the Degree Confluence Project

United States : Washington

13.0 miles (21.0 km) S of South Cle Elum, Kittitas, WA, USA
Approx. altitude: 1754 m (5754 ft)
([?] maps: Google MapQuest OpenStreetMap topo aerial ConfluenceNavigator)
Antipode: 47°S 59°E

Quality: good

Click on any of the images for the full-sized picture.

#2: Scree slope and cliff, confluence point is just above #3: GPS indicating location #4: View to west from confluence, Mount Rainier in center

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  47°N 121°W  

#1: Exact confluence point, above basalt cliff

(visited by James Jamison)

19-May-2001 -- Saturday, May 19, 2001

When I first read of the project in USA Today a few weeks ago, I immediately saw a convergence (confluence?) of my lifelong interest in maps and geography with the pleasures of exploring the natural history of the Pacific Northwest. With strong winds and blowing dust predicted for the central Columbia basin on this date, I opt for an escape to the mountains and my first confluence attempt.

Heading up the Yakima valley from Richland, the clear air affords a nice view of Mount Adams and the Cascade mountains. No wind to speak of here. Up I-182 to Yakima, then west on U.S. Highway 12 and State Route 410 toward Chinook Pass. My Washington Gazetteer map shows a forest road leaving State highway 410 near the hamlet of Cliffdell and winding its way to within less than a mile of the confluence. I know that much of the terrain in this area is straight up and down. However, with my brand new Garmin etrex GPS to lead me, I am confident I can find a way. Less than a mile, piece'a cake!

After fortifying myself with a second breakfast at Cliffdell's Whistlin' Jack Lodge, I find Forest Road 1708 and proceed to the northeast up the Milk Creek drainage. The road is good, although conditions are very dry for this time of year. About 6 road miles in from the Highway the forest road presents a fork that is not marked. At this point the GPS shows the confluence is less than a mile distant. I choose the left fork and then a smaller road that angles upward in the direction indicated by the GPS. I am already closer than I thought would be possible to drive, so every additional yard is just gravy. I actually start to regret that this confluence is so approachable by road. The small road ends after about 200 yards with the GPS showing 0.48 miles to the confluence. My altitude is 4904 feet. From the map I estimate the confluence lies 400-500 feet above me. Sky is clear, temperature 54 degrees F and the wind whipping down the east slope of the Cascades is blowing at about 30 mph.

I set off straight up through an old clear cut. The slope is steep but easy going, the ground grassy and well-trod by elk and deer. At about 0.25 miles indicated distance, the slope moderates and I enter a dense stand of old growth pine and fir, a tangle of dead falls with snowdrifts lingering in the deep shade. I find that the easiest going is often by walking on the down logs that criss-cross every which way. I imagine finding the confluence point here, deep in this shadowy alpine jungle where a photo of my attainment would show exactly nothing. However after a hundred yards or so I begin to see the light at the end of the forest (so to speak). With a little more than 400 feet to go I emerge from the maze of down timber onto a steep scree slope that rises to the base of a near-vertical columnar basalt cliff. I estimate that my destination is about where the cliff becomes impossibly steep (picture #2). I am not wild about walking on scree, but the slope seems stable enough. The rocks average about the size of a basketball. I advance a short distance and then retreat when I realize that my distance judgement is distorted because of the slope. The confluence actually appears to be just above the cliff. I find a chute at the edge of trees and make my way up about 100 feet to the top of the cliff. Here the slope is only about 30% and there is actually some soil and vegetation. Even better, I am within 150 feet of the confluence and the track leads upslope and away from the edge of the cliff. I approach slowly to a point near the trees in the upper left center of picture #1 and find what I am seeking: Latitude 47°00.000 North, Longitude 121°00.000 W. Elevation 5791 feet (GPS, picture #3) . I have ascended 887 vertical feet in 0.48 miles, an average grade of 35%.

The view is spectacular. The Cascades, with their dwindling snowpack and the icy giant Tahoma (Mount Rainier) form the western horizon (picture #4). Considering that this particular confluence could just as well have been smack in the middle of the deadfall jungle or on the face of the basalt cliff, I sense in its placement natureäs endless generosity and a grand sense of humor. There may well have been an easier way to get up here. If so, I'm glad I didn't find it.

This, my first confluence may be as good as it gets, but I hope not. I'll keep you posted.

 All pictures
#1: Exact confluence point, above basalt cliff
#2: Scree slope and cliff, confluence point is just above
#3: GPS indicating location
#4: View to west from confluence, Mount Rainier in center
ALL: All pictures on one page