Previous Post: Bushwhacking the Ogoki Headwaters: Days 3 and 4
From The Headwaters To Whitewater L.
We landed on Ogoki’s Whitewater Lake late in the afternoon of Day 5, having decided to give up on our attempt to bushwhack and paddle the rest of the Ogoki’s first forty kilometers from Endogoki Lake to below Tew Lake.
- The very low late-season water conditions,
- the energy-sapping 30º+C daytime temperatures,
- the fact that we were somewhat soft after a year and a half of COVID restrictions
- the relentless complications of one river obstacle after another …
let’s just say we were looking forward to some water to dip our paddles into!
After being dropped off by the De Havilland Beaver, we were not far from the outpost at the west end of the lake. A decade ago we had camped somewhere nearby but the extra exposed beach gave things a different look this summer. Given the overnight weather forecast, we felt safe in setting our tent up on the totally exposed beach. An almost-flat slab of rock outcrop is where we ended up putting up the tent; our Thermarests took care of the rest!
Development On Whitewater Lake:
Whitewater Lake is located close to the center of Wabakimi Provincial Park and is in some ways its heart. It is the park’s largest lake and has the most development of any of them, having more than the four outposts on Brennan Lake on the Allanwater River system. [How many are actually open is another matter.]
At the west end of the lake, not far from where we were camped is a Wilderness North property, a mini-lodge with a few structures.
The Ogoki Lodge property is located at the south end of a narrow channel; we would pass by the next morning. After being abandoned for years it has been taken over by Wilderness North. Exactly what the plans are for this property is unclear, given the other WN holdings on the lake. There can’t be enough demand to support all of them and the covid pandemic has severely impacted the number of U.S. visitors these lodges depend on to stay afloat.
At the east end of the lake is another Wilderness North holding, Striker’s Point Lodge. Connected to it is an outpost a short walk away.
At the south end of the lake are a couple of other developments. On the south shore of the lake is a former Mattice Lake Outfitters lodge now owned by Thunderhook Fly-Ins. Now far away on the southwest shore is a property owned by Whitesands First Nation. It includes a half-dozen cottages and a large community-size hall.
During the two and half days we spent on the lake, we did not see or hear any boat traffic and only saw four people, all at the Wilderness North lodge at Striker’s Point or at the solitary outpost connected to it.
Not mentioned in all this is another Whitewater Lake attraction, the three cabins on Best Island built by Wendell Beckwith, an eccentric American recluse. He lived there for almost twenty years (from the early 1960s to 1980) conducting what he considered “pure research” into the great questions of the universe of which he was able to determine that Whitewater Lake was the very center. We would visit his Best Island retreat on our first day’s paddle across the lake on our way down to Whiteclay Lake.
Day 6: Ogoki Lodge and Beckwith Cabins
- distance: 27 km
- time: 9 hr.
- portages/rapids: 0 / 0
- weather: hot, 18˚ to 32˚ max. humidex ~34˚); mostly clear all day, wind 9 kph SW
- sightings: none – no boat traffic
- campsite: Best Island sites, flat, sheltered, picnic table room for multiple tents
- Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps: 052 I 14Grayson Lake ( b&w 1970).
- See Toporama (here) for NCR’s up-to-date, interactive, and seamless coloured maps and then print what you need.
- Our Garmin inReach-generated GPS track (here)- (Click on View All Tracks at the top right-hand corner)
A Return Visit To Ogoki Lodge:
Keen to get paddling, we were on the water by 8:15. We enjoyed the cool of the morning as we paddled NE down the lake. Making the big turn led us down the channel on the west side of the island that leads to the Ogoki Lodge.
Shortly after 10 a.m., we pulled up to the shore by the property. Back in 2010 and again in 2011 we had come this way and checked out the lodge and the other buildings; of all the lake properties this one has the largest number of buildings.
We soon focussed on the No Trespassing sign affixed to the deck fronting the property where we had lunch a decade ago. Too early for lunch this day – and given the sign – we did not even get out of the canoe.
Apparently, Wilderness North, a local fly-in lodge and fishing outpost company, has taken ownership of the property. In a way, we were happy to see the notice; it meant that the lodge’s gradual decay might be halted and that it might be brought to life again.
The two-storey late 1980s addition to the property was boarded up. On our previous visit, the doors to most units were open and the interiors looked like they had been ransacked. It couldn’t have been much fun cleaning things up given that people had even crapped in some of the rooms.
The fact that it was 10 in the morning meant that we were aiming our camera lenses into the morning sun, always a great way to get that special effect! Ignoring the sign and walking up to the main building for s shot from the east side would have been the solution!
Here is a better shot of the lodge’s main building from 2011. It still seems to be the one in the best shape.
The first half of this older post –Ogoki Lodge and The Beckwith Cabins: “All Things Must Pass”- has more details about and images of the Ogoki Lodge and the story of its construction. The comments at the end of the post include some from the architects involved as well as former owners and managers of the lodge.
We paddled along the shore and snapped a few more pics before we decided to head off for our one portage of the day – the carry into Secret Lake. We had used the portage on our previous visits; it is a shortcut route to what was our next destination – Best island and the Beckwith Cabins.
The Portage Trail into Secret Lake:
A half-hearted (if that!) effort to locate the start of the portage had us deciding just to paddle around via the north end of the lake. In retrospect, we should have put more effort into finding it! The low water conditions meant that the trailhead was thirty or forty meters further in than we bothered to walk in our search.
A Mild Case of Picto Fever:
The Wabakimi area is not especially rich in pictographs. The obvious exception is Cliff Lake on the Pikitigushi River system, which hosts one of the Canadian Shield’s largest collections of Anishinaabe rock paintings. (See here for an introduction to Cliff Lake.)
However, we still make a point of getting close to promising vertical rock surfaces. As we paddled east from Ogoki Lodge we passed by the rock face in the image below. From afar, I thought I saw a caribou image! Max was skeptical but figured the best cure to picto fever was just to get closer to the rock in question, so closer we went.
The rusty brown”paint” used by the shamans and vision questers back in the day – i.e. two or three or more hundred years ago – was composed of iron oxide (haematite) powder and fish oil. It would be applied to the surface with a finger or two; most pictographs are fairly small – with lines 1.5 cm wide and 8 or 10 cm long. Canoes, moose, caribou, or clan totems are the most common images. Artery Lake on the Bloodvein River system has the most impressive collection of rock paintings that we have seen.
As is often the case, we were looking at lichen on rock and that caribou figure I had seen was nowhere to be found!
It was about noon when we got to the northernmost point of our roundabout route to Best Island. Taking a dip in the water gave us some relief from the heat of the day and the hot sun. A shady lunch spot and an extra cup of coffee – no wonder when we got back into canoe mode, the next GPS track reads 2:08 p.m.!
The Beckwith Cabins in 2021:
The first time we set out to see the three Beckwith cabins we paddled right by them since we did not know their exact location. We were expecting them to be visible from the shoreline. We had better luck the next summer, having gotten a clear map location.
Beckwith himself has also been made the subject of a recently-released documentary that explores what brought him to Best Island. The insightful interviews with people who played an integral part in his life during the two decades he spent on the island are among the highlights of the film.
Click on the header or here to access the documentary. It is definitely worth watching.
We landed on the beach on the north side of the mini-peninsula. [It was there that Beckwith suffered a heart attack and died in 1980.] There is a path that leads from the beach to the first of the cabins which Beckwith built. However, a recent blowdown means that visitors will now have to crawl over the fallen tree which blocks the path.
A bit further up the path, we came to the incongruous sight of fairly freshly cut logs piled neatly on the side of the path just before the first cabin. We wondered just who had bothered – and why.
It had been a decade since we were last on the Beckwith site. We would soon see that things have gone downhill since then, especially for the Main Cabin. When we were there in 2011, there was a large blue tarp – apparently put there by a local outfitter, Jim Pearson – that covered the portion of a roof that a falling tree had smashed into and broken open. Satellite images still show a speck of blue when you zoom in to the cabin site. (See the sat image above!) However, the cabin roof is now gone and so too is the tarp, with only bits and pieces of it still visible
The Main Cabin:
The Main Cabin is the first one that Beckwith built with the help of Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) who lived in the area and had a spring/summer fishing camp in the vicinity. Its centerpiece is the dramatic stone fireplace which makes up most of the end wall of the cabin. Beckwith would eventually decide that it was not really all that effective at heating the cabin.
Somewhere under the debris from the fallen roof and walls are the remains of an icebox and the cool underground cavity into which it was lowered.
The Guesthouse (Rose’s Cabin):
The second cabin that Beckwith built is known as the Guesthouse. After Rose Chaultry moved to Best Island in the late 60s, this is where she stayed. They would add a wing to the cabin to give it an L-shape; the wing would serve as Chaltry’s bedroom. [Chaltry’s reminiscences are a highlight of the documentary mentioned above.]
The last of the cabins built by Beckwith – he apparently started it around 1975 and finished it in 1978 – makes use of the hillside for one of its walls. His aim was to create a living space that was easier to keep warm in the winter. He would not get to enjoy it very long. In 1980 he suffered a heart attack and died on the beach on the north side of the mini-peninsula on Best Island, which he had somehow determined was the “center of the universe”!
On our previous visit, we wondered why the Wabakimi Park officials did not do something about the decaying state of the Beckwith cabins. We eventually realized that the money required to preserve them – and the relatively few visitors who would get to see them – meant that they had just decided to let nature take its course. The Main Cabin is already done; the other two are on their way. The Snail’s roof is in worse shape and it will be the next to go.
We did see a sign of the Park approach to the management of the site. You can see it nailed to the tree to the right of the Snail in the image below –
The Camping Area:
With our visit to the site done, we walked back to the beach and paddled our canoe around to the other side of the mini-peninsula. Just above the sloped rock outcrop is a path that leads to The Snail, the third of Beckwith’s cabins, and to a large tenting area, which comes complete with a picnic table and a firepit. It may be that local outfitters have put the table and the grill there for the use of their lodge or outpost guests for shore lunches.
It was nice to be able to push our tent pegs into some actual earth instead of gathering boulders to secure the tent.
The creaking sound of the skinny black spruce surrounding the tent site had us a bit concerned. [A park crew should cut down the clearly rotten ones!]
If you want to see more pix or details about the Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins, check out this earlier post, which includes some interesting comments from people who visited the two sites over the past forty years.
Day Two on Whitewater Lake:
- distance: 23 km
- time: 9 hrs.
- portages/rapids: 0/2; ran the first one; lined and ran and lined the second
- weather: 18˚ to 31˚ max. humidex ~34˚); partly cloudy all day; wind S 20 kph +
- sightings: no boat traffic; bush plane and two people on Striker’s Point dock; two paddlers (a father/daughter combo) fishing below the first set of rapids out of Whitewater Lake
- campsite: river left ~600m from the end of portage; grassy flattish area; definitely a fair-weather campsite but …it did the job given slim pickings
There was a bit of a drizzle when we woke up. However, we had put the tarp over the tent so we were able to take the dry tent down and then make use of the tarp as a dry spot for our gear and our breakfast. There we sit with our cups of coffee waiting for the ten-second timer to trigger the shutter!
This day of our two-week trip may have been the one with the most wind and rolling waves from the south. We would have to deal with them until we got east of Striker’s Point, where Whitewater Lake narrows as it makes its way to a set of rapids.
Along the way, we hunkered down on the east side of Best Island for an hour while a heavy downpour with yet more wind passed through. Our Helinox chairs and another cup of coffee helped pass the time as the rain pounded the tarp above our heads.
The thirty-minute paddle took us the 3 kilometers across open water to the windscreen of an island on the west side of Striker’s Point. As we passed the point, the location of a Wilderness North Lodge on the south side and a solitary outpost on the north side, we saw our first people on Whitewater Lake. At the dock on the north side was a couple standing in front of a bush plane. We waved as we continued on to a beach area on the other side of the bay.
We draped some of our wet gear over the bushes and found a sheltered wind-free lunch spot on the other side of the spit. The following video shows the extensive sand beach and spot where we ended up putting up our Helinox chairs.
The Rapids Out of Whitewater Lake
After lunch and a siesta, we did a mini-carry across the spit to avoid the still rolling waves and wind. An easy 10 km. of paddling over the next 1 1/2 hours brought us to the top of a couple of sets of rapids.
We paddled through the easy C1 set at the top of the bend and then headed down on river left to get a closer look at the rest. The late-season low water conditions made for an impossible boulder garden to navigate. We would spend an hour mostly lining our way to the bottom on river left.
When we got to the bottom of the rapids we rounded the corner. Standing there was some guy fishing! He and his daughter had set up camp a few meters down and were just as surprised to see us. A few minutes of conversation and we had to go – it was after 6 p.m. and we needed a campsite. After checking out a couple of spots that just didn’t cut it, we came to an exposed but flat grassy area on river left. Up went the tent and the tarp and out came the supper fixings. We were home for the night!
Stashing The Food Bag Overnight:
The image below shows what canoe tripping in Wabakimi has done to our overnight food pack location. Given the scarcity of trees with a 3-meter high branch that is sticking out about 3 meters and can bear the weight of a 20-kilogram food pack, we instead walk the bag maybe 50 meters downwind from our tent. We slip it into a construction-grade garbage bag to protect it from possible rain. Over the past decade, we have never had our food bag touched by any animal large or small.