Gabe Durham’s team at the 2020 Eagle Cap Extreme .jpg

Gabe Durham’s team of 12 sled dogs crosses the finish line to win the 200-mile race at the 2020 Eagle Cap Extreme in Wallowa County. This year, organizers canceled the event due to COVID-19.

ENTERPRISE — The 2021 Eagle Cap Extreme sled dog race, originally scheduled for January, has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the ECX website.

“After considerable discussion with medical professionals, community leaders, and several key volunteers in the Eagle Cap Extreme family, we made the difficult decision to postpone our 2021 races,” the website states. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and look forward to resuming with the 2022 race.”

Dr. Randy Greenshields, president of the ECX board of directors and co-owner of the Double Arrow Veterinary Clinic, said the board decided on Nov. 23 to cancel next month’s event because of concerns over keeping people socially distanced. He said organizers have been busy getting the word out to all the mushers and volunteers.

“We had a lot of volunteers who were pretty uncomfortable with (holding the ECX),” he said Wednesday, Dec. 2. “We’d already planned to cancel events where people were in close proximity.”

He said although distancing wasn’t a problem for the mushers, it would’ve been for spectators and anyone attending the awards banquet and people in warming tents and eating and sleeping areas.

“It was just real difficult to keep people spread out,” he said.

Communications were another problem. Given the terrain involved in the race, cellphones aren’t usable and ham radios are used, again crowding people together.

“There would be too many people in close proximity to do it very safely,” Greenshields said.

Information on the website already has been changed to reflect plans for the 2022 race. Greenshields said some of the mushers who planned to compete next month said rather than refund their entry fees, the ECX organization should just hold onto the fees until 2022.

“We had a ton of people wanting to race this year but it’s not to be,” he said. “It’s a really cool event. Just not this year, unfortunately.”

According to the website, the 200-mile, 12-dog team race is an official qualifier for both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest races. Races of shorter lengths also were held last year: a 100-mile eight dog team race, a 31-mile two-day mid-distance race and a 22-mile junior’s race featuring 14- to 17-year-old racers.

The ECX team provides a premier sporting event for mushers and their teams through some of the most scenic and rugged country in the U.S. The race runs through the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest adjacent to the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

All races (run concurrently) start at Ferguson Ridge Ski Area, just east of Joseph. The 100-mile race runs along the Imnaha River to the Ollokot Checkpoint (50-mile mark) where the teams have a mandatory six-hour layover; then return to Ferguson.

The 200-mile race follows the same trail for the first 50 miles then continues on and loops around back to the Ollokot Checkpoint (100-mile mark) where the teams have a mandatory four-hour layover of their overall eight-hour floating mandatory rest. Following a similar trail, they return to Ferguson for the finish.

The two-day 31-mile and 22-mile junior’s races both start and finish at Ferguson after going through the Salt Creek Summit SnoPark, considered a great alternate location to watch the teams.

“At best we’d have a mediocre event without a lot of people out to see it,” Greenshields said. “We put this on for the local community and when they can’t come out to see it there’s not much point.”

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