Postscript: Elk Cove Avalanche

Mid-June view of the Elk Cove avalanche scene (photo: Joshua Baker)

WyEast Blog reader Joshua Baker sent several images from a mid-June trip into Elk Cove this year in response to the recent avalanche article that featured images from early August, when much of the avalanche debris had melted free of snow. These images provide a different perspective of the incident, as the winter snowpack was still largely intact, and most of the trees caught up in the avalanche were still buried in snow.

This image shows the top of a still-green Mountain hemlock, snapped off by the avalanche and lying on top of the avalanche debris pile:

Mountain hemlock top snapped off by the avalanche (photo: Joshua Baker)

Another image shows a similarly snapped-off Noble fir lying on top of the avalanche debris:

Noble fir top snapped off by the avalanche (photo: Joshua Baker)

Both images show how trees in deep snowpack can be topped by avalanches, snapped off at the snow line. Not seen in these images are the many trees in the debris pile, below, still buried in snow from the avalanche. As the images in the main article show, whole trees brought down by the event were stacked up to 10 feet deep once the snow melted away over the summer.

This view from mid-June is especially informative, as it shows surviving groups of Mountain hemlock still standing, despite being directly in the path of the avalanche:

Several groups of Mountain hemlock were still standing where the avalanche swept across the floor of Elk Cove (photo: Joshua Baker)

The best explanation for their survival is that the avalanche had rapidly lost speed as it moved across the gently sloped floor of Elk Cove, and these trees were able to withstand the reduced force of the moving avalanche. Another factor is the depth of the avalanche when it reached these trees, as it likely spread out when it reached the floor of the cove, where it finally stopped.

In coming years, I’ll continue to document the debris pile and the recovery of the forest and meadows that were impacted by the avalanche. Just as we’re learning about fire recovery on Mount Hood, this event will provide a window into the resilience of our alpine landscape in the face of an event like this.

Thanks for sharing these photos, Joshua!