David Spaugh and his daughter, Katie, might some day return to the alpine saddle high in the Elkhorn Mountains.
But they won’t be riding a snowmobile.
David is emphatic on that point.
“I’ll never go up that pitch again,” he said. “It was quite a challenge.”
He’s referring to an especially steep section of the route that he and Katie, who’s 14, traversed on Wednesday, March 17 on the west side of the Elkhorns.
Their goal was a saddle on the ridge between Lake and Crevice creeks. Both are tributaries of Deer Creek, which flows beneath Highway 7 between Union Creek Campground and McEwen. Lake Creek is the stream that drains from Twin Lakes.
David, who lives in Sumpter Valley, had hiked to the saddle while hunting, but he had never visited during the winter, and certainly not aboard a snowmobile.
This winter, he said, he and Katie made an attempt in January and another in February before finally succeeding Wednesday. David attributes this to the snow becoming more firm during the recent mild, dry weather.
Katie slightly contradicts her dad’s description of the failures that preceded the conquest.
“We actually did a couple of runs just to pack down the trail,” she said.
When they arrived about noon on Wednesday, Katie said she was enthralled by the view.
“It was amazing,” she said. “You could see forever. It was definitely a big moment getting to the top.”
David’s purpose went beyond the scenery, however.
He also wanted to see how deep the snow was at the saddle, elevation 7,360 feet, particularly after the epic snowstorms in mid-February that pummeled the Elkhorns with many feet of snow.
For that purpose he brought along a 14-foot pole.
Which sounds like an awfully awkward appendage to strap onto a snowmobile.
But this pole, which holds up part of a four-person dome tent, is collapsible, consisting of seven two-foot segments.
Katie plunged the pole into the snow.
Except for piercing the crust, the pole slid pretty easily, she said.
After retrieving the pole, father and daughter confirmed that it had gone all the through, as evidenced by a bit of damp soil stuck to its tip.
The measurement showed 83 inches of snow — one inch shy of seven feet.
David said he was surprised. He was expecting four or five feet.
Although scattered clouds slightly interfered with the view — it had been mostly sunny for much of the snowmobile ride, Katie said — it was otherwise a pleasant day, with calm winds and a temperature of 38 degrees even at that lofty elevation.
Katie said she didn’t even need gloves for the ride.
She said she’s intrigued by the role that mountain snowpack plays in Eastern Oregon, as the main source of water to fill streams and reservoirs.
“It’s interesting to learn about the snowpack in different areas and how it affects the water supply,” Katie said.
Although David doesn’t plan to ever return to the saddle to compare this year’s snowpack with future winters, he said he might look for a more accessible spot, at a similar elevation.