BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 27 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
Raven, Alice, and Insula
August 06, 2009
Snowbank Lake Only
Lake One (30)
Number of Days:
I’m up at 5:30 Am and shower before waking Alex. We eat cereal with protein shakes then throw our gear in the back of the truck. We load the cooler and are ready to hit the road. It’s a beautiful day to drive from Chicago to Ely. We say our goodbyes to Mom and leave at 6:45. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Very little traffic as we hit the expressway out of the western suburbs and we make good time to Eau Claire where we get Subways to eat on the road. It’s uneventful as we take Rte. 35 north to 169 and pull into Ely around 5:00 PM. [paragraph break] It’s bustling with cars and people but we get a spot on Sheridan St. right in front of the Ely steakhouse, our destination for dinner. It’s our first time eating here and we are impressed with the look of the inside. It’s definitely different from where we came from that’s for sure. The people are different too. We have entered a world of friendly people. I order the walleye and Alex the shrimp. It’s really good food here. [paragraph break] We head over to Canoe Country Outfitters for some last minute shopping. Then we’re off to Smitty’s Resort on Snowbank Lake at the end of the Fernberg Road. We meet Dennis there and he gets us checked into one of their motel rooms. It’s very comfortable with two large beds and we proceed to go through our gear and load the packs. There’s no TV or radio so we open a window. The thing I always notice up here is how quiet it can be. It always takes some getting used to. After some light reading we hit the sack at 10:00. [paragraph break]
I’m up before the alarm at 5:15. After eating and a shower we get all the gear back in the truck and then unload at the boat dock. I meet Ron (Dennis’ brother) who will shuttle my truck over to the Lake One public landing where we will be coming out. He gives me a ride back to the boat dock where our gear is already loaded on a boat with the canoe laid broadside over the middle of the boat. [paragraph break] We take it slow across Snowbank to the portage at Disappointment Lake. On the way I have an uneasy feeling because I don’t know where our map case is. Sure enough, it’s nowhere to be found. We unload at the portage and I tell Alex I’ll come back when I find the map. I hop on the boat and we speed across the lake and I search our room and come up empty. It has to be in the truck. Dennis gives me a ride to Lake One and sure enough it’s in the back of the pickup. How could I have not seen it! So it’s back to the dock and another ride across the lake. Good grief, what a way to start the trip. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We work out the portaging kinks through Ahsub and Jordan when alex tweaks his ankle. I decide we need to cut the day short and camp on Ima. The wind has picked up now too. The day started out beautiful but showers are in the forecast and it’s clouding up. [paragraph break] On the way in to Ima we meet a couple of guys who say they are on the way out to report a death on Thomas Lake. Apparently a man died the night before and his 28 year old son is waiting with the body . These guys say they have seen the body and I can tell they are a little disturbed. They don’t know the details of how it happened but want to alert someone to help. We are put in a very sobering mood after this. [paragraph break] Entering Ima we have no chice but to get broadsided by small whitecaps as we follow the north shore as we look for a site. We cross the lake before finding a small penninsula site open and beach the canoe in a stiff breeze. That was a very scary crossing as our canoe rolled back and forth over the waves and we’re glad to be on dry land. [paragraph break] Alex uses the tent while I will be sleeping in my new Warbonnet Blackbird hammock. It takes a while to set up in the wind but we then split wood somebody left and cook Italian sausage over the fire. Alex has potato salad while I have a greek salad with mine. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We’re pretty beat so hit the bags before dark to read our books. Mine is “Canoeing With The Cree” and Alex reads a true account of Navy Seals making a rescue in Afgahnistan. Alex enlisted early in the Army and will go to Fort Benning in June for boot camp after he’s done with High School. He wants to be a Ranger. Both me and his Mom are very proud of him.
Didn’t sleep too well as it stormed most of the night. Not a lot of rain but lots of wind and thunder kept waking us up. The hammock is very comfortable. It’s calm and foggy at 7:00 AM. I make coffee and our breakfast is a Cliff bar, pound cake, and an Atkins bar. We eat on the rocks at the end of the point. It’s really a nice site with views all around the lake. [paragraph break] Our goal is Boulder Lake to the west and we know it will be a tough day so get going by 8:30.We cruise through Thomas and Fraser Lakes with little wind and stop at a site on Sagus Lake for lunch. Lunch is pita shells with genoa salami and thick slices of chedder cheese with dark mustard. Trail mix, beef jerky and crystal light complete the meal. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] The portage trail to Roe Lake from Sagus is very overgrown. Not many people venture this way. Roe is a shallow lake and the back bay where the portage to Cap Lake is very overgrown with small lilly pads on the surface. The map says we need to go through a bog before finding the portage to Cap. [paragraph break] Entering the bog of no return [paragraph break] We enter the narrow bog channel and follow it as it winds its way back and forth. It gets very thin and we need to get out several times to pull over or go around obstacles. And this is where the trouble begins. [paragraph break] We reach a point where the bog trail comes to a floating forest of sorts. We arent sure if this is the start of the portage but we decide to go ahead. We take packs and make our way through a creek of sorts with deep mucky holes. I find shortcuts through the forest but it is very thick underbrush. We pop out at another open bog trail. Figure we’re on the right path and go back for the canoe which we drag and push through the hussocks. It’s a lot of work. [paragraph break] Once on the bog trail we find it goes nowhere. We are effectively at a standstill in the middle of God knows where. We have to retrace our steps. Back through the forest I do a faceplant in a hole that is chest deep. We are both soaking wet and caked in goo. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Once on the bog trail back into Roe Lake we take side trails where we think the portage might be and strike out. We go into the bay to the north and follow another trail that narrows but comes to a definite PORTAGE! There are no sites on Roe and we need a campsite so we follow it. It leads to another swamp where we follow another bog trail winding around and around and getting so narrow we have to pull ourselves along by grabbing the grass clumps. It is only four feet wide but still very deep. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We finally come to a mucky floating grassy area. I tell alex to wait while I find out where it goes. I’m able to walk on the spongy grass and then see footprints in the mud before coming to the portage trail at the edge of the forest. YES! [paragraph break] We bring all the gear across a very pretty hilly portage that is overgrown with a few trees down that need to be climbed over but it’s nothing compared to what we were just through. [paragraph break] We come out at a huge flat slab of rock on a lakeshore. But what lake is it? We conclude that we are off my McKenzie map to the north of Roe and must be on Raven lake in a PMA (Primitive Management Area). We don’t have a permit for this but it’s 5:00 so we set up on the rock. Our dinner is a Cliff bar, trail mix and water. [paragraph break] Raven Lake [paragraph break] We decide we need a swim to clean ourselves off. The “seagull rock” is about 50 yards out from shore. This rock is described by Bill Rom in his book Canoe Country Wilderness. This lake was a personal favorite of his when he would camp here in the 50’s and 60’s. [paragraph break] Before going to bed we talk about changing our route. It looks like Boulder Lake will have to wait and we decide to backtrack to Thomas Lake and go into Alice. Alex is very nervous about being this remote and reminds me to be careful. The last thing we want is to get seriously hurt in such an out of the way area.
6:30 am, foggy and drizzling. The mosquitos were bad last night and about 10 invited themselves into my hammock when I got up in the night. I had a bad headache and leg cramps. Was dehydrated from the day before. We were heading out of Raven at 8:30. [paragraph break] Backtracked to Thomas and made the 232 rod portage to Alice. I was tired and had to rest the canoe twice. We came to an unamed lake where a shirtless older man was blocking the small landing with his canoe and gear. I said I was fine and walked around and stepped in what I thought was a foot of water and turned out to be 3 feet deep with a muck bottom. I promptly fell forward with the canoe on top of me in the floating mucky grass. I scrambled my way out from under the canoe and came out laughing. I was covered in thick black mud. The man apologized and said he thought I disappeared. He turned around and only saw the canoe then I came out from under it. All I could do was laugh. [paragraph break] On we went to Alice. Once there we had our pick of four unbelievably beautiful sand beach sites on the east shore. These have a tropical feel to them. I had heard about sand beaches on alice but never dreamed they were like this. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We set up camp cheerfully in a large sandy area off the beach in a mature red pine grove. Just beautiful. I broke out the fresh eggs and made us bacon and scrambled eggs with fresh milk, red pepper, mushrooms, chedder cheese and onion. Oh man was that good. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We took naps with alex in the hammock. It’s his turn to use it tonight. It was too breezy to do any canoeing so we made our steaks for dinner over the fire. It calmed down and we filled all our water containers as the sun was going down across the lake. [paragraph break]
Slept in till 8:15. Made coffee then decided to look for blueberries for our pancakes. Alex found the first bush then another. We didn’t get a whole lot so we walked down the shore where Alex hit the jackpot. Got a fire going and made bacon and blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Alex said this was the best meal of the trip. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Today we lazed around. It was fairly windy so we decided to walk the shoreline and check out some other sites nearby. We had a good time picking berries and looking at strangely shaped rocks by the shore. The cedars here were very interesting too with their weather worn twisted trunks and roots grasping for a hold in the cracks of the rock. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] In the evening it was clear and calm so we went fishing. We headed to where some rocks surfaced in the middle of the lake off the penninsula. On my third cast my crank bait was hit by a large smallmouth bass. After a few jumps and long runs I got him in the boat and guessed he was 18 inches and maybe 3 lbs. Then alex had on a nice one. It came clear out of the water and spit the lure back. I caught another smallie, northern and finally a 16 inch walleye before it got too dark and we needed to get back. I didn’t bring the camera with so have no pics of the fish. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] During the night a large branch or tree came down and woke me up with a jolt. I immediately thought of a bear and jumped out of the hammock and ran to where our food was hanging. Nothing was there. I noticed the stars in the sky and a very bright moon casting shadows up on the beach. It had gotten cold and I needed to find my fleece.
We were up early and had a quick breakfast of coffee Atkins bar and Cliff bar and were in the canoe heading to Insula Lake by 8:15. Goodbye sand beaches and hello Williamson Island. The site was open so we took it. I had spent 4 nights here in 2006 with my nephews. It was a little more overgrown but still a great site.We set up and alex napped so I decided to walk the shore all the way around the island. It was a nice hot day with a gentle breeze. I went for a swim off the rocks. The water was cold! [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We fished for a couple hours before dinner with no luck. A small bass and northern were all. We saw a large otter that would stop and snort at us before we moved on. Alex tried a freeze dried dinner for the first time tonight. It was a bland beef stroganoff chased down with crystal light ice tea.
Got up early for fishing and went to the northern bay that leads to Alice Lake. It was sunny and calm. Around 7:00 we heard wolves howling fairly close. They went back and forth untill we heard a lot of yipping. Seems like they found each other because they were quiet after that. This was a trip highlight for me. Unfortunatly we only caught small bass and a snake of a northern pike. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] At camp we made bacon and pancakes. We then cleaned up camp and napped and read our books. It’s very warm with little breeze so we decided to check out the sand beach campsite to the north east across the bay. What a nice site! It’s very fine sand that is clean and very shallow. You can wade out maybe 30 yards from shore. The water is warmer here too. We swim and cool off before heading back. I float around on my thermarest mattress when we watch from camp as eight young guys in four canoes pull up to the sand beach site and play frizbee. They float around on blow up rafts and we listen to them party it up for a few hours before its quiet again. [paragraph break] In the evening we see a canoe with a large sail come flying into our bay. They impressively tack back into the wind before leaving. How fun is that! We had dinner of pita pouches with salmon from a foil bag with lemonade. We made freeze dried “smores” from Backpackers Pantry that were really good. [paragraph break] We talked about our plans and decided to come out a day early and travel tomorrow instead of laying over again. We had a big bonfire tonight and watched the sun set from out on the rocks. [paragraph break]
Another beautiful sunny day. A little more breeze but plenty of blue sky. We were packed and in the canoe by 8:00. It’s amazing how efficient we become as the week progressed. Our first stop is at “The Rock”. This is a small island with a sheer cliff face maybe 20 feet high. I used the depth finder here three years ago and deemed it safe for jumping. It’s over 21 feet deep near the base. [paragraph break] So at 8:30 in the morning I climbed up and jumped. Alex then wanted to jump too. It seemed easier than when I jumped in 2006. The water level was about two feet lower then. Here we are on youtube. [paragraph break] Tom Jumps Alex Jumps [paragraph break] Back in the canoe weaving through the islands of Insula and our energy is low. The 95 rodder to Hudson saps us even more. This one is steep up then back down. Our goal is Lake One for our last night. When we get to Lake Three we see all the sites taken so decide to take the first one on Lake Two. [paragraph break] Lake Two is packed! Every site is taken and twice we see vacant sites only to be beaten by other canoes looking for sites too. Finally we see a scraggly site on the north side near the Lake One portage open. The worst site on the lake for sure. No landing whatsoever but we set up camp in a gale and make due. Luckily blueberries are all over in back of this camp. We fill 2/3 of a nalgene jar to take home. [paragraph break]
We’re up at 5:15 and with no breakfast we tear down camp in a hail of mosquitos. That will make you move FAST! We’re at the portage at 6:00 and Lake One is sleepy with all camps occupied and some people making coffee as we pass in the calm on another gorgeous sunny day. We temporarily lose our way but find the public access around 8:30 AM. I find a group that’s putting in and ask a nice woman to take our victory picture. It’s officially over. [paragraph break] We load up and head to Brittons in Ely for the most awesome blueberry pancake breakfast. We walk the town for a souvenir for Mom then say goodbye to Ely. We stop to visit my sister in Superior, Wisconsin then make the long drive back to the western suburbs of noisy Chicagoland. [paragraph break] This trip had a little bit of everything for us. I guess the fishing could have been better but I'll take good weather over good fishing anyday. Can't wait to come back with alex again someday. We talked about flying into Quetico for our next one. Hopefully we can make that happen. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Lake One [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Note: It’s not a good idea to put blueberries on top of the pancakes while they are cooking but much better to blend them in the batter. Otherwise the berries burn when you flip the pancakes.