The Eagle Cap Extreme is a series of dog sled races run through the Wallowa Mountains of Northeastern Oregon. Ever wonder what it’s like to run a race like this? Triple Creek Ranch head Musher Gabe Dunham reports from the trail’s end!
The race went really well overall and the dogs were amazing. It was pouring down rain for the start and continued through the race until the last 40 miles or so. Rain brings so many more challenges and I was so thankful that Wayne was able to bring my rain pants and a not-so-water-proof-anymore REI jacket. All of my gear was bagged to keep it dry but my sled bag was soaked before we ever left the start!
The team for this race consisted of Weasel and Dietrich in lead, Foxy and Hudson in swing, Sigrid and Tempest in team with Dawson and Prince in wheel. Prince earned a spot as he had been doing so well in training – he learned a lot on the run and I learned a lot about him! He overcame a mental wall about 3/4 of the way into the race where he decided maybe he would just try to sit down for a few minutes. I stopped the team and walked up to him all happy, stood him up gave him a good pet and went on to tell all of them what good dogs they were. That’s all he needed and away we went. This was the farthest he has ever run and his first camping trip, so minor questionings are bound to come up.
We arrived as the first eight-dog team into Ollokot, OR, the official checkpoint, where a six-hour mandatory rest is required. The vet staff is always amazing here, they watch every team come and leave as well as go through every single dog. My team was parked furthest from everything, which is fine with me because that will help them rest. I had just enough time to get a few raw beef snacks to everyone, grab my massaging oil, wrist wraps, and dog jackets before the vet team arrived. As they worked from the leaders back and found minor sore muscles, I would start to work massaging and wrapping the spots. Each dog wears a jacket when they rest, no matter the weather conditions. It was raining still. My dogs despise the rain and several would not lie down on the straw that was now fairly damp. After a good meal of raw chicken, tripe, and kibble was had, I went down to the river and got enough water for everyone to have a nice cool drink of water. Then I went to get food and attempted to dry some gear at the Mushers’ tent. This checkpoint has a great group of folks hosting a cook tent with more than enough to fill everyone up! The stoves were stoked, welcoming all of us wet mushers inside.
Six hours and three minutes after arriving, we were on schedule and departing the warm, dry sanctuary of Ollokot with seven dogs. Weasel was being left behind, very much against her will, for a minor wrist injury. Later I would learn she cried ~ “singing out to her people” ~ all night long until one of the vet techs laid down with her.
It was trying to snow but really was just white rain (snain) as we departed. I was thankful to be heading back to finish because everything was soaked and heavy. On the run into Ollokot we had several miles of bare pavement and a lot of rocks so I decided not to change my runner plastic… This was a good decision until the last 25 miles where the snow/slush conditions were starting to turn into cement.
Foxy and Sigrid led the return trip. We had been passed by musher Trevor Warren and his team about 25 miles out of Ollokot so I simply assumed he was having a great run and I wouldn’t catch him. I stopped after passing a checkpoint called Salt Creek Summit. This checkpoint can be hard for the dogs because it resembles the truck filled parking lot at the Ferguson Ridge Ski Area Finish line and they think they’re done! My team cruised by it perfectly so once out of sight, I stopped and snacked then decided I had about two hours before the next musher was going to catch me so it was play time! Tempest and Prince were my biggest concerns throughout the race because they’re so young. It’s important to keep mushing fun for them so everyone in the team received a few moments of playtime.
When I crossed the finish line I learned Trevor was only 20 minutes ahead and according to folks watching the tracker we had actually caught up with him at Salt Creek! Races are not always won but earned. I crossed the finish line with seven very happy dogs and that’s a win in my book. Thank you to all who put so much effort into this race every year, to all the other mushers who support this race and each other, to Wayne for putting up with my crazing run schedules, and to all those who mentored me along the way. I wouldn’t be here with these amazing athletes without any of you!