BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 04 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
May 20, 2010
Number of Days:
I get up around 4:00 AM. The coffee maker has started and is noisy enough to wake E who is sleeping in the living room. C comes down the hallway fully dressed. I am slightly surprised, but should not be. E and C operate on Michigan time. J is rousted out of his slumber (he is on Illinois time and still in college, so anything before 11:00 AM is early for him) and everyone has a bowl of cereal and a chance at the coffee. The last of the gear is thrown in the van and we are on our way at 4:45 AM.
The drive up is uneventful, which is a blessing. In ’07 as I was driving through Duluth during a rain storm, I accidentally blew a red light near Home Depot. I came close to getting T-boned from both directions. It was totally my fault but I am grateful for the quick reflexes of those other drivers.
This time we stop at Home Depot to get some lithium batteries for a SPOT device. C (age 66) is concerned about a possible medical emergency. After seeing the size of his pack, the rest of us concur. While getting the batteries we receive a call from the Minnesota contingent. They are just south of Two Harbors and tell us that we are on our own for lunch. They are planning on Subway in Ely.
We continue up Hwy 53 to 169 and arrive in Ely around noon. Just as we hit town the phone rings again. L and T have arrived and are at the Subway. They sound surprised when we tell them that we should be seeing them in the next couple of minutes. T thought that they were at least thirty minutes ahead of us. I tend to drive a little faster than the authorities recommend.
We eat our subs, cross the street to the Holiday for gas and fishing licenses. While waiting for the others I see a man drive by on the street in on old Willy’s jeep. It looked like he had a .30 cal mounted in the back. I know it cannot be operable, but it still makes you do a double-take.
A quick drive to the ranger station, LNT video watched and permits in hand we completely forget about buying live bait and head for Red Rock to get the canoes.
Oh my! I want one! We all watch (and drool just a little) as Joe loads three BRAND NEW, NO SCRATCHES, Souris River Quetico 17’s on his truck. Joe tells us not to worry; he knows there will be scratches when we return them. As he is tying them down he is praising the qualities of the SR Q17. Every word proves to be true over the next five days. Onward to Snowbank!
L and J, C and T, E and K(me) are the pairings for each canoe. I get the bow seat. It has been a while since I have paddled from this position but I quickly fall into a rhythm. E and I work well together. He likes to pick a side and stay there unless the wind dictates otherwise. Therefore, I paddled on the right for the entire trip. The wind was never an issue.
It seemed like we only needed about five strokes and the Q 17’s were up and flying. We crossed Snowbank quickly and safely. ’07 was the last time we were here and it was a different story. There were only four of us and in hindsight we should have waited for the wind to die down before trying to cross. L and K were in a Mad River Eclipse. E and T were in an Old Town Penobscot. The wind was heavy out of the west and we flew across that lake on two foot rollers and whitecaps. As we approached the eastern shore and what we thought were safer waters, one wave set E and T down on a rock amidships. It looked like they were going to capsize while L and K were helpless to do anything as we were still fighting our own battle. E was white-knuckling the gunwales and making weird noises. T had the presence of mind to jump overboard into the waist deep (or chest deep depending on the wave rhythm) water and slide the canoe off the rock. In the meantime L and K made it around a protected point and beached our canoe to head back on shore to see what we could do. A scary moment had passed and it is now laughed at on a regular basis. But after that crossing, L claimed that it was three days before his sphincter relaxed enough to be of any use.
This trip is definitely calmer. We portage into Disappointment and take one of the northern sites. Tents and hammock are set up. I go for a swim. Temps have been in the mid 70’s and I am a cool weather type of guy. E catches a small northern from shore. We eat L’s traditional pre-made burritos for supper and start to prepare for bed. The water filter comes apart while J is pumping for everyone. The part holding the O-ring on the end of the pump handle has come off. A little Super glue and it will be as good as new. Too bad nobody brought any. No hot glue sticks either. We end up getting it back on by sticking four layers of plastic bag over the male end and stuffing it back on. It is a fragile repair and leads me to get most of my water by just dipping out of the middle of the lakes.
Time for bed. E goes to his Hennessey hammock. C, L and T share a Cabela’s version of the Timberline 6. J and K use a Eureka Tetragon 9. Everyone sleeps well.
Up at 5:00AM. Breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. Break camp and load the canoes and we are off. While still a ways away from the portage to Ahsub I tell E that there is something on the portage trail that is moving into the woods. When we get closer L asks if we saw the moose. I guess that counts as a wildlife sighting doesn’t it?
The portages are quick and easy and we cover the distance on the fly with our now much beloved SR Q17’s. Disappointment, Ahsub, Jitterbug, Adventure, Cattyman, Jordan and into Ima. I am wetfooting this year for the first time and it makes things so much easier. If the temps had been colder I might think differently, but this is my choice for the future.
By 10:30 AM we are set up in our home for the next three nights. We landed at the northernmost site on Ima. It has a great landing and passable tent pads. Finding a good hanging tree was a bit of a challenge. L serves up his leftover burritos for lunch and then we all head off in different directions to secure dinner.
L and J fish the east shore of Ima. The rest off us meander into the northern bays. C and T go into Snatch. I hook a small northern near the passage to Reflection but it throws the hook about five feet from the canoe.
The northeastern shore of Ima is fascinating. It is acres of one almost unbroken slab of granite. Trees are growing out of five or six inches of accumulated duff. Some have blown over showing their tenacious root system. I also come across an iron ring anchored to the rock. I figure it must have been used to anchor a log boom. There is one much like it in our camp a quarter mile away.
It is a wash for fishing for everyone. Since we had the burritos for lunch no one is starving and supper consists of our usual lunch fare of PBJ’s. We notice a painted turtle or two hanging around. We figure that they, like the gulls, have become conditioned to scraps being available around dinner time. Bed feels very welcome this evening.
Up at 5:00. Sweet rolls, oatmeal, coffee and off to Hatchet. According to some on BWCA.com it is supposed to be good for walleye.
The portage landing is interesting but not too difficult. C hooks a small northern almost immediately in Hatchet but overall fishing is very slow. The day’s yield is a couple of small northerns and a couple of small walleye. Three packages of instant mashed potatoes and the fish make for a sufficient dinner.
The wind had picked up during the day. As we leave Hatchet it is coming out of the east at 15-20 MPH. Once again the SR Q17’s prove their mettle and the crossing is without incident.
A couple more turtles are hanging around. One or two are even bold enough to venture up into the camp site.
Even with that strong wind fluttering the tents at times it still feels good to go to bed at 9:00 PM.
I’m up a little earlier than the others this day so I get an extra cup of coffee and some alone time. I’m starting to think about a solo trip.
Breakfast is dispatched and we head for Alworth. The portage in is basically a lift over since we only have fishing gear along. There is a nice looking campsite right next to the portage. There are several spots to pitch tents on a nice carpet of pine needles. What I took to be the latrine trail looks like it might require some technical climbing skills though. It headed west and dropped off into a ravine.
We fish Alworth all morning and then paddle laps while trying to get together for lunch. Just so you know, there are no fish in Alworth.
The afternoon is spent in the southwest bays of Ima. I get a couple 20” northerns on a Wal-Mart special spoon. That spoon had been pretty successful for me in the past. Alas, I lose it to a snagged lily pad later that day. J hooks a big northern (40” ?) in the channel between the islands on the west side. L tries to get it into the net but it is too big. As he is trying the fish throws the hook and is gone. While that is going on C has landed a similar one in the bay across from the Jordan-Ima portage. That one is released. A smaller one is kept for supper.
On the way back to camp the rain clouds have moved in. I pause in my paddling when I hear a hissing sound behind me. Looking back I see rain making its way across the lake behind us. It tapers off as it gets closer and is pretty much blown out when it catches us just as we are landing the canoe. We get scattered showers and some thunder and lightning while getting supper ready. Pike, taters and Oreos are eaten under the tarp.
During the rains it finally happens. The turtles charge the camp! Well, in turtle fashion I guess it could be called a charge. At least five turtles come up and lay their eggs in various spots around camp. We are glad we finally saw what they were up to. It was getting kind of creepy. Think; Frogs. Think; Them. Think; Night of the Lepus.
After supper is cleaned up I was hoping for a quick clean up swim. However, the wind had blown a lot of pollen in to the shore so the swim will have to wait.
Today we will move camp closer to the Snowbank entry to make for a quicker get-away. Camp is broken down and packed into the canoes and we glide out onto a mirror surface. L and J get to do a little more gliding than the rest of us. When hitting the first portage L discovers that he left his rod case behind. The rest of us try the fishing in Jordan while waiting for L and J to make the trip.
We make good time and have a new camp set up on Ahsub by 11:00 AM. We have a quick lunch of trail mix and dried apricots before seeing what else we might toss in the water to attract fish. Ahsub is beautiful, clear and deep. At one point near the portage to Disappointment we were about 40’ off shore and I had 36’ of anchor line out. Again, no fish and it is getting hot. Everyone comes back to camp to swim, clean up and nap.
I rinsed out the clothes I had been wearing all along. While I was waiting for them to dry I put on a pair of BWCA uniform pants (Gander Mountain nylon zip-offs) and found them extremely uncomfortable for those temperatures. They seemed very hot and sticky; like they couldn’t breathe at all. I will stick with my 60/40 poly/cotton BDU’s.
Red beans and rice for supper and then bed.
As much as we enjoy the time in the BW we also enjoy going home. We are up and away from camp quickly. L had miscounted the oatmeal when packing so our last breakfast is trail mix and dried apricots. The portage to Snowbank is easily dispatched. Snowbank is like a table and we are off the lake and packing vehicles by 9:00AM. Showers are taken at Red Rock and we hit Judy’s in Two Harbors for lunch.
After lunch the gang splits up. L and T head for the Twin Cities. C, E, J, and K are off to central Wisconsin with a quick detour through the Duluth Pack store.
We roll into my driveway around 5:30 PM.
Summation: -Wetfooting is the way I will go from now on. -I much prefer cooler temps; highs in the low 60’s is perfect. -The Eureka Tetragon 9 held up very well to the wind and rain. IMHO, the perfect size for two adults and gear. -Even though I do not go for the fishing, fried walleye beats PBJ’s every time. -As petty as it seems, the occasional float plane overhead and the SPOT device detracted from the experience. -By dipping my drinking water from the lakes it was easier to stay hydrated (that can become a serious issue for me). -All my gear, including a 12# tent, weighed about 40#. So how come at portage time, after my first trip with the canoe and my daypack, I usually ended up with the gear pack that has the green suitcase in it with those hard corners? -No matter how laid back my brothers and I usually are, portages always seem like a competition. -E, T and J all had hiking backpacks. Canoe packs work so much better when loading and unloading at portages.