Snowy mountain + new antenna + freezing temps = ODOT at work

Snowy mountain + new antenna + freezing temps = ODOT at work
Snocats crawl up the snow-covered summit of Mount Howard in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon on Dec. 4, 2013. (Oregon DOT photo)

ENTERPRISE, Ore. - Work loading the snowcats started before sunrise December 4.

The goal: Install a new radio antenna atop 8,256-foot Mount Howard in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon.

The 20-foot antenna would be a lifeline for state fish and game officers working in the sparsely populated, rugged mountains and canyons of Northeastern Oregon.

"These troopers are in every canyon, nook and cranny within these remote areas," said Wade Hegele, wireless communctions technician for the Oregon DOT. "The challenge is to get them the maximum coverage with the least signal loss."

But first: crews had to get the antenna and the installers to the top of a snow-covered mountain.

Mount Howard in northeastern Oregon

If you've been to Wallowa Lake, you've seen Mount Howard. The Wallowa Lake Tramway carries visitors to the summit on the edge of Oregon's largest wilderness area, the Eagle Cap.

The contractor planned to install the antenna before the snow arrived, according to an ODOT report.

Winter arrived early.

So on a cold but clear Wednesday in December, ODOT workers and technicians from Tower Time loaded up snowcats and snowmobiles and set out to try for the summit of Mount Howard.

They packed chainsaws and generators.

They needed them.

When they arrived at the summit, they found the entrance to the radio site buried in snow - and the temperature a balmy zero degrees Fahrenheit.

As the temperature dropped below zero, technicians with gloved hands worked to install the antenna. It took four people to move the antenna into position.

Work was completed as darkness fell, taking the mercury with it. Guided only by the headlights of their snowcats, the crew descended the mountain in minus 5 Fahrenheit weather.

Once back to the valley floor, the crews loaded the snowcats back onto trucks for the 20-minute drive back to town.

And their, along a northeastern Oregon road, they encountered the first major glitch of the operation: the fuel is the diesel trucks gelled up in the cold, causing the engines to quit.

But their radios still worked. Help was just a call back to dispatch away.