31-May-2002 -- "Why on Earth would you want to trek into the middle of nowhere, and risk life and limb in search of a meaningless map coordinate?", I asked. "Because it's there", came Pat Hayman's reply. And so began our journey of discovery, to seek out confluence point 50°N, 122°W.
"No man is an island", Hayman informed me beforehand, "of critical importance is a team of experienced, highly motivated individuals who can assist me with this challenge".
Hayman, a veteran of tree planting campaigns in northern
Ontario, was no stranger to the outdoors and at once set
about selecting a team of solid performers he knew he could
depend on. Renowned Danish explorer, Anders Christiansen,
just happened to be in Vancouver at the time and was signed
immediately. Chad Hewson, a B.C. native, was an essential
selection, not only for his local knowledge but for his
reputation as a world class navigator. Myself? I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
We knew full well that if we were to conquer confluence point 50°N, 122°W, meticulous planning and preparation was required. An attempt in late May/early June was desired as it best suited our busy schedules. Warm, sunny conditions were forecast for the period May 30th through to June 2nd and we jumped at this window of opportunity.
We set out from Vancouver late on the afternoon of Thursday the 30th. It was decided we should camp within Nahatlatch Provincial Park and set out at first light the following morning.
We were slow to rise after a night of hearty drinking and marshmallow toasting, but departed base camp at around 8am. Following directions established from the first attempt at this confluence by Patton et al. , we drove our rented Ford Explorer up the nearby 4WD drive track to a point where we couldn't go on without the risk of scratching our shiny vehicle's paintwork, thereby forfeiting our damage deposit.
The initial walk to the Mehatl Creek Falls was quite pleasant and we took time out to take in the magnificent surrounds and pose comically for photographs. We were all in good spirits at this early stage - the calm before the storm. From here we proceeded up the eastern side of the Mehatl Creek valley. At 6.5 km out from the confluence, the terrain quickly turned nasty. As Chad Hewson so eloquently recalls, "we were about to undertake the 6.5 kilometres of bulls**t".
After traversing the steep slopes for some time, we decided to alleviate the stress on our ankles and descend to flatter ground. We soon found ourselves bashing through thick undergrowth and climbing over and around fallen trees, all the time keeping an eye out for bears, cougars and other flesh-hungry animals. We were prepared for such an encounter, but only Hayman's bear spray and my Swiss army knife stood between us and a grizzly death at the hands of these savage beasts. The tension was palpable.
We were just 200 m from the confluence when tragedy struck. Hewson slipped on a loose rock and dropped the GPS. He was quick to compose himself but a look of horror took over his face as he realized the batteries had fallen out of the GPS and down the steep canyon slopes, lost, forever. This was a potential breaking point for us. I struggled to remain diplomatic over Hewson's role in what had just transpired and Christiansen cursed wildly in his native Danish tongue. It was here that Hayman's leadership qualities came to the fore however. He produced spare batteries from his backpack and we moved on. We had a good chuckle over the whole affair afterwards and still remain good friends to this day.
At approximately 14:30 PST we arrived at the confluence. We gathered around the GPS and read off the coordinates: 50° 00' 00" N, 122° 00' 00" W. Rather than show an overzealous display of emotion, a sight all too common these days, we just shook hands and warmly congratulated each other - after all the job was only half done. The accompanying photographs attest to our achievement. We spent precious few minutes at the confluence as we knew the return journey would be a race before nightfall.
On the return leg we maintained our high morale by discussing potential World Cup football results and traded jokes that true gentlemen can tell only in the field. We were all very tired but kept up a good pace and returned safely to the car at around 9pm. We were elated to make it back without major injury, only mosquito bites, a few scratches, and mild chaffing to show for our experience. We left Nahatlatch numb with exhaustion but quietly satisfied with our achievements.
Days later I sought Pat Hayman's thoughts on what we had accomplished.
"Mother Nature was angry that day, my friend", he growled, "like an old man turning back soup at a deli. But what we showed out there on that magical day in May, is that a team of hacks can achieve true greatness". Amen.