Our Confluence Expedition


I originally ran across some references to the Degree Confluence Project in an e-mail digest that I receive (on Homebrewing, of all things!) I checked out the site and thought it looked interesting but didn't really consider attempting to find a confluence at the time. Periodically, I visited the site again to see what new confluences had been found in areas that I'm familiar with.

In January as my wife Kim and I were discussing potential vacation plans for this summer, the possibility of purchasing a handheld GPS receiver came up and it occurred to me that, if we did get one, we might try to find a confluence or two for the fun of it.

Well, I'm sure you can see where this is going... We did end up buying a GPS (Garmin 12XL) and decided to visit a confluence in Northern Wisconsin as a way of learning how to use it. The confluence trip also served a second purpose; we had planned a winter camping trip for the next weekend and it gave us the opportunity to get out on the snowshoes and test some of our equipment.

So, without further ado, let's get on to...

The Expedition:
The trailhead
The journey begins.
Kim at the confluence!
Kim's there...
The numbers don't lie...
See! We really made it!
The view East
The view West
...and West.
BEWARE the Snow Bear
Lurking Snow Bear

We started out at about 10:30am on Saturday, March 17, 2001 at the Spectacle Lake campground in the Nicolet National Forest in Northern Wisconsin. The campground was closed for the season, so we parked on the road in front of the locked gate. It was a beautiful, sunny morning.

There's a hiking trail that starts at about the middle of the campground and goes to another campground on nearby Kentuck Lake. We knew from looking at the map that it should take us close to the confluence. For the first 1/2 mile or so snowshoe travel was made easy by the recent passage of a snowmobile. The hiking trail then crossed a snowmobile trail and from that point on, there had been no recent traffic of any kind, but it was still easy to follow. After another 1/4 - 1/2 mile we crossed a bridge over a small creek. There was about 18" of packed snow on the bridge!). Shortly afterwards we decided that the trail wasn't taking us in the correct direction, so we struck out cross-country using a compass and the GPS.

This was were we started to pay for the easy travel up to this point! With the 40F degree temperatures of the day (and the prior several) the snow was soft, heavy and wet. Even with snowshoes, we sank 6-12 inches with every step. Throw in a steep hill, uneven terrain and buried trees / brush that tried to grab your snowshoes and we were working up a pretty good sweat in no time!

Finally, at almost exactly noon, we reached our destination in a quiet valley between two snow-covered ridges. Kim pulled out the camp stove to whip up a little lunch while I went about trying to get a picture of the GPS that showed the coordinates of the confluence. I couldn't believe how long it took to get the numbers exact! Lat would be right on, but Long would be off by +0.1 sec. so I'd move the unit a few inches and give it a little time to stabilize; now Long was just right and Lat was off by a couple tenths! Finally, I got the picture I needed just about the time the soup was ready (honest, I wasn't trying to get out of helping make lunch!!)

After lunch I took pictures in each of the cardinal directions and then decided to try a little experiment. I reset the datum on the GPS to NAD27-CONUS which corresponded to the datum reference on the USGS 1:24,000 scale map we were using and set out to find the map confluence. A few minutes late, Kim (still standing on the WGS83 confluence) took a picture of me standing on the NAD27 location.

Having accomplished what we'd set out to do, we packed up and started retracing our path back to the car. We hadn't gone more than 50 yards when we heard to sound of approaching snowmobiles and then saw several of them zoom by along the top of the low ridge no more than 100 yards from the confluence spot. Apparently, the trail we'd crossed a couple hours earlier swung around and came very close to our destination. If we'd only known on the way out, we could have had an easier walk of it!! On the other hand, we'd have missed the opportunity to see the rare snow-bear crouching on a branch and waiting for an unwitting victim to pass beneath (see the head in the upper right?)...

We followed our own trail back to the car and drove home happy (that we'd accomplished our objective) and a little sunburned (who'da thunk it, on the last official weekend of winter!)

Kim on the bridge
Quite a snow base.
Mike on the confluence!
...and so is Mike!
The view North
Looking North...
The view South
Mike on the NAD27 confluence
The NAD27 confluence.