July 18, 2006

On Saturday, I headed out in the early morning, bound for Nahanni Butte, Northwest Territories. One of the great things about consulting is that if gets me back to the Dehcho Region. On the way, however, I thought I would visit a confluence that was just off the highway.

I was inspired to make this little trip by the Degree Confluence Project, which is trying to get "samples" of the earth wherever latitude and longitude meet (with the exception of places where there's nothing but water.

Before I left, I took a look at Google Earth and looked for confluences that would be accessable during my trip. "60N, 132W shouldn't be too much of a problem," I reasoned, "5km in and 5km out should only take me a little more than three hours or so.

It's a good thing I started early.

60N, 132W is "just outside" of Teslin, Yukon, east of where the Alaska Highway makes one of its many winding drops south of the 60th parallel. I pulled off the road to ditch the caravan of RVs that I was sandwiched between and arrived at the head of Morley Lake around noon. I followed an abandoned road off the highway and parked my vehicle.

Morley Lake is fed by the muskeg surrounding it, some streams out of the mountains, and by a smaller lake to the east. It was here at the marshy area that I began my journey; the most direct route to the confluence.

It didn't take long for the mosquitoes and blackflies to make their presence known. Always prepared for such inevitabilities, I donned my long-sleeved shirt, broad-brimmed hat and bug net, and a pair of work gloves. Fortunately the day was cool and overcast, otherwise I would have been cooking inside my protective clothing, instead of just plain hot.

My feet were wet within seconds as I hopped over winding streams and leaped from grassy hummock to grassy hummock, pushing willows out of my way as I went.

Past the end of the end of the lake, I waded one of the many feeder streams from out of the surrounding mountains and struck my way through the muskeg to my destination.

I followed moose and caribou trails through the spongy ground, paying close attention to the cavities made by the spruce roots that like to capture and twist feet. There were moose tracks everywhere! I kept my eyes peeled but saw none.

I finally found a gentle grade where the ground had less give and there was little shrubbery to impede my progress. This did not last long, however, before I was into muskeg again and then, a wall of willow and spruce.

I pushed onwards through the willow-spruce combination, following my GPS on the most direct route possible to the confluence. The slope climbed, but the going did not get any easier, with the willow and spruce wall getting thicker and thicker. Old, dry spruce branches made repeated attempts to pull the bug netting off my head and the mosquitoes and blackflies made repeated attempts to get at my head. As is so often the case in life, the lucky and the persistent succeeded. I didn't pay much attention to the bugs, however. I was too busy being persistent myself.

The bright side to the wall of spruce and willows was that it helped brush the bugs off of other parts of my body. Finally, I cleared the willows and made it to some old growth forest.

Now walking along the ridge of a ravine with an active creek at the bottom (the same one I had crossed earlier), I picked up an old foot trail, possibly fifty to an hundred years old or more, judging by the blazes and growth along it. Possibly, it was an old Kaska or Tlingit hunting, trade, or migration trail. Possibly not. Regardless, the trail did not last long. It swung down into the ravine and quickly disappeared.

With about 2.5 km to go to the confluence, I stopped at a clearing in the old growth to take a drink and a short break. I was hot and sweaty beneath my protective armour, but when I lifted the bug net to savour some juice, the bugs swarmed inside the net.

Within minutes, I hit the trail again and followed the GPS back up the ravine and into another wall of willows.

Suddenly, the GPS started jumping 180o. It would point the direction that it had been sending me, and then back the way I had come. I went the direction I thought I should go, and eventually the GPS agreed with me.

I came to another slope and started making my way up, but the GPS read that I should be correcting my course by 90o to the left, so that's the way I turned. Only to have it switch minutes later to tell me I should be going the other way along the slope.

Every time I followed the GOTO arrow on the GPS, I was led through the thickest, most awful brush or right into the longest, highest spikiest deadfall. Eventually, I turned off the GPS and struck out in the direction I thought the confluence lay.

After climbing steadily, I was now in a forest full of balsam pine, so I had gained some good elevation, but instead of getting thinner, like I had expected, the old growth, with masses of willows beneath, got thicker.

I turned on the GPS and waited for a signal. After several minutes, I began walking to see if I could find a clearing to get a better read from the satellites. I eventually found one, but it was a small clearing, surrounded by towering balsam pines, and the signal was weak, picking up four satellites and barely even those. I had 1.5 km to go.

I followed the GPS, despite its flipping, through a marsh and then up through more balsam pine and willow mesh. I was continually losing the satellite signal and continually having to find a new course through the maze of willows and giant fallen pine.

Eventually, I reached a mossy clearing with a big quartz vein protruding from beneath the moss. I stopped here to allow the GPS to get a better signal. The time was about 13:15 and I was now 0.5km away.

I pushed onwards and upwards. The trees thinned and he willows receded and the going got easier. I worked my way closer and closer to the confluence before finally finding it near the crest of the mountain.

It took a while to find the spot where my GPS would read exactly N60o 00'000 W132o 00'000, because it kept trying to average out the spot, but find it I did.

I took my pictures thinking, "Anybody who reads this entry is going to look at these pictures and say, 'Thick brush! What is he talking about?! That's not thick; It looks like a walk in the park!'" There wasn't even a good view from the confluence site and the short jaunt to the top of the mountain didn't reveal anything better. The trees obscured any photo-worthy view. It was alright, though. I didn't need anything spectacular. I had found the confluence.

After a quick break and a celebratory swig of juice, I decided to pretty much ignore the GPS on the way back to the car and pick my own route. And I'm glad that I did.

I stuck to more southerly-facing exposures and was rewarded by a light breeze that kept me cool and the bugs "away". The route, while longer, kept me mostly out of the marshy, willowy areas and on clearer, mossy ridges.

As I walked, I pondered the art and philosophy of meandering. I think that it's something I 've always sensed, but really only began to understand living in Fort Liard; you can try to force things to get directly from A to B, but sometimes it makes more sense to take the less direct route. On the less direct, meandering route, you might encounter less resistance and you might see things and learn things that you'd never get the chance to see when you're focusing all your efforts on the most direct path.

As I pondered these thougths and descended towards the lake, I periodically consulted the GPS to see how far "off track" I was. Every time I turned it on, it would take upwards of five minutes to acquire the satellite signals it needs for 3D navigation. The slow response was not behaviour I had experienced from my GPS before, but the canopy was quite thick and the mountain seemed to be in the way of most of the satellites. Fortunately, I was always continuing in the correct direction. There are benefits to having a good sense of direction.

I eventually made it to the shore at the middle of the lake before turning eastwards and following just uphill from the marshy, willowy shore. I crossed the creek and again pushed through the willow and marsh at the head of the lake. When I reached my car I was dirty, tired, covered in bloody blackfly bites, but totally satisfied.

This was my first confluence find. I can't wait for the next one!

1 comment:

Peter Tyrrell said...

Here's a top-down view. Next time just leave your aircraft by way of the nearest exit and flip the GPS on. The satellite signal should be nice and clear all the way down.,-132.000046&spn=0.225562,0.86792&t=h&om=1