Photography by Andy Goodson, Mitch Doll and Sean Hootz
Having a good handful of go-to spots means we get to pick the flavour of each trip. Every stream or lake we've been to has a different quality and character. Some are downright arduous (looking at you, McDougall Creek), and some are almost too laid back. Once you're familiar with a variety of places, you can determine which are most feasible given the weather as well as the amount of people in your group and their skill level.
With a smaller group, our most recent trip to Steeprock was a gamble as thunderstorms were in the forecast all weekend. But it is one of those perfect rivers that strikes a good balance between challenge and allure. If The Pine is the mother river, Steeprock is the divorcee father...
...And it looks like he's got his kids for the weekend!
The stormy forecast caused a bit of anxiety, but Father Steeprock loves us and opened his arms with warmth and sunlight the whole way there. I don't know how we always get so lucky. But alas, we are Steeprock's spoiled children and I'm not going to question it.
The temperature pushed near 30 degrees Celsius, making the beer occupying the better half of my backpack a great concern. We have about 5 km of stream and bush to walk before reaching a suitable place to set up camp. This may not seem like much, but with a grossly overweight pack and frying pans dangling off the back, it is a challenge.
Steeprock is one of the most distinct rivers we have ever visited. True to its name, the rocks are far bigger than most streams we've seen in the Duck Mountains, Porcupine Hills and Pasquia Hills. The amount of balancing acts one must perform to make their way up the river leads one to consider wearing a helmet, or a medieval suit of armour.
After setting up camp, we didn't have too much energy to spare. We prepared a quick meal and kept each other company discussing topics ranging from the finer points of cooking with Spam to the dubious merits of Robert De Niro's acting career post-Meet the Fockers.
The next day, we had nothing to do but spend the entire day with Steeprock, enjoying the scenery and fishing the pools upstream. We ate a lazy breakfast then strapped our packs on and charged forth through the bush - Sean, Nate, and I with fishing rods in hand, Mitch with his camera.
"We should have had at least a bite by now," I worried to myself. I had already changed my tackle five times and I was running out of ideas. There was still plenty of daylight left, so my concern quickly fled away as I grabbed my camera to snap some of the unique aspects of the river.
An hour upstream, the skies began to rumble as dark-grey clouds blotted out the sun. That's all I needed to remember that I left my hammock sagging between to trees with the rain fly drooped over in a mess... I should always prepare for rain, no matter how nice the weather may seem at the moment. I wasn't looking forward to a soggy night's sleep, but it was my own fault.
While I contemplated my own ignorance, the sun broke through the clouds and clear skies reigned once again.
"Just kidding!" said Father Steeprock. I imagine. Looks like we've got the go ahead to keep enjoying the playground.
We fished continuously, but unlike our last visit in late August 2014, there were no bites to be had. The river was significantly lower this time, yet there were still a good amount of pools and runs that should have held trout.
As we trudged our way forward, we stopped by our newly dubbed "House of Sod" for a break. Just as I sat down to enjoy a can of smoked oysters, the clouds stole the light off the top of my silvery sustenance.
"Thanks a lot, Steeprock," I thought to myself as I stared down at my gloomy can of salty despair.
A flash of lightning followed by a deep rumble only seconds later meant that Father was not impressed with my back-talk. Nate and I proceeded to deliberate whether or not we should continue up stream as a cold wind funnelled its way through the valley. It was time to head back...
...Or not, I guess. The clouds dissipated yet again, leaving us with another window to keep exploring. We continued onward, but a part of me knew what was going to be in store. Ignorance is bliss.
We gave up on fishing a while ago and found ourselves making much faster progress up the river. It was now a mission to see what surprises lie in the upper reaches. This is where river fishing can get dangerous - there's always the promise of another pool or a change in scenery around the next bend. If you don't watch yourself, you might travel much longer and further than you planned, which makes things difficult should something go awry — like being caught in a storm.
As we were making our way further up the river, Nate found something that caught his eye.
We later discovered that the creature we found was a Luna Moth - something rarely seen as they are well camouflaged and only survive for one week after metamorphosis. We couldn't help but feel lucky to have witnessed it. Nate was particularly enamoured with the moth - until it fluttered away as the rain began to fall.
In about half the time as the last two scares, the wind picked up and the rain started to pour. Knowing that "this must be it," we decided to head back. A strobe-like flash of lightning closely followed by a violent, crackling thunder widened my eyes and put my heart into overdrive. It was time to get serious.
Steeprock clearly had enough of our shit. Our three warnings were over - we were now being punished. Our group shifted into war-mode, taking to the bush where we would be less exposed to lightning and rain. Unfortunately, the terrain was not on our side as fallen trees and steep slopes drove us further uphill. My paranoid brain got to thinking about my metal belt buckle and how I don't want to die in a charred pair of exploded cargo shorts. As Les Stroud would say, "Now it's survival."
Trekking back double-time, we made remarkable progress on our return to camp. The thunder slowly faded, but the air was thick and the dark clouds hung ominously over us. Aside from some light drizzle, it appeared much of the storm was over. The sun had even reappeared and it seemed clear skies were on their way once again.
As we approached our camp, I imagined the disastrous state of our tent-hammocks and the gear we left unsheltered. To all of our surprise, we found our camp basking in the sunlight, completely undisturbed by the storms.
The rest of the day was spent in the sun, more or less. It was time to kick back and just enjoy the camp we had built for ourselves. I have to believe we made the right choice to turn back during the storm, but I'm still left with the unsatisfied curiosity of what could have been around the last river bend.
Father Steeprock may have been a little hot-headed this weekend, but we had a lot of fun and never felt like his tempestuous fits were more than we could handle. After all, he's been dealing with a lot of stress lately - being low on trout and all.
The next morning, we packed up our gear and set out on our return to the vehicle. With another trip to Steeprock under our belt, it secured a place as one of our favourite places to visit. That said, it is not a place for the inexperienced rock-jumper. You need a sure-foot, plenty of balance, and preferably an insider connection with an air ambulance.