06-Aug-2001 -- “What the heck is a confluence, anyway?” people have been asking me in my small home town of Plamondon, Alberta. In an area known more for hunting wild game than hunting confluences, I left puzzled looks on people’s faces whenever I spoke about “confluences.” I had become sucked into the Degree Confluence Project after hearing about the successful visit to 53N 117W by my good friend, David Wasserman. As a new GPS user, I too was excited about the prospect of being able to use my receiver in a real world setting. After doing much research and soul searching, I decided on purchasing a Garmin eTrex Summit GPS, primarily because of its built in compass and altimeter. I commenced forthwith to look for a confluence to visit.
It did not take me long to discover that the confluence at 55N 112W was located close to the Village of Plamondon, Alberta, the picturesque farming community where I grew up. I did not know then just how close I had passed to the confluence many times before. My 1:50,000 resource access map indicated that the confluence was located just west of the “Old Conklin Road,” as it was locally known, so I knew that this confluence would not be a difficult one to visit. On the long weekend in August, my family had already planned a visit to my brother’s trap line in northern Alberta (55.28.40N 112.32.51W), located in a beautiful setting on the bank of Duncan Creek, which flows into the Athabasca River. Even though the trap line is located in forest that many would call secluded, allowing only access by quad, it was somewhat surprising to me how much vehicle activity we had that weekend, comprising oil and gas exploration and maintenance activity, tree planting activity, and the like. It has reinforced in my mind the fact that increasingly, there will be little of the virgin Alberta forest left untouched by humans in the years to come. In any event, we returned from our mud-filled yet tranquil excursion on Sunday. Although my confluence visit was planned for the following weekend, I thought, “Why wait – strike while the fire is hot.” Monday, August 6, would be the day.
I managed to convince my brother, Bernard, to be my driver on this expedition. My father had also planned to come along, but having driven the Edmonton Journal to Fort McMurray the night before, we were told he would be much too tired to join us. Thus, the two of us departed north from the village on scenic secondary highway 858, which took us around the west and north sides of Lac La Biche lake. There is much more paved road in this area than from when I remember, largely owing to increased logging activity as a result of the Alberta-Pacific pulp mill located not far from Grassland, Alberta, approximately 200 km northeast of Edmonton (at one time, the largest single-line kraft pulp mill in the world – a larger mill has since been built in Indonesia). Approximately 4 km east of Skukum Lake, we turned north onto the old Conklin Road. Remember the father who was too tired to join us? Well, not far from where we had to turn off, guess whose vehicle we passed parked on the side of the road? He had woken early to search for blueberries – he found none, and also missed his claim to fame! (photo #8)
As we travelled along this road, it suddenly occurred to the both of us that this was the same road that would take us to Mile Seven Lake, a small but popular trout fishing lake which I remembered from my youth. In anticipation, we watched as my Garmin eTrex Summit counted down the distance to the magic numbers. Finally, we stopped on the road when the GPS indicated we were about 40 metres east of the confluence. We eagerly trudged off into the bush, and recorded the official visit. For all explorers and adventurers, one of the attractions which propels them on a journey is the opportunity to be first at a unique spot. I think that for those visiting confluences, it is no different. One is always looking for the highest, or the lowest, or the furthest, or perhaps even the closest. I discovered a few weeks earlier that 55N and 112W would be the first 55th north parallel to be visited in Canada as part of the Degree Confluence Project. This added more excitement for we, the intrepid discoverers. I took the required photos, basked in momentary glory, and departed. The confluence is located high on a sand ridge amidst scraggly pines. The view from each of the directions is similar, so I have only included a few pictures. We realized that the area in the immediate vicinity of the confluence had quite recently sustained either a small tornado, micro burst, or at least a major wind blow, as several of the trees were completely uprooted and blown over (this was confirmed by local residents camping at Mile Seven Lake). I have included a photo of the wind damage (photo #3).
We walked back to the car, where I took a picture of the scenic road to the community of Conklin, heading north. If you travel north on this road (photo #6), you will pass Conklin, and eventually arrive, many hours later, at Steepbank Lake Resort, a secluded trophy lake fishing camp. Proceeding past Steepbank, this road is also the road my father used to take on the way to his former trap line near Winefred Lake – a tortuous multi-hour drive from home. In many ways, the echoes of the early Voyageurs and fur traders live on in the life of the modern fur trappers. Being only 2.5 km from Mile Seven Lake, we proceeded northward where memories were quickly established (photo #7). After a brief chat with some cousins, who happened to be camped at the lake, our work was finished. There was nothing left for us to do but return home, where my thoughts turned immediately to the confluence directly to the west.