There's a reason I try not to camp in July. It's not just the busy highways, the sweltering heat, or the awkward but mandatory family gatherings... It's the stuff horror movies are made of: the bugs.
We have a limited amount of time to enjoy the outdoors to its fullest before winter puts us under lockdown. So, in the cruel heat of summer, we set out on a trip to the Waskwei River to exert some dominance over the elements.
The Waskwei River drains the northeast flank of the Pasquia Hills in Saskatchewan—an area we're visiting for the first time. Waskwei had piqued my interest as a target for feral brook trout produced from stocking efforts that occurred decades ago. For us, the hills are shrouded in mystery, with dramatic topography, an abundance of fossils and massive oil shale deposits. With little information on the area, our plan is to hike as far upstream as possible and spend two nights in search of whatever mysteries the river may hold.
Mysteries are soon uncovered as Nate steps ankle-deep into a hornet nest, unleashing a swarm of angry insects. The group scatters through the woods and reconvenes at the river's opening. We've barely been outside for half an hour. With sweat-drenched clothes and a grand total of 19 stings, morale is low.
Some relief is brought by reaching the stream as we're able to cool off and hike on rocks with ease. My mind drifts toward fishing, but my hopes sink once I see the depth of the piddly creek. The water is so low, there's no reason to bother fishing on this trip. I still keep a curious eye on the water and Mitch finds a dead burbot at the bottom of a pool, confusingly enough.
Hydration soon becomes an issue. We're making stops anywhere there's shade, but the onslaught of deer flies keeps the breaks relatively short. It's time to find a place to camp—and fast.
One particular riverbend offers us a deal too great to pass up. After an hour or so, we make a path into the beautifully shaded aspen grove where there's still easy access to water.
The deal is a farce! A tilt of the head upward reveals another hornet nest the size of a volleyball hanging over our newly set up camp. My brother, Matt, has forgotten to close his tent flap, inviting a half-dozen hornets inside. I never say we're professional outdoors enthusiasts — hell, we lack basic common sense on the best of days.
The war on bugs continues until nightfall.
The Pasquia Hills are a bit of a mystery in Saskatchewan. No permanent settlements were ever established at its peak due to the lack of major waterways. This leaves the area remarkably pristine and perfect for hunting and trapping, aside from some logging operations. My paranoia doubles as night falls and the silence of the forest gives way to peculiar sounds. Thankfully, Kyle's snoring eventually drowns out most of these nuisances.
I wake up to the familiar buzz underneath my rain fly, so I lay and watch. Hornet after hornet enters the tent to hunt smaller flies, then leaves... Maybe we can live with the hornets after all.
The sun climbs above the forest canopy and we're once again exposed to merciless heat. The general discomfort of this trip is something we all need to accept as normal if we're going to enjoy the rest of our stay. Thankfully, we're all quite used to it by the afternoon and ready to explore.
Our group splits up throughout the day. Some are in search for brook trout, some are in search for a swimming pool, and some are looking for nothing more than to relax and take in the scenery.
Jason and Mitch return to camp with some fish news: they had seen a larger fish dart out from under a rock. I'm skeptical, but I want to believe. So, I grab my fishing rod and take to the stream once more.
We are unable to find any lucrative fishing pools, but we arrive at some interesting scenery. Following one of the river's tributaries, we find ourselves in Jurassic Park territory. It feels like we're being watched. The notion is confirmed as we cross paths with a black bear, who quickly escapes into the dense forest.
I find that Waskwei River shares much in common with the Armit and Steeprock rivers, but somehow feels more wild and prehistoric. This might be influenced by the giant outcrops of shale—compacted sedimentary rock left by stagnant water of an ancient sea 70 million years ago.
I clip my fishing line and return my tackle to the box. Accepting that fishing is moot, I clear my mind of frustration and tune in to the sound and sights of the river. I've spent far too long worrying about heat, bugs and fish before realizing how incredible the scenery of the Waskwei River truly is. We've climbed canyons, surfed down sandy slopes, gazed at meteor showers and encountered wildlife. Discomforts aside, the trip has been incredibly rewarding.