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19th Annual Gold Rush Trail Dog Sled Mail Run Recap
Quesnel - Barkerville, British Columbia, Canada

January 21, 22, 23, 2011

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Recap provided by Jeffrey Dinsdale, 

Great photos of the 2011 Mail Run have now been posted on the Mail Run website

During the Cariboo Gold Rush in the 1860’s, the location of present-day Troll Ski Resort was the site of Bloody Edward’s Pinegrove Roadhouse. Entering Troll’s main lodge on Sunday January 23rd at about 8:30 a.m., for a brief moment it was possible to experience just what it must have felt like inside that roadhouse full of gold seekers, getting ready for another day on the trail to Barkerville. This time however it wasn’t gold miners but at least 25 bleary-eyed dog mushers, some of them packing up their bedrolls, others waking up with a cup of coffee, all of them getting ready to hit the trail once again. These mushers were participating in the 19th Annual Gold Rush Trail Dog Sled Mail Run, which had started two days earlier in Quesnel.

The whole 85 kilometre Gold Rush Trail had been hit with steady snowfalls since Christmas and then the night before the first day of the Mail Run, the big one hit as the trail was smothered with over 30 centimetres of heavy wet snow, the largest snowfall to hit the region in the past couple of years. Temperatures were mild with the sky blue and cloudless….great weather for spectators, not so great for sled dogs.

Prior to the start of the first (Friday’s) stage, mushers and their supporters had gathered in front of the downtown Quesnel Post Office for an unveiling and swearing-in ceremony. The unveiling was of the artwork for a very special postage stamp that will be released by Canada Post in May 2011 to commemorate the delivery of winter mail by dog team, something that is a unique part of Canadian heritage. The ceremony was short but meaningful, with a noticeable air of anticipation as the veil covering the artwork was lifted and the artwork was seen for the very first time. Warren Palfrey, whose great grandfather Sam Hourie, was a dog team mail carrier in Yukon’s Klondike during the early years of the 20th century performed the actual unveiling ceremony, assisted by Canada Post’s Jacques Bellerive and Quesnel City Counsellor Coralee Oakes. There is universal agreement that the artwork is great, and captures the spirit of those early-day dog teams and mushers. It will be on display in the Quesnel Post Office over the following months.

Following the unveiling, all of the mail mushers for the 2011 Mail Run were sworn in as official Canada Post mail carriers. Each dutifully promised to keep the mail in their care over the three day journey and to deliver it safely to its final destination in Barkerville. Over 2300 envelopes destined for over 25 different countries would be carried on the dog sleds by 20 different mushers. These specially designed envelopes will have been hand cancelled in Quesnel, Wells and Barkerville and stamped “Carried By Dogteam”. They no-doubt contained special messages and all envelopes included a beautiful insert that explains the Mail Run, with specific reference to the history associated with the delivery of mail by dog team.

The snowmobile trail breakers did a great job although Friday’s first day trail had to be modified because of the huge amount of snow. With the full co-operation of the Woods Department of West Fraser Timber Ltd., it was possible to run the dog teams in convoy over a 4 kilometre section of ploughed logging road so that there was no conflict with logging traffic. Everything went smoothly and running in convoy was actually quite exciting for all of the teams…..perhaps something that could also be incorporated in future years. Everyone made the 40 kilometre Day 1 trip from Umiti Pit to Cottonwood with minimal difficulty, with only a few teams arriving after darkness had settled in.

Friday night, everyone enjoyed a potluck barbeque in Café Delmar, an exclusive tarp-covered bistro that had been erected especially for this event. Everyone was hungry, it had been a long day. There was lots of trail talk and laughter as participants and volunteers became friends and the Mail Run “family” started to come together. These folks would travel and share Mail Run experiences over the three days of travel over the Gold Rush Trail. In addition to locals, participants had journeyed from throughout British Columbia and from as far away as Washington State and in addition to the 50 Quesnel volunteers, additional supporters came from Vancouver and even Oklahoma. Several spectators also journeyed from outside the local area just to be part of this special event which has gained wide-spread interest.

Perhaps the highlight of Friday night’s barbeque was the crowning of Jody Verge as the winner of the 2011 Musher’s Hat contest….Jody outdid herself with her coyote fur entry that didn’t look unlike the Roadrunner of “beep beep” fame. Jody faced tough competition however, from five other entrants. About 9:00 p.m., everyone turned in for the night, some travelling to motel rooms in Quesnel or Wells, some sleeping in the Café Delmar, some returning to their homes and many spending the night on the floor of the Cottonwood Community Hall.

Saturday morning started with a pancake breakfast cooked up by Doug Verge, Warren Palfrey and Cliff Penner. Dog teams hit the trail beginning at 11:00 a.m., today’s destination was Troll Resort. There had been a bit of fresh snow overnight but the trail was well groomed and well marked. This 25 kilometre section of trail features a long steep climb up the back side of Pinegrove mountain with a thrilling 5 kilometre descent down the face of the mountain right into the heart of the ski resort.

In the afternoon sun, participants entered their biggest and strongest dogs in the fun weight pull. Everyone won at least one bag of dog food donated by Horizon Dog Food and the North Cariboo Co-op. This was followed by the hugely popular Musher’s Sports competition which saw 7 teams of 5 persons each, competing in the traditional musher’s skills of trap setting, wood splitting, fire lighting, water boiling and tea and bannock baking. The winners were a team comprised of members of the Palfrey family although they were closely challenged by two Boy Scout teams, one Girl Scout team, a team comprised of members of the Houghton and Verge families, members of the Watson and Warren families of Hudson’s Hope and the “Frozen Buns” team from Prince George.

The Saturday Night banquet was attended by just over 100 people. A great spaghetti and chili supper along with several salads and desert put everyone in good spirits for the awards ceremony followed by the fund raising auction. All dog mushers will have their name added to the “Dog Musher” award, Ron Potter received the “Special Volunteer” Award, Terry Johnson received accolades and the “Snowmobiler” award, Warren and Kate Palfrey were awarded the “Best Conditioned Dogteam” award, Terry Houghton the “Red Lantern” award, Tyler Dinsdale received the “Hard Luck” award, Kim Verge received the “Spirit of the Mail Run” award, five names will be placed on the “Skijoring” award and 6 participants aged 16 and under received the very special Holger Bauer award that rewards and encourages participation by children.

Following a very enjoyable evening it was time to turn in. Folks started to head for home or their motel rooms, while several settled in on the ski lodge floor for their night‘s sleep, taking us to the scene described in the first paragraph of this article (above). Following breakfast it was time to head to the helipad in Wells…..there was mail to deliver.

On Sunday morning, mushers drove their teams around a shortened version of the Sugar Creek Loop, using the Coronado and Cornish Mountain Roads for a seventeen kilometre run. The trail had been clearly marked by Mike Deweese of Wells, the trip over this route, which had been groomed by the Wells Snowmobile Club groomer and which features beautiful vistas, was a delight for everyone. In the afternoon it was time for the infamous Barkerville Dash, over 30 participants left the helipad in a thrilling Le Mans start and hundreds of spectators in both Wells and Barkerville watched as teams made their way over the 10 kilometre trail. Dog teams were brought to a stop in front of the Barkerville Post Office and the mail was turned over to Ron Potter of Canada Post where it was returned to the regular mail system for delivery throughout the world. Another Mail Run had come to an end.

Great photos of the 2011 Mail Run have now been posted on the Mail Run website
On the Home Page click on the “Canada Post Unveiling” photo to see a gallery of photos of the Unveiling Ceremony. Also click on the “2011 Photos” button which is also located on the Home Page, for a great selection of photos of the 2011 Mail Run. Included are two 360 degree “pano” (panoramic) shots that are a must see, as well as a great selection of photos from along the Mail Run trail, all taken by Leif and Eva Grandell of Studio Grandell in Quesnel. Included on the “2011 Photos” page is a Facebook button and by clicking on this button you will gain access to hundreds of photos of the 2011 Mail Run which have been posted on the Gold Rush Trail Dog Sled Facebook page. This new page now offers an opportunity for those with photos, to upload them for all to see as well as a spot to share thoughts and experiences from the Mail Run.

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