Snow Camping near Elk Lake - Detroit Ranger District, Oregon

The annual snow camping trip with my friend Kyle had finally arrived. Unfortunately the weather forecast was less than stellar, with rain in the mountains in January. That's Western Oregon for you: never predictable which makes planning anything in advance difficult.

This year Kyle wanted to head up toward Elk Lake, which is about 12 miles NE of the town of Detroit (on Detroit Lake). The lake is at about 3,700' elevation where there is 3-4 feet of snow. Since Kyle was driving, we planned to head up road 4697 as far as he could go, which we suspected would be around 2,400 - 2,800' in elevation.

We all took the day off Friday to make it a long weekend. I drove up with my friend Jordan while Kyle drove up with his friends Aaron and Matt. We arrived first and parked around 2,000' in elevation where the snow started. I had my snowmobiles and gear sleds with me, so I planned on snowmobiling to our camping spot.

The weather was mild with cloudy skies and a temperature around 40°F. Jordan and I unloaded the snowmobiles and went riding up the road scouting for a spot. We road to about 2,800' elevation to the first big hairpin turn and decided to turn around. There was 2-3 feet of wet concrete-like snow there which we knew would be too difficult for Kyle to drive in. On our way back down, we ran into Kyle putting chains on. He was having a heck of a time getting very far in the wet snow.

Snowmobiling on road 4697 towards Elk Lake     Humbug Creek in the snow

While Kyle slowly made his way up the road to a camping spot we found at about 2,500' elevation, Jordan and I rode back to my truck to grab our gear. We passed Kyle on way back up to the camping spot. We continued on and unloaded our gear at the spot. Matt had parked his truck down lower, so Jordan and I rode back to his truck to pick up his gear to tow to camp. After a couple trips we were back setting up camp along with Kyle, Matt and Aaron.

Jordan and I slept in my wood stove-heated Eskimo FatFish 6120i pop up tent, while Kyle, Aaron, and Matt slept in Kyle's pop up tent like the one I have used on past trips. Kyle also set up a few tarps to keep us all dry while enjoying a campfire.

The weather held until Friday evening when it started to rain. Luckily we were all in bed by then. It rained off and on all night and continued Saturday.

Hot tent camping in Eskimo FatFish 6120i     Charlie leaving our dry campfire area

After a leisurely morning Saturday, Jordan and I braved the rain and went for a snowmobile ride. We had hoped to get all the way to Elk Lake and maybe Gold Butte as well. Due to all the rain the past few days, the snow was horrible for snowmobiling (or really anything for that matter). It was wet, heavy snow with a consistency of concrete. The trail was difficult to snowmobile on as there were deep ruts from previous off road trucks. As we neared Dunlap lake at around 3,600' elevation, the ruts nearly disappeared and we had some okay riding. It was short lived and soon I found myself stuck as I veered into a deep rut and rolled my snowmobile part way over. Jordan and I got my sled unstuck and we carefully continued on. Unfortunately we came to a drop-off about 4-5 feet tall and a creek covering most of the road for the foreseeable distance. It was steep on either side of the road/creek, so we decided to turn around.

Rain and wet concrete snow make for terrible snowmobiling     There is a creek in the middle of the road!

On our way back we caught a break in the weather and saw a glimpse of blue sky for a few minutes before the clouds rolled back in.

A brief sun-break while snowmobiling     Partial clearing near Elk Lake for a brief moment

We spent the rest of the day either in my tent or under the tarps by the campfire. While the company was good, I did not enjoy all the rain. My Eskimo FatFish 6120i tent was not designed for rain and started leaking at the seams (a tarp over the roof provided a quick fix). I should have trusted the weather forecast and insisted we camp somewhere else where we could get higher in elevation. Rain/snow camping is just not my idea of fun.

2015/16 Mileage

Trip: 21 miles
Season: 296 miles
Total Days: 12

Gear List

2014 Polaris 800 Pro RMK Snowmobile
2013 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault Snowmobile
Seat Jack 2up snowmobile seat
Up North Technologies PRO SERIES Snowmobile Cargo Rack
P-700-B Low Profile Powder Keg
Pelican Snow Trek Sport 75 Utility Sled
Otter Pro Magnum utility sled
Echo CS-271T chainsaw
Fiskars 28 in. Splitting Axe
Kel-Tec P-3AT .380 Auto
Four Dog STove Co. Two Dog DX Camp Stove
Eskimo FatFish 6120i Pop-UP Shelter
High Peak Alpinismo Arete Mummy Bag
Alpinizmo by High Peak USA Latitude 20 Sleeping Bag
Therm-A-rest Explorer Self-Inflating Mattress
Disc-O-Bed Cam-O-Bunk Portable Bunk Bed Cots
GCI Outdoor Quik-E-Seats
Suboos Gen 2 Ultimate LED Tent Lantern
HMK Summit V16 Pack
GMAX GM76X Helmet
Smith Phenom Turbo Fan Goggles
Columbia Men’s Bugaboot Plus III Titanium Omni-Heat Boots
Columbia Men's Echochrome Ski Pants
Columbia Titanium Hightail II Softshell Jacket
Columbia Sportswear Men's Lhotse Mountain II Parka
Head Digital Sport Liner Gloves
Outdoor Research Ambit Gloves
Columbia Men's Fast Trek Fleece Hat
HighGear ATF8 Altimeter
Petzl TIKKA XP 2 Headlamp
Olympus Tough TG-1 Camera
Sony HDR-AS200V ActionCam
Lifeline Aluminum Sport Utility Snow Shovel
Fiskars POWER TOOTH Softgrip 10" Folding Saw
First Aid Kit
Samsung Galaxy S6 Active w/BackCountry Navigator
Suunto A-10 Compass

Post new comment

Disclaimer: You are responsible for informing yourself of the hazards of backcountry travel and taking the necessary precautions. Loomis Adventures may not be held liable.