of trail can provide a much-needed boost of encouragement for weary mushers at the end of the race. Although more than one racer has felt ready to call it quits at this point, having toiled through miles of jumble ice and overflow north of Forty Mile, once mushers reach Fort Reliance they are greeted by the orange glow of lights over Dawson City. Almost there!

Debi Wickham, Lana Welchman & Molly MacDonald
Moosehide Mile Mile 195-200

In 1897, Chief Isaac moved his people, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, from their home at Tr’ochëk to Moosehide, just downstream from the burgeoning mining town of Dawson City. Moosehide was the main home of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in for fifty years, and remains an important spiritual home to this day. For Percy and today’s racing teams, passing Moosehide is a sign that they are almost at the end of the trail.

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