We had come so close the week before to within a mere 2.1 km of the easiest part of the hike. Donna had declined a repeat of the last attempt and encouraged me to get it done with my hard core hiking friends.
The weather forecast couldn't have been much more opposite than our last attempt five days ago. The forecast called for a high of 25°C and zero chance of rain (or snow). The reality was blue skies and record highs for September.
My hiking friends for this trip were the same as our first expedition to Mount Amery in our attempt of 52°N 117°W in 2007. Seth was eager to scramble to it and was also the small group's resident tree expert. He educated us from his experience as a tree planter about the logging industry and its sustainability. Brendan, our group's accountant, was due to write an important accounting exam the next week, but instead of studying he could not resist the allure of the confluence call.
Our plan of attack remained the same as last time. We arrived after sunset on Friday night to the parking lot at 49.996897°N 115.931510°W. Seth skillfully drove his car up 40 km of gravel logging roads that rarely see cars while I navigated down "Sandown B Rd" in the dark. The road was so unmaintained that we had to manually push fallen trees off the road to pass. We startled a small black bear along the road and it ran away from us before darting into the bush without a trace.
"I wonder if there are also grizzly bears here." said Brendan.
"Well it is called Grizzly peak" I replied, after just having learned that fact at the Radium visitors centre. There are two named peaks along the ridge we were to walk to the confluence, Wapiti Mountain at 2508m and 50.02647°N 115.97374°W, and Grizzly Peak at 2514m and 50.02156°N 115.99786°W. It turns out that Grizzly peak has a weather station on it, however we did not investigate it from any closer than 1.7 km through my zoom lens. From that distance it looks like a giant tree.
Knowing that I was going to be hiking with such expert hikers, I estimated that we could return to the car in 6 to 8 hours. Seth can run 10 km in under 45 minutes and Brendan never stops for breaks, so I was hoping we could do it far quicker. I was slightly worried that this confluence would not be a worthy challenge for them. To make the most of the day, I decided that if we started at sunrise, and everything went well, we could do the Pine Beetle confluence of 51°N 116°W (one degree to the north) on the way home, since it's just 2 km off the road on our way home. That one would take about 4 hours return. Brendan was clearly too far behind on his beauty sleep and told us that he needed to sleep til 8:00AM, so we gave up on that idea. After a light breakfast, we started the hike. The weather was already nice and warm, but the long sleeves, pant legs and gators were necessary to protect us from the bushwhacking. With a near constant eye on my GPS I led us to the closest point on the man made trail found the week before at 50.0008°N 115.9385°W. We motored along that trail traveling quickly over a relatively flat plateau until the trail inexplicably vanished. I reasoned that it must have turned west into the next drainage bowl and that conflicted with our goal of gaining the ridge. We did not require the trail any further since the vegetation had thinned completely out.
The views from the ridge were spectacular, being unobstructed from clouds and haze, allowing us to see all the way across the Columbia River valley. The ridge walk was beautiful and easy while we traveled on a well worn animal path. Seth, being able to lead climbs rated up to 5.11d, and Brendan stopped to do some bouldering near the summit of the ridge on some interesting folded foliation of metamorphic rock. We built a cairn at the highest point on the ridge, but were surprised to see evidence that we weren't the first people along this ridge. Less than 100 meters further, there were wooden construction posts embedded in a rock pile.
Only 1.6 km remaining to the confluence, we left the ridge and descended a gentle slope into the gully. Moments before getting to the creek at the bottom of this gully we stumbled back on to the same man-made trail we left at the start of the hike. It was immediately obvious that this trail led way back from the logging road to the weather station on Grizzly peak. I marked this point (50.00518°N 115.99985°W) on the GPS so we could take it back to the car. There was some disagreement as to the feasibility of using this trail to hike supplies and equipment to the station as opposed to using a helicopter. This pointless argument boiled down to dollar figures, which we didn't have handy. But we did have cell phone coverage for some mysterious reason, (perhaps the forestry industry had the phone companies put in cell towers in the middle of the forest for the weather station). So a quick call to my brother gave me a ball park number. I took some pictures there before we started the last 150 meter vertical push to the confluence.
"My GPS says it's less than 600 meters to go, we should just go. We'll be there in 5 minutes at this rate." says Brendan excitedly.
"That's our downhill rate. To go 150 m up, we will take at least 20 minutes. Even longer to pinpoint the confluence" I replied.
Sure enough, even with some adrenaline, the last 600 meters of uphill bushwhacking took all of 20 minutes but we reached the confluence around noon. With three GPSs between two of us, we tried to get all zeros by doing the confluence dance. I pondered what led Garmin's engineers to choose to display centimeter precision when they only have 10 meter accuracy. Was it a marketing decision to give the users a false sense of precision? But, with nothing better to do than eat my lunch, I took 10 frustrating minutes to get the all zeros picture. I then took 60 photos from the confluence point to stitch together into this equirectangular panorama, thinking that this one image satisfies 5 of the photo requirements. I also stitched this same panorama with a stereographic projection, looking straight up.
I also wrapped my flexible tripod to a fallen log which I hoisted into the air in a failed attempt to take photos above the tree tops. I could have used a bigger log, but the pictures would be no different than the ones I had taken from the ridge.
After the success of the confluence chase had sunk in, we had a gamble to make: do we take the known good route back the way we came, back up the ridge? Explore to the weather station? Or do we follow the man-made trail in the assumption that it connects back to where we lost it at the beginning of the hike? If the trail disappears on us again, we'd simply just have a painful bushwhack back up to the ridge. We had time on our side so we took the risk to explore. It sure paid off because we soon had an unexpected discovery! Two man-made cabins, presumably used for hunting, located a mere 460 meters from the confluence! I examined the printout of the satellite photo of the area taken in 2004 (50.00225°N 115.99455°W) but saw no sign of of the cabins. There was a rudimentary horse corral around a set of trees and some horse shoes hanging from the porch. That would explain the quality of the trail because I imagine horses enjoy bushwhacking even less than we do.
We took this all as positive signs we made the correct choice to explore this new route back, but in a few kilometers we passed a few warning signs on the trail. There was a large "X" cut into the face of one of the trees followed by a log crossing the path. I stopped and asked my travel mates if they found it suspicious that this is the first non-chainsawed log crossing the path, and what they thought of the "X". We decided it wasn't enough of a reason to backtrack yet since the trail continued on without losing quality, and still maintained our desired direction.
We soon arrived at the meadow at 49.999358°N 115.967740°W, where we saw horse prints into the muddy shores of the creek crossing. Unfortunately, we had no sign whatsoever of the trail in the grassy meadow. This was the end of the road it, as it turned out. If I were to do it over, I definitely would have gone north from this meadow, to gain elevation back up the ridge as soon as possible. We could have followed an avalanche path up a gully, only needing to gain 300 meters, or hopefully coming across the man-made trail before that. Instead we opted to follow the creek downstream, more directly towards the car, but into far denser and more difficult bush. The remaining 2.3 km to the car were agonizing, taking over 3 hours. The three of us split up, which is unwise in bear country, each applying slightly different strategies; I liked to follow animal trails wherever I could, while Brendan and Seth liked to go directly straight towards the car, even if it meant going straight up through the thickest of the bush. I told them that from the week before I had the end of the logging road marked on my GPS at 49.99495°N 115.93552°W, and if we could get to there, it might save us some time. But by trying to get to that point, we did have one last stroke of good luck since we crossed a different man-made trail, clearly made by the loggers. This trail would led us painlessly back to the clear-cut area. It would have been interesting to follow that trail the other way, but it is doubtful that it would have gone very far.
The three of us were very proud of our hard earned accomplishment for the day. We each had bloody scratches above the gators, but we were none the worse for wear. Brendan had thoughtfully and generously brought us confluence beers, which we enjoyed while the sun set behind the mountain.
While wiping away the blood trickling down his leg, Seth said in all seriousness, "I'm glad it wasn't too easy."