BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 27 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
Disappointment Lake Basecamp
June 16, 2012
Number of Days:
We arrived in Ely, along with a steady supply of rain. Driving in on 169 to Ely from the west was through a nearly continuous heavy rain. Even putting in the Johnny Cash compilation CD didn't seem to lift the mood much. I thought that once we were that close to Ely the miles would fly by, but that stretch of road seemed to go on forever, like there was no end to it. Finally we arrive, get checked into our room at CCO, and they confirm that the weather report for the week has lots of rain in it. The good news is that the prediction for tomorrow, our traveling and camp set-up day, is supposed to be partly sunny. As has become our custom we have a pizza dinner at Sir G's, but they bring us pizza soup instead of a pizza you can hold with your hands. We literally resort to eating it with a knife and fork. Very disappointing. Over dinner we discuss our plan, which is to cross Snowbank early before the winds pick up, and reach the portage to Disappointment which we plan to basecamp on. We are a little concerned about finding a good site; since the lake is so close to a popular entry point we are afraid that all the good sites will be taken.
After a good breakfast at Brittons, which has also become our custom, we go back to CCO to get our gear, check out and have a final chat with the outfitter about fishing and the weather. He is kind enough to pull up a weather report on his laptop for us, and it is just what we had feared: much rain predicted for the week. Most irritatingly, it shows things clearing up on thursday and becoming nice after that, but that is the day we have to leave. But although the three full days we will be there are predicted to be all rain, at least our travel days in and out are supposed to be clear. (we have to leave one day earlier than usual, since my brother needs to be back home by friday night) I am amazed that in spite of a leisurely breakfast, final packing, the drive out to Snowbank Lake E.P., unloading the car and loading the canoe, we are still officially on our way before 8:00 a.m. !! Hooray!
We make our way across Snowbank with no trouble; although there is a bit of wind it is at our back and poses no problem. And it is only one portage in to our basecamp lake so we don't mind doing a triple portage.
Our concerns about finding a campsite prove unfounded as the lake appears to be completely empty! We pass a few canoes on their way out, but every campsite we pass is deserted. We check out a few that had been highly rated on this site, but decide in each case to press on and look at the next one. We can always come back if the ones in front of us are full. We finally decide on the one at the southeast end of the lake, it is very open and has a couple of food hanging trees. We don't check out the north end of the lake, but we are very surprised to find that as far as we can tell, we have the entire southern leg of the lake to ourselves. On a weekend. At one of the most used entry points. In mid-June. Strange...
looking out over Disappointment Lake from our new home for the week.
We get to work setting up the tarp, and right away I get into trouble. In order to tie a rope to a tree I stand on a boulder so I can get higher up. That boulder rolls out from under me like it was a ball bearing, and I end up horizontal in the air and fall right on top of the boulder with the small of my back. My fear of being paralyzed proves unfounded, and the only price for a lesson learned is a sore back. Luckily I can give it a rest by laying on the couch all week... Oh, wait, I'll be spending about ten hours a day in a canoe seat turning back and forth to cast and paddle... Oh well. After setting up the rest of camp without incident, the day is still young so we go out on the lake to finally get in some fishing.
As usual, I pose with my first fish of the trip:
We try shore fishing in the evening, but with no luck. I don't think we caught a single thing from camp all week. As a side note, the largest tree in this photo is where a bald eagle would spend a lot of his time while we were there. It seemed almost every time we looked, there he was sitting in his tree.
Our first full day starts off cloudy and a bit chilly. Here we are enjoying a cup of coffee before heading out for our morning fishing. We have fallen into a pattern these last few years of getting up with the sun and having a quick cup of coffee before heading out for a couple hours of early morning fishing. My brother catches a smallish sized northern, and we each catch a couple of halfway decent smallmouth along with a bunch of 6" to 8" sized smallmouth. Not a great morning fishing, but at least we didn't get skunked. And as a bonus the sun even comes out for a while as we head back to camp to make breakfast. [paragraph break] After a breakfast of bacon and eggs, we head back out on the lake to spend the day fishing. For most of the day we have pleasant weather, although the fishing is lackluster at best. But then the day's weather takes a turn for the worst, as illustrated by these two photos. [paragraph break] This heavy downpour was intense, but luckily brief. Less than an hour later the skies cleared up enough for us to clean our fish and have dinner in the bright sun! Here is my brother cleaning his first ever northern, something I have yet to try. He had researched how to do it before the trip, and succeeded quite well in getting 5 nice fillets off this small to medium sized northern. [paragraph break] We headed out after dinner for some evening fishing, with the usual results. [paragraph break] After returning to camp, I took a sequence of sunset photos which I believe is mandatory for all bwca visitors.
On our second full day, morning breaks with the rising sun illuminating just the tops of the trees as we look across the lake. I like this one since it shows "eagle tree" top half in sun, bottom half still in morning darkness. Unfortunately the sun lasts for about several minutes, and then it is gone for the rest of the day. [paragraph break]
Right after lunch we head out for the afternoon of fishing, this time heading for the northern part of Disappointment lake. I am looking forward to inspecting the northern island campsite. About 25 years before this we had stopped on that island for a lunch break before heading out to the lakes above and beyond that for a loop that would eventually lead us to a take out at Moose lake. I was wondering if anything at that campsite would trigger any 25 year old memories. Shortly after leaving our campsite the rain starts. At first I'm actually kind of happy about that, since I'm hoping that the rain will trigger the fish to start biting. Unfortunately this photo here is pretty typical of the afternoon's results.
We work our way up north, fishing the entire shoreline up to the island campsite, but unfortunately it is occupied so we are not able to land and check it out for old memories. We continue to fish our way north to the portage to Ahsub lake, noticing that the northernmost campsite by the portage is also occupied. During this whole time the rain has alternated between downpour and sprinkles, and I for one am starting to let it affect my mood. Especially since the fishing has been if anything, even worse than when it wasn't raining. In the pre-trip planning stages I had visions of daytripping to a couple of the lakes above Disappointment for old time's sake, but now that we are here and feeling like a couple of drowned rats neither one of us is much interested in the prospect of portaging to a couple of other lakes that will no doubt look as drab and gray as the one we are currently on. So we head back south, fishing as we go but catching nothing worth talking about, except a large sea creature that had my brother pretty excited till he realized he had hooked a turtle.
Up till now the afternoon had been merely dismal, but now we start to hear thunder, and see lighting that doesn't seem all that far away. So a knot of fear is added to the afternoon, especially since we are in an aluminum canoe. We haul ass back to camp, and make it without incident, glad to be safely on shore. We prepare dinner under the tarp as the rain has not let up one bit, lounge there a while, then go to bed with the rain still coming down. Prior to our trip I had sprayed my rainfly with a can of waterproofing my brother had given me, and am very thankful that I did since it will keep rain entry into my tent to a steady drip, rather than a steady pour. Normally I sleep like a baby, but maybe because of the constant rain I spend most of this night just lying there awake, or sleeping in tiny increments till the morning comes. Not once does the rain come to a complete stop.
We have to leave tomorrow, so this is our last full day. Since the rain from yesterday is still falling, we make breakfast under the tarp and decide to just stay in camp for a while, instead of the usual morning fishing. We are both actually a bit let down when the rain finally lets up shortly after noon, since that makes it only 23 hours of continuous rain instead of an even 24. We decide to hit the western end of the lake today because the outfitter and this website had said that the channel between the large island and the mainland was a likely spot for smallmouth and northerns. The wind today is truly obnoxious; although not terribly strong, it seems as if no matter which direction we are facing that is the direction the wind is coming from. There are a couple of occasions where when we change directions to go back to a spot or follow a shoreline, the wind literally changes within minutes so that it is once again in our face. What the ?#^$$@^?? But the channel does produce a couple of decent fish for us, we actually had these two fish on at the same time! Although my northern was pretty small, it was exciting to catch because he made two strikes at my spinner and missed each time, then came back and got it on his third try. Then when he got close to the canoe my rod tip snapped off; I really thought I had something there for a minute! I was kind of surprised when this little fellow finally came out of the water. [paragraph break] While we are here at the lake's western end, we check out the campsite that is high up on a ridge. Although a bit of an uphill climb, it does allow a nice view of the channel and the lake beyond. Apparently aware that we are on land, the wind stops completely and the lake turns to glass. Yet another tiny smallmouth head-butts my lure! [paragraph break] Unfortunately the time when we each had a decent fish on does not signal the begining of a feeding frenzy, but was instead an isolated coincidence. After that it is back to the 6" smallmouths that this lake seems to have an endless supply of. We fish our way along the northern shore of this arm of the lake as we head back to camp, but neither of us hooks into anything else interesting. We head back to our wet camp and have our final fish dinner of the trip. At least this afternoon was mostly rain free. But except for the 5 minutes of excitement in the channel, this day was pretty much a bust as far as fishing was concerned. Actually that could pretty much be said of the trip as a whole.
Today is our travel out day since we are leaving a day earlier than normal. What with all the rain and the poor fishing results I don't think either one of us is that bummed that our trip is one day shorter than normal. Of course today is the day the sun decides to make it's return. A bit breezy, but having the sun out makes things more cheerful somehow. There is no rush to get going since we are only one lake in, so we take our time over a final pancake breakfast and pack up camp at a pretty slow pace. this is a view from our camp facing the way we will travel back to the exit portage to Snowbank. [paragraph break] There has been a pretty steady breeze in our face as we paddled back towards the Snowbank portage, so we decide to cut through Parent lake instead, hoping that this will expose us to less of the famous Snowbank hazardous wind conditions. The portages are pretty wet; not surprising with all the rain we had during the week. We get to Parent, and cross it without incident. Here I am, exiting Parent. This next photo is a shot of portage conditions at some points. [paragraph break] After passing through Parent, we still have to cross Snowbank to get back to the E.P., although less of it than if we had crossed directly to it from Disappointment. Here is a look at the whitecaps waiting for us when we get to the end of the portage from Parent. Although probably no big deal to an experienced paddler, the waves and wind are big enough to cause us a bit of tension. First off, the waves are coming in parallel to the shore, so when we put the canoe in they hit it broadside and slop up over the side. We ship in a fair amount of water before we finally get the canoe turned and headed into the wind. Then we do a enough up and down and side to side motion to make me a little nervous, and very grateful to finally reach the windbreak of the nearest island. By the time we get around this island we are near enough to the far shore that the wind and waves are no longer much of a factor, and it is a simple paddle back to the parking lot. [paragraph break] In the parking lot we meet a man and his young (10-12 year old?) son, and he asks us about lake conditions and getting a site on the lakes above Disappointment. This seems wildly optimistic, as it is already approaching 3:00 in the afternoon, and he does not seem like an experienced tripper, to say the least. His son didn't look big enough to be a huge help in paddling, plus he was asking some questions that made me really question if he knew what he was getting into. With the wind conditions on Snowbank, I was seriously concerned with their safety, but other than warning them both to be sure to wear their life jackets and not underestimate the difficulty in paddling to Disappointment portage, there wasn't much else we could do. I never heard anything about anyone drowning on Snowbank, so I guess that thankfully they made it across just fine. It was on my mind that night though; I certainly wouldn't have taken my young son out on semi-dangerous waters without being more prepared. [paragraph break] After returning our gear to Canoe Country Outfitters, and taking a shower and putting on fresh clothes we walk over to the Ely Steakhouse. In the past we usually went to Sir G's for a farewell night pizza, but after our last experience we are not eager to go back there. It turns out to be a good call as right after we place our orders the waitress returns with our beers and a surprise plate holding a warm fresh baked loaf of rye bread with a cup of honey butter next to it. Now if you had asked me before we walked in what food I would ask for if I could have anything in the world, I would never in a million years have said fresh baked rye bread with honey butter. But once she put that plate down on our table I would not have traded it for anything else on the planet! It was heavenly, and I could have just eaten that all night and skipped dinner. Upon re-reading this I notice that for a fishing trip report, I spent an awful lot of time talking about our last night's dinner. Maybe that says something about the type of trip it was this year... ha, ha... [paragraph break]