BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

April 27 2017

Entry Point 27 - Snowbank Lake

Snowbank Lake entry point allows overnight paddle or motor (25 HP max). This entry point is supported by Kawishiwi Ranger Station near the city of Ely, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 24 miles. Access is a boat landing or canoe launch at Snowbank Lake. Many trip options for paddlers. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Latitude: 47.9716
Longitude: -91.4326
Snowbank Lake - 27

Solo October 2016

by NotSoFast
Trip Report

Entry Date: October 04, 2016
Entry Point: Snowbank Lake
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
It had been awhile since I made a solo trip to the BWCA, or any other wilderness area. But this fall my wife and I could not align our schedules, so I decided to go alone along a route from Snowbank through the three-letter lakes, up to Kekekabic and back.

Day 1 of 6


Tuesday, October 04, 2016. Stopped for gas on my way out of town at 12:01 a.m. and was told, "It's free coffee Tuesday." A good omen?. Reached Snowbank about 6:15 a.m. and was paddling toward the Disappointment portage at first light. It was awe-inspiring to see the number and size of trees down along the Snowbank Road and along the portages. The smell of fresh-cut pine permeated the first few portages, where trees large and small had been cleared.

Later, as I crossed Ima toward the Hatchet portage, I realized how tired I was -- 2 hours of sleep in the past 36. Camped at the first site I saw on Hatchet (No. 1908). It was a cool but sunny afternoon, and I set my new Helinox chair on a ledge and simply enjoyed being outdoors. I had encountered two other groups this day, and seen one other from afar.

Two other new items of equipment deserve mention. The Sawyer mini gravity filter, which I screwed directly onto an old, 1-liter pop bottle, was a wonderful way to stay hydrated with minimal fuss. I had read some concerns about the need to back-flush, I encountered no reduction in flow during six days. And storing my food in an Ursack/Opsack combo was much easier than hanging a pack.

 



Day 2 of 6


Wednesday, October 05, 2016: After sleeping about 11 hours, I was up at dawn, which revealed a broken layer of clouds. As I packed, a few sprinkles fell, and a very light, misty rain continued as I worked through the ponds and portages to Thomas, the mist drying off my shirt as fast as it fell.

That changed as I threaded my way toward the Thomas-to-Fraser channel. It grew suddenly dark and the mist changed to sprinkles then heavy, cold rain in the course of a minute. Before I could pull out rain gear, I was soaked and there was an inch or two or water sloshing in the canoe. I was offshore from Campsite 1187, starting to shiver. Landed and set up the Kelty Noah's Tarp 9, put on dry clothes and rain gear. The Helinox came in handy again, as I sat and watched it rain for perhaps a couple of hours. Fired up the Whisperlite, made tea, and eventually made a hot meal. When the rain ended, I hung my wet traveling clothes and let the spotty sunshine and strong breeze dry them a bit before I packed and headed out. Paddled and portaged through Fraser to Sagus and Roe, then camped at No. 978 on Cap Lake.

The first portage out of Fraser made it clear I was heading off the beaten track. It was narrower and less trodden than the heavily used trails I'd been on so far. This intensified as I pushed on into the three-letter lakes. Although there were obvious portages, they were narrow, and as I carried I continually heard brush and branches scraping along the upturned hull. I saw one paddler on Thomas, but no others, and I spoke to no one this day.

 



Day 3 of 6


Thursday, October 06, 2016: Colder in the morning. Another camper had thoughtfully piled small branches and sticks near the grate, many of them dry. Even though I do not usually light a fire, I made an exception -- and it felt good to warm myself by the flames as I sipped coffee.

Throughout this sunny day a steady southwest breeze hurried me through the three-letter lakes. Although the portages were challenging, they weren't terribly difficult. An exception was the carry from Vee to Fee, which is listed on my map and in guidebooks as 60 to 80 rods. After a short carry, perhaps 15 rods, the portage ended at the grassy verge of a beaver pond. I wandered around trying to find a continuation, but no luck. Finally brought the canoe over and began to explore the pond looking for either an outlet or a continuation of the portage. At long last I tried the correct lead through a reedy, shallow area at the east end of the pond, and found where others had taken their canoes out. Another short portage led to Fee.

The rest of this day's travel was uneventful. I encountered a pair of paddlers at the portage north out of Makwa who warned me about a fallen tree that obstructed one of the 19-rod portages into Little Saganaga. Tired, I stopped at the first campsite I saw on Little Sag (815). As the sun set, the wind died and I sat in utter silence under a sky clear except for a bar of clouds to the southwest.

 



Day 4 of 6


Friday, October 07, 2016: The clouds I had seen at sunset advanced during the night, because at some point I woke to heavy rain, which alternated with lighter rain through the night. It had gotten much colder, so I pulled on my down vest and extra socks. When a very faint light illuminated the tent, I dressed and crawled out to find the "light rain" had been sleet, and that big, sloppy snowflakes were falling. Lulled by good weather, I had not bothered to set up my tarp, so the Duluth pack's canvas was soaked. Working with my headlamp in the half-light, I strung the tarp, made coffee and oatmeal, and wondered what full daylight would bring. As it turned out, the thin daylight showed a wind-whipped lake, half-obscured by mist and snow showers. As the precip tapered, I slowly packed up my outfit.

With its bay-pocked shoreline and speckling of islands, Little Sag can be a navigational challenge, and degraded visibility was not helping. But rather than follow a safe course around the western shore, I opted to try a more-or-less straight shot toward the portages to Gabimichigami. This was a mistake, because I paddled almost straight east, rather than north-northeast, and quickly became disoriented among the bays and islands. I compounded this error when I finally took out my compass and, upon finding it at odds with my sense of direction, decided the compass was broken. Rain fell intermittently and it began to blow strongly out of the northwest as I bumbled around. I finally paddled past a campsite, pulled in to brew some tea, and decided it was unwise to proceed. As the day wore on, some sun finally showed and I was able to reckon up my position (campsite 821). Rattled by the weather and navigation errors, I didn't feel any will to push on. I pitched the tent and settled in.

This was a beautiful island site. Situated at a narrow neck, a 15- or 20-rod trail cuts across the island to a small bay with a sand beach. It is no doubt in high demand during the summer, but I saw no other paddlers this day.

 



Day 5 of 6


Saturday, October 08, 2016: During a cold, shivery night, I realized the day's mis-judgments were compounded by a strategic error: I had told my wife I would be back at Snowbank by sundown Sunday. I had lost a day and a half of travel, was at the far point of my loop, and faced a strong headwind. Lying awake at 2 a.m., I turned on my phone to set the alarm for 5 a.m. Thee hours later, I was out of the sleeping bag and ready to break camp. Conditions were not encouraging. The wind had not abated, and once again low clouds, mist and occasional rain were evident. I was worried about getting across Gabimichigami in the face of a strong northwest wind, because the lake offers little shelter from that direction. So I packed and was on the water at first light. Crossing Gabi proved to be a tough paddle but not as bad as I had feared, and it set the tone for a long day of paddling and portaging, with brief breaks for snacks and water, that saw me setting camp on Strup Lake as daylight faded from a clearing sky. I saw no other canoes all day.

I had chosen the closest campsite to the portage off Kekekabic, No. 1468, and it proved interesting. A small, slanted site, it offered just enough level area for me to pitched the tent. I also set up the tarp and then, in fading light, followed a short trail to the latrine. At one spot along that trail, a nearly perfectly square section of earth had been removed and set to the side. The hole was perhaps four inches deep, and I stared at it for awhile trying to figure the purpose. It did not appear any food waste had been buried, and in any case why would anyone dig such a perfectly square hole?

 



Day 6 of 6


Sunday, October 09, 2016: Woke again to a 5 a.m. alarm after another cold night, sleeping in every stitch of clothing I had. Outside, stars sparkled in a black, black sky. My breath steamed as I moved around camp, and a heavy layer of frost coated my tent and tarp. My travel shoes had frozen solid. I was glad I had brought the Sawyer filter into my sleeping bag. I boiled water for coffee and oatmeal, and wrestled stiff, frozen gear into my pack. As the sky grew lighter in the east, I set off for the portage to Wasini amidst pockets of fog.

Not long after dawn clouds moved in, teasing me with occasional blue-sky breaks. Wind out of the southwest was in my face most of the day, and I felt real doubts about making it back to Snowbank before sunset. I rested and ate a quick lunch at the same Thomas campsite where I had sheltered on Wednesday, and reckoned the many portages and lakes still to go.

I had expected to see other paddlers, but my first glimpse didn't come until I was battling a headwind the length of Disappointment, where I saw three groups fishing from canoes. At the portage to Snowbank/Parent, I met a group of three outbound to fish on Thomas. One man told me they had used the direct portage from Snowbank to Disappointment, and that they had encountered three-foot waves on Snowbank. The wind hadn't seemed quite that strong, but I opted for carrying to Parent Lake, then portaging again to Snowbank to leave a short paddle across to the landing. Two trees were down on the carry from Disappointment to Snowbank, too tall to climb over with a canoe, and too low to go under. The portage out of Parent to Snowbank was a muddy mess, and I was running on fumes by the time I put my canoe in the water on Snowbank for the last, short paddle. The wind was not a problem, waves were small, and I was stacking my gear at the EP27 landing at least half an hour before sunset.

After a quick dinner in Ely, I headed for home, arriving just after midnight. On the long drive, I reckoned up some successes -- acquiring the Helinox chair and Sawyer filter, cooking freeze-dried dinners in freezer bags -- and some mistakes. I had packed for the forecast, but the weather had been considerably colder and wetter than expected. But above all, I had planned a relatively ambitious route without leaving enough time. My hurried pace on Saturday and Sunday had kept me from truly enjoying the experience.

 


Routes
Trip Reports
a
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports
x
Routes
Trip Reports
fd
hgc
Routes
Trip Reports