08-Sep-2007 -- The easily obtainable confluences in southern BC have all been visited already, so, here goes with my first multi-day confluence.
I made a 20 minute film about this trip, including some background on
confluence hunting, and put it on YouTube in 3 parts. You can watch
it as a sort of "video narrative":
I have kept an eye on this confluence for years, and finally had the time and resources to attempt it this September. I may be foolish enough to attempt a wilderness trip like this alone, but my wife and mother are not foolish enough to allow me to do so, so I enlisted my brother's help. He seems to always have the correct careers and experience to help on these trips (see this visit to 53°N 124°W
). He has been working this summer as a raft guide on multi-day wilderness trips in northern BC, and was available starting on Labour Day.
I scoured maps, Google Earth, and various internet sites for information about this area – it is very hard to come by. Most recorded visitors to the area have been fishermen, mountaineers and ski tourers. The confluence is only 200km north of Vancouver, but there are no roads that go this way – the closest approach by road from the south is 50 km, over 2 mountain ranges. The most accessible approach is by water across Chilko Lake. I headed north 545 km from Vancouver to Williams Lake, picking up my brother in Boston Bar, and detouring to Quesnel to visit our parents and borrow some gear. From Williams lake, we drove 90km west to Hanceville, then turned off on a gravel road for another 100 occasionally bumpy kilometers, This brought us to a rather small sign indicating the turnoff for the campsite, which I missed in the dark, causing us to get lost and end up chased off several properties by vicious border collies. We eventually made it to the Nu Chugh Beniz campground in Ts’il?os Provincial Park. That is the correct spelling, by the way - I’m not entirely sure how a question mark is pronounced in the Chilcotin language, but BC Parks suggests "sigh-loss" as an approximate pronunciation.
We set up and settled in for the night, admiring the stars, and later, listening to the rain. The next morning we were up early with low cloud cover, ready to get on the water. We had initially planned to paddle to the end of the lake. We were warned off by several sources, saying that the lake could be a monster, with massive waves and winds and storms tossing little canoes around. We borrowed an old tank of a canoe – a durable Mad River Canoe with some character-bestowing Kevlar patches, and came prepared with a spray deck but ultimately, our schedule dictated that we take a power boat to the south end of the lake – we had other commitments, and didn't have the 3-4 extra days to paddle, including allowances for bad weather. We met Roland Class and his boat at the campground. Our canoe fit nicely across the stern of the boat, and we loaded our gear into the boat. He took us the 40 km to the south end of the lake in a bit over an hour. He filled us in on a bit of the history of the area, and as the mist slowly climbed the mountains,our view of the many majestic peaks in the area expanded. In the 1920s, some British climbers named peaks after British ships involved in the WWI naval “Battle of Coronel”. Not to be outdone, in the 1950s, some German climbers named adjacent peaks after the German ships involved. Roland has been in the area for more than 15 years, and even built the campsite that we stayed at.
At the south end of the lake, we unloaded our gear into the canoe. We discussed our objective with Roland, who didn't bat an eye, having seen his share of crazy people go wandering in the mountains. He offered us a satellite phone and the number of the nearest helicopter company, 'Just in case'. Roland stayed to watch us start paddling up Edmond Creek, which was surprisingly swift given the time of year. We made some headway upriver, but we were constantly challenged by the shallowness of the river – it was usually less than 1 paddle blade deep , resulting in much ineffective scraping along the bottom. The glacial creek was so silty that, even at these depths, the bottom was invisible. We preserved our dignity in front of our boat driver by struggling around the first corner before getting out to reassess the situation. For the next 6 hours, we alternated between lining the canoe along one bank until it petered out, and paddling across the creek to another bank - "ferry n drag" as we described it at the time. I was wearing my new Chacos with neoprene socks, and was quite comfortable wading through knee-deep glacial water. Tyler was wearing flip-flops, and was not quite so comfortable. Apparently, the worst part is after your feet go numb, when you can’t feel if the sandal is still on your foot or not. He kept up, claiming that after the first freeze-thaw cycle of pain, his feet acclimatized to the water. We had lunch on a beautiful gravel bar in the bright sun, the mist having fully lifted my mid morning. By about 5PM, we knew we were almost as close as we could get to the confluence without leaving the creek, when we discovered a log jam entirely across the river. We portaged around it to try to get as close to the confluence as possible before going overland, then realized that there were no good camping spots on the far side of the log jam. We portaged back around, setting up camp on a wide gravel and sand bank, getting fully set up just as the sun went behind the hills. We had a great dinner of chicken curry and sat around the campfire until it got too cold, then headed into the tent. I was not quite prepared for how cool it became overnight. I borrowed a lightweight sleeping bag that had seen better days, and it was not quite up to the challenge of sub-freezing nights. On subsequent nights, I learned to bundle up.
The next morning was as stunning and clear as the previous day had been, with a bonus layer of frost over all our equipment. As soon as the sun peeked over the peaks, the frost dissipated and all was well with the world. We cached our heavy gear up a tree or under the canoe, put enough food and gear in our packs to keep us going overnight, and started following the GPS to the required point, a mere 4.5 km away. Our first section was slow going through a swamp with fairly dense young pines, plus lots of deadfall to climb over and under. We started walking from log bridge to log bridge to keep off the soggy ground, and keep our hiking boots dry at this early stage. We climbed up over a small rise with lots of windfall, then headed down to Ramose Creek, a small tributary of Edmond Creek. We crossed over a fallen log, then headed up to a ridge on the other side of the creek. We soon came across some animal trails, which we continued to find and lose over the next hour or so as we headed up and down small rises, gaining better and better views up the valley. As we came to a particularly spectacular outcrop with a view up the valley towards the confluence, my brother’s video camera stopped working, despite his impeccable treatment of it (padded Pelican case) and the fact that it worked up until that moment. This, combined with the fact that our pace guaranteed that we would be spending the night out in the woods, was a fair blow to our spirits. We pressed on, taking photos and video with my little point-and-shoot camera, which refuses to die completely despite years of abuse. As we trudged along, we snacked on the copious amounts of huckleberries and blueberries found all along the valley. Of course, huckleberries are a favourite of bears, but most of the bears are supposed to be at the other end of the lake at this time of year, feasting on spawning salmon. I wore my bear bell just in case, to much eye rolling from my brother, who just spent a summer with bears wandering through his camp on a regular basis.
After another hour or so of tromping over deadfall and through brush, we had lunch beside the creek, faithfully using our chlorine to disinfect the water we drank, to more eye rolling from Tyler, since we could see the glacier it was melting from. We followed a moose trail down to a swamp along beside the creek, and trudged along the edge of the swamp for a while - much flatter and fewer trees, but more chance of a soaker.
As we progressed up the valley, it got narrower and steeper, and we found ourselves gaining elevation in order to avoid traversing cliffs and treacherous slopes. Eventually, we came across an avalanche zone from a few years back that was completely choked with alder trees on a floor of giant cracked granite boulders. The effect reminded me of jungle vines reclaiming some ancient monument, such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This led to a cheery refrain of the song "Holiday in Cambodia", about the Vietnam war, and reminded us that, as much as it sucks to have to carry a pack through unyielding vegetation up near-vertical slopes in the stifling heat with bugs all around, at least there was nobody trying to shoot at us.
We kept an eye on our elevation and our distance to the confluence, which seemed to tick down in a rather sluggish manner compared to the level of exertion we were experiencing. I was doing all I could to keep going forward, grasping at trees and climbing with both hands and feet. My brother was keeping up, and even setting the pace, even though he was carrying a now-useless camera in a pelican case with one hand, and had a fresh gouge out of his knee from an incident involving whitewater and an inflatable dolphin. After a few more hours of bushwacking, struggling, and calling out to discourage any bears from coming near us, we finally got near the confluence around 5PM. We were high above the valley floor, with great views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. We didn’t have great reception - our accuracy was 24m or more - so the distance to confluence kept jumping around. I found a picturesque location and sat still, exhausted, and brought out both GPS’s I had - they agreed that we were within 20m of the confluence - I decided that this must be the place. I took the required pictures, had another snack, and we started the near-free-fall descent to the creek to find a piece of level ground to camp on. We half walked, half slid down , anxious to find a nice spot before the sun went down. We encountered some Devil’s club on the way down, which had been mercifully absent until that point, and picked a careful line through it and over it where possible. We made it down to the river bank, but didn’t want to camp in the boggy, lumpy, dark woods, so we hiked downstream, holding out for a gravel bar. We found one shortly - only it was on the other side of the creek. Tyler hopped up on a log and headed across, but my confidence wasn’t quite up to it. I contemplated wading across for a few seconds, but instead walked further downstream to a larger log crossing. Our gravel bar was actually a small island, with just enough space for our tent, a fire, and ourselves. We ate heartily and tucked ourselves in, hoping that the water did not come up more than an inch overnight, as that would flood our little campsite.
We woke up sore but refreshed, warming ourselves with a little fire (made by Tyler, as all our fires were). When we packed up and started hiking along the river bank, we noticed significant cliffs rising up towards where the confluence was. We were lucky to have skirted around the top of these cliffs the day before, otherwise they might have stopped us. We scrambled across boulder fields at the bottom of the cliffs for a while, then got back into our routine of trekking through the bush, trudging through swamps, climbing over deadfall, and walking along log bridges. We were dreading the slide alder the entire time, and it did not disapoint. We crossed it lower down on the slide, so it was even wider. The trees formed an impenetrable mess on a steep slope, catching arms, legs, and packs, and resisting any attempt to make order of them. Once we were through, we made a quick call on the satellite phone to confirm our pick up for the next day. We made good time back to the swamp along the riverside, which sped up our trip considerably. Shortly after we left the swamp, we came across an excellent trail, like an animal trail only more so - we even spotted a few trees that look like they might have been blazed. There was a small amount of deadfall, but otherwise, it was easy for someone like my brother to follow. The trail took us to a little lake or slough formed where a small creek called Norman Creek met Ramose Creek. We scrambled alongside this slough, then up a small rise. From here, we could see a flat floodplain covered with cottonwood and willow trees, which led back to our campsite. We feared the willows, and tried to scout an easier way around, but none was to be found. We slogged down to the creek, changed into our sandals to cross it (brr), and dove into the willows. They petered out after a few hundred feet, and we had a nice wander through the gravel and sand flood plain. We spotted bear and moose prints, and eventually came out on the banks of Edmond Creek, 100 meters from our camp. It was only 2 in the afternoon! We spent the rest of the afternoon snoozing on the sandy banks in the sun.
The following morning, we got up dark and early, to ensure we could make it to the lake in time for our pick up at 10AM. We loaded up the trusty canoe and floated on down the creek. We did some fancy manouvering here and there to avoid sweepers and shallow sections, and did more than a little bit of scraping along the bottom. Tyler steered the canoe as if it were a raft, bouncing off of obstacles to spin the canoe and push us into the best channel. We had great views up the valley and down the lake, and set up our camera for some shots of us paddling past. We arrived at the beach a few minutes early, and had time to pack up and relax in the bright sunshine and gorgeous scenery of craggy peaks and glaciers, before Roland and his boat came in to view to take us back home. A lovely 1 hour boat ride took us back to the Nemiah Valley, and we were back in Quesnel late that afternoon.