09-Jun-2001 -- Having successfully visited one confluence, at N53 W117, I turned my attention to the confluence immediately to the west, at N53 W118. This confluence is located in Jasper National Park, a World Heritage Site [coordinator's note: listed under "Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks"], and long a favourite tourist destination. Study of maps and websites indicated that there should be a rough trail passing very close to the confluence point, since the Alpine Club of Canada has a small hut located just half a kilometer to the east, and access is from the west. The trail is not shown on any of my maps, but is reported to start from near where Garonne Creek crosses the Overlander Trail. Getting to that point requires hiking or mountainbiking 6.5 kilometers from a trailhead at the 6th Bridge in Maligne Canyon.
Unwilling to traipse off into the mountain wilderness alone, I took advantage of an annual event of the Grant MacEwan Mountain Club, of which I am a member. The GMMC kicks off the summer season with a weekend group campout just outside of Jasper Park, using it as a base for dayhikes and rock-climbing expeditions. All I needed to do was convince someone else that this "confluence hunt" was worth a try. I managed to get five club members interested.
For a simple day hike, this trip had a lot of aspects. It was a trial run for the West Coast Trail for Pam and Kelly, a mountain biking trip for Jon, Elizabeth, and Jason, an exercise in GPS use, map reading, and route finding for Jon and me, an group effort to reach the confluence, practice in FRS radio communication for John, Elizabeth and me, a trail-side painting/sketching opportunity for Pam, and, as ever, a chance for me to expose a lot of Kodak Royal Gold 400.
The plan was to follow the Overlander Trail from its southern trailhead by the 6th Bridge Picnic Area to the Garonne Creek drainage, and then find the route toward the Mount Colin Centennial Hut along the north side of the drainage.
The planned route would be a full day, at least a 20 km round trip, with a relatively simple first section along the Athabasca River, and then a challenging section up a poorly marked trail over a steep series of ridges next to the deep canyon of Garonne Creek. I convinced Pam because I had the whole trip from Edmonton to talk her into it, and Kelly because she and Pam wanted to hike together to work out plans for their August trip on the West Coast Trail. Jon was an easy sell because he also has a GPS receiver and because the first section could be done by bike; Jon convinced Elizabeth and Jason.
Since the bikers were expected to be quicker than the hikers, we at first arranged for the bikers to start about an hour later and to rendezvous at Garonne Creek. Then I thought to ask Jon if he had an FRS radio. He had a pair of them, as I did, so we settled on a channel and subchannel and agreed to establish radio contact when within range (FRS radios, legal in Canada only since April 2, 2000, are small hand-held FM transmitter-receivers that have a range of about 2 miles, and require no training, license or fees to operate).
As often happens, things didn't quite go according to schedule on Saturday morning, and it was 9:42 AM before Kelly, Pam, and I left the trailhead. The first section was a pleasant walk through sun-dappled woods and meadows, often in sight of the river, and passing by the historic ruins of the John Moberly homestead.
We planned to stop for lunch as soon as we crossed Garonne Creek. By 12:15, the landmarks, the map, and the GPS convinced me that we had crossed the creek without noticing. We had also not seen any side trail leading east up the Garonne Creek drainage. The trail was up against a slope, something it didn't do on the map until well past the creek. We stopped for lunch and to consider our options. A suitable location was found up the slope on an outcrop. I was unable to raise Jon on the radio. We decided to contour along the slopes, heading back south, to see if we crossed either a trail or a creek.
We bushwhacked our way southward across the slope, gradually gaining altitude through relatively thin forest, showing signs of what is apparently an old prescribed burn, and getting improving views of the Athabasca Valley. My pocket beeped; it was Jon calling us. We had contact! I answered, "Advance party here." The cycling group was at the Moberly ruins. I gave my coordinates, and we agreed that we would continue to make our way southward toward a rendezvous point on the Mount Colin trail – if it existed.
Somewhat further along, Jon called again. He was with a small group from Jasper who were familiar with the Mt. Colin trail. I described our location to one of them - "We're on a bald, sandy ridge next to a gully filled with burned trees, on what seems to be a trail." She said she thought we were near where we needed to be, so we agreed to wait there for fifteen minutes to see if they came in sight. Pam got out her paints and went to work on a picture of the Athabasca Valley.
Fifteen minutes passed without contact, so we called in and said we were pushing on to the south. We found ourselves crossing a series of bald, sandy ridges next to gullies filled with burned trees, and the "vaguely trailish" marks in the ground came and went. We were not reassured.
Eventually we came to a ridge next to a valley with a stream at its bottom. Kelly spotted people up at the top of a rock band high above us. I waved at them and they waved back, but Jon, on the radio, couldn't spot us. After a while he said, "I see a guy in a cowboy hat waving and holding his hand to his mouth as if he's speaking into something. Is that you?" I looked down to my right and replied, "We have contact." Elizabeth and Jason had elected to stay down in the valley and wait for Jon.
By this time, the occasional raindrop could be felt. We converged with Jon heading along the side of the ridge, and then moved to its crest, where we found the most definite trail we'd seen since leaving the Overlander Trail in the valley. We followed it upward. Kelly and Pam decided to take a break near the top of that section of ridge while Jon and I went on. I gave Kelly my radio.
As Jon and I made our way up a series of rocky faces interspersed with flatter areas usually covered with deadfall, the trail disappeared and reappeared irregularly. Finally we decided we had run out of time, and a storm appeared to be moving toward us from further up the Athabasca. I used the self-timer to take a picture of us 2.29 km from the confluence, at an altitude of 1319 meters. We were at 52 degrees, 59.643 minutes north and 118 degrees, 1.970 minutes west.
As we carefully picked our way down the steeper parts of the slope, Kelly radioed to tell us where to meet them, and we did. Jon continued down while I waited with Kelly and Pam, who was working on another painting. When the coming rain left us no choice, Pam packed up her paints and we headed back down to the valley. Just about when we reached the river flats, it started to pour. "Good practice for the West Coast Trail," I said. By 6 p. m. we were back at the trailhead.
The map shows the area, with the red X marking the approximate location of the confluence point. Our nearest point is where the G in Garonne Creek appears on the map.