Reaching the Confluence

9 Aug

I visited the confluence of 51˚N and 117˚W twenty years ago, on August 09, 2002, with my 11-year-old son Andrew supporting me. It was our second attempt, following an initial reconnaissance four days earlier. On that earlier outing, we wanted to get a visual impression of how hard it might be to bushwhack up about 10 km of Rockies forest in the narrow Malachite Creek valley. However, moments before turning around on the Bobby Burns logging road 40 km W of Parson, BC, we discovered a brand-new road heading up into the valley! Our excitement mounted as, with the GPS turned on, Andrew began to count down the final kilometres: 10 – 9 – 8 -7 – 6 – 5 – 4… and then the road ended, 3.6 km from the confluence. Solid forest lay ahead, it was 15:30 and a storm was approaching. And we needed to be 200 km away in the Rogers Pass by night-fall. We backed off and vowed to return.

Four days later we were back, with just three hours to spend on the effort. It was again 15:30, and I needed to be in Invermere by about 19:00. Andrew agreed to stay in the car while I explored up the valley, reasoning that I could move more quickly alone. I would spend an hour hiking in, an hour to hike out, and we’d have an hour to make our drive out. Perfect!

At first, I made good going in the forest, hindered only slightly by considerable deadfall. Even better, I soon found a narrow, rough trail that showed signs of a saw having being used on problem logs. After a half hour, I had a good view up-valley, and had broken out onto a wide, meandering stream up whose sandbars I could actually run in order to make better progress. After 45 minutes, I had little more than a kilometre to go. And then, the bearing line took me across the river, up a steep forested N-facing hillside…

An arduous and frustrating hour ensued, as I crossed several overgrown avalanches paths, fields of enormous boulders, several hillside torrents, and passed several piles of bear scat, some of which were still wet (but not, thankfully, warm). I was very conscious of being alone in the woods.

Finally, I forded the river a last time, having long since abandoned any attempts to keep my feet dry, and entered one more rapidly overgrowing avalanche slope. The last 50 m took 15 minutes, as I headed first in one direction, then another – the GPS couldn’t get a fix on my bearing, because I could not walk in a straight line for the 3 seconds it would take to figure out my speed and bearing. Finally, I approached a large boulder and the “distance to goal” indicator briefly read “0 m”! After I put my old Trimble Flightmate Pro on the rock, it began to “wander” from 0 m to 16 m, reaching 10 m from the confluence when I snapped the picture of its screen (picture 5).

To record the location, I shinnied up a nearby tree and hung some red flagging with the confluence.org website URL and the date, and took some pictures. Picture 1 is looking downstream from the site, while Picture 2 looks to the W, toward the Great Divide. In Picture 3, I snapped a self-portrait, looking all the world like an escaped convict: hot, sweaty and pestered by mosquitos evident on my forehead. Picture 4 shows the approach across one of the swamps: the confluence lies around the corner to the L about 2 km in the distance.

With the mosquitos beginning to eat me alive, sweating profusely after drinking little and eating nothing on the way in, I realised I had now spent 1:45 on the inbound trip, and still needed to return to the car. I rushed back as quickly as possible, taking a high line along dark N-facing hillsides that avoided much of the earlier bushwhacking (which my now lacerated lower legs thanked me for), and ran along as much of the riverbed as possible. It still took 1:30 to get back to my car.

I had imagined my young son to be in a panic, by himself in the woods, but he was relaxed, having played cards and having read a book. He calmly explained that he had fully expected me to take 2 hours to go in and 2 to come out! So we celebrated our success with a snack and I snapped a pic of him (picture 6) before we headed off.

To anyone wanted to visit this confluence, your best bet might be to come back in 2003, when, it appears, the logging company may have pushed the road further up the narrow valley. Picture 7 is a screen print from my mapping program, (SeeYou), with the confluence marked as a waypoint, and a partial track log from my backup Garmin GPS38 superimposed on the map. The old 38 managed to record only a minute of our drive away from the road-end before its batteries gave out.

Definitely a lot more work than I had intended or hoped, but also a lot of fun and adventure was had navigating to a mysterious point hidden deep in the backwoods of the Canadian Rockies! And Andrew was glad it was all over, too.

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