BEND, Ore. - Hikers recently reported seeing some dead elk above No Name Lake near Broken Top in the Central Oregon Cascades.
So wildlife biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined a U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger on a trip to investigate.
"What they found," ODFW said Monday afternoon, "defied explanation."
The biologists counted 19 dead elk, including bulls, cows and calves.
The carcasses had been exposed by melting snow.
"What was evident was that the elk had at some point in the past, been covered up by a large wet slab avalanche as they attempted to cross a steep area just above where they were spotted," ODFW said in a report. "It was evident their bodies had suffered a lot of trauma in the avalanche, including broken limbs, antlers and torn up hides. But they were otherwise perfectly preserved under the heavy snow and ice until fast-melting snow revealed them to hikers about a week ago."
Just how long the elk had been entombed in snow and ice is anyone's guess.
Oregon is experiencing a warm and dry summer after a relatively warm and dry winter.
"Biologists can only guess at how long they’ve been under the snow and how they managed to get caught in the avalanche in the first place," ODFW said in a report. "Based on the velvet on a bull’s antlers, they know it must have happened in the summer season."
The agency cautioned hikers that the area may be dangerous.
"Some of the elk have tumbled into the water from the steep slope above, and any hikers in the area are warned that the area is very unstable, with heavy rockfall as temperatures warm," ODFW said in a report.