A Snowmobiling Debacle in the Backcountry

If you read my about my snowshoeing adventure yesterday then you probably noticed I alluded to a bit of a snowmobiling debacle. Having said that, let me preface this entire story by telling y’all that everyone is fine and it is definitely going to be a story that continues to make me laugh in the coming years!

But it kinda wasn’t so awesome at the time.

Snowmobiling in Idaho

Balaclava for the win!

After we returned from our morning of snowshoeing, we all sat down for lunch before rallying to head out on the snowmobiles. Although the rest of the group had spent all morning on the sleds, Erika, Matt and I hadn’t touched them yet. Matt grew up on snowmobiles but neither Erika nor I had ever been on one, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t super thrilled. I’ve never been one to love motorized vehicles in the backcountry, whether it is snowmobiles or 4-wheelers. I’m too much of a hippy and can’t help but focus on the environmental repercussions! However, I am all about trying new things and I hate to have a negative opinion about something without trying it. So, the three of us agreed to head out for a short ride to get a feel for the things, and my famous last words to Kristie as we walked out the door at 3:30pm were, “Don’t worry; I bet we’re back within 30 minutes.”

Snowmobiling in Idaho

Erika hopped on a sled with Matt and I took one for myself. We headed out to the open fields of powder and practiced riding around on flat terrain. After we felt more comfortable, we crossed the highway and started to headed up a more narrow snowmobile trail into the canyon.

As we cruised along, I realized that maybe snowmobiling isn’t quite my thing! I was terrified to go over 30 mph and I really didn’t feel like I had control of turning. In fact, I tried to be all cool and turn up this semi-steep embankment and totally chickened out! I felt like I was going to fall off so I jumped off quickly. The sled did this massive slow-motion fall on its side while I continued to bunny hop down the embankment, away from it. In short, I left Matt and Erika laughing after witnessing the slowest motion sled accident ever. Leave it to me to claim that title!

Snowmobiling in Idaho

Photo Credit to Erika

After I decided I didn’t love the things, Erika took over the solo sled and I hopped on the back with Matt. We continued up the canyon and eventually veered off the main trail to head up a mountain. This was backcountry sledding and we were crushing through fresh powder that was at least 3-4 feet deep. We continued to swish through the fresh stuff while cruising up the hill until Erika decided to call it; she was a new driver after all, and she was starting to get uncomfortable in such deep conditions. We agreed to turn around and head back to the road….but then chaos ensued.

One of our sleds was stuck. And by stuck, I mean totally buried in feet of snow while facing up the mountain. No bueno y’all.

Initially, we didn’t think much of it and the three of us starting digging and trying to lift the back end of the sled out of the trench. However, the snow was so deep that we couldn’t get solid footing, and quite honestly, neither Erika nor I were strong enough to really be lifting this sled with Matt. If there had been another guy with us, things may have been different, but alas, poor Matt was stuck on the side of a mountain with two 125-lb. women.

Snowmobiling in Idaho

Photo Credit to Erika

We continued to dig and pull and push for almost an hour. We finally decided to call it when the sled’s dashboard starting going crazy, lighting up everything and revving the engine for no reason. Thing was going crazy! At this point, it was 5pm and we knew we needed to get out of the backcountry. The sun was setting, a storm was rolling in and the three of us were now down to one snowmobile. Whoops!

The three of us hopped on our single sled and agreed to head down the mountain, nice and slowly. At this point, we were at least 15 miles up the canyon so this sled was our only way to get back to the cabin. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see a damn thing because the inside of my goggles and frozen up, so I was essentially flying blind. Unfortunately, Matt’s goggles did the same, and after a few minutes, he stopped the machine, pulled them off, and realized we had headed the wrong way. Double whoops.

Erika still had functioning goggles so she and Matt switched (since he was driving the machine), and we tried to flip a U-turn to head back in the proper direction. But, since I’m sure you know where this is going, I’ll just cut to the chase: the second sled got stuck, too. Three people on the back were too much in this fluffy powder, and again, Erika and I weren’t strong enough to help Matt get it out. We dug at it for another 30 minutes, but at this point, contingency plan #3 was starting to form. The sun had set long ago, and we were operating in the final moments of post-daylight glow reflecting against the snow.

Bottom line? We needed to get out of the backcountry. Period.

Erika and I both realized that although we were miles from the cabin, the situation wasn’t as dire as it sounded. Yes, we had nothing with us (because we had stupidly left our backpacks at the cabin, thinking we’d be out for 30 minutes), but the three of us are in good shape and had eaten lunch. If we could find the snowmobile trail that had initially led us up the canyon, we could walk the 15 miles back to the cabin. We were all dressed for cold and snowy temps and the massive snowmobile helmets were definitely keeping our heat trapped in our body. As long as we continued to move, we would keep warm. The trick? Finding our way back to the snowmobile trail.

I decided to follow our tracks back to the trail, and really kept my eyes peeled to the ground, hoping that I was following the right tracks. This became harder as time passed because we were eventually in the dark with no post-daylight glow to help us. However, the situation could have been much worse! We got stuck doing some major post-holing for the first 15 minutes, often sinking into the snow up to mid-thigh, and I remember thinking that this was going to suck! I even crawled up one part of the hill because the dispersion of my weight made it easier to float on top of the powder! However, as we continued to follow our tracks, the snow became more packed and we were able to stay atop the icy crust.

We eventually made it back to the snowmobile trail and Erika was able to get a call off to the rest of the crew in the cabin. Cell service was spotty in both locations, but at least they knew about our situation. We agreed to keep walking towards the cabin and they would try to take our two remaining sleds back up to find us. If anything, the walking was helping because it was keeping us warm; if we stopped, our bodies realized that it was only 10 degrees outside!

After another 1-1.5 miles down the road, we ran into a massive group of 20-something snowmobilers from North Dakota. We were surprised and ecstatic to see a group still out this late! Turns out, they had been jumping a stream and gotten a sled stuck. They had spent hours trying to dig it out and had finally gotten it released (but not before they saw a bear scampering off in the woods! Can you imagine if any of us had run into a bear who was oddly out of hibernation?!) They were heading back to their town when they found us, and I can’t even explain how happy I was to see this motley group of guys! Luckily, they were awesome and agreed to throw us on the back and drive us back to the main road where our crew could pick us up. My shining knight was Brady, and although I’ll probably never meet this guy again, I definitely will remember his name!

Snowmobiling in Idaho

Giggle, giggle. I was a bit disheveled after returning back to the cabin

This post is massive so I won’t do y’all the injustice of making it longer; however, lesson learned! I have a tendency to wing things a lot, especially in the backcountry where I am most comfortable, and this was a fantastic reminder that I shouldn’t. In fact, I suspect a second post coming out of this 🙂

TL; DR: We went snowmobiling, got them stuck, and walked back to town. 

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What’s your favorite story from drama in the backcountry that makes you laugh afterwards?

 

18 Comments

  • Reply Rochelle at

    Oh can I so relate to your story!! Working for the Forest Service we used sleds (snowmobiles) for winter work on a regular basis. Until working for the FS I had never used one but after nine years of using them you would think I would have been a competent rider. I never did quit getting stuck and have to have help digging out. Some times were dicier then others and kind of freaked me out. I love ski touring in the backcountry but snowmobiling is one sport I’ll happily leave to the guys! Glad it all worked out okay!!

    • Reply heather at

      Yeah, as much fun as we had, I still think I prefer snowshoes or skis 🙂

  • Reply Hugh Jass at

    Grrrr. I need to live somewhere with snow and seasons!

  • Reply Amy @ Writing While Running at

    Duuuude. Snowmobiles are not my thing. The one time I thought they came in handy, I was x-country skiing in the backcountry near Walden, CO and we got off track. We heard a bunch of them and figured they were on the main trail so we headed in that direction. Long story short: our instincts were wrong and got even more turned around. We got back to the cabin just fine so it wasn’t a big deal, but those things are loud and obnoxious. That being said, I can see the allure to try ’em out!

  • Reply Mindy Artze at

    Wow! Thank God you were okay! I would have been freaking out!!!

  • Reply Dan at

    Just goes to show how fast and easy it is to get into a bad situation in the backcountry. You were lucky, it could have been worse but I am glad you made it out unscathed. Funny I run across this story at this time as we just developed a program to help make sure people return from their backcountry adventures. It would not have been much help in this scenario but you can check it out at: http://alloutdoorforum.com/?page_id=228. You can not always prepare for every situation but you should always take the proper precautions when you are in the backcountry where help can be miles away.

  • Reply katie at

    That looks like a ton of fun! I have never even seen a snow mobile in person. 😉

  • Reply Kayla at

    HEATHER!!! Ya’ll could have been one of those horrible tragic death stories! Glad everything “luckily” worked out!

    P.S. Shnazzy new blog site! You’re so far beyond the top of my head these days. Geez.

    P.P.S. It’s not obvious when you have link’s in your text unless you happen to drag the mouse over them, because the bold print is the same color and style as when you are just bolding other text. Maybe underline the link or make it a different color?

    • Reply heather at

      Thanks! And yeah, I noticed the same about the links. Heidi is coming over now to help me fix all of those little quirky things because I sure can’t do it on my own!

      • Reply Kayla at

        You fixed the links!! I like the pink!

  • Reply TriGirl at

    Sounds scary to me! From the snowmobiling to getting lost, to roaming in the dark. Glad you’re ok!

  • Reply Natalie @ Free Range Human at

    We were on a backpacking trip a few years ago, and we stop at a creek to refill our water. I slipped and soaked my shoes, socks, and pants. Not to mention the fact that I dropped the water bottle in the creek! If you know backpacking, you know wet shoes and socks are akin to death in the backcountry so I was not happy!

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    Yikes stripes. Absolutely crazy. Good for ya’ll for staying calm and collected…although maybe not all moments were calm. I’m surprised to hear that you’re not a fan of something so adventurous and adrenaline inducing. If you didn’t like it before I have no doubt in my mind you’ll stay away from it in the future now too. Glad everyone is safe!

  • Reply Beth at

    hahahaha!!!

    I laugh…because the 1st (and only time) I road my snowmobile I “ghost rode” it over a cliff (and by ghost ride I mean I was afraid *I* was going to go over with it so I just fell off gracefully face down in the poweder and let it go. We were able to get it back onto the road with the help of some friends who were MUCH more snowmobile savvy than Forrest or I. But that’s when I decided the whole snowmobile thing was NOT for me.

  • Reply Erin (Running Tall) at

    Ah that is one insane first snowmobile experience! I would be done with winter forever if it was me haha. My first (and last) snowmobiling experience lasted ten minutes because I wouldn’t go over 40, it was -35 Celsius, and it was boring haha. Glad you guys made it back safely!

  • Reply Hazel at

    Must have in my pocket when sledding HEADLAMP. Those rockets are definately not light, prefer to pack snow back under sled then digging out.

    An adventure to remember!

  • Reply Stepping up my fitness with CrossFit - The Active Explorer at

    […] CrossFit came from Heather of Just a Colorado Gal. We first talked about it in January after being stranded on a mountain by a couple of snowmobiles. Honestly, she’s one of the few women I know who could have hiked out of there with me without […]

  • Reply Stepping up my fitness with CrossFit | The Active Explorer at

    […] CrossFit came from Heather of Just a Colorado Gal. We first talked about it in January after being stranded on a mountain by a couple of snowmobiles. Honestly, she’s one of the few women I know who could have hiked out of there with me without […]

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