SLED?DOG?RACES

The Eagle Cap Extreme is Oregon's only Iditarod qualifier.

The Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race is one of your best opportunities to get a close-up look at one of the great sports events of the northwest. Few of us can make it to Alaska for the Iditarod, but we can make it to Joseph in January for the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Races. The race is a famously tough one and a pre-qualifier for sled dog racers wanting to go on to either the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest. It attracts some of the top mushers (the persons who drive the teams) in the nation. The mushers who come to Eagle Cap are serious sportsmen and women, but even more serious dog-lovers. The event is monitored by top veterinarians from across the nation and here in Wallowa County and dogs get the best care available anywhere.

This event is strong on animal care and celebrates the bond between humans and animals. Be prepared to get all choked up at the stories these folks tell about the love and true partnership they share with their dogs.

Mostly, the dogs you will see are Siberian and Alaskan huskies, along with a few malamutes, and spectators are universally astonished at how small the dogs are - and how friendly.

The Eagle Cap race has two event levels: a 100-mile 8-dog race and a 200-mile 12-dog race. Each year the event draws top competitors and nearly 20 teams have run in past years.

Attempting to view the race as it progresses through the Eagle Cap Wilderness is not advised. Eagle Cap is a wild and usually very snowy landscape and only open to snowmobiles, sled dogs, and back country skiers. Weather conditions can also be very dangerous and Search and Rescue was sent out after sled dog teams one year when four feet of snow fell during the race. However, the start and finish lines are set up at Ferguson Ski Ridge east of Joseph, which is not difficult to get to, even in snow. If you are up for the winter drive on narrow roads, there also is a layover for the teams at Halfway.

However, the easiest way to learn about the dogs, teams, mushers and the sport is to join the children from Joseph, Enterprise and Wallowa schools at the preliminary vet checks held on the main streets of the towns. While the vet checks are going on, spectators are welcome to meet the mushers and see their enthusiastic dogs, up close and personal. They can then track the progress of their favorite teams when they visit race headquarters at the Joseph Community Center or check online for updates at (www.eaglecapextreme.com).

Visitors are always welcome at race headquarters and artwork and other sled-dog fan items are available for purchase.

The entire event is free to the public.

You can check the newly updated website before, during and after the event to check the scedule for the 2010 event, who will be competing, and what other races have been doing.

Sled dog racing historyWhile the Eskimos or Inuit Tribes of Alaska had long used sled dogs, the genesis of the Iditarod stems from a 1925 diphtheria outbreak where teams of sled dogs relayed the diphtheria serum the 674 miles from Nenana to Nome in 27.5 hours. Today the Iditarod runs some 1,049 miles from Anchorage to Nome in two to three weeks. In order to qualify to run in the Iditarod, teams must prove they have "done their homework" by competing in shorter races, such as the 100- and 200-mile Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Races.

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