A scattering of 19 dead elk that recently emerged from melting snow above No Name Lake near Broken Top were victims of an avalanche, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Hikers reported the perplexing sight last week, and two ODFW biologists and a U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger went Friday to investigate.
Jamie Bowles, one of the wildlife biologists at the scene, said it was obvious that the elk had been covered by a large wet slab avalanche as they attempted to cross the steep slope.
The elk, including bulls, cows and calves, were noticeably injured in the avalanche. They had broken limbs, antlers and torn hides, and their bodies were twisted and contorted, Bowles said.
But the elk were completely preserved under the snow until it melted this summer.
“They had been encased in snow for quite a while,” Bowles said.
Biologist have not yet confirmed when the avalanche occurred. However, Bowles said, it is likely it happened last summer after the historic snowfall in the winter of 2016-17.
Broken Top still had a large amount of snowpack last summer. The elk herd might have seen the snowpack as a short cut down the slope, and caused the avalanche, Bowles said.
It is rare for elk herds to get trapped in avalanches, based on the areas biologists are able to access and monitor, Bowles said, adding that it could be happening in more remote areas.
“It could be more common than we know,” she said.
Some of the elk tumbled into the lake, and the others were stuck on a rock structure along the slope. All of the elk will be left in place, since it would be unnecessary and too dangerous to remove them, Bowles said.
Bowles and the other two wildlife officials used climbing gear to reach the elk on Friday, as loose rocks fell around them.
The area is unstable, and hikers are asked to stay away, Bowles said.
Hikers can still see the elk from the trail across the lake. For some, it can be a disturbing sight.
“It was really unsettling to see in person,” Bowles said.
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