Sled Dog Racing: Eagle Cap Extreme Part 1
JOSEPH, OR —
Surviving in freezing temperatures and heavy snow for hundreds of miles, all for no financial gain. It may seem crazy to some, but for a select few brave individuals, they brace the conditions, and set out for days at a time behind only a sled and a group of dogs. And the event is right here in our region.
Go about 150 miles southwest of Lewiston, and you'll end up in the area just outside of Joseph, Oregon. That's where KLEW News met up with competitors earlier this month for Eagle Cap Extreme.
Deep in the Wallowa Mountains, lies a stretch of vast wilderness, snow covered mountains, and wide stretching canyons. Calmness rests in this area for most of the year. But for a few days, the silent landscape is pierced with the sound of barking canines and determined mushers. This is Eagle Cap Extreme, a 200-mile sled dog race, the only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.
“These dogs are...these guys are the reason that we're here. We take better care of them than we do ourselves for the most part. Just to be out here behind them and watching them work," says rookie musher James Pilcher. He's a musher who came all the way from Central Montana to be in his first ever sled dog race.
"This will be my first race, so I am the rookie on this crew. Like I said, I've been training for the last 2 years though, doing a lot of camping trips, back to back 50 milers, 35 milers, it'll be interesting, it'll be fun."
Sled dog races like this one can last days, with dogs reaching speeds of just 7 to 12 miles per hour. But that's still fast enough to where if you blink, you might miss them. It's a sport that most know little about. While traditional sports like basketball and football strive to finish at the top, almost all mushers have a different goal when they step behind their dogs.
“Just to finish, and keep these dogs safe."
James says the feeling of finishing is so much more important than winning. That's because of the amount of training dogs and mushers endure and the fierce conditions of a race.
“Training consists of 2-3 runs a week at usually 100 to 150 miles, camping overnight, running for 50 miles, and then camping and feeding, doing booties and dog food, dog care, and then getting up 4 hours later and doing it again."
This 200-mile race through northeast Oregon took James 35 hours and 35 minutes to complete. He finished fifth place, just five seconds behind 4th place, a photo finish in terms of sled dog racing.
"You have that sense of accomplishment of coming in and finishing something, and then you also have that accomplishment of finishing with all your dogs. That shows the love, the care that goes with these dogs, and the compassion behind the musher with the dogs."
Each race costs a single musher somewhere around 15 to 20 thousand dollars, and there is almost no financial reward. But mushers have a different reason, one that's greater than a bank account.
"There's a compassion for it. There's nothing like being behind a dog team. You're sitting there watching everybody work, it's quiet. You're in the middle of nature, you don't have anybody around, no distractions, it's just you and the dogs."