Day 12: From Waboose Dam To South Summit Dam
- distance: 33 km
- time: 8.5 h ( a 9 to 5 ish day)
- portages/rapids: one – around South Summit Control dam
- weather: 13 to 23 ˚C; NW 15 kph; mostly cloudy but some sun in the afternoon
- sightings: Wilderness North Lodge manager and a pilot bringing in supplies for the OPG crew working at the Waboose Dam
- campsite: South Summit Dam; lots of room in different places for lots of tents
- Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50,000 topo maps: d’Orsonnens Lake 052 I 16,; Mahamo Lake 042 L 13; Makoki Lake 042 L 12; Mojikit Lake 052 I 09 (all b&w 1970)
- . See Toporama (here) for NCR’s up-to-date interactive coloured mapping and print what you need.
We set off from our Waboose Dam campsite at 8:30, keen on getting some kilometers in before possible winds picked up. Our reward – ripple-free water for the first 1 1/2 hours as we paddled along the north shore of the Reservoir back to the Mojikit Channel. It was only when we crossed over to the south side that wind from the northwest made things a bit more challenging but within an hour we had rounded the corner and were soon paddling by the two Ogoki Frontier outposts on the west side of the channel and being pushed along by the NW wind.
As we approached the Wilderness North’s Mojikit Channel Lodge a bit further south, we watched as an orange De Havilland Otter glided over the water and taxied up to the lodge dock. By the time we got there, the pilot was hauling out supplies and someone was walking down to the dock to meet him.
It turned out that he was flying in supplies – including bottled water! – for the OPG crew that we had met at the Waboose dam the afternoon before. The Lodge was their base camp while they made the 17-kilometer commute to the dam job site each morning.
We chatted for a few minutes with the pilot and the camp manager. She is one of the younger Cheesemans involved in running the various Lodges and outposts in the Wabakimi area which the family owns and operates. Months previously when initially planning the trip I had spoken to Krista Cheeseman, the co-owner of the WN along with her husband Alan, about a plane insert. However, their fleet of planes did not include the smaller Beaver and the Otter ride would have been twice as expensive.
The image below includes the dock where the Otter was parked while we chatted. It also makes clear how large an operation the Mojikit Channel Lodge is!
Declining the kind offer of fresh food – salad and veggies! – we said our goodbyes and continued on down into Mojikit Lake. Since it was nearing 1 p.m., we looked for a lunch spot along the east shore. As on the Reservoir, the low water meant meters of exposed lake bottom to walk across from the beached canoe to a shady and sheltered spot.
Our Wabakimi Project map – the 2009 edition of Volume 1 – had a campsite indicated not far from our lunch spot. If it was half-decent, we figured we’d call it a day. So with lunch done, we paddled on. When we got there, we noticed a wood pathway leading into the bush from the receded shore.
The pathway led up to a small camp and a side building which turned out to be a sauna. The one thing that we did not find was a tent site. It turns out that our map had put a tent site icon instead of the correct outpost icon which we noted on a 2017 WP map.
Our goal when we set off in the morning was to set up camp somewhere on Mojikit Lake. As we paddled south we checked out a couple of other spots but neither was quite right. As the two following images show, there was more exposed lake bottom thanks to low water conditions –
Not having any luck with our campsite search, we decided just to press on to the South Summit Dam. There would have to be a spot to put up our tent there – and we could check out the dam and the surroundings after we put it up.
Getting Around The South Summit Control Dam:
So there we were – paddling towards the South Summit Control Dam. As we approached, we noticed the portage sign on river left; a bit further down, we came to the orange safety boom strung across the channel. Our Wabakimi Project map indicated a short portage on the left-hand side.
The only problem was that the safety boom blocked our access to the portage trail! (I put in the red solid line to indicate the current boom location.) I walked over the point for a quick look on the other side of the boom; it looked quite safe to paddle down to the take-out spot indicated on the map above. Had I walked down further, it would have become even more clear that a quick lift over the boom was the thing to do.
After the trip, I took another look at a satellite image from the Ontario Government’s Make a Topographic Map website. Here is what I saw – the safety boom – the thin red line – was located near the beginning of the portage indicated on the map above.
Not only had OPG moved the boom further away from the control dam, but they had also created a new signed and longer portage trail that is further from the dam! The broken white line on the sat image below shows the new 320-meter portage.
There is no human presence at the dam. Since the height of the seven gates needs to be adjusted manually, an OPG work crew helicopters in to do the job when necessary. Each gate has seven 14’L x 2’H steel beams that can be lowered by a hoist sitting on a rail track that runs the length of the dam. The water level was so low in late August of 2021 that all 8 gates were completely open.
In retrospect, we should have done a quick carry over the safety boom, paddled down to where the safety boom used to be or even a bit further, and done a shorter carry to the camping space below the dam. Instead, we did the OPG portage!
We paddled back to the portage sign by the small bay up from the safety boom. The “bay” was mostly devoid of water; we walked into the bay over an initial 30 meters of boulders to get to the bush behind it. The cached boat and another portage sign obscured by recent bush growth told us we were in the right place.
Stay clear, stay safe! is the OPG mantra and this portage is yet another fine example of its application.
Within thirty minutes we were at the other side, and keen to get back to the dam and a place to put up our tent.
The OPG portage might make a bit of sense if paddlers just planned to push on down the river and had no intention of checking out the South Summit Dam. However, if you plan on seeing the dam and maybe ending your day there, the new OPG boom and portage will mean doing an unnecessary longer portage and then doubling back once you get to the south end of the bay. We did the 1.2 km loop back to the bottom of the dam and looked for a flat spot to put our tent.
Note: The usual canoe trippers’ caution is still advised! Conditions will vary with the time of the year you are coming down. Our late August conditions will not be the same as those you’d expect in mid-June! Give it the respect of an unknown set of rapids and check things out before you do anything!
See here for a couple of our posts that include less than positive reviews of a couple of OPG-recommended portages on the Ottawa River that we ignored:
The portage around the Chenaux Generating Station – We avoided their stated 3.8 km portage (the distances actually add up to 2.8) and did a 750-meter one which was much safer and did not involve walking on the side of a secondary highway. The OPG route is dangerous.
The portage around Chats Falls Generating Station – we replaced their 8.5 km. portage with a 600-meter carry on the Quebec side. We still wonder who came up with this 8.5 km. portage and thought that it made sense.
We are also disappointed with the lack of portage information on the OPG website. I cannot even find the above information that I accessed about six years ago. OPG needs to devote some space on its website to the concerns of canoe trippers. My email about the lack of easily accessible portage info got this response from the OPG Web Team –
Hello Peter, thank you for your message. We are currently working on a project to have all portage routes placed online, however, this will take some time to develop. Is there anywhere specific that you would like more information about? If you could identify a specific area we can try to put you in contact with a local resource.
The Web Team seems to be unaware of the portage information that OPG used to host on its website. If it is all as useful as the two routes outlined above, this is actually not a bad thing.
Our Tent Site Below The South Summit Dam:
The before and after pics below show what we turned into a tent site for the night. Before we turned in for the night, we also put up the tarp as insurance after we noticed that the seam sealer tape of our fly was starting to peel off.
The South Summit Control Dam:
Built at the same time as the Waboose Diversion Dam and connected to Mojikit Lake by a 400-meter channel that was excavated across the Height of Land, the Summit Dam controls the flow of water going down to Lake Nipigon’s Ombabika Bay via the Little Jackfish River. For every 2 cubic meters per second (71ft³/sec) going down the Waboose Dam, there are on average 100 to 200 cubic meters per second (3530ft³/sec to 7060ft³/sec)passing through the control dam. [See the previous post for recent graphs and historical charts showing water flow rates.]
The dam is about 120 meters long (400′) and 4 meters (13′) high. On the platform covering the eight gates is a manually operated rectangular hoist structure sitting on rails which allows it to move from one end of the platform to the other.
The operator inside is able to lift or lower one or more of the metal beams down into each gate. When we were there the gates were completely open and all seven of the beams for each of the gates were sitting on the platform. We could actually have paddled right through one of the gates after lifting over the safety boom.
We had not set out to paddle 33 km. and do the portage around the Summit Dam when we left the Waboose Dam at 8:30 that morning. However, the lack of decent camp spots along the east shore of Mojikit Lake provided us with the motivation to push on just a bit further. It would turn out to be our single biggest distance day of the trip.
We were now back in river mode – and in fact still on the Ogoki River given that the water we would be floating on would mostly be Ogoki water. Of course, its name below the dam would change to the Little Jackfish. Our goal was to paddle down this “new” river system as far as our time remaining permitted. The next post has the details, maps, and pics…
Next Post: Down The Little Jackfish R. To ZigZag Lake