22-Sep-2002 -- When I learned about the Degree Confluence Project, I was immediately interested in participating. On a map on the wall above my computer monitor, I could see six confluences within my reach. But upon checking them, I found that five of them had been visited, and one had been attempted only; by chance, that last one was the closest to my home, so I decided to try and reach it.
The target seemed to be only a few miles from the nearest road, but near the top of Mount Leslie. Because my main passion is flying my Beaver ultralight airplane, it was only normal that I use that mode of transportation to go and check the area. So on Sunday, September 15th, I finally flew into the Louis Creek Valley, after coming from the Knouff Lake area on the west side. The last ridge I flew over was criss-crossed with logging roads, and my hope was that it would be the same for Mount Leslie.
But as I tried to gain altitude to go to the summit, the wind got stronger, and so did the turbulence; so I decided it would be wiser to turn back and try again another day. The confluence was at the top right of Pic#1.
On Sunday, September 22nd, the weather was almost perfect, so it was under a clear blue sky that I took off from the Knutsford airstrip at 9am. When I stopped to refuel in a field by Whitecroft, the clouds were building up. By the time I reached Mount Leslie, it was overcast but there was no turbulence and soon I found myself looking down from fifty-five hundred feet ASL. As I approached the target, I came to a clearing, but had to fly again over the forest before I could see my destination: somewhere in very dense bush. Then I came to another clearing on the east side, where I spotted a logging road that might be suitable for landing. I circled a few times to make sure it could safely be done, and decided it would be easy. (With over four hundred hours in the small aircraft, I have acquired lots of experience at that type of landing!)
Landing uphill on a straight stretch of fairly smooth road was a piece of cake. (Pic#2.) My GPS indicated that I was now at an altitude of 5279 feet, and 0.51 mile from the confluence. I had not really planned on reaching it that day, simply to check the area; but I had brought some supplies just in case, and now finding myself so close I decided to go for it.
Now remained the hard part! Looking at the edge of the clearing (Pic#3), in the direction of the confluence, the forest did not look at all inviting, with fallen trees all over the place (Pic#4). I was hoping that it was only due do the the action of the wind in the clearing, and thought that it would get easier as I got deeper into the forest. I sure was fooling myself!....
Almost from the time I left the aircraft, the hike was uphill at a 45 degree angle to the right. Then the ground got level for a short distance, but started going up again. And all that time I had to to walk between logs, dodge under or go around, but mostly walk on top of them and try to make my way from one to the other. To add to the fun, I found that the heavy forest canopy was fouling the reception for my GPS so bad that at times it was not even leaving on the screen a track to indicate where I had been. Many times I had to seek a less treed area and wait for the Garmin to get a proper fix on my position.
I had to hunt a while to find the exact location, but shortly past 11am, I was there (Pic#5) and was soon taking pictures of my Garmin GPS3 Pilot on the forest floor. (Pic#6) . To mark my passage, I left on a branch stub a CD game titled Operation; you can see it in picture #5.
That confluence is in a spot I would call "The middle of nowhere", with trees all around, not much else to see. Pic#7 is north, #8 is south.
I sat for a snack of food bars, and... no water! I had left the bottle in my car at the Knutsford airstrip...
When I headed back, the sun was still not visible, and I had just found out that using a GPS to navigate in a thick forest is definitely not recommended; I found a small clearing and waited to let the GPS update, and nearly panicked: the Garmin was telling me I was now 0.58 mile from my aircraft, when I should be less than 0.5! I had been heading north instead of south-east. When I searched my back pack for my compass, I realized it was not there... The GPS batteries were getting low, and I knew that if they went dead I would be in deep trouble.
I finally started going uphill, hoping that the forest there would be less dense; it was, and I found I was also getting closer to my goal. But it was still a very hard hike, and I had to walk on logs so much that at times I went for several hundred feet without touching the ground.
Having heard too many stories about bear attacks lately, I had brought my shotgun for protection but the weapon proved to be a real nuisance, and I realized that no self-respecting bear would bother coming to this place. With so many obstacles, there was not the least game trail; and no bird could be heard, the forest was totally silent except for the occasionnal creaking of trees due to a light breeze. In the occasionnal small clearing, I found some Gooseberry bushes, and even then in very small quantity.
Finally the sun showed up, and I used it to keep a bearing on the south-east, and it was with great relief that I finally came back to the clearing where I had left the Beaver. (Pic#9).
I was by then quite exhausted, and I had to rest for a while before taking off. The mountain on the north side is fairly steep down to the valley floor, and I then reduced the engine speed to have a greal gliding ride for many miles in perfect flying conditions. Pic#10 is a view south into the Louis Creek Valley; the confluence is somewhere way out of the top-left corner.
On that hike, I made the mistake of not preparing properly: forgetting my water bottle was very unwise. And next time, my compass will be in the pack sack, and so will be a few sets of fresh batteries for the GPS and the digital camera. And good leather gloves: three days after the trip, I just picked some more wood slivers out of my left hand!