One of our objectives, after retirement for my wife and I, was to visit the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). This island archipelago is located approximately 80 kilometres offshore from British Columbia’s north coast, south of the Alaska panhandle. I was delighted to see the confluence 54°N, 132°W, a short distance from Massett, the most northern community, had not been visited for the Degree Confluence Project.
I knew this area to be sparsely populated with few amenities, a rugged rain forest, bogs, inclement weather, multiple deer and some predator bears. It appeared this confluence hike was doable after reading the text of Ralph Grabowski's and the Sunstum family's incomplete visits on 14-Aug-01 and 18-Aug-03, respectively (stymied by time, spouse and children, and the bushwhacking through old growth forest). Thanks Ralph and Mark for your experience and pictures.
Observation from our inbound air flight revealed the ridge on the north, heavily forested streams draining extensive bog areas seen through damp overcast weather. My plan included parking near the gravel pit at the north base of the ridge and trekking, alone, within a narrow margin to the confluence to the south. It looked like about a 3 hour return hike, to cover the 2.5 kms as the raven flys, enjoying the flora and fauna while taking multiple pictures. It turned out the zone I chose was too narrow and a track further to the West avoiding a stream area would have been preferred.
My sparse kit included a new Garmin Colorado 300, spare batteries, regular compass, 2 cameras, binoculars, glasses (2 sets), extra clothing, small first aid kit, cell phone (in case), some energy bars, water, spare cap, an aluminum hiking pole, Google maps and the confluence project papers (how to visit, worksheet and permission request). A copy of this permission request, Google map plan with a business card, including the number of the local B&B where we were staying, and the time of departure was left on the dash in the car window.
I followed game trails from the gravel pit to the base of a gulley and carefully, as it was wet and greasy, ascended the 100 metres to an old growth forest. These old trees, with many deadfalls and moss covered roots, led me to believe this may be a walk through a park (the confluence, likely, denotes the first Northwest boundary turn from North South to East of Naikoon Provincial Park). About 50 yards south from the ridge, the topography turned to rugged passage through heavy forest floor growth with big trees, small trees and low shrubs, including picturesque mossy zones.
Crossing the heavily forested stream areas by following deer game trails going in my general direction was easy for about 50 feet at a time. Invariably, these trails led to a screen of salal and bushes with an opening about 3 feet high as the local deer are quite small, although multiple! Many fallen trees, most rotten and covered in moss, were crossed, particularly near the streams.
The first hours inbound were an effort of up and down, through growth requiring careful footsteps to prevent injuries. I had to constantly keep branches away from my face and head. In fact, a pair of glasses were whipped away and never found in the forest floor. On my return, I planned to bear to the Northwest expecting to avoid the extensive growth in the stream area. I found the open boggy areas appeared to be easy crossing until you had to walk circuitously to avoid the water. Crossing the deadfalls over the streams was an adventure as one wet greasy log was straddled for safety.
GPS reception varied. The compass was more reliable when in the heavy growth and trees surrounding the Skonun river. As the journey took longer than expected, conserving battery power by using the GPS sporadically became a concern. I kept the fresh batteries for the last hour on return.
The area around the confluence was so boggy water arose quickly around my footsteps. At one point my weight broke the surface and my foot dropped a foot immediately. I selected a dryer area within 20 feet of 54°N, 132°W to take notes, pictures and rest. The time recorded was 1814 hours on June 24, 2008 at an elevation of 63 metres. The confluence area is surrounded by sparse thin trees with an extensive variety of plants and shrubs on the floor. No sign of any game trails, park boundary markers, or human visitation for several yards in any direction. Absolutely no beautiful vista with mountains and ocean in the distance!
This adventure turned out to be about 6 kms round trip from the car over rough territory with a change in topography, a flora change about every 100 yards. Trekked over many fallen trees of all sizes, around shrubs and brush, bogs with water holes, 3 streams and saw a lot of moss. Safety was my first concern as this area is remote even though within 8 kilometres Southeast of the Masset airport and closer to the North Beach road. In fact, I slipped and hit my head on a log on the slippery descent from the ridge. A bent hiking pole will remind me of this treacherous slog away from our urban civilization supports we take for granted.
My wife, left resting and reading at the B&B, was greatly relieved to see me with a big smile after 5 1/2 hours away. A local fishing guide, after the visit, stated this area is not frequently visited due to the limited access (three ridge accesses in 2 kilometres), bears, no communications (no cellular), few attractions and the limited rescue availability (with the exception of a helicopter extraction).
This trek is not for the faint hearted. Take every precaution to be safe and very prepared. My wife and I went on to enjoy many more accessible and beautiful areas, both coastal and forested, on Graham Island of the Haida Gwaii.