13-Oct-2002 -- Why 56N 114W?
When I first learned of the Confluence project in early October 2002, I found that in the Province of Alberta there were very few of the 30 unvisited confluences that I could reach in a one or two day trip. This spurred me into acting quickly. I initially focused on the one closest to home, at 55N 115W. I checked some maps and concluded that any roads that might conceivably get me close would not be passable in my small car. The next nearest confluence at 56N 114W was west of a lake that had good road access on its opposite (east) side. Some maps also showed a dirt road that passed 2 km from the confluence, but again I suspected the road would be impassable, private, or both. I made plans to cross the lake in a canoe and trek through the bush to the spot. This required a 5 km lake crossing and 1.5 km walk.
Socioeconomic Info: The hamlet of Wabasca-Desmarais is surrounded by Indian Reserves of the Bigstone Cree First Nation, and is also a Metis Settlement. It is in the Municipal District of Opportunity which covers an area of 29,247 km2, but has a population of only about 3200. Fifty eight percent list Cree as their mother tongue. The area is in the mixed wood boreal forest zone. Gas and oil extraction, forestry, and tourism are the main industries. North Wabasca Lakes drains into the Wabasca River which flows north into the Peace River and eventually the Arctic Ocean.
Planning: My wife agreed to come with me and help paddle the canoe. We planned to do the whole trip on Sunday October 13. However, the forecast called for winds up to 60 km/h, which would make the lake crossing impossible. Sunday morning, the forecast changed to 30 km/h and we decided to drive to Wabasca Lake and hope the winds would let us cross. The name Wabasca originates from the Cree word Wapiskaw, which means lake of whitecaps!
By Road: We drove north from Edmonton via Slave Lake to the town of Wabasca, 390 km by paved roads, 283 km on the GPS GOTO function. Lakes we passed looked windy, with whitecaps on the waves. North Wabasca Lake was also windy, but we set out and started a hard paddle into the wind anyway. After struggling for about 15 minutes in increasing wind with a rain shower coming at us, we turned back to the landing, and thought about alternate plans while we ate sandwiches in the car, out of the rain. We returned to a dirt road that the map indicated would lead to the south end of the lake. From there the paddle was slightly longer, but more sheltered from the wind. This plan worked well, although we had to push the car to get it turned around on the slippery mud at the end of the road.
Canoe & Bushwhack: After an hour of paddling we landed on a sandy beach and headed west through the aspen, spruce and larch forest. The larch trees were beautiful in their orange needles. Most of the forest floor was covered with soft, thick moss. There were no paths except deer and moose trails, which usually don’t go in the right direction for long, so it took another hour to travel 1.5 km to the confluence. The walk back to the canoe was a little quicker because we found an animal trail going the right way for a good part of the distance.
Return Home: To drive home to Edmonton we continued in a clockwise loop from Wabasca south to Athabasca on secondary highway #813. The provincial road map indicated this road was gravel for part of the way, but since it was 60 km shorter than the paved route via Slave Lake, we decided to take it. The map lied – the 50 km gravel section was actually sloppy mud. This gave us some tense moments when the car barely made it up some of the steeper grades where the road crosses a range of hills known as the Pelican Mountains. The government has plans to pave the bad section of Highway 813 in the next few years. We got home at 11 PM having driven 760 km, canoed 12 km and hiked 4 km, in a total time of 15 hours.