03-Sep-2005 -- The Kitchen Expedition
6 months of planning, studying, preparation and anticipation ended in a failure of catastrophic proportions. 54N 120W lies deep in the heart of Kakwa Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada, a completely undeveloped wilderness area with limited vehicular access.
The original plan was to approach the area from the west, but at the last minute, the Kakwa Park website posted an internet notice that the road was washed out and impassable some 60 km from the park entrance. Undaunted, our team decided to approach from the east. Thus began our descent into the heart of darkness.
Our initial goal was a trailhead in a place called Dead Horse Meadows, (which should have been a clue) which lies 155 km of gravel road, gravel track, and caterpillar track from the end of the paved road 30 km southwest of Grande Prairie, Alberta. The last 20 km of this road took about 4 hours to drive via 4x4.
It was an anxious 4 hours, because the road kept getting worse, with no room to turn around and deeper and deeper water hazards. We had no idea if anyone had come this way for some time, and it was a long way back to civilization if we became inextricably stuck. When we reached Dead Horse Meadows, there were other trucks there, which was a relief, although we never saw another person.
The "trail" proved to be our undoing. We planned a two day hike into the park to find the confluence, which appeared on the topos to be immediately adjacent to a trail. What we didn't count on was the endless, sucking muskeg that comprised our route. Several weeks of rain had turned our path into a quagmire. After three hours, we had covered about 3 out of 20 km. You do the math. We had not counted on a 20 hour marathon in and another exhausting 20 hours out through black knee deep muck. We just didn't have 6 days for this trip. With heavy hearts, we turned around and went back to the truck.
I have done a lot of hiking in the Rockies and loved every minute of it. I loved this trip, too, but I have never felt so alone and isolated as in the heart of Kakwa park. Bear scat was everywhere, and though we only saw one black bear, we knew that we were deep within their kingdom. Bear spray or no, one couldn't help but feel vulnerable.
We will return to 54N120W, better prepared. After experiencing the road to the east, the "washout" from the west will not deter us next time. It is a beautiful, pristine area just waiting for an explorer with sufficient fortitude.