Even though most backcountry skiers have long abandoned the Callaghan Lake road due to hordes of snowmobiles, we decided to once again give it a try, to see what pockets of terrain could still be salvaged from the once glorious backcountry area.
We started from the church in N Van at 7:00 and were able to drive almost to the Alexander Falls turnoff before slipping into the ditch. At that point we were foolish enough to think that the snowmobiles had quit for the season, but were soon proved wrong. Within 5 minutes of starting to dig ourselves out of the ditch a fleet of 6 giant pickup trucks with 6 giant snowmobiles arrived from the state of Washington. The lead machine quickly yarded my Subaru out of the ditch. A short time later we were all stopped. We hurried as much as possible to get started and get away from the snowmobiles, and during the time about a dozen more arrived.
We skied up the Callaghan Lake road to the point where the new trail to the lodge bears left. The new road had no snow, but we quickly decided to use it instead of the original. It went up and down a bit, with a bit of mud in places. Its not really a road, just a clearing in which they can make a snowcat track. Soon we were on continuous snow, sufficiently far from the main road that we couldn't hear the machiens pouring in, and the going was quite pleasant. Eventually we crossed a crude wooden bridge over Callaghan Creek, and much later reached the intersection with the higher trail. (A sign said we were now 9.5 km from Alexander Falls, and 2 km from Callaghan Lake.) From here we continued on the snow cat track over to the lodge. Ideally, we would have turned right a bit earlier, except that Tom had gone ahead to the lodge, to gather info.
Once past the lodge, we made camp on the north bank of the open meadow/swamp below the headwall. The next morning under blue skies, we continued up the valley to the pass between Ring and Powder mountain, and then angled around to the west on the steep slopes. This is apparently the only way you can do a ski ascent of Ring mountain. As we edged cautiously up the frozen slopes, I had to continually reassure myself that I really wouldn't slide too far if I slipped. Eventually we were in the upper bowl, and then onto the west ridge.
At that point 7 high powered snowmobiles with no mufflers came over the ridge of the opposite Powder mountain, and shattered the silence of the mountains. For the next hour they screamed up and down every possible slope on the opposite powder mountain, then went down to the lake and roared around in circles. Although Ring mountain itself is still too steep, there was no escape from the noise. I felt diminished and depressed. After an hour they were gone, and we were left with our thoughts in the quiet mountains once again.
The ski back down from the summit of Ring mountain was fantastic. My spirits lifted as I swished silently down the slopes, and was even singing to myself, just like the old days. After breaking camp, Klaus thought that on the way back we would take the Callaghan Lake road rather than the lower cutoff, because it would have more snow and better views. We thought that perhaps all the snowmobilers had already gone home.
What a mistake! As soon as we got to the lake, they were upon us - wave after wave of screaming machines. The smell of two cycle oil hung in the air as we plodded slowly up the hills. The snow was all churned up. Since there was nothing else to do, I made some observations about the machines. They were Polaris, Yamaha and a few Ski-doos. All had really long wheelbases, as compared to ones I had seen in the interior. Not a single machine had the now more common four cycle engine - they were all the noisy high performance two cycle engines. Two cycle engines are far noisier and waste much more fuel than the four cycle engines, but are cheaper and lighter for the same power.
A significant number coming back from the Pemberton Icecap were "way cool" snowboarders, with snowboards strapped to their backs as they stood on their machines. I suspected these were more ornaments rather than actual use.
Finally we got to the end of the snow and started walking. Waves of machines roared past us on the gravel - they don't need snow. Just as we got close to the car, we were subjected to three machines that were an order of magnitude louder than the other loud machines. These "outlaw" machines had dramatically modified engines and absolutely no muffler, and somewhat unnecessarily revved their engines as they went past. Just before the cars, I then caught up with Betsy who was in tears beside the road, hoping that they would just leave before she had to go down to the car. When we reached the cars, I approached the leader of the three "outlaws". He wore a Harley Davidson T shirt and a defiant look on his somewhat well fed red face. I told him he had no business not having a muffler on his machine, and he stared at me increduously. I had a close look at his "chopper", which had no engine cover, and huge expansion chambers. It seems these machines are about 600 CC engine, and well over 100 horsepower - more than a lot of cars.
Tom was already talking to one of the guys in the next group as I went past. This guy was the reasonable type, a spokesman for snowmobilers. And so we had a short conversation, to educate ourselves. He was most agreeable with us that the preceeding group were out of line, but what can you do? He said that what some people do is deliberately remove the muffler, not for any performance increase, but simply because they like the sound. For some reason, he referred to them as "drug dealers", which I suppose is possible.
The "spokesman" goes to all the government land use meetings and makes the case for "sharing" the backcountry everywhere. He says he's a pipefitter and works hard all week, and this is his "passion", just like our passion is skiing. He said he'd been up Callaghan 42 times in the past year, and we were the first skiers he's seen, so we're a bit out of line to criticize their noise. He says his snowmobile only burns between $5000 and $8000 worth of fuel a year. He talked about their "sport", and that they are just like us, and want to find untracked powder. He said they wanted to make sure they could "share" the backcountry with us. I mentioned that the concept of sharing was not really accurate, much like the people of a church being asked to share their experience with a rock band. No more can we hear the grouse in spring. But then he said he's been coming up Callaghan for years, and we are the first skiers he has seen.
We talked about how in the US national parks they now have noise restrictions on machines, which encourage four cycle engines with mufflers. But he rejected that suggestion because their "sport" of "high pointing" requires more power, apparently only available with two cycle engines. Our conversation was then drowned out while his partner loaded their "fully muffled" snowmobile onto the truck. He says "Its got complete muffler system, but you're still not going to like the noise". Sure enough, it drowned out all further conversation, and so I moved on down the road.
So there you have it. The viewpoint of the reasonable snowmobiler.
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