Historic Finishes and Harrowing Conditions Define the 2017 Eagle Cap Extreme

Following is a guest post about the exciting event that took place last weekend. It was submitted January 24, by Eagle Cap Extreme Public Relations Director, Troy Nave. 

ENTERPRISE, OREGON__The 2017 Eagle Cap Extreme wrapped up late Saturday afternoon at Ferguson Ridge Ski Hill outside of Joseph. Jason Campeau of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, was the final finisher in a race that was loaded with drama from the start.

As night fell last Tuesday, it became clear that the weather that had closed roads and highways across the Pacific Northwest would play a role in the race. A thin layer of ice covered much of the trail by Wednesday morning, giving trail crews and checkpoint staff fits as they tried to prepare the course. The highways leading to Wallowa County were all treacherous; some mushers nearly returned home rather than risk driving the icy roads.

But all twenty-four teams arrived safely, and by Thursday morning the ice storm had abated, changing over to softly falling snow by race start time. A gentle breeze blew at the start, and the snow quickly covered the icy layer beneath.

Once the race began, winds picked up along the trail. Parts of the trail became wind-scoured, revealing the ice again. Other parts began drifting in with new snow. Trail crews did their best to stay ahead of deteriorating conditions, but the drifts were numerous and spread throughout the course.

Five miles into the race, 100-mile racer Maeva Waterman of Bozeman, Montana, slid off the course. Her upended sled hung up on a downed tree, and she clung on to the handle bar with her foot. After extricating herself, Waterman began to work on getting her team back on the trail. But the slope was steep, and she had to unharness half of her eight-dog team. With help from fellow musher Dina Lund, Waterman got her sled and four of the harnessed dogs secured. Then began the work of collecting the other four dogs, now running loose. Eventually Wallowa County Search and Rescue arrived to help retrieve the dogs. Musher and team had to scratch and return to the start, shaken but unhurt.

Throughout the race mushers encountered thigh-high drifts and wind gusts that toppled some sleds. Gabe Dunham and Steve Madsen worked together to get through gale force winds and deep drifts on the Haas Owl Loop at Salt Creek Summit. Further south, Brendan Jackson’s sled also slid off the trail. Bino Fowler and his team stopped and helped Jackson and his team return to the race.

Perhaps even more dramatic than the harrowing weather and challenging conditions was the competition itself. Iditarod veteran Mark Stamm started the 200-mile race strong, with a narrow margin over the field out of every checkpoint. Some time after dark on Friday night, as the race entered its final leg, Stamm relinquished the lead to Bryce Mumford and defending champ Brett Bruggeman. Mumford and Bruggeman were mushing together, Mumford using dogs from Bruggeman’s kennel. Stamm’s team was tired, and he eased off the pursuit of the two leaders.

While the three leaders battled, Laurie Warren quietly gained on them. During the early stages of the race, Warren kept a moderate pace. But she picked it up late, and within several miles of the finish she could see fresh sled tracks in front of her. For the last hour of the race, while Mumford and Bruggeman cruised casually ahead, Warren kicked alongside her sled, like a skate boarder, to help her team. Warren, a petite musher who weighs around 100 pounds with all of her gear on, was chasing down three highly experienced teams: two dog teams from the back-to-back ECX champion, and one driven by an Iditarod veteran.

In ECX history, only twice has the top two finishers been separated by less than ten minutes: Laura Daugereau beat Bruggeman by nine minutes in 2014, and Steve Madsen won by seven minutes in 2011. Mumford and Bruggeman had run closely the entire race, working together. Race officials, and those following online, could tell that it would be a close finish.

Mumford edged out Bruggeman by one minute, a historically close finish for this event. Ten minutes later, Stamm crossed the finish line. Laurie Warren surprised everyone by arriving only two minutes after Stamm, her dogs still with lots of energy. The top four teams finished a total of thirteen minutes apart, an exceedingly rare feat for a race of this duration and difficulty.  Noteworthy is that weather conditions forced officials to shorten the race. The leg to P.O. Saddle was removed, making the main event approximately forty-five miles shorter (still long enough to remain an Iditarod qualifier). If those miles weren’t taken out and Warren had just a little more time to catch the leaders, the finish could have been even more compelling.

The 100-miler was nearly as competitive, with another late-race pass by a relative new-comer over an ECX powerhouse. Clayton Perry was a sixth place finisher in his only ECX 100-mile race two years ago. After some jockeying, Perry eventually passed three-time champion Bino Fowler, the ECX’s most accomplished 100-mile racer. Perry beat Fowler by a mere two minutes, the closest ever 100-mile finish at the ECX.

The final two races were won by two local “sisters”: Morgan Anderson, a high school Senior at Enterprise, won the 31-mile, two-stage Pot Race; Charlotte Burkhardt, an Austrian exchange student who lives with Anderson and her family, won the 22-mile Juniors Race.

The Best Cared For Team awards, perhaps the most prestigious in the sport of mushing, went to Bruggeman in the 200-mile, twelve-dog main event, and to Bino Fowler in the 100-mile, eight-dog event. Fowler also won the Sportsmanship Award, in large part because of the assistance he leant Brendan Jackson midway through the race.

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