18-May-2008 -- I was introduced to the degree confluence project years ago after following a link on slashdot, and was immediately hooked by the idea of "sampling the earth." I began to search for available confluences near me in Regina, but the closest yet to be completed was 53N, 103W, almost 400 km. away. Plans were made, but fell apart several times before everything seemed to come together for this attempt. Joining me were my brother in-law Bernd Heyde, and my friend Brian Shore.
We left Regina on May 17 at 8:00 am on what turned out to be an absolutely beautiful spring day, and arrived in Prairie River around noon. The confluence is about 15 km North of Prairie River, so we had planned to spend the entire first day hiking to the confluence, camping close by, and returning home the next day. After spending some time checking our gear, deciding how much water to bring along, and spraying ourselves with bug repellent, off we went. We had a topographic map of the area which showed a branching trail or road leading to within a few km of the confluence, but we were unable to find just where that trail started. Instead we decided to head NE along the bank of the Prairie River, hoping to intersect the trail at some point. We crossed our first beaver dam after about 40 min., and it became clear as we hiked that we would have a full days work trying to find our way through the at times dense forest and over the boggy ground. I learned later that when the Prairie River area was first surveyed in the early 1900s, there were no beavers in the area. The beavers had all been trapped during the many years of the fur trade, and were only re-introduced to the area in the 1940's. The beaver population flourished, and the confluence is close to an area which may now have the highest density of beavers anywhere.
We continued hiking up the paths of least resistance. Luckily the game trails we followed mostly headed in the direction we wanted to go. We saw many signs of wildlife on the way. The forest is home to an incredible variety of animals: moose, elk, deer, black bear, coyote and wolves to name a few. We came across the bones of many creatures, and even the gnawed remains of a deer leg.
Around 6:30 pm, having hiked for about 6 hours, we found the road we were searching for, and followed it for another 2 hours, where we made camp. The GPS indicated we were still 3.2 km South of the confluence, and it seemed we would need to resort to bushwacking the rest of the way. This was concerning not only because of the time and energy involved, but also because we were running out of water to drink. If the water shortage had been critical, we did have the means of boiling bog water, but this would have consumed a lot of time.
The next morning we arose early, and left camp at 6:30 am. I elected to leave my last 500ml of water at camp, and push to the point carrying only a camera and GPS. The forest was quite dense, but boggy, and we made slow progress jumping from one peaty mound to the next, trying to avoid the water in-between. At 8:30 am, we came to a small opening in the forest where we could stop, and I thought ourselves near enough to the confluence to take photos. There were few places we could have stopped, and my increasing thirst was insisting that we didn't waste much time in celebration. We were about 40m from the confluence at this point. After taking the necessary photos as rapidly as possible (GPS photos can be difficult), we started back to our campsite. We took many short breaks on the way back, and fortunately the morning was cool, and the air refreshing. At 10:30 am we reached camp, packed up, and headed down the road, hoping that it would take us most of the way back to the car where we had more water. At first, this road was most excellent, but later on, by which time we had all run out of water, the road crossed many wet and boggy areas. At one point, I stepped into mud and sank above my knee, almost leaving my shoe behind in the stinky decomposing peat. The road was very helpful nonetheless, and we were able to reach the car, and our precious water at 3:30 pm.
In hindsight, we were very fortunate in several ways. The weather was excellent, and it was early enough in the year that trees were still leafless, and insect life was virtually non-existent. We also benefited from, and I was inspired by the narratives of the 2 groups who attempted this confluence before us. In visiting this confluence, I think we developed an appreciation of bog terrain, and certainly a fondness for saying "bog." Since swamps, marshes, and bogs cover more than 10% of Canada, our next confluence attempt may be another boggy one.