28-Aug-2002 -- After a night in Tumbler Ridge, we decided to hit the tourist trail in the southern Rocky Mountains rather than chase confluences amongst the wheat fields of the Peace River. Monkman's route now impenetrable bush we had no choice but to back track 100km north to Chetwynd and cross the Pine Pass before the long haul south through Prince George. Along the way I stopped for a go at 55N 123W, which my notes suggested was near a track, not far off Hwy 29 at McLeod Lake.
Again this was in the basin of the Peace river, although far to the west of the Rockies and upstream of Williston Lake. Here the Continental divide passes west onto the interior plateau and is only 700m above sea level at its lowest point. Water from here has a long journey, through the flooded Peace Pass, the turbines of the hydro plants, down the Peace to Lake Athabasca, the Slave River, Great Slave Lake and finally out into the ocean by the Mackenzie River. Some journey! Such waterways are incomprehensible when you have lived your life on an island.
Being the Peace, there was an inevitable energy link. At Hudson's Hope it was coal and hydro electricty, at Tumbler Ridge the confluence was in a coal mine. Here the confluence was accessed by the pipeline carrying natural gas from the Peace River Basin to the cities of Southern BC. When in Vancouver you may notice a yellow hill in the port north of Stanley Park. This is sulphur, extracted from the natural gas fields around Tumbler Ridge and other parts of the Peace, the gas flowing below 55N 123W.
I took the hired Ford Explorer as far as I dared bearing in mind the effects of alder on paintwork and set off following the needle. All was well until I found the gas pipeline only got to 1 km from the point. I had no choice but to bushwhack through horrendous deadfall, muskeg and undergrowth the last short distance. It was hellish, relieved only by an absence of bugs. My swearing should have alerted the bears. Not only was the vegetation a problem but I soon found that this was a karst area, with deep sink holes and steep crags about the place. The outcome was always in doubt, but fortunately the spot was not down some deep marshy hole but just outside in a clearing, well as far as my widely fluctuating GPS could tell, multipathing from a nearby crag was playing havoc.
The only human influence nearby was the remains of a birdbox like structure on a tree 100m away. I built a small cairn on a treestump and left only to get lost. The GPS was useless in this environment and I naively followed my 'crumb trail' back. This landed me the wrong side of that huge sinkhole. Backtracking I switched to compass and eventually emerged at a muskeg area on the pipeline. The sinkhole and limestone crags suggest that there is a cave system here. Exciting things are being found elsewhere in the Northern Rockies, and I have little doubt that there are caves here too.
I returned to the car twenty minutes late, bloodied after a short but brutal struggle with the bush. Most BC confluences are not so friendly or so close to the highway. There are some heroic struggles awaiting the future explorers of the North. Good Luck!