Snowmobiling to Nistowiak Falls
With the sun falling below the horizon I looked around at the silhouettes of the 15 snowmobiles surrounding me, each being chased by a constant cloud of powder, and began to reflect on the past 24 hours.
On Friday evening we met at a house just south of La Ronge, Saskatchewan for a delicious chili dinner. We mingled, introducing ourselves to one another as we shook hands and told about what we do for a living and how we were connected to the group. Daryl, the seasonal campground host at Camp Kinasao had decided to organize a snowmobile trip to Nistowiak Falls, and the more he contacted people for advice on the route or to borrow various gear, the larger the group got. I had overheard mention of it on New Year’s Eve and quickly voiced that I would love to join. Eventually we were 18 in all, on 16 machines. We ranged in age from 23 to 67, and while some members of our group live right on Lac La Ronge, others travelled more than 600 km to be a part of the adventure.
Saturday morning we met for breakfast at the hotel before hopping on our sleds and heading North East over the ice towards Nistowiak Falls. It was a frigid -25 degrees that morning but the sun was shining and we were all bundled up offering one another hand warmers and extra socks as needed. Between stopping for photographs (far less often that I would have liked, of course), checking in on new riders (AKA me), replacing a broken fan belt, and to listen to directions (from Don, our local guide) about upcoming thin ice to avoid, it took us about 4 hours to make it to the falls. So many times I would look around and be overwhelmed by my privilege to be in the situation I was in. Between laughter with new friends, the thrill of driving fast on untouched lakes covered in fresh powder, and the perfect way the sun broke through the trees as we maneuvered through trails, the time spent getting to the falls was a huge part of the fun. There’s something about going somewhere that cars can’t take you that turns a journey into an adventure.
Nistowiak Falls itself was breathtaking. The water flowed and steamed so invitingly as the ice opened over the moving river. Watching the water make its way smoothly over rocks to the drop-off gave many of us an odd desire to jump right in, but of course we knew better. The temperature of the water would be hovering around 0 degrees celsius, it was only its movement that kept it from freezing. It crashed over the cliffs, mist rising up and coating the surrounding trees. The only way to get to this spot is by snowmobile or cross-country skis in the winter or boat in the summer. We took our time marvelling at God's creation and taking pictures to share on social media once we returned to cell coverage. Those who had travelled here by canoe in summers past compared the view to their memories as I looked forward to doing the same this coming August. It'll be amazing to see the change 6 months will bring.
We fired up the snowmobile's and wound back through the trail, passing the fishing camp near the base of the falls and spotting a bald eagle soaring overhead. We then hopped between lakes to make our way to the village of Stanley Mission. There we visited Saskatchewan's first church building, fuelled up the machines, and took advantage of indoor washrooms. While we were getting gas I walked down to the lake to snap one last photo of the church across the bay and as I approached the shore a pair of mushers on dog sleds rounded the corner. I could not believe my luck as this picture perfect moment formed in front of my lens.
Just before sunset we stopped once more for a meal. We roasted farmers sausage over a fire and warmed up with hot cocoa. As the sun dropped so did the temperature and we were all eager to get back to the warmth of 4 walls and a furnace. The final hour was a tough one. The sky grew darker (though the stars were bright) and for the first time all day my limbs began to really get cold. My body was aching and my right hand was so stiff around the throttle I occasionally had to reach over to press the gas with my left so I could painfully slap my right mitt against my leg to loosen it up. We motered into town just after 7pm, packed up the sleds, re-filled our thermoses, and hopped in the trucks to drive to Christopher Lake where a hot tub was calling at least 4 of our names.
I must give a huge thank you to Daryl for organizing the trip, Don for guiding us, Ron for lending me his snowmobile, and the whole crew for such a fun day. It truly was an adventure of a lifetime.