Enterprise, Oregon__The twelfth annual Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race runs from January 20 – 23, kicking off with pre-race checkups for the dogs in downtown Joseph, Enterprise, and Wallowa on Wednesday. The race begins at noon on Thursday at Ferguson Ridge Ski Hill.
After winning the 200-mile race in record time last year, Brett Bruggeman of Great Falls, Montana addressed the attendees at the Musher Awards Banquet. “I signed up for the ECX early, so at first I thought the race would come down to me and Josi (Thyr),” Bruggeman began. “Then I saw the other mushers signing up: Mark Stamm, Jessie Royer, some of Ed Stielstra’s teams – I knew then that I was in for a tough race.”
Bruggeman faces an even more daunting field this week in the 2016 Eagle Cap Extreme (ECX) sled dog race 200-mile event. Gone from the lineup are Stielstra’s teams – they are in Alaska preparing for the Iditarod. In their place is a slew of fast, experienced mushers, including five Iditarod veterans. Mark Stamm ran the Iditarod in 2005, and has placed well in his previous two ECX races. Scott White, who often trains with Stamm, completed the Iditarod in 2010. Jason Campeau, of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, ran the ECX two season ago, using the race as a qualifier for the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. Campeau completed both of those races in a single season last year, a feat accomplished by a very small group of elite mushers. Aaron Peck of County Grande Prairie, Alberta, has raced the Iditarod four times, the last time in 2013.
But most teams will have their eye on Jessie Royer of Darby, Montana. Royer finished second in her first ECX race last year, 33 minutes behind Bruggeman. Later that season, Royer finished fourth in the Iditarod, only seven hours behind champion Dallas Seavey. That was her best finish in the “Last Great Race”, and her fifth top-ten finish in thirteen trips to the Iditarod. Now that Jessie is familiar with the ECX race, hers is considered the team to beat this week. The 200-mile field is rounded out by Jennifer Campeau of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta; Josi Thyr of Cataldo, Idaho; Bryce Mumford of Preston, Idaho; and ECX rookie Alea Robinson of Eagle River, Alaska.
Mushers will have no problem finding ample snow throughout the course; the Wallowa Mountains have been blessed by heavy precipitation this winter. The biggest hurdle for mushers, aside from the challenging and steep course, will be warming temperatures.
“Sled dogs are surprisingly good at regulating heat, considering how hard they run,” says Troy Nave, one of the ECX race directors. “But they prefer to run when temperatures are around zero. Temperatures at the start – and even the overnight lows – are forecasted to be much warmer than that.”
In addition to the 200-mile, twelve-dog event, this year’s Eagle Cap Extreme features an eight-dog, 100-mile race as well as a two-stage, 62-mile Pot Race. As of press time, no entrants had registered for the Juniors Race, first offered last season to 14 – 17 year old mushers.
For a full schedule of race events, including up-to-the-hour musher standings, go to the ECX website: www.eaglecapextreme.com. Visit Race Central at the Joseph Community Center for updates, education activities for kids of all ages, silent auction bidding, and ECX merchandise.
The ECX operates as a 501(c)(3) organization. It is put on with the help of more than 150 volunteers, and is supported by over 100 local businesses and individuals. It runs under special permit on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.