The one thing you do not do when running out of control is grip the handle bars harder in your terror. You control the speed the snowmobile with a thumb switch; the harder you push the faster you go. Somebody in the group always forgets this piece of advice; I just hoped it was not going to be me.
We were off to track moose in Newfoundland’s backcountry. Alongside the orca, the humpback and the grizzly and polar bears the moose ranks as one of Canada’s big five. They are huge majestic animals treated with great respect by Canadians. Earlier in the day we had seen moose from a helicopter and wanted to see them on the ground. This meant a trip out into the wilderness and that meant either walking with aid of snowshoes, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling.
Snowmobiling sounded far more fun than the other two and we could cover a vast amount of ground. The downside was that the noise of the engines would alert any moose to our presence. However, we were assured it was the best way to see them and, being in Newfoundland where the density of the moose population is the highest in Canada, our chances were high.
Our guides showed us how to start, stop, reverse and give hand signals to the person behind. Next came the safety talk. We were warned not to put our feet on the ground, as the track blades would make mincemeat of any foot, leg and boot. Next they demonstrated how to clip the ignition key to our belts so that if we came off the key came too and killed the engine instantly thereby halting the mincing machine. Finally after being thoroughly frightened off the idea of driving the machine we were told to keep to the trails as the snow was hard packed there. Leave the trail and you and machine could sink into several feet of soft powdery snow.
Gloves on, helmet on, visor down and jacket zipped up around the neck and we were ready to go. The snowmobile can reach speeds in excess of 60mph and any exposed skin in temperatures of -10°C would quickly become frostbitten.
Engines revved on a dozen machines and, gingerly at first, we edged forward. For the first few miles we followed a logging road along the shores of Deer Lake building confidence and speed.
The first obstacle was a frozen stream. Crossing it involved going down a steep and narrow incline which curved round as well. Going out and up the other side was more straight forward but there were several humps to negotiate.
Our instructions were not to stop and not to brake on the way down as it was icy and the back of the snowmobiles would swing out. Neither were we to stop going out but give it enough power to reach the top in one go. The first few were fine but a slightly more timid individual braked on the way down, the back swung out and rider and machine came to a halt sideways across the trail. Manhandling a heavy machine on a slippery surface is no fun and the individual concerned was the butt of several less than complimentary comments.
Powering up the other side was fun as the machine bucked over the humps threatening, but only threatening to unseat the riders. Not everyone made it up in one go but nobody came off either.
We soon left the logging road and followed a trail only as wide as the snowmobile. We wound our way through trees, negotiated frozen swamps and detoured round huge granite boulders. Soon we began to climb through the forest and, above the treeline, along mountain paths. At times the ground dropped away on one side and rose up steeply on the other. Drifts of snow acted as safety barriers.
We came round a corner and there, by the steepest drop so far, the track widened considerably into a natural lay-by. It made a convenient stopping point where the snowmobiles could park up.
We switched the engines off and the silence of the wilderness enveloped us.
The view from this side of the mountain was stunning. Already the sun was low in the sky and the snow was beginning to turn a delicate golden colour. An ice covered lake stretched into the distance surrounded by forest through which snow covered domes of granite pushed.
One of our guides pointed out the trail we would take along the distant lake shore but left us wondering how we were going to get down there from our eyrie. The other guides meanwhile produced goodies from the “boot” of their snowmobiles. Piping hot soup from a thermos was handed round and in the sub-zero temperatures was most welcome. This was followed by Graham’s crackers and blueberry or maple and walnut muffins. Hot chocolate and marshmallows rounded off the snack.
Awe inspiring though the landscape was it occurred to me that we had not yet seen a moose. Nor had we seen any sign of one. The guides assured us that down where we were going there would be plenty of them.
First, though we had to drive from our eagle’s nest down a snow covered track. The idea of losing control on the descent down the mountain made me more than a little nervous.
Read the rest of the adventure here.
For more information on Newfoundland visit the Atlantic Canada website