In the coming days there will be more bark in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in northeastern Oregon.
Starting Jan. 23 and spanning four days, a dozen teams will compete in the 200-, 100- and 62-mile contests of the Eagle Cap Extreme sled dog races. The event is conducted under a special use permit from the forest.
“We are pleased to be hosting this race on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest,” said Tom Montoya, acting forest supervisor. “This is an amazing event that brings together members of the local community with visitors from around the nation to celebrate the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the accomplishments of the competitors, both two- and four- legged.”
The longer race takes mushers and dogs along the fringes of the Eagle Cap Wilderness and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, both managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Teams that do well can qualify for the 1,000-mile, two week Yukon Quest, which kicks off on Feb. 2 and runs from Whitehorse, Yukon, and Fairbanks, Alaska, and the 1,150-mile, 17-day Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which starts March 2 in Alaska.
While significantly shorter than the Iditarod and Yukon, the Eagle Cap is tougher in some ways, said former race organizer Clyde Raymer. It has brutal 22-degree inclines with a top elevation of 7,400 feet.
“So our challenge isn’t in the length, it is in the elevation the mushers and teams have to operate,” Raymer said.
The Eagle Cap Wilderness area was first occupied by the ancestors of the Nez Perce Indian Tribe in 1400 A.D. and later the Cayuse, Shoshone and Bannocks. The Eagle Cap Wilderness itself was used as hunting grounds for bighorn sheep and deer and to gather huckleberries. It was the summer home to the Joseph Band of the Nez Perce tribe. The first settlers moved into the Wallowa Valley in 1860.
In 1930, the Eagle Cap was established as a primitive area. It was designated as wilderness in 1940. The Wilderness Act of 1964 placed the area in the National Wilderness Preservation System. It was enlarged by 73,410 acres in 1972, and by 67,711 acres in 1984. The area now encompasses more than 350,000 acres.
The Eagle Cap Wilderness is characterized by high alpine lakes and meadows, bare granite peaks and ridges, and U-shaped glaciated valleys.
It is home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, cougars, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and mountain goats. In the summer white-tailed deer, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain elk can be seen roaming.
Smaller mammals that inhabit the area year-round include the pika, pine martens, badgers, squirrels and marmots. Birds include peregrine falcons, bald eagles, golden eagles, Ferruginous hawks and gray-crowned rosy finch. Trout can be found in many of the lakes and streams there.
Four designated Wild and Scenic Rivers: the Lostine, Eagle Creek, Minam, and Imnaha, originate in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.