The Day the Backcountry Taught Me a Few Lessons
I’ve spent a lot of time riding the backcountry, and had always thought that I was prepared for anything that mother nature threw at me. My gear bag contained your typical things such as a first aid kit in case of injury, tools and repair material in case of sled damage, fire starting kit in case I get stranded, etc. One trip however thought me a few lessons that I’m very grateful for.
I did a trip to Wiltondale with a group to ride the Gros Morne area. When you drive 1400 miles to ride the west coast, you make the most of each day. We arrived late and got a quick night ride in to shake off the cobwebs. We were on the trail early the next morning, when one of the riders in the group lost an engine about 2 hours into the day. During the tow back to the cabin, I lost an a-arm. We now had two sleds out of commission, and a full day wasted. A trip to a local welding shop and I had my sled back on the snow for the next day.
After several hours of intense work, it was now late in the day, and energy reserves were low. We were all mentally preparing to spend the night in the backcountry. After taking a quick break to rehydrate and regroup, the final blow came when one of the riders did a nose dive into an open brook. At this point, it was getting dark, and I was certain we were going to spend a night in one of the most unforgiving places in Newfoundland, and we weren’t prepared. That is a feeling that I won’t soon forget.
We all knew the area well, but started day 2 hoping for some redemption in search of some new areas. We got to Angus Valley and started exploring. We were so eager to find new play spots that we were just pushing forward, and not thinking. Snow levels were low, so the normal tracks were not passable, and the weather was starting to turn. Before we knew it, we were trapped in a valley in whiteout conditions, with no way out. Although we knew exactly where we were from the GPS, visibility was zero which made it impossible to get any momentum to climb out.
Tired and wet after digging out, we started looking for a place to bunker down for the night. As we sat there, defeated, we heard a faint ‘Braaap’ far off in the distance. The sounds got closer and closer, until we finally saw headlights. We raced to meet up with this group that was being led by a local guide who knew the area very well, and we tagged along until we got back to known territory where we knew we were safe.
After a late arrival back to the cabin, and a warm meal, we sat and contemplated what happened that day over a drink. There were a few lessons that I took away from this:
 Keep a clear head. Don’t let circumstances or excitement cloud your judgement. With day 1 wasted, we were trying to make up for lost time, and thus didn’t take time to stop and think. By the time we realized our mistake, it was too late.
 Always have a contingency. In our case, we took a very difficult descent into a valley without thinking about a way out. We all pick our lines during hill climbs to make sure we have a way out. The same applies when heading into unknown territory.
 Be prepared to spend the night. We were all well versed in how to survive the night, but none of us were properly prepared that day. Although we could start a fire, we had nothing to protect us from the elements besides what mother nature that day. Although we could start a fire, we had nothing to protect us from the elements besides what mother nature offered (i.e. trees and bows). A survival blanket is light and compact, easily fits in your gear bag, and could save your life. I now carry one at all times on a sled.
 Have the right gear. Cell phones were useless to us in this situation. We had no way of letting anyone know we were in trouble. I now carry an inReach two-way satellite device with me every time I sled. The subscription pricing is quite reasonable, and I can deactivate it during the off season. I also use it for hunting and remote camping trips in the summer. I can use my inReach to send messages to friends or family to let them know I’m o.k, or I can have help dispatched to my exact location if I get in serious trouble. I sincerely hope I never have to use it, but to me it is definitely worth the cost.
Even though it was not a pleasant experience at the time, we were luckily able to get out of the situation unharmed, and learn from it. I think back on this every time I’m packing for a sled trip and remember how quickly things can go bad. You can never be fully prepared for every situation, but you can increase your chances of survival in most. I hope this article will help others do the same.