BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 03 2024
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
Chicago to Disappointment and back
July 14, 2010
Number of Days:
Left Downtown Chicago at 5:05pm. Architects don't get many vacation days as I am told, hence the late departure. Making great time, until we get hit with the single largest storm I have ever had the opportunity to drive through, just past the Dells. 70mph became 50, which soon led to 30, which eventually past 10 as we had to stop on the shoulder of 90/94 because I couldn't see 10 feet in front of me at 10 mph. The lightning was so intense it made dizzy as I was trying to drive straight. An hour later the storm breaks and we are able to continue northward.
After several failed attempts at finding a vacancy in about 12 tries, we pull into the Coates Plaza Hotel in downtown Virgina,MN just shy of 3am. We are tired. The night manager scoffs at our 6:00 wake-up call request.
5:45, I wake up before our call; excited. We check-out with the same night manager and drive the rest of the way to Ely, buy leeches and a license, and pick up our permit at the AWESOME new ranger station (I went to school at Vermilion C.C. and knew the old ranger station very well. This one is better, to say the least). We continued up 169 to Smitty's on Snowbank where some very nice gentlemen helped us into our canoes and sent us on our way.
Paddled HARD across high whitecaps brought on by 20mph+ winds. We chose to take the long portage directly to Disappointment. My wife and I made it 2/3 of the way over the portage before the weight of my pack, the food pack, and half the canoe was too much for my shoulders to bear. We reached Disappointment, dropped the canoe and headed back to retrieve my gear pack. We returned to Disappointment to find 5 other canoes and 11 people preparing to portage. Needless to say we tried to hurry out of that mess of canoes and bodies. Passing several 4-canoe groups we make our way into Disappointment and end up finding the best campsite ever, because it was available! The site is numbered 3 on the back of the latrine; it faces south and is north of the first island site. We count ourselves extremely lucky when in the next hour; we were passed by 4 other groups looking for sites on the lake. Set up our camp, after a pretty long search for a useable overhanging branch comes up empty, we find a few trees 30 yards from camp and set up a 2 rope system to hang our food. After a nice afternoon paddle we return to find a group of 4 guys who decided to camp illegally on the rocky point 50 yards down the shore from our legitimate campsite and 20 yards from our food pack. This is bothersome to us, but we choose not to confront them. We eat venison steaks, potatoes, and we sleep.
Bacon and eggs for breakfast. Today is a planned day trip to Cattyman Falls, which starts out great until the wind hits us as hard as on Snowbank the day before, not enjoyable. Aside from the wind, the trip is great; beautiful scenery and sunshine. The portages were short, but with more elevation than I was expecting. Jitterbug “dock” helped out a lot, but the water was still a bit low which made re-entering the canoe a balancing act.
As we finish the portage onto Cattyman we see from a distance some fellow campers enjoying the falls. As we approach we realize there are 6 watercraft and more than 11 people all about the falls, so we stop across the lake, eat lunch, and wait until the pile of people and canoes thins out. The falls are a beautiful accomplishment and enjoyed to their fullest before we leave.
As we return to our campsite on Disappointment the “squatters” down the shore had left during the day, which is nice, but we notice another set of “squatters” camping on a small island without a campsite just to the SW of our site. This is less bothersome than the others, but we smell mary-jane on the air and hear them clean their dishes into the lake. In the early evening we see 7 loons together, swimming, squawking, and splashing. This is a first for me and I love the show.
The “neighbors” clean their dishes and brush their teeth into the lake, one of my biggest pet peeves. Anyway, today we have nothing but relaxation planned, and we nail that goal! Some walleye fishing comes up empty handed but we land some small smallmouth, so we weren’t skunked on the trip. The second set of “squatters” departs by lunch, thankfully. The wind has finally died down so we spend most of our day on the lake, investigating its many bays, nooks, and crannies. It couldn’t be a better weather day, and the sun sets through the trees quicker than expected. Tomorrow we leave, but don’t want to.
4am brings thunder and lightning and rain. My shoes will not be dry when I get up this morning. After about 2 hours of storms we unzip at 6:30 to find the lake is as still as glass and a rainbow has developed in the southern sky; two very good signs. It takes 50 minutes to pack everything up and we are on our way back the way we came.
This time with most of the food eaten, we are able to single portage without stopping, and this feels great. Snowbank lake greats us with fluffy white clouds, and most importantly calm waters. As we cross this massive calm lake I reflect on the many trips I have made into this pine-filled heaven and conclude this morning’s paddle is one of the best I have ever had. I thoroughly enjoy this revelation while I soak up the sun and the scenery. The trip has come to an end here, because the 12 hour drive back to Chicago that follows our docking at Smitty’s is just not something I am going to keep in my long-term memory.