The High Priest of Snowcattin'

At Priest Lake, the beauty is trackless

by Daryl Romeyn

We're standing on one of those knobs that has no name. Priest Lake shines in the blue below set amid a vast sea of snow-draped forest. I almost seem to melt into it all ­ a feeling one can only know from being in high places.

It's my second snowmobile trip to the Selkirks. Once discovered, these mountains have a way of bringing you back. This time, I told my guides to get us out of the trees, and they've done a good job. We're parked on a high ridge; a few steps away sits the knob with no name. It's one of those spots where the size of view brings an indescribable feeling to the body. It used to be something I knew only when hiking. But now that I own a snowmobile, I find winter's snowcoat makes the mountains more wild than ever!

The knob with no name isn't that hard to get to. It's on the trip to "Phoebe Tip," an area dominated by a 6,600-foot peak of that name. The trip would be a major expedition on skis. But on sleds, it's in and out in a day. On this day, I'm following some pretty good riders, locals Mike Sackett and Rick Turner. We're 12 miles from the end of the plowed road, having crossed the frozen Thorofare to blast up some logging roads. Then there was no trail, and all of the sudden I was steering the sled up, up, and away until at last we topped the ridge. The last pull was a bit unnerving, but not really. After all, you have to go up to reach the High Country.

We turn left heading over a roller coaster stretch of drifts to reach the knob with no name; turn right across a sidehill to reach miles of open high country. All is a perfect world of untracked snow where you can tour at will among the "Snow Ghost" trees. Climb till the sled gets stuck, or simply watch the high marks and high peaks. This is life riding the High Priest.

These mountains seem made for snowmobiling. With elevations to 7,000 feet plus, the Selkirks are plenty high enough to get plastered with snow each and every winter. Huge forest fires in the '60s opened up much of the high country making it easier to get around. And talk about scenery ­ the Selkirk Crest is a rugged uplift of glaciated granite that impresses even the well-traveled rider.

One of the best high country rides for advanced beginners leads to Echo Bowl in the southern Selkirks. It's easy to get to and offers ridges, bowls and superb sights of unending mountains. Still, a rider could get in a lot of trouble. For safety's sake, never ride alone, and never head out without having a handle on what the weather is doing. Avalanches happen in places you'd never think would slide. It's best to stay down by the lake in the 24 hours following a major snowfall. There's plenty to do and see in the lowlands. The forest is magical when branches are heavy with powder.

Groomed trails are a source of pride around here. With more than 400 miles of groomed trail to explore, you have to ask yourself how many days do you have? You might even come on a moose traveling along. Give 'em some room. Wildlife are stressed enough in the winter without being run. Count yourself lucky to have the experience and the time spent at Priest Lake.

A snowmobile trail map is available at local resorts and shops. Pick a ride, and set out to explore. The country on the west side of the lake is more rolling than rugged, yet the views are superb. Try Gleason and the Baldies. Spring conditions open up the alpine at the head of the Priest Basin. The Continental Mine ride will challenge advanced riders as will any venture in the neighborhood of Trapper Peak. Where the trail ends, boondocking begins! Don't be shy about asking the locals for information. Just about everyone up here rides, and the people tend to lean toward the friendly side. Put some miles on your sled. Discover the High Priest, land of the knob with no name. ·

Daryl Romeyn roams the Northwest for "Romeyn's Domain" on KXLY TV in Spokane.

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