In yesterday’s post, which you can read here, we crossed a stream and took a track up a mountain but did not see a single moose. That was after all the raison d’être for the trip.
Our break finished we mounted up, started the engines and in single file headed along the trail down the mountain.
We soon discovered that driving down the mountain was not as difficult as it appeared. A snowmobile soon stops when there is no power to the engine because the blades on its track act as very efficient brakes. The path traversed across the steep face of the mountain and doubled back on itself several times. Soon we were down by the lake and picking up speed along the trail.
It was at this point that one of the group thought it might be fun to kick up soft powder snow with his machine. He ventured off-trail a couple of feet. It was a mistake. Right in front of me his snowmobile sank sideways into a shallow channel and the next moment he was thrown clear as the machine rose up and toppled sideways.
Fortunately no bones were broken as snowdrifts make for a soft landing. No doubt the guides had had to deal with such incidents before and the skills acquired meant they were able to recover the snowmobile easily and reunite it with its sheepish driver. It was a timely reminder of what not to do and we were soon on our way a little more circumspect.
Spruce and alder grew alongside the paths with small clearings here an there where, we were told moose often gather. It is in the clearings where they find their food buried beneath the snow and several moose will often congregate together. However there was little sign of them today though there were signs that caribou had been our way.
Caribou are much smaller than moose and less dangerous and are what we call reindeer in northern Europe. Moose particularly in the national parks of Newfoundland are often seen grazing in the summer or drinking in the lakes and rivers.
We arrived in a clear space where two tracks met with an old logging road. There was a clearing of snow and we were told this would make a great playground for those itching to try something other than racing along the trail. A hump in the ground gave an excuse for the guides to show off and take air. Taking air meant driving the snowmobile at speed over the bump and launching it into the air. You have to commit yourself and not chicken out at the last minute.
After the more courageous had a few goes it was decided that as it was getting dark we would head back. We had already travelled 45 miles with out siting any moose and were beginning to wonder whether they even existed.
Every snowmobile is equipped with a powerful headlight that is switched on automatically once the ignition is switched on. You hardly notice it in daylight but as the light began to fade the beam lit up the trees as we drove along the trails back in a north-westerly direction.
Suddenly the guide in front raised his hand; the signal to stop. He looked down at the ground an pointed at the tracks in the snow. A moose had crossed the trail not long ago.
The trail wound its way through a stand of young firs. Snow from the branches fell on us as the machine brushed past. Abruptly the trail made a left turn and dipped down. My snowmobile slid sideways. I allowed the machine to follow the skis on the front and resisted the temptation to fight the direction it seemed to be heading. The blades bit again into the snow and I had control back.
One of our party was not so lucky and in fear gripped the handles hard pressing the thumb switch as they did. The result was an accelerating snowmobile, loss of control and a collision with fir tree sapling.
As darkness fell so did our speed. The beams cut through the darkness in an other worldly kind of way. The forest took on a completely different aspect.. It seemed to close in around us apart from the corridor of light ahead.
Suddenly a dark shape loomed towering over the first snowmobiles. Silently it moved into the beam of light and then was gone. For a second its eyes glinted. Only those in the first three machine saw it but it was unmistakably a moose.
They whooped with joy as those behind moaned with disappointment at having missed the encounter. The guides confidently predicted we would come across the beast again as it was headed in the direction of the old logging road we would take to get back to base.
Sure enough a couple of minutes later and we we turned onto the old logging road. It was time once again to give the machines some power and speed.
The moon came up over the trees and cast an eerie light on the forest. Under its light we were able to see more of what was around us and we spotted a number of tracks were moose had crossed the road. None of the tracks had been there when we had come that way earlier.
As predicted we saw the moose. He lumbered out of the forest on our right and in the distance and then suddenly aware of the column of snowmobiles heading along the path started to gallop along the track ahead of us. We all slowed so as not to panic the already startled animal. He was a magnificent beast, much larger than I had expected. Not an animal you would want to come face-to-face with on the trail through the back-country. Abruptly he turned down a small track through the forest.
As we pulled level with the track we pulled up and cut the engines. In the moonlight it was possible to make out the beast against the snow more by movement than anything else.
Having seen one moose twice we had brief encounters with two more before we arrived back at the end of the logging road. Moose or no moose a trip into the Newfoundland backcountry was a great adventure and one I would certainly repeat.
For more information on Newfoundland visit the Atlantic Canada website