08-Aug-2004 -- Sometimes a confluence visit is a destination, sometimes it's a journey, and sometimes it's a context for another kind of trip.
The confluence at 51 degrees north and 115 degrees west had only been visited once, and that time under winter conditions. (Late April is still winter in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.) Since it is located less than a kilometer from either of two maintained trails, and only a short drive from a major city (Calgary), it seemed unusual that nobody had given it another go.
The hiking club of which I am a member has twice held campouts at the Owl Group Camp, less than eight kilometers from the confluence. At the behest of another club member, I scheduled a visit to the confluence as a club trip for the second day of the 2003 campout. But when the day came, it had rained all night, nobody else was interested, and the other club member's companions were anxious to leave for Edmonton. So the trip was cancelled.
In September of 2003 I hiked up to Baldy Pass with my sister, and got an overview of the confluence area in the Lusk Creek valley on the far side of the pass, but it was not a good day for bushwhacking.
Before the next campout rolled around for June of 2004, I discovered that Wolf, an active member of the hiking club with whom I had day-hiked the 44-km Jasper Skyline Trail, had been actively involved in the executive of the University of Alberta Graduate Students' Association along with my fellow confluence hunter Guy Germain, with whom I had visited three confluences, but the two had lost touch with each other. We arranged a reunion hike for August of 2004 for the three of us, the 34-km Northover Ridge Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, to be done as a day hike. Guy was keen to visit 51N 115W on the following day, but I thought he might be less keen after the 12 hours I expected we would spend on steep and precipitous mountain paths and ridgelines on the first day, so I considered the confluence visit a tentative part of the plan.
Although Guy and Wolf had spoken on the phone after I had put them back in touch, they had not seen each other before we rendezvoused at Guy's house on August 6, and set off in my car for the 5-hour trip to the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel, where we planned to spend the night before getting an early start on the Northover Ridge Trail. Conversation was lively on the drive as the two became reacquainted.
The hostel turned out to be very comfortable, with electricity and indoor plumbing, unlike the wilderness hostels in Banff and Jasper National Parks that I had stayed in before. The three of us had the 12-bunk men's dorm to ourselves, although there were other guests in the family rooms and women's dorm.
I set my alarm for 5 a. m., and we settled down to sleep. At about 3 a. m., I awoke to the sound of a downpour, which continued past the time when I shut off the alarm, through our eventual rising at 7 a. m., and uninterrupted until well after breakfast. Since Northover Ridge requires good conditions for safety, and clear visibility for the photographs I wanted to take, Plan A was cancelled. We eventually drove west until we found better weather at Lake Louise, and hiked the much less demanding but still very scenic Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. We returned to the hostel for another warm and dry night indoors. (Guy had wanted to tent on this trip for a greater wilderness experience, but as the organizer I imposed my will. I have no regrets.)
Once again it rained in the night and we awoke to low cloud obscuring the surrounding peaks and the threat of more rain at any time. It seemed like a good day to visit a confluence, since we knew from the previous visit we would be among trees anyway, and thus the low cloud would not make a difference to visibility. And our GPS receivers told us it was only a little more than 12 kilometers from the hostel to the confluence - if you flew like a crow.
Wolf wasn't enthused over the confluence-visiting concept, but was willing to go along. As a physicist, he had a substantial fund of knowledge about the Global Positioning System and some of its applications, which he was pleased to share with us throughout the visit.
We drove to the Lusk Creek Recreation Area day use parking lot, which was completely deserted, with both the toilets and the bear-proof garbage containers locked. We set off on foot before 9 a. m., and followed the Lusk Pass Trail for about five kilometers until our GPS receivers indicated the confluence was 660 meters away and the trail would bring us no closer. Throughout the walk the clouds hung just over our heads, or surrounding us on the higher points of the undulating trail. Earlier we had come to a deserted horse outfitters camp, with a corral and several tents, about a kilometer from the confluence.
I gave Wolf the bearing to the CP, and he set off compass in hand like the denizen of the woods his name implies, routefinding his way through the relatively open (but very damp) forest. With about 250 meters to go we came to the foot of a ridge, and had to clamber up a 30-degree slope and down the gentler slope on the other side, where we crossed a small creek, soon recrossing it when we realized we had overshot the mark.
We then spent a good half-hour in the confluence dance, with the "dog-hair" boreal forest giving only intermittent access to sufficient satellite signals. Eventually we decided we were at or near the confluence and gathered the photographic evidence. Wolf led us back to the Lusk Pass Trail, and we returned in intermittent rain to the trailhead. We were sufficiently absorbed in philosophical speculations on the nature of humanity and religion that we hardly noticed the rain.
Back at the car, I wrung out my socks and changed my footwear, and we set off to have lunch in Calgary at a nationally renowned non-franchise burger joint, and then back to Edmonton, various missions accomplished and others postponed for another year.