Donna underwent chemotherapy treatment this spring.
This confluence attempt visit was an important milestone in her recovery, the first camping and hiking trip since her diagnosis with breast cancer. While the attempt proved unsuccessful, we were both overjoyed with simply being on this crazy adventure. It was an opportunity to enjoy nature and push ourselves once again.
Donna received the diagnosis nine months ago. After her treatments she showed a steady improvement in stamina and strength. I suggested we try for this confluence, after I thoroughly researched logging roads and found hiking routes. I knew it would be a challenge and that Donna is always up for a challenge.
The satellite imagery of Google Earth showed a disconnected network of logging roads in the area. Wanting to minimize the pain of bushwhacking, I used the 3D aspect of that program to help choose a hiking route. It led me to choose "the parking lot" at 1715 meters elevation (49.996897°N 115.931510°W) as our base camp. The Skookumchuck Forest Road and Skookumchuck river valley were at only 1170 meters elevation, so this was a key finding. There is a world of difference in vegetation between those two heights. Up higher the leafy bushes are less dense and it is isn't long before the biggest obstacles faced are stepping over 20 cm thick logs.
Donna's Honda Civic handled the logging road fairly well after I cleared fallen logs in places. An unexpected highlight was the 30 meter high bridge over the Findlay Creek in a gorge.
Since it was the long weekend, we weren't sure if the parking lot would be in use while we were there. We therefore left the car as far to the side of the parking lot as possible to leave room for a logging truck to turn around. Due to the exposed nature of the parking lot in the wind and our inability to secure the tent pegs into the rocky ground, we set up camp a few meters into the forest, at a picturesque and perfectly flat col.
Having planned for a full day, we set out at sunrise, 7:00AM, after noticing the first frost of the year on the outside of the tent. A clear cutting area, more recent than Google Earth showed, conveniently saved us 250 meters of the worst of the bushwhacking. We entered the actual forest at 49.9965°N 115.9361°W.
I was impressed with Donna's energy as she hasn't been on a hike in over a year, but her marathon training from the previous summer gave her a nice steady pace.
We were aware that the Skookumchuck weather forecast warned of a high of only 12°C and a 30% chance of rain in the morning. We were comfortable with the temperature because we didn't want it to be too warm for such a strenuous workout. The reality of the situation was far from ideal. The high at our elevation was more like -2°C and the precipitation was giant snowflakes with biting winds! We kept advancing towards the ridge because we fully expected the snow to taper off and to melt in the afternoon high of 12°C.
It never happened.
We gained the ridge after about 3 hours, and instead of the 360° beautiful vistas I had expected from Google Earth, we had about 50 meters of fog. We continued our way west along the ridge, while I periodically checked the GPS to see if we had reached the ridge's summit. At 11:00AM, with no view whatsoever, no end in sight to the snow, and increasingly wet and slippery slopes, our optimism began to wane. Momentarily, the wind would blow the clouds away and I would race to get my camera out of my pack before the next cloud blew in.
Donna, being the more rational of us, suggested we turn back. We compromised by stopping to eat our lunch at the end of the ridge, which should have given us views of the confluence just 300 vertical meters below us, along a gentle valley 2.1 km away. According to my plan, it should be a walk in the park from this point.
I took a photo of Donna, who is not having fun anymore, taking shelter behind a tree and pointing towards the confluence with her hiking pole. I then turned towards the confluence and saw only fog.
The decision had been made for us, we turned around at 50.0128°N 115.9786°W, and gave ourselves plenty of time to safely descend from the ridge on the wet ground. We were two hours before our turn around time, but we further justified the decision since there would be no views from the confluence even if we were to reach it.
Our spirits were still quite high, however, and we talked about how we were barely able to imagine doing a trip like this only a few short months ago. Donna's recovery has been amazing, fighting all the way, and we were so happy to be where we were now.
We did have one stroke of luck that day. On the way back, we crossed a game trail that was far more distinct and entrenched than the others. We quickly noticed that it had chainsawed logs. We followed it and it thankfully went in the direction we were heading. We traveled about five times as fast and as effortlessly on it, and didn't want to give it up even after it switch-backed and descended into the next valley. Since we had lots of time we explored it by following the trail to the creek crossing at 50.003°N 115.938°W, thinking that it must eventually pop out onto the logging road, at which point we could easily walk back to the car avoiding any bushwhacking. Being uncertain as to where this trail would pop out we back tracked along the trail to 50.0008°N 115.9385°W which was the point that would minimize the bushwhacking to the clear-cut area. This distance was 500 meter. We also gained the knowledge of this trail's location for a future attempt.
Upon returning to the car, we quickly cooked and ate our meal in the car to stay warm as it had not risen above the freezing level. After changing to warm dry clothes, and before the sun had even set, we snuggled into our luxurious winter sleeping bags and slept. We were satisfied with giving it such a good shot.
"If only it wasn't for the snow..." said Donna.