It’s the weather, so it’s subject to change. But there’s good news and possible dramatic changes in store for the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Races.
According to Mountainforcast.com, elevations in the Eagle Cap higher than 6,000 feet will see heavy snow and possibly severe gales by Saturday night. Racers plan to be finished by Saturday morning and so should miss both those dangers.
But how much snow will fall on the trails prior to that and how soon the winds start could impact the 200-mile run.
Conditions were good earlier this week. The Wallowa County Gamblers Snowmobile Club grooms the trails for the race each year. Members reported plenty of packed snow start to finish on Monday.
Trail Boss Lee Trapp also reported around three inches of packed snow in the lower elevations from Ferguson Ski Ridge to Olocott. Dogs like packed snow.
In mixed news: dogs like it cold; anything over 20 degrees is considered “hot.” And the temperatures for the race are predicted to be 30 degrees or more on Thursday morning when the races begin. The temperature will get better for the 200-mile racers with the mercury expected to fall to 19 degrees at higher elevations by Friday and Saturday.
The distance runners will be on trail Thursday and Friday night, so ideal temperatures for the dogs. 100-milers expect to come in to the finish on Friday morning. 200-milers expect to finish Saturday morning.
Now for the bad news: Freeze-thaw conditions were predicted for earlier this week and then snowfall beginning on Wednesday night and continuing through Saturday, Jan. 20.
Snow was expected to be fairly light, but what kind of snow and how much “fairly light” turns out to be can make a big difference to both mushers and dogs.
“If it’s soft (fluffly and dry), it can be very hard on the dogs,” Trapp said.
Soft snow over freeze-thaw conditions (ice) can be an avalanche danger and additionally make descents very dangerous for mushers. Because of the extreme gains and drops in elevation in the Eagle Cap Extreme race, mushers often have to ride their sled hooks (which act as brakes) on descents. In past years the forged steel hooks have been pulled nearly straight from use.
Runaway sleds on descents may also result in injuries.
Winds combined with fresh light snow can create white-out conditions, and teams can get lost, miss a turn in the trail and go off-trail or get stuck. All of these situations have happened during the race in past years.
Trails Crew members will remain on duty throughout the race.