I first met Adi a couple of years ago. This kid with a romantic smile on his face, ready to steal your heart. We’ve had our shares of Tuesday runs and Thursdays track sessions. First time I heard about Arctic 6633 was from Tibi Useriu’s win over it a few years back. It is a 620 km race with next to 2000 m of positive elevation gain. 2024 revealed a “shorter” version, a little over 403km but 4000m of positive elevation gain.

What sets it appart is the weather conditions. It starts at km 0 of the Dempster Highway and ends as soon as you step beyond the Arctic Circle line. It usually takes place by the beginning of February. It’s nothing odd to call -10°C to -15°C as “warm” considering it can get as low as -50°C.

Here is Adi’s recollection of this year’s event along with a photo journal.

— Ergo

Martin and Alberto

403km “shorter” race profile

February 2020 is when I first set foot in North Canada, travelling from Whitehorse, Yukon all the way to the shore of the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. A 31 year old Romanian photographer weighing 97 kg with a height of 177 cm, lying to himself that his physical condition is actually running in his family’s genes.

I was documenting Vlad Pop’s second participation in the 6633 Arctic Ultra, his first attempt at finishing the 620 km race after winning the 182 km the year before. I fell in love with the all-white scenery, perfect blue sky and blue shadows on the snow dunes. This was the first impact. Soon enough I got to spend plenty of time with athletes whose attempts had failed at that year’s edition, Fifteen out of the seventeen brave enough to show up at the start line.

February 2023, I show up at the start line of the 620km race and make it all the way to km 325 before scratching. I’m happy with the result, since one year before my PR was running 3.3k.

Engineer Creek

Just the twelve of us.


24th February 2024, 12:00pm. The start line is at km zero of the Dempster Highway in Yukon, there’s twelve of us and the temperature is around -21. We start walking, each one of us towing sleds of around 35 kilos with sleeping kits, changes of clothes, enough food and snacks for six to seven days and everything that one would need to survive in Arctic conditions on a 400 km route. I take the lead but after no more than 200m Toby passes by me running up a hill, saying “I need to warm up my body just a bit”. I let him do his thing, thinking I’ll never catch up with him.

After one km I see him dropping one of his mittens, I pick it up and I shout at him to give the man his glove back. He turns around, thanks me and off he goes again. After 10 more minutes he drops his mitten again, I try to let him but this time he doesn’t care. Next time I see him again is at check point one, km 71, where he arrived 40 minutes before me. But there’s a long way there.

-21ºC. Warm.

Ahmed at the 2nd checkpoint

Monument of the Dempster Higway

I don’t even notice how the first 21k pass by and now that I’ve left the first half marathon of this race behind.

At a speed of slightly more than 6km/ hour I stop for some water, gel and jellies. Alberto is catching up with me, he sees me standing next to my sled and asks me in Italian “problemi?”. I’m actually very content that I’m fuelling myself just as planned. I start marching again, leaving Alberto way behind after just a couple of minutes. I’m happy that I’m doing this race, I’m grateful for being able to, I enjoy the repetitive trees on the side of the road and the undulating character of it. I even run most of the downhills and I don’t slow down too much uphill.


Soon after I cross the imaginary marathon finish line the light starts to dim, temperatures begin to drop a few more degrees and I keep hoping that clouds won’t suddenly appear because I’m waiting for the treat that the full moon is about to offer me. By 21:00 sunlight is long forgotten but I can see quite far because of the light reflected from the moon on all the snow around me. I’m in awe, I’ve never seen the moon projecting such shadows and lighting the mountain peaks ahead of me in such great detail. Ten hours into the race and 60k done and the show provided by the moon is less and less of an attraction so I find myself falling asleep as I carry on.

Glimpses of dreams from which I don’t remember a thing, seconds of not walking quite straight and then minutes of trying to focus on the beauty of the night landscape. I keep chewing jellies just so I have another activity but the one of walking remains nothing more than an automatic action. There’s Northern Lights above me, but the silver moon makes them less majestic and spectacular.




Engineer Creek

The organizers drive towards me, stop for a second just to let me know there’s a mama moose on the road a few kilometers ahead protecting her calf from a wolf or another predator just before the first checkpoint. So the checkpoint is near. I wake up completely and I speed up. I want to make it there before 01:00 and indeed I manage to get inside at 00:57. Toby is there, but so are Matt and Claude who dropped out because of the cold. I take advantage of the wood stove inside the cabin and I manage to dry my beanie, buff, mask, down jacket and fleece, this being a luxury that none of us would have later on. I pour hot water in two bags of dehydrated expedition food, whatever comes at hand. I eat, I drink, I pop some salt tablets and anti-inflammatories and I’m off to bed outside (sleeping bag, to be more precise). I remember hearing Toby falling asleep making noises such as he were in pain.

I take another peek at the Northern Lights and I’m out. I randomly wake up three hours later, everything is fine, go back to sleep and feel like waking up again five seconds later. In fact it’s one entire hour later and this time my face and the neck of the sleeping bag are covered in ice. Since I’ve only slept for four hours, less than planned, I tell myself I’ll give myself another hour but within seconds I realise ice is not something that I want inside the sleeping bag and I’m all packed and standing on my feet in less than two minutes.

By the time I’m inside the very modest cabin serving as a checkpoint, Toby has already left. So did Patrick, who didn’t sleep yet. I take my time, I’m cooking breakfast (some horrible dehydrated scrambled eggs and some creme brûlée made in heaven).

Salt tablets, anti-inflammatories and I’m away, not before finding out that Alberto had also dropped. Paul takes off one minute before me, I catch up with him, we chat for a while, I help him by taking his mittens from his backpack and passing them to him and we start climbing a not too steep but long hill, the first one of a series that would lay before us for the next 10k. It’s still dark, it’s windy and it’s way colder than the day before. The sky is covered in some sort of mist, but as light starts to take over I realise there are crystals in the air.

Engineer Creek


I sense tears rushing to my eyes.

I keep looking behind, checking how far Paul is and whether I have enough time to stop and drink some tea. Sunrise will soon be right behind me and it’s a pity I have to constantly rotate my head to take a peek at how it is evolving. And it is now when it starts to happen. The actual sunrise is behind me, slightly on my left, but there’s another explosion of light slightly on my right, again, behind me. This second explosion morphs from shades of orange to rainbow colours and now I know there’s a ‘sundog’ behind me. I take a photo of Paul juxtaposed on the rainbow and I get back at marching. I’m taking photographs with my phone, as my cameras would certainly freeze inside the sled in less than five to six hours. I take my gloves off, including the liners, for every photograph.

Thirty seconds are more than enough for my fingers to get numb. Get my hands inside the three layers of gloves and for the next five minutes, while waiting for the pain than I know so well to kick in as blood starts to flow again I promise myself I’ll stop taking pictures and I’ll carry on marching. As soon as I can feel my right hand again I feel the urge to capture the ever changing phenomenon behind me. I look at it. I sense tears rushing to my eyes.

Paul at km74


I would cry so bad, but I fear that my tears would instantly freeze. Instead I shrug. I take a photograph. Thirty seconds, numb fingers, three layers of gloves, five painful minutes – this is actually good. Instead of counting the kilometres that I still have to climb I can focus on the pain. And the beauty. The wind intensifies as well, I stop and look for my goggles inside the sled, I take a couple of photographs (since I’ve already stopped), I drink the rest of the tea, that’s almost one litre of liquids out of the three and a half that I have with me gone in less than two hours.


One gel.

More jellies.

Keep on chewing, keep doing anything that may distract you from the hills, from the wind, from the pain in the right hand. If only the sunrise were in front of me so I can stare at it at all time. Oh, right, the sunrise, turn your head. Look at that, I’ve never seen anything like it. And it is not a hallucination. This is not a hallucination. Come on, take a photograph. Freezing your hand will cause pain and that will distract you from the hills, that’s perfect. The goggles are already frosty and that makes for great flares when I look at the sunrise. And now there’s a rainbow on the left side of the actual sun as well. Ok, that’s definitely another photograph! Great, my fingers are all numb again.



This is not a hallucination.


km 75


Chris and Toby’s + my sled


km 92

That’s good, that means I can keep on marching instead of taking photos. But look at that sunrise. And the sky is almost clear now. And I’ve left the hills behind, just like that. It wasn’t even hard, I wasn’t even struggling, not even squirming. Km 82, it’s easy for a while. And beautiful. I still keep on turning my head to look at the sun. I still feel like taking more than three photographs at a time. I’m a photographer. Hey, that’s right, now I remember. I started running two years ago because I wanted to experience this exact landscape.

By foot. What do I do? I don’t make as fast pace as I could since I keep stopping for photographs and the photographs that I take are far from being more than mere snapshots of the most beautiful natural phenomenon that I’ve ever seen. I’m a photographer. I love running just as much as I love photography. I can run anytime, anywhere, I can take photographs anytime, anywhere. But not of this sundog. ‘Circumhorizontal Arc’, as some may call it. Ok, I made up my mind, I don’t want to spend another morning in the race risking my fingers whenever I want to take photographs.

Toby after his morning nap

Full moon at km 65

Chris, medic of the race

Moonset at km 73

Joe, crew member

km 75 selfie

Where’s Chris? Chris is the medic of the race, he’ll understand. He has a camera with him, he sees what I see. Oh, press the button. Not the shutter of my camera, but the panic button on my tracking device. No panic whatsoever, I just want to take photographs. Did I press it correctly? Hope so. OK, let’s keep on going, I don’t want to freeze in the middle of the road. Here’s Chris. Apparently I didn’t press the button. He’s talking me into staying in the race. I smile and let him know I don’t need to be in the race, I just had the revelation I was hoping for the year before and never even came close to it. This time I wasn’t even looking for a revelation, an epiphany or a meaningful thought, but here I am, radiating on the certainty that my passion for photography didn’t fade away in these twenty years of having a camera strapped around my neck every single day. Chris tells me that I should keep on going, I say to myself that the least I can do is to reach km 100, as a milestone.

And it’s not hard, it’s not that cold now. I catch up with Toby, he just woke up from a nap on the side of the road. He tells me that this is boring. He’d rather run, but then he’d get really sweaty and no one wants that at -28. I tell him all about the sundog, the photographs, the smiling, the frozen tears. He kind of gets it. We walk and talk and then we just walk. We reach km 100 and we stop. We both cook something, drink and it takes me 10 minutes to finally press the button. We walk three more kilometres and that’s it. I abandon, but I don’t loose anything. Photography won today and I’ll always have running.

km 82 selfie

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Ed at around km 120

I’ve toughed that I’d definitely be the only athlete abandoning the race that day. Weather seemed good, the route was flat from there to the next checkpoint and the scenery was simply breathtaking. Toby dropped out soon after because he wanted to run instead of marching, but then he’d sweat.  Paul and Rachel both had trouble with their hands being too cold. The next night, temperatures dropped way under -33C with a record of a -43C, but Patrick, Charlie, Ahmed and Ed made it to the 3rd checkpoint, which makes them finishers of the 192km race.

Chris took a huge risk and made it all the way to the finish line, at km 403 and I’ll remember this saying that the other Chris, the medic, told me while driving back from the Arctic Circle to Eagle Plains: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”.

I love this race for so many reasons! There’s rarely more than 20 participants and that means you get to know everybody and you might end up being friends forever with people who live on the other side of the planet. I’ll be back next year because during my last participation I promised somebody from Brasil that I’ll shoot a documentary around his next race here. My plan right now is to walk next to him for the first 182 km – if we get there. I’d love to film our struggle, our friendship, who knows, our hallucinations. I might stop at CP3 and film the man for the rest of his race, hopefully all the way to km 620, in Tuktoyaktuk, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean.

Toby and Claude at CP2 after dropping out