BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 23 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
The Snowbank to Lake One Loop that Wasn't
August 21, 2007
Number of Days:
The road trip kicks off at 6:30 AM as we leave home (about 30 mi N of Madison, WI) and head north through intermittent rain. Rain played with the windshield until Black River Falls.
Around Eau Claire we began to notice a stark difference in the colors of trees and roadside plants. It was dry back home but here the yellow and brown from lack of rainfall was certainly getting our attention. Even so it was not as shocking as what we saw and felt between Virginia and Ely. It was painful to adjust to the yellow, brown and dead looking trees, grasses and ferns that were such a contrast from what we remembered the area to be. The evidence of drought had us questioning how it would impact the trip.
We arrived at our outfitter’s at 2:45 secured our permits, got our canoe and began adjusting to the fact we were under a fire ban. Since we were staying the night in a bunkhouse we stretched our legs by strolling from store to store around Ely and doing some shopping picking up last minute items and having a nice supper. Even though we’d gone through our gear many times it was time for one last repack and check before hitting the sack.
We awoke well before six and in no time packed the car for the trip to Entry point 27. We filled our belly with a wonderful breakfast at Vertin’s and took off east out of town on Hwy 169. The canoe was filled with gear, the car parked and locked and we were off paddling at 7:45. There was a bit of chop on the water and some overcast skies but we were no longer dreaming about a trip - we had begun! When approaching the first island on Snow bank to the Parent Lake portage a suddenly grayer than before sky produced a light rain. We stopped at the island to get into rain gear but in just those few minutes we were wet for what was to the rest of the day.
The 80 rod portage to Parent Lake was uneventful though slick in the light rain that continued. When we loaded up and pushed off it was as if the cloud ceiling had been pulled down and the misting and now windier rain was cutting our visibility. Crossing Parent Lake was not as pleasant as we’d figured it to be.
The portage landing we headed for was very rocky but the 85 rod portage was getting really dark at times when the trees were close in on the trail. As we started across Disappointment the first couple of campsites were taken and at both of them someone walked down to the lake edge to watch us pass by. I supposed some of them had chosen a layover day with the unpleasant weather. With plans to go on farther but with the misty and windy rain continuing we began thinking how it was still early but might we want to find a spot to lay-up and see what the weather was going to do?
We spotted an open site and both agreed to go and check it out. It was with a what the heck approach that we unloaded gear and started to pitch camp which was a good decision because we just beat another group to the site by a few minutes and we discovered later when the weather cleared that all the other sites around us were taken. We'd decided to stop for the day. I know we hadn’t gone very far but we were discovering that the loop we had planned from Snowbank to Lake One was going to fall victim to a number of planning changes.
Around 2:00 the rain stopped and with some light chop on the water we set out to fish. Both of us latched onto small mouth bass and then Jeff had a decent northern tear into a crank bait. His brand new folding net fell victim to that fish as it broke a rivet during the wild thrashing. When we got back to camp I found part of the net back in the stern by my feet. I felt really bad that his hot lure went flying into oblivion when his line snapped on the next cast. We drifted past what seemed to be an unconcerned eagle for a while but I'm sure he was fully aware of the humans swinging those long whippy sticks around below him.
Supper was sweet and sour pork with rice. The total fire ban meant we had to cook over a stove so it wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for but the weather was improving. We fished after supper without much luck however the clouds started to break and we saw the sun and got a chance to dry out and feel “warm” for the first time today. The sunset was gorgeous and made us glad we had stopped here if only to witness the colorful close of day.
I sleep later than planned - probably from travel lag the day before. We were packed and on the lake by 8:30. Just like the day before just after starting we had to stop at an island and don rain gear again. It was only a 10 minute shower and proved to be the last rain we’d see on the trip but had us wondering if day two was to be a repeat of day one.
The short 25 rod portage into Ahsub Lake was quick. As we approached the water we could see a trout lazily swim along the shore line. Ahsub is a trout lake with special restrictions and spotting that fish was to play a role in our trip later on. As we started out across the lake the sun came out and it became warm quickly.
A short 15 rod portage brought us to the muddy, plant choked landing at Jitterbug Lake. With the low water it was a more difficult load up and push off than would be normal. The lily pad choked lake is a quick paddle. Leaving this lake for Adventure Lake you must wind along some shallow narrow channels through a grassy bog in order to reach the landing area.
Adventure lake was really quite pretty after the 40 rod portage it takes to get there. The landing area was wide open and gives a great view of this tree lined lake with a good view of Disappointment Mountain.
Our next Lake is Cattyman and even though the low water conditions actually make this next portage easier it’s kind of depressing to see that instead of using the 10 rod up and over portage we actually walked through what would be the creek connecting the two lakes. With no water flowing it was an easy flat walk.
On the shore of Cattyman I actually got the satellite phone to work and had a short chat with home to let them know we were on our way and things were fine. I was paying for the peace of mind that we could get help if there was any medical problems and I wanted to see how it worked. Overall it was a real trick to get and maintain a signal.
Cattyman Lake is small so the next portage came up quickly. After 55 rods we came down a huge rock that is the Jordan Lake put-in site. The low water makes for worse “canoe scraping” conditions all over but at this site it also diminishes the flow and sound of the rapids connecting the lakes which I remembered hearing last time I was through here.
The sites on Jordan were all full so we pushed on. As we entered the channel between Jordan and Ima we made it through the gap in the rocks with slight scrape of the canoe and were in one of my favorite spots to paddle. It was spectacular in the sunlight with the massive rock wall. We have learned that there are pictographs alone here but have not been able to spot them. We bumped into two fellows that were day tripping from out of Ahsub lake. We told them about the trout we saw and they led us to believe the fishing was pretty good for them.
The portage into Ima is a 5 rod up and over that gave us little warning of what leaving the smaller lakes for a bigger one was to bring.
Entering Ima was like someone turned on a wind machine. It was getting really windy and choppy so we hugged the west edge. The rocky point where we had stayed once before was open but the wind would have made it uncomfortable even for a brief stop so we pushed along to the next campsite. We could feel the wind picking up in strength so we made the short push to a tucked away site on the portage between Ima and Alworth Lakes. It was open so we pulled our gear up into it and decided to take a break and have a lunch. The site was tree filled so it was shady and kind of tucked away so we decided to dry out some clothes and veg out for a while. With the wind the way it was it was decided to stop here for the day but that put us really behind with two short days of travel. It was another great decision in that the wind was troublesome for travel and just sitting around relaxing and reading was a great tonic for the both of us.
A leisurely morning out on Ima fishing. No fish caught but not for lack of trying. Early on we saw almost a dozen loons all together which was a first for us. When we got home I researched into this and we probably had seen a grouping of unmated and/or unsuccessful breeding pairs from that season. They are likely to group together and migrate earlier than those that were able to breed.
We did have a mystery moment in a quiet bay where we came upon a “fish of size” making a hell of a commotion chasing after something not far from our canoe. We wore our arms out seeing if we could get it to go after our offerings but couldn’t get anything to hit.
Back to camp for a pancake lunch. We’ll need to pack a griddle next time but the fry pan worked well enough for us to make some up We covered them with applesauce and had a fine meal. After lunch rain set in again in short spurts so we set up under tarps and read and puttered around. The weather let up after supper so we fished on Alworth and started to kick around an idea to abandon our loop trip and find a nice spot to base camp for a few days where we could go off in different directions and fish or sight see. We didn’t figure it to be a big deal what with the satellite phone if we changed plans
In a way I regret we made this decision because our grand travel loop through some new area was being abandoned, but I learned to relish that we did slow down and in the process learned what fun base camping and going different directions each day with return to a preset camp could be..
We had a quick no cook breakfast and set off with blue skies and a shiny sunrise and headed back to Jordan. It was only a matter of minutes before we were back in that lake but in that time the sun disappeared , the clouds rolled in and it was getting windy again. We got into the lake hoping to see the northernmost site empty since we had stayed there before and really liked it for its spaciousness and hilltop tent pad. We came into the lake just as a large group was leaving so we eagerly moved in and set up. That will probably go down as our shortest travel day ever but we wanted the spot and found it to be much to our liking for the next couple of days.
Our adventure for the day was to return to Ahsub and fish for trout and see what could happen. It turned out to be still windy and all we caught were three little bass. However, we found that just carrying the canoe and a small pack was fun and we were covering a lot more ground in less time. Since our first trip to the BW had been a travel loop we were getting our first taste of single portaging and base camping and found it to be fun. We headed back to camp, had some coffee and tea and rested. We prepared Chile Mac with Beef for supper which I found to really good for a dehydrated meal, in fact, all the dehydrated stuff we tried was much better than expected.
A first.- chicken breast with mashed potatoes and gravy for breakfast. We didn’t need to pack much for than a few snack bars and some gorp for the rest of the day..
We tripped through Cattyman and Gibson Lakes to fish Ashigan and Ensign Lakes. I slipped and fell while carrying the canoe into Gibson Lake as the path down was solid rock and was slick from the overnight moisture. In retrospect it could have been bad but was pretty funny because I had just asked Jeff to take a picture of me carrying the canoe down to the lake (you know, big time portager) and the resulting shot shows me on my ass with the canoe across my lap.
I felt that Ashigan was the prettiest lake we were on the whole trip. It is completely surrounded by trees and has an island. It’s also the first lake I stayed on in the BWCA. The last trip there we tied into some small mouth action but had nothing this day.
The portage from Ashigan to Ensign was very busy but really a pretty easy walk. When we got to Ensign we were shocked to find the water was green. We figured some kind of algae bloom but it was really surprising compared to the crystal clear lakes that we had been on and had been taking drinking water from! While exploring the lake I had some small mouth action while trolling a rattle trap lure.
It was a fun day and the weather cooperated nicely but we ran into a lot of people at the portages on the way back to camp. This was not an off t he beaten path trip but it was awful nice to be back and revisiting some places we had been before while finding some new adventures.
. We had a blow out night when it came to eating we prepared Beef Stroganoff with Spam and spuds for supper There was plenty of food and we tried some new dishes, some by design and others by experimentation. Somehow it seemed like the thing to do. As it turned out we were going to need all the energy we could muster the next day so our indulgence was more like “carbo-ing up” before a marathon. . It was a neat evening in camp as we had a ruffed grouse come poking around along with a chipmunk and a pine squirrel.
We were both up before the sun and with the fire ban on our gas stove was heating up water for some coffee and tea. The brightening sky was partly cloudy and we were revved up to get on our way. When we saw the sun peeking over the trees I got a glimpse at the incredible red and pink and purple the sky was boasting. I turned to Jeff to see if he was catching this beauty too and all that was visible of him was his backside as he was digging into his tent for his camera and tripod. He took shot after shot and each one caught something special whether it be the mist on the lake or the ever deepening colors. After the magical sunrise had faded away we both knew we had seen something special. By not making the effort to get up early we would have missed much of the beauty. It made us wonder what else we had missed by our just not looking for it on this trip.
That start to the day lulled us into thinking it was to be a picture perfect day. Mother Nature was teasing us with a cruel carrot on a stick sense of humor. Traveling the small lakes was simple and uncomplicated. When we faced Disappointment lake we were introduced to much more - whitecaps - and a strong wind right in our face. All the canoes we saw were coming at us, with the wind. Heading right into the wind was a bear but we kept a good angle into the waves and made agonizing progress. Twice we stopped in the lee of islands just to rest and regroup before going on. We figured it took us over twice as long to cross the lake as we had planned. I know we were proud of how we worked together to get across that lake.
Parent Lake - the wind and waves were so much worse! There were times I know the two of us ( 6’5” 240 lbs. and 6’2 ½ 225 lbs) were paddling but the shore was standing still like we were frozen in position. We struggled toward an odd patch of color on the shoreline where we knew the portage to be. We strained our eyes to figure what it was. As it turned out a husband and wife had walked to the end of the portage we were struggling toward and were sitting on some rocks enjoying their lunch. We learned later while chatting that they rent a cabin on Snowbank and liked to walk to that spot. We didn’t dare try to head right at the portage for fear of getting dumped so we went past them and shouted “HI“. They weren’t expecting a canoe with the strong wind apparently and we startled them. Sheepishly we worked past them and allowed ourselves to cautiously turn with the wind. After that it was a simple matter to let the wind blow us into the landing. They both called out “Well done!” and we were very happy to be on land again, dry, and letting someone think we really knew what we were doing! We puffed out our chests a little and managed a smile between our looks of what the heck are we doing out here that were going between us.
We tucked in behind the lee of the island on Snowbank and then made the dash for the pier without any worse trouble. A look at the watch showed we took twice the time planned due to the wind. We were safe and dry though and it didn’t take long to pack and tie down the canoe. For future reference we drove to the Lake One entry point and found the distance walk able but were secretly happy we’d missed the opportunity to do it.
As we drove to Ely and some hot showers we reflected on the trip. We didn’t say a lot out loud because we were still tired from battling the wind, but we’d had a great time together. We’d shared stories neither had heard (when you and your child get to a certain age you start sharing stuff that for one reason or another you know would never have come up before), we knew we could handle a canoe pretty well together and that we want to do this again after the knowledge gained from our experiences. We also felt that we had changed our plan and, still, it turned out memorable. The Boundary Waters had not let us down - it’s worth waiting for.