26-Aug-2003 -- This is the second of three confluences we hoped to visit on a four day, three night trip to northern Saskatchewan. Our trip covered 1842 km from Regina to the culmination of the CANAM International Highway at Southend on Reindeer Lake and back home again. The CANAM (Canadian/American) highway begins in the deserts of Texas and makes it way north through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan before it ends at the edge of Reindeer Lake. It is a paved highway to La Ronge; gravel north of there.
Saskatchewan is perceived as a flat "boring" prairie province consisting mainly of farm and ranch land. Most of the confluences done so far are indeed in southern flat farm fields thus perpetuating this notion. We decided it was time to become adventurous and tackle some of our province's northern confluences. The northern half of the province comprises most of the 54% of Saskatchewan that is covered in forest. Many of these confluences may never be reached as they are in remote spruce, pine, birch, aspen or tamarack forests, interspersed with hundreds of lakes, streams and rivers. We chose three confluences that had the potential for success.
We left La Ronge about 8:30 am, driving north on the CANAM highway with hopes of reaching the culmination of the highway at Southend on Reindeer Lake 220 km away. 150 km along the highway we would pass less than 500 meters from this confluence. As we drove along the gravel and sometimes very bumpy road, we speculated on the terrain we might find - perhaps a bog like those we kept passing, a marshy area with bulrushes that might be too wet to traverse, an unmapped lake, thick green almost impenetrable forest, or steep rocky inclines ...... We never once imagined what we did find - the blackened forest from hell. A forest fire had raged across much of this area a few years ago. It seems to have swept through the confluence area, across the highway and over the hills beyond. New growth was one to three meters high. On the ground were layers of dead charred trees, four, six or eight deep, in the haphazard ways they fell as fire sapped their strength away. Some trees had missed the fire's rage so were still green and standing tall. Others were standing but dead, ready to give away as someone reached out to use them for support.
We left our van at a pull off, determined to reach at least one confluence on this trip. No dogs could reach this confluence (the humans barely did) so they were left to guard the van. There was no easy way to get through the tangled mess of burnt fallen trees. It was a case of maneuvering over, on, through, under or around stacks of dead trees. They poked us, scratched us, blackened our jeans and sometimes snapped under our weight. Soon our hands were black from touching the charred fallen trunks and using the standing trees as balance poles. As we heated up from the strenuous exercise we began to wipe away perspiration with our hands, leaving black smudges on our faces and necks. Our blue jeans got blacker and blacker. In some areas soft cushiony mounds of moss squished under foot to ankle deep. Often there was murky water below. Now our socks were wet too. The distance left to the confluence counted down ever so slowly but we were determined to make it.
Alan was able to stay on his feet the whole time. The rubber shoes I wore were great for the wet murky water but not good for grip while balancing on, or clambering over logs. At times my feet felt completely out of control and I was lucky to stay upright. I was reminded of those log rolling contests in lumberjack competitions I've seen on TV. Sometimes for balance, I grabbed at a seemingly strong upright tree that would break away, leaving me to fall where I may. Because of these falls the rear end of my jeans was particularly black. Luckily I received only scrapes and bruises but a couple of times I was lodged between logs and needed help up. One saving grace on this difficult trek was the lack of mosquitoes. There were only little annoying, but non-biting, flies of some sort. We were also thankful that the rain showers held off until later.
Thankfully the confluence was at a particularly appropriate spot to show the fire's devastation.
After all the work to get there it would have been disappointing to find a flat open area. We got our pictures and the zeros on the GPS then headed off. I had to think long and hard about it, but felt compelled to take a little side trip through the logs up to a rock outcrop near the confluence to get an overview photo from the area.
The confluence was 431 meters straight line distance from the highway. Our 863 meter trek in, as we tried to avoid the wettest and the most difficult areas, took us 56 minutes. The 1,017 meter trek out taking an "easier" route (HA!) straight for the highway took 67 minutes. In each case, half of the walk was easy with the arduous forest portion taking the majority of time.
As we emerged from the forest onto the highway to walk back to the van we were thankful that the traffic was light enough that no one saw us or passed us. It would have been difficult to explain our situation and quest and still be thought of as sane. Our blackened faces and necks, wild damp hair and blackened Tilley hat, our black sooty clothes, wet feet, and our black hands, mine also caked with sticky black pine pitch and blood, would have frightened anyone. It is for this reason as well, that there is no picture of the confluence team. Despite our scary appearance, the dogs were happy to see us. We were grateful to be back at our van where we could clean up a little (thank goodness for "Wet Ones" antibacterial moist towelettes) and eat our lunch before continuing to the end of the road.
We did reach the end of the CANAM highway near Southend on the south end of the very large Reindeer Lake. Anyone who has flown "virtually" with Santa Claus on the NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) site at http://www.noradsanta.org on Christmas Eve may recognize Reindeer Lake because it and a fishing camp are featured as Santa and his team of reindeer fly over northern Saskatchewan on their trip around the world.
As we passed the confluence area on our way back to La Ronge we took a few more pictures of the general area. We were looking at a late supper in La Ronge so stopped at the Missinipe Trading Post for gas and snacks. This resort town of cottages and homes on a beautiful lake has a year round population of nineteen with many more in summer. Such is the draw to this way of northern beauty and lifestyle that the proprietors of the trading post drive a total of 1600 km a week taking their children to school in La Ronge in the morning and retrieving them in the afternoon.
We took photos of signs along the way. The signs say a lot about the highway. The Athabasca "Seasonal" road sign refers to the winter road that extends from the end of Highway 905 which branches off from the CANAM highway and ends 271 km further north near Wollaston Lake.
Seasonal winter roads provide access to remote mines and Indian Reservations in the very far north after the lakes and streams have frozen over enough to hold heavy truck loads of goods.
There were several white wooden crosses along the highway to honor people who had been killed at these spots. One particular "shrine" we photographed outdid all the others. It honors a family of grandparents, young couple, and their two children aged one and two who were killed there 24 years ago in 1979.
Some confluence hunters give their confluence a name. As we drove along reminiscing about our feat and nursing our sore and aching bodies we decided to give this confluence a name. We are calling it "Burnt Out Confluence" - it was burnt out and so were we!