23-Apr-2011 -- Kakwa Wildland Confluence
This confluence attempt has been over 4 years in the making. Ever since Derek & I were introduced to the Confluence project, a chance to complete this confluence has eluded us. As oilmen, our schedules are chaotic at best, non-stop at worst. So on a sunny Thursday afternoon when we both realized that it was possible we might both have the Saturday off, I started lining up a snowmobile and making plans.
We studied the former attempt thoroughly and chuckled at the idea of a true summer time attempt. This confluence lies in a snowmobile recreation area well known by locals but virtually unknown to anyone outside the Peace Country. Simply getting to the area in the late spring/summer season would be virtually impossible and we were determined to reach the confluence while the spring snow was still on the ground.
Normally a late April attempt would be difficult and would involve lots of open water crossings, but the 2010/2011 winter season was one of the largest on record for accumulated snowfall. This meant that the confluence should be more accessible and hopefully no trudging through mud would be involved.
We hoped to depart from Grande Prairie by 6am, but we were in no rush on the day of the trip simply because it was so nice outside already (considering the weather only two weeks earlier reached -35C). The plan was to travel to the snowmobile staging area, use snowmobiles to travel the 20+kms to the immediate area adjacent to the confluence and make the remaining 1.2kms using our snowshoes.
We arrived in the Kakwa snowmobile staging area at approx. 10am, unloaded the snowmobiles and hit the trail. The temperature was hovering around the freezing mark (warm for this elevation given the season) and the sky was a perfect Bluebird. I loaned a snowmobile from a friend with the promise that "everything was in tip top shape" and within 5 minutes of getting on the main trail, my snowmobile started making an awful noise from the clutch area. We decided that waiting four years for the trip meant that a clutch might have to be sacrificed in the name of the attempt and we decided to carry on.
We reached the intersection of the Kakwa river and after a little scouting, found a trap-line that runs parallel to the Cecilia Creek valley which would take us almost directly to the site. Some local snowmobilers were glad to give us some insight into the trap-line, informing us that just a week earlier the trail was impassible due to excessive snowfall. We followed the trial, checking against the GPS checkpoints established using Google Earth and within 30 minutes we were sitting in the valley just below Cecilia lake, looking up the embankment towards the confluence mark. This area is heavily traveled by snowmobilers all winter long, so it was strange to be near a well traveled trail, yet to feel like you are in the absolute middle of nowhere.
We mounted up our snowshoes, checked our directions and our GPS and began trekking into the thick bush next to the creek valley. It was apparent almost immediately that this trek would be virtually impossible in the summer time. Walking on top of approx. 2 meters of snow, we had just enough clearance between groups of trees to move forward. Several mis-steps resulted in a quick and painful drop into the tree well. As we neared the confluence, the terrain got very steep and our direct attempt had to change to tight switchbacks to reach the area. Watching the terrain and not the GPS, we overshot the area by about 100 meters and had an easy drop back into the prize spot.
The confluence is in a tight glade of pine trees, on a gentle embankment above a steep section of tree covered hillside. Even though there are several openings in the trees, its virtually impossible to see the surroundings at the site. We took several photos, having some trouble getting the GPS to zero, so we took the time to have a sandwich and have a few laughs while trying not to fall over in our snowshoes. Once the pictures were done, we assessed the snowshoe part of the trip and to give you an idea of the difficulty of the terrain, it took us 1 hour 6 minutes to hike 1.2 kms to the confluence site!
At this point it was early in the afternoon, so we decided that if the loaner snowmobile was still alive, we might as well make a little round trip to Kakwa Lake while we were out and about. We slid back down the slope to the snowmobiles and headed out. The weather was impeccable, the views were stunning and the trip had been a complete success. As a side note, the clutch noise was due to the owner purchasing the wrong sized belt as a replacement and the added bonus was finding several sets of good tire chains on the way back to town!
This confluence trip was an awesome experience, my only regret is that we didn't have the chance to catch another confluence before they were all taken....then again, the Yukon is still ripe for the picking!