Paddling The Ogoki Headwaters: Days 1 and 2

Previous Post: The Ogoki From Top To Bottom: Intro and Basic Route

The Ogoki River is a major tributary of the Albany River, one of Canada’s most important water highways during the fur trade era. In the early 1940s, the Upper Ogoki’s water flow was diverted with the construction of a dam at Waboose Falls. The dam redirected its water (95%+ of it) from the Albany watershed into the Great Lakes basin via the Little Jackfish River. A mere trickle makes it past the Waboose Dam on its way down the Lower Ogoki to Ogoki Lake and on towards the Albany River.

Our goal: to paddle the length of the Ogoki River from its headwaters in Endogoki Lake to the east end of the Ogoki Reservoir and the dam that had created it.  Then we would follow the Upper Ogoki’s water through a channel excavated across the height of land to the South Summit Control Dam where it merges with the Little Jackfish River for a final run down to Lake Nipigon’s  Ombabika Bay.

We had fourteen days to git ‘er dun!

Day One: By Beaver To Endogoki Lake

  • distance: 2 km plus 105 km Beaver flight in from Mattice Lake
  • time: 45 min flight; 1hr. paddling down the lake for a campsite
  • portages/rapids: 0/0
  • weather: hot! 30ºC+ hot!  sunny late afternoon and evening
  • sightings: none
  • campsite: room for 1 x 4p tent, possibly 1 or 2 x 2p
  • Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps: Neverfreeze Lake 052 J 09  b&w 1970). See Toporama (here) for NCR’s current interactive coloured mapping and print what you need.
  • our Garmin inReach-generated GPS track (here)- (Click on View All Tracks at the top right-hand corner)

We woke up in Marathon, ON at the top of Lake Superior around 5:30 a.m., keen to get on the road and finish our long drive up to Wabakimi.  We had already done 1200 km.; still to go were another 600 to Mattice Lake just south of Armstrong. Then we could put away those car keys and switch into canoe trip mode for a couple of weeks. We did hang on to the covid masks for the plane ride!

flight path – Mattice Lake to Endogoki Lake

By 4 p.m. we were airborne. Our pilot was Yves, the same guy who had dropped us off at Cliff Lake on our last visit to Wabakimi three years before.

Canoeing From The Pikitigushi’s Cliff Lake to Echo Rock on Lake Nipigon

When he asked, “Why Endogoki?” I told him we wanted to do the Ogoki River from the very top and since it was the headwaters lake it was the spot we needed to start from.  Other than by bush plane insertion there is no easy entry and there would be no other reason to paddle up into the dead-end lake.  The once-upon-a-time fur trade route into the top of the Ogoki River system bypassed Endogoki Lake and instead involved a 700-meter portage from the northeast arm of Savant Lake. [See below for a map with the 700-meter historical portage indicated.]

De Havilland Beaver at the MLO dock – ready to be loaded

the De Havilland Beaver instrument panel

The Endogoki si a long narrow sliver of a lake, about four kilometers from north to south. Our goal for Day 1 was simple enough: paddle north on the lake until we found a decent campsite and then celebrate our arrival in Wabakimi for another excellent adventure!

a view of the Endogoki Lake from the south

a view of the south end of Endogoki Lake

At the end of our trip, while sitting on the front porch of the Mattice Lake Outfitters office, Don Elliot remarked that he could not recall anyone ever having been dropped off in Endogoki Lake before. We would soon find out why!

Yves wishing us a nice two-week paddle

By late afternoon our tent was up on the east side of the lake and we had set up our Helinox chairs. We looked west towards the only possible sources of man-made noise –

  • traffic on Hwy 599 some 25 km. away and
  • motors at the two lodges on the west side of Savant Lake  17 km away –

and remarked on the absolute stillness of the neighbourhood. It was quite the contrast to the two days and 1800 kilometres of road hum and the thirty-minutes De Havilland Beaver rumble to get to Endogoki.

The next day the adventure would begin. We would finally get to add the Ogoki to the list of  “top to bottom” trips along with the Missinaibi, the Coulonge, the Little Missinaibi, the Steel, the Lady Evelyn.

our Endogoki Campsite late afternoon

In the image above, the top of our tent is visible in the bush – a flat spot for our four-person MEC Wanderer. Given the weather forecast for the next six days -clear and sunny and very hot – we did not bother putting the 10’x14′ silnylon tarp over the fly.

looking across Endogoki Lake at dusk – absolute quiet

our Endogoki Lake tent spot

sun setting to the west of Endogoki Lake

Day Two: Welcome to the Ogoki Headwaters! 

  • distance: 6 km
  • time: 9.5 h
  • portages/rapids: 2/0: two major shallow/no water areas that took most of the day to navigate around plus a number of shallow lift-overs etc.
  • weather: 18 to 31 ˚C; hot, clear and sunny; humidex 33 ˚C; wind SW 17 kph
  • sightings:
  • campsite: point on an  unnamed lake; 1 x 4p and maybe another 2p tent
  • Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps: Neverfreeze Lake 052 J 09  b&w 1970).
  • . See Toporama (here) for NCR’s current interactive coloured mapping and print what you need.
  • our Garmin inReach-generated GPS track (here)- (Click on View All Tracks at the top right-hand corner)

 

We were keen to get started and got up at 6:15. [Note: we were in the Central Time Zone but did not bother adjusting the time so it was actually 5:15.] The cool in the early morning was a treat. It would get much warmer as the day progressed, with temperatures in the low 30ºC range with an additional wallop provided by the humidity.

sunrise on Endogoki Lake – our tent spot

our Endogoki breakfast table

Our goal for the day was a modest 15 km or so. This would take us down the initial narrow outlet section from the Lake to a widening of the river before we paddled NE towards the logging road and then headed south to a campsite on the unnamed lake. The topo map shows where we expected to be –

our first Day on the Ogoki – the 15 km. goal for the day

What unfolded over the next eight hours was something quite different!  While we were anticipating some challenges, we had not imagined spending an entire day to move a mere 6 kilometers downriver from our Endogoki Lake campsite!

We were at the north end of the lake at 8:30; we did not get to the open water until 4:20 in the afternoon! According to the topo data, there is a one-meter drop from Endogoki Lake (402m) to the nameless lake beyond the initial narrow stretch.

We had never spent a day putting so much time and effort into moving forward so little, about two kilometers over seven hours. Looking back at the experience, it still seems difficult to believe!  It was worse than our all-day tussle with Petawa Creek; it was many times worse than the four hours we spent on the initial few kilometers of the Lady Evelyn’s South Branch.

our first day on the Ogoki River’s headwaters stretch

The following three photos are the only ones we have of our memorable first day on the river. All show a river with next to no water to float a canoe in, lots of deadfall and boulders impeding forward progress.  Mid-August in a low-water year – we had no reason to be surprised.

the Ogoki River – initial stretch out of Endogoki Lake

the choices – bushwhack or walk down the river bed

Since it was our first day on the river, we were travelling at maximum weight. The terrain was such that we ended up doing multiple carries since we were unable to stick to our usual double-pack system .  The 30º+C temperature didn’t help and neither did the fact that we hadn’t put in enough time yet to get into trip-shape.

By 4:30 we were paddling towards the point on the east side of a wider but still noticeably shallow section of the river.  We found there a decent spot for our spacious MEC Wanderer 4 tent; there was no sign of anyone having stopped there before.

our tent on a flat spot on the Ogoki headwaters – Day 2 CS

dusk with smoke on the Ogoki headwaters – Day 2

On another mosquito-free evening in Wabakimi, we leaned back in our decadent Helinox chairs – two kilograms of portage weight! – as we sipped on our consolation shots of Crown Royal. While the chairs would still weigh the same at the end of the trip, at least the Nalgene bottle would have lightened up by 1 kg.!

As we watched that sun sink below the horizon in the haze,  we wondered how close we were to the bush fire creating the smoke.  Before the day ended, I  sent our outfitter an email asking about the wildfire situation.  We would learn that it was coming from the Quetico Park area, blown 275 kilometers by the southwest winds.

We hoped that the next day would bring a little less of a workload than the one we had just lived through!

dusk on the Ogoki – Day 2

Next Post: Bushwhacking the Ogoki Headwaters – Days 3 and 4.

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6 Responses to Paddling The Ogoki Headwaters: Days 1 and 2

  1. Ken Babinchak says:

    Back around 2009 as we sat around our campfire on the South East Arm of Savant Lake, Phil Cotton shared this romantic notion that one could start an Ogoki River Trip trip from Endogoki Lake, probably just because of the name. (After paddling with him and The Wabakimi Project for 13 summers I realize he had a lot of romantic notions about travel in the Wabakimi Area). If the lake had been called Gates of Hell Lake he might not have had those notions. Thanks for letting us all know about the conditions in there. It reminds me of a few places I’ve been in the Wabakimi backcountry.

    • true_north says:

      Ken, I totally get Uncle Phil’s “romantic notion”! My brother usually supplies the necessary dose of reality but in this case went along for the ride!

      Re: 2009. Were you guys looking for the portage from the NE arm of Savant into the Ogoki system? That portage – and the other three or four that take you to the Ogoki by Tew Lake – all appear in Canoe Atlas of the Little North. Berger and Terry got those portage locations from some old topos. I found a 1965 topo with those portages marked on them. (See here.)

      I don’t think those portages exist any more – there is no reason why they would since no First nations local in the past 75 years – i.e. since Hwy 599 got started – is going or coming from Savant Lake to Wabakimi Lake. Back in the 1800s it was likely the route used by the Hudson Bay Company to transfer furs from the HBC post at Nipigon House to the post at Osnaburgh for shipment down the Albany to Fort Albany.

      Re: 13 summers! Your line – It reminds me of a few places I’ve been in the Wabakimi backcountry. – needs to be expanded upon in a few WordPress blog posts with the relevant photos in your collection! It would make for great reading!

      You and the trail clearing and recording you did made our canoe trips much less daunting. Migwetch!

      • Ken Babinchak says:

        2009 was a leisurely(?) paddle and portage clearing trip down the Savant River, through Jabez Lake, Velos Lake to clear some portages into McCrea Creek, then back up the Savant via Redmond Lake, Takeoff Lake and on to Davies Lake. The next crew paddled two weeks over to Whiteclay Lake.

        In 2008 we worked on the Virginian Lake, Silver Lake, Pride Lake route plus Virginian Creek, then we went a bit south trying to connect Savant Lake via 3 ponds to Smye Creek. The next week the crew was planning to try to connect Savant Lake to the Pashkakogan River via trading post bay to Elwood Lake, Seldom Lake, Neverfreeze Lake to Fitchie Lake. A rainy week kept us on the trading post bay campsite and we almost cut through to Elwood.

      • true_north says:

        Funny you should mention those spots! My brother and I are contemplating a trip down Savant Lake to the AlbanyRiver and then down to Miminiska Lake and were looking at the Volume 2 maps, the ones you guys were working on in 2008-2009!

        Don’t think those ports have seen much traffic in the past dozen years! Too much work for the fishermen with motorboats or for the locals with SUVs and not exactly a big draw for recreational paddlers. Sounds perfect!

  2. jane tims says:

    canoeing with no water … tough

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