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Snowmobiling into a Whiteout in the Lyngen Alps

A perfect morning dawned over Camp Tamok as I slowly wrestled out of my sleeping bag in the Sami lavvu I’d spent the night in. As we ate breakfast in a warm cabin, huskies from the nearby kennel barked at each other and got themselves excited for another day of sprinting through the Lyngen Alps. We weren’t going to be sledding through the mountains behind the dogs today though; we would be powering through the wilderness on snowmobiles.

Perfect Morning at Camp Tamok

A perfect morning dawns over Camp Tamok in the Lyngen Alps.

I had never been on a snowmobile before, but having been on a jetski a few times the controls that Tor, our guide, explained to us were pretty familiar. I was still a bit hesitant, concerned that I would roll the snowmobile on my bad leg and not be able to get up, but I was still happy to power onto the trail, second in line behind Tor.

The first stretch of track was a good place to get used to the snowmobile. Slowly, we pottered in between the tall, leafless trees, past husky kennels and around Sami tents. A small hill near the toilet blocks was the last hurdle we’d have to pass before we were out of the camp and free to speed up…but that hill claimed the first casualty of the day. Almost as though it was in slow motion, I watched as the couple in front of me hit the hill side on and were unceremoniously dumped in the snow by their snowmobile. Perhaps it thought they needed a quick toilet break?

Snowmobiles Lined Up to Start

Snowmobiles lined up to start our safari.

In any case, everyone was fine and we quickly moved on. It was a joy to hold down the throttle and speed between the trees, around corners, and over small hills. It was a much smoother ride than any ATV or jetski ride I’ve ever had, buffeted as I was by the fresh powder beneath the snowmobile’s skis.

I was struck by the difference between snowmobiling and the other winter sports I’d tried so far. When you’re behind a dogsled or powered by your own two feet, you can feel the silence of the Arctic pressing in around you. You become part of nature, gliding through it yet not disturbing its tranquility.

With a snowmobile, you are smashing through nature. You come in and announce that you are here and that you are going to tame it. The buzz of the engine overpowers all else (and can be heard from many miles away at all times of day across Lapland). Then, as soon as you’re seen, you’re gone again, zipping through the trees and leaving only a spray of snow and a ringing in the ears to remind the world that you were there.

Riding Into the Wilderness

Riding into the wilderness as the clouds slowly close around us.

So, while I personally prefer dogsledding, I can fully understand why many people prefer snowmobiling…because boy is it fun. And no one was having more fun than one of the Lyngsfjord guides that we spotted in a valley as we stopped for a breather. Well below us, past a near-vertical cliff face, a tiny speck of a snowmobile appeared on the white-washed landscape. Before we could even gasp, he was flying up the side of the cliff, launching himself high in the air as he reached the top. Somehow, he managed to land the snowmobile on its runners in one piece as Tor, with a huge smile on his face, said, “That’s what we’ll be doing on the way back!”

Into the Mountains

Heading into the Lyngen Alps.

The most difficult part of the trip came after we passed the last of the trees and moved above the treeline. By that point, the gorgeous blue skies of the morning had been completely blocked by thick clouds and the snow had started coming down. Since there were no trees, we were in a virtual whiteout with only a vague idea of how steep the mountainside we were on actually was.

Tor had told us that we would need to lean uphill, and lean we all did. I constantly felt like my snowmobile was about to roll, and often had to speed up while leaning to feel like I had any control of my snowmobile at all. At least three of the seven couples rolled and were quickly hoisted back up. Everyone kept their legs well inside the guards, since the worst thing you can do is stick your leg out and end up with it crushed between the ground and the guards. I somehow stayed upright, although I’m not sure how.

Lining Up for Our Joyride

Lining up for our joyride on the lake.

Only once did I lose sight of the snowmobile in front of me, and that once was enough. Suddenly I was confronted with a complete wall of white. In that moment, I sort of understood how someone lost in a desert would feel (minus the temperature, of course). I followed where I thought I’d seen them disappear and as soon as I crested the small hill, the two black dots in front of me thankfully reappeared.

Our halfway point was a large lake high up in the mountains. By this time, we had covered 15km and ascended from 250m to 875m. Tor assured us that there was a lovely view near the end of the lake — one that looked out across the Lyngen Alps to Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Since we could hardly see five feet in front of us, there was no point going so we went joyriding instead. While watching out for other rampaging snowmobiles, I flew across the lake, pushing the throttle as much as I dared. It was exhilarating to do and fun to watch too; snowmobiles were everywhere, zooming in and out of the mists, barreling around corners and gunning it in straight lines.

 

The trip back felt significantly easier — and shorter — than the trip there, even though we followed the exact same track. Soon enough, we were back in Camp Tamok, eagerly eating second helpings of hot fish soup inside one of the warm tents. Everyone sported huge grins and laughed as they retold stories of their mishaps along the way.

I think everyone there would have preferred if this had been the end of the trip. Sadly, on the 1km stretch between the camp and the snowmobile end point, the couple behind me, Mike and Suzanne, lost control on a corner and ran into a tree. As I was just in front of them, I missed what happened; all the couple in front of me and I knew was that our other guide had come tearing through the forest yelling in Norwegian, and Tor had told us to stay put before disappearing. Their injuries, to lungs and kidneys, were bad enough that they were immediately helicoptered to Tromsø Hospital. From what I could tell, Lyngsfjord was very professional and handled the emergency situation very well.

Me with my Snowmobile

With my trusty snowmobile.

Watching them fly away on a medical helicopter was a somber way to end the day, and it scared quite a few people on the bus that hadn’t tried snowmobiling yet. So I’ll say here what I said to them. Accidents happen, but if they do, at least you’re in the hands of experienced outdoor guides who know what to do in an emergency. Plus, the trip itself was huge fun and a great way to experience the mountains of Norway.

I stayed at Camp Tamok courtesy of Lyngsfjord Adventure, but all opinions stated here are my own. They offer day trips and overnight trips to Camp Tamok daily during the winter; prices for snowmobiling trips like mine start at 1695kr. This includes round-trip bus transfer (75 minutes each way).

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2 Responses to Snowmobiling into a Whiteout in the Lyngen Alps

  1. Linda ~ Journey Jottings April 11, 2013 at 8:56 pm Reply

    What an adventure –
    Although it must have been a little disconcerting to the following group watching members from the previous ride being airlifted out 🙁
    But of course you’re right – accidents happen – Which if you’ve been ski-ing you know only too well!!

    How long was the ride?
    And was it very tiring keeping it upright in those conditions?

    • Kristin April 11, 2013 at 9:13 pm Reply

      You’re right Linda, it was very disconcerting both for us and for the other people at the camp. Luckily I think most people doing the evening snowmobiling were coming in on the afternoon bus so they didn’t see it. It was difficult standing around waiting for the group to come back not knowing what had happened as well, but at the same time, I wouldn’t have been able to help even if I had been back where it had happened. It was just so shocking that it had happened right before the end after we’d been riding for quite a while!

      Good questions, and things I should probably add to the post! The ride was about 30km round trip and ascended from 250m to 875m at the frozen lake. It took us about 3 hours total (although that included a number of stops, both to rest and to right snowmobiles). It was quite tiring keeping it upright on the way up but it seemed much easier on the way down — I don’t know if the descent had to do with that or whether I’d just gotten the hang of it by then!

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