We are all graduates of Moscow State University and we've been known each other for a long time. It so happens that now we live and work in Canada. A while ago, Artem discovered the Degree Confluence project and he liked the idea; but it was just a few weeks ago when we decided to turn vague ideas into reality.
After evaluating unvisited confluences in Ontario and Quebec, we decided to make N49°W84° our primary goal. It is located ~12km from Oba, Ontario; but it is ~1000km from where we live (Toronto and Ottawa). The original idea was to take a train to Oba during Easter holidays, and then hike to the confluence. But it turned out that the train schedule didn't work for us; plus, area around this confluence is essentially uninhabited, so we couldn't expect to get any accommodations in the vicinity. At the end of March, we could expect temperatures of -20°C during nights, so pitching a tent was not particularly appealing. So we decided to rent an SUV. Using topo maps and orthoimages, we figured that it might be possible to get much closer to the confluence by car and we will have to hike just ~3km. Though it was the end of March we thought it might be a good idea to get snowshoes (gosh, we didn't know yet how good that idea was!). Since we were going to get there by car, we thought we might be able to visit another confluence as well - N48°W85°, which had incomplete status by that time. So again we used orthoimages and topo maps to find the best way. And finally we have found a road that goes from the highway for ~40km and it passes close (~2.5km away) to the confluence. So the plan was to start on Thursday, March 24 night; drive to Oba, visit N49°W84° on Good Friday, then get to Hornepayne or White River (hometown of Winnie the Pooh), stay there overnight, then try to visit N48°W85° and get to Ottawa on Easter Sunday, March 27.
We brought a notebook that was packed with Microsoft Streets and Trips, MapSource and Fugawi mapping/navigation software installed. Additional maps were prepared by Kirill, Victor and Artem, images were downloaded, processed and calibrated. Routes were plotted beforehand, and then uploaded into standalone GPS units. We were using two Garmin GPS receivers (eTrex Vista and VistaC) to navigate and keep track of our trip; they were connected to the notebook all the way while we were driving. It is really useful and it helps a lot.
We departed from our homes in Ottawa at 11pm, Thursday evening. We picked up Victor at the bus terminal (he arrived from Toronto). After driving the whole night, 950 km behind (via North Bay - Cochrane), we arrived to Hearst ("The moose capital of Canada") at 8AM, had a quick breakfast, and moved to Oba from there. Roads were covered with snow, but drivable. Soon the road became a logging road; luckily, snow was somewhat packed, apparently by logging trucks.
Although we checked the road by maps before the trip, we found out that many roads marked on the map do not exist, at least in winter season; most of them were just cuttings in a forest. And those roads were major comparing to the one we needed to travel. Also we noticed while we were driving that the forest was thick and it is almost impossible to pass through it in most of the places. Our prospects of reaching the confluence started to look bleak... With these thoughts we approached Oba (after another ~100km), at least we think that it was it. Oba is an interesting place. There are several houses there, big trucks/heavy machinery, a couple of small cars with New Brunswick license plates (how and why the heck did they get there?!), and a gas tank. We didn't find anybody there. Maybe it was because of Good Friday, or it is that just nobody lives there. It felt truly abandoned, the real ghost village.
We were lucky to find a passable road that brought us rather close to the confluence - to ~1.5km as the crow flies. It wasn't as close as we expected when we were just plotting our route with maps (~1km), but it was very, very good, given the circumstances. We parked the car at the roadside, equipped all our gear, put on the snowshoes and finally headed into the woods at 11:40am. First part of the way (~800m) passed through what appears to be a rushy swamp under heavy snow cover. In some places snow was very deep and porous so we sunk into it to the waist (and we were on snowshoes!), see photo #9. On this segment, we could choose a path that was reasonably clean from vegetation, so deep snow was the only difficulty; the weather this day was simply excellent. After finishing this segment we got to the point where we were supposed to start our hike according to our initial calculations. Further on (~800m) we had to force our way through very dense underbrush. This was the worst segment; our progress was painfully slow. No matter which direction we tried, we had to tear through. We knew we should reach the railroad, but it seemed like we are not coming closer. When we finally got there, we were exhausted, and we still had a long way to go. After a short and well-deserved break (see photo #8) we crossed the railway to our last segment (~800m). Here we passed through coniferous forest, and it was significantly easier because we could plot our trail in-between trees, and underbrush was almost non-existent. The proximity of our goal also pushed as forward. And so after 2pm we've finally reached the confluence on the tiny clearing, surrounded by high firs (photo #1). It took us more than 2.5 hours to get to the confluence from car, for a route hardly longer than 2.5km. After taking required photos in different directions (photo #2, #3, #4, #5), doing some GPS voodoo to get all zeros (photo #6) and just relaxing a bit, we turned back as we still had a lot to do. The road back to the car was much easier and took just under 1 hour - we used our own trail (photo #10), so we did not have to plough pristine snow again. Here we are back at our TrailBlazer - our first confluence is completed (photo #7)!
It was not clear from the beginning if there is a road from the N49°W84° confluence to the next confluence we were going to visit. We were trying to find out the path on the map before the trip using different directions and local roads. Most of these roads were for loggers only. These roads were not clearly marked and it was not possible to be sure about the final destination of the road unless you are going down the road to the end. Because we were low on gas, we made a decision to try the local road up to the point when we'll have only amount of gas needed for the trip back to the point from where we started that day, Hearst. Potentially the local road we were investigating might end up somewhere not far from the town of White River, but we were not sure. So, we went back to Hearst using the same road we were going at the morning; we stayed overnight at a local motel. It is interesting that local people speak mostly French, rather than English (like the rest of Ontario).
Next day we got to the White River city following well maintained HWY11 and local HWY631. The road was really scenic with a lot of small hills and lakes hidden in the native forest on both sides of the road. You can find a lot of snowmobile trails around. We spent some time in White River making photos near big Winnie the Pooh sculpture. White River is hometown of Winnie the Pooh. For some time, it also held title of the coldest spot in Canada - they registered -58°C here. Then we proceeded via Trans-Canada Highway. GPS devices signaled that we are near the start of the road that goes close to N48°W85°. At the first sight the road looked just like a normal road, just covered with snow. However, there were tire tracks on it, only snowmobile ones. That was not a good sign. Artem did several steps and sank into a snow knee-deep. We had no chances to take that road, even on SUV. So we gave up (not before trying to rent some snowmobiles in Wawa) and turned back home. The road came along lakes Superior and Huron and we stopped several times on scenic lookouts. We arrived to Ottawa Sunday, March 27 night; our GPS odometers logged more than 2600km (3600km for Victor) for the trip.