BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

June 17 2019

Entry Point 27 - Snowbank Lake

Snowbank Lake entry point allows overnight paddle or motor (25 HP max). This entry point is supported by Kawishiwi Ranger Station near the city of Ely, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 24 miles. Access is a boat landing or canoe launch at Snowbank Lake. Many trip options for paddlers. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Latitude: 47.9716
Longitude: -91.4326
Snowbank Lake - 27

Solo Trip to Raven Lake (Mugwump PMA 8) 2018

by Ausable
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 20, 2018
Entry Point: Snowbank Lake
Number of Days: 10
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
The idea for this trip had been in the back of my mind for several years, although I had said on numerous occasions that I would never consider a solo trip because of the lack of companionship and the amount of self-reliance that would be required. Nevertheless, as I gained confidence and also realized that I could use modern satellite communication technology in an emergency, a solo trip became more attractive. I also want to thank the many BWCA.com members who posted information on the Solo Tripping and PMA Paradise forums for helping me think through the details and options.

Part 1 of 7


[paragraph break]"Preparation"[paragraph break]

Reading Daniel Pauly’s "Exploring The Boundary Waters" about potential places to go in the BWCA gave me some good ideas, and Dave and Amy Freeman’s "A Year in The Wilderness" provided additional inspiration. Thinking about what I liked to do – travel in new places, achieve solitude, photograph beautiful landscapes – helped me to prioritize possible routes.

After talking with Blayne Hall and Dave Sebesta of Williams & Hall Outfitters (and one particular customer) at their Customer Night program in February, I started to develop a plan to travel in a loop starting at Snowbank Lake. I wanted to be out for 10 days rather than the usual 7 when I’ve traveled with friends. One possibility was to try to travel east to Fraser, north to Kekekabic, and then west and south back to Snowbank through Vera and Boot. An alternative, aggressive, plan was to travel in a loop route to Little Saganaga Lake in the east. Either route offered the attractive possibility of visiting more remote lakes in two Primitive Management Areas.

Tuesday, June 19:

Having camped at Lake Wissota State Park the previous day, I arrived at the east side of Ely going through Two Harbors, MN, around 2:30 PM. I immediately stopped at the Dorothy Molter Museum for a quick tour since I had never been there. It is a nice place. I arrived at Williams & Hall Outfitters around 4 PM and consulted with Blayne and Dave about the trip. Blayne recommended a Wenonah Encounter rather than a Prism because it would allow more gear and is better for larger waters. Since I had never been in a solo canoe, he let me test paddle an Encounter and I quickly got comfortable with the boat. Both Blayne and Dave recommended going in from Snowbank through the 140 rod portage to Disappointment Lake rather than starting the trip through Boot Lake and the 220 rod portage to Ensign or through the two 80+ rod portages into and out of Parent Lake.

Dave told me that Sagus Lake, east of Fraser Lake, was a good walleye lake and that Raven Lake, in the Mugwump Primitive Management Area, had a good population of lake trout despite its maximum depth being only 50 feet. He said that I could find lakers by trolling mid-lake along its long axis. The information about Sagus and Raven intrigued me because I had never caught a lake trout and I love catching walleyes. He also said that the portages east of Fraser were “thinner” than those to the west and were more like lesser-traveled Quetico portages.

 



Part 2 of 7


[paragraph break]"Snowbank Lake to Jordan Lake"[paragraph break]

Wednesday, June 20:

The day was going to be sunny with temperatures in the mid-80s. I had a big breakfast in the W&H dining room. I didn’t want to leave my car at the Snowbank parking lot for 10 days, so Nate shuttled me and my gear to the landing. Because I had become acquainted with him during a few summer trips out of W&H, I took the opportunity to find out what he had been doing for the last year. I enjoy these kinds of opportunities to have meaningful conversations.

There were lots of vehicles parked in the Snowbank parking lot. I got my gear loaded (one pack weighing 25 pounds including my tripod and fishing gear, a second large pack weighing 55 pounds, a waterproof camera “suitcase”, a fishing rod) into the canoe and left the dock around 8:30 AM after checking the compass direction to the portage. I decided that I would go in through Disappointment Lake rather than Boot and do the loop from south to north. I paddled the boat easily, moving along at 3 miles per hour with little effort. I passed two Common Loons at about 20 feet each: “Welcome to the BWCA,” they seemed to say. It was a beautiful day with a light breeze.

The portage to Disappointment was a tough reintroduction to the wilderness because it was long, the day was already warm and humid, and I was not yet familiar with portaging one pack and the canoe at the same time. It took me just shy of 2 hours from launching at Snowbank until I was paddling again on Disappointment. Today I was aiming for a camp on Jordan Lake, a distance of 7.5 miles from the Snowbank landing.

I met three Boy Scout groups today. All of them consisted of nine people (the maximum allowed). One group from Iowa was unloading at the portage on Ahsub while I rested for about 40 minutes (the day was hot by now) and had some lunch. Their aluminum canoes did not have yokes, so two people had to carry them over portages. They acknowledged that their boats were fine for Iowa but not so good for the BWCA. One of the boys was curious about the weight of my canoe and how I portaged all my gear. I met three other groups on my route, one of which consisted of a middle-aged man and his father at the east end of Jitterbug. The father was talkative and told me that his son thought I looked like Jim Brandenburg, the photographer. Maybe he saw my camera gear. Anyway, I laughed and thanked him for the compliment. I’ve never seen Jim Brandenburg, but I have admired his work.

Later that afternoon I paddled a bit out of my way to see the falls on the north side of Cattyman Lake. One of the Boy Scout groups was already there. The falls are nice, but I crashed through the brush to see them from below. The last part of that portage down to Gibson Lake is really steep and consists mostly of a single, long granite slab.

Cattyman Falls and Rapids[paragraph break]

It took me 7.5 hours to get to my camp on Jordan Lake. About an hour and ten minutes of that time was resting or taking pictures at Cattyman falls. Portaging evidently slows me down a lot, especially considering my paddling speed of 3 mph. I had 6 portages today with the longest at the beginning and end. I was worn out and hot. God graciously gave me the northern camp on Jordan; it has a nice sandy beach and landing.

Thursday, June 21:

I decided to stay put for the day so I could recoup somewhat. Yesterday, I had been having trouble with the portage yoke, an aluminum affair that clamps onto the sliding seat bracket. The yoke pads were too far apart for me. I was able to adjust the distance by pulling the pads as far inside as I could and then banging the pads’ suspension brackets with my plastic tent peg hammer to slide them inside, too. I really needed a wrench and a Phillips screwdriver to properly adjust the device, but my adjustments made it more comfortable.

Last night around 6 a warm wind came up out of the south. Today was sunny and quite hot. In the middle of the day I recorded a temperature of 90°F. I heard many White-Throated Sparrows and a few nuthatches. I saw some American Robins and then I heard a mature Bald Eagle before seeing it. I put up my hammock to enjoy some laid-back time in the shade. Several groups passed by: the camp site is not far north of the route between Ima and Cattyman. I took pictures of wild roses in the morning and went swimming in the afternoon. The cool lake water felt wonderful.

Wild Roses and Beach on Jordan Lake (North Campsite)[paragraph break]

Some critter was rustling the underbrush when I went back of the campsite to dispose of dish water. It turned out to be a turtle (6-8 inches). After dinner I paddled north to look for the portage into Three Eagle Lake, a lake in the Spider Lake PMA. I also tried casting and trolling, but I caught nothing. After I went to bed, loons made very loud wing-flapping displays and loud calls for about 20 minutes.

 



Part 3 of 7


[paragraph break]"Jordan Lake to Sagus Lake"[paragraph break]

Friday, June 22:

It was a partly sunny day with temperatures in the mid-80s. I got up at 6 AM and was on the water by 8:30. The goal was to reach Sagus Lake or the north part of Fraser Lake today. I measured on the map the distance from the Jordan campsite to the Gerund portage on Fraser to be about 7.8 miles. It turned out that I decided to push on into Sagus Lake, arriving at the southwest campsite at 4:30 PM. So I still did only a little better than 1 mph overall despite a consistent paddling speed of 3 mph. This slower speed caused me to reevaluate my overall goals for the trip. I added some time to today’s trip by stopping to take some pictures of flowers, rapids and falls, cliffs, and lichen.

Except for a group of five guys at the Ima-Hatchet portage (Ima side), I saw no one on Ima, Thomas, Fraser, or Sagus Lakes as I traveled. I had a nice chat with the guys while I waited for them to load and shove off (not a lot of room at that steep portage and it has a deep, rocky landing). They said that they had been the only ones on Thomas the previous week.

I saw some nice wild iris and sets of rapids on the Hatchet River. I met a Ruffed Grouse on the second portage around the rapids. With its ruff out, it squawked at me, charged me, then ran ahead and around, all the time squawking or “mumbling”. I didn’t see it on the second time through the portage.

Wild Iris on the Hatchet River[paragraph break]

Upper Rapids on the Hatchet River[paragraph break]

The narrows between Thomas and Fraser Lakes is lined with steep cliffs; I took nice pictures there when the water was glassy and the cliffs reflected in the water. On Fraser, I stopped for some pictures of lichens on an eastern mid-lake peninsula.

Thomas-Fraser Narrows[paragraph break]

Lichens on Fraser Lake[paragraph break]

I took the northern 65-rod portage from Fraser to Sagus. There is a nice-looking campsite on Fraser just before the portage. Dave Sebesta said that the portages in this area of the BWCA were “thinner”, and he was correct. The portage into Sagus was less than a foot wide and the vegetation pushed in on it so that it was barely visible in spots. Previous portages were 2-3 feet wide. There were some beautiful Bunchberry flowers in several spots along the portage. There were 6 portages today, 4 of them in quick succession.

Bunchberry Flower[paragraph break]

The western Sagus campsite has a duff ground cover that rain can really move around. The site could probably accommodate three 2-man tents, but you have to be careful where they are pitched because of the rain runoff issue. It is a fairly large site. Rain collects in a few places, especially in the fire grate area. There is a large red pine near the landing across from the island that is in the process of dying. A Pileated Woodpecker has been hard at work on it leaving a large and deep hole near its base. A sloping rock slab on the south side of the site enables ready access to the lake for gathering water.

Hole Created by a Pileated Woodpecker[paragraph break]

The campsite is located about 100 feet from an island. The constriction would force any passing loons to be nearer the camp for a better picture. I heard a flock of Canada Geese on or over Sagus, and I saw Common Mergansers, too. There were lots of frogs singing after dark, and they kept it up all night. I put up the tarp because rain was predicted for the following day.

Saturday, June 23:

I wanted to try to catch walleye today. That was the reason I wanted to reach Sagus Lake. While fishing I was noticing mayflies and the carcasses of large Michigan Caddis nymphs (Hexagenia limbata) on the lake’s surface. I wished I had brought my fly rod. I had noticed fish sipping mayflies the previous evening.

The weather forecast from my Delorme/Garmin inReach device was for a 10-20% chance of rain. It started raining around noon. At the time, I had just caught and released a 12 inch walleye. The rig I used was a 5-inch bass-colored swimbait (Zman Elaztech Jerk ShadZ in Bad Shad) on a red 1/0 worm hook tied to a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader which was attached to a swivel with a small weight ahead of it. It was obvious when the walleye took the bait. It was a nice fish. Just as I caught it I noticed that I was opposite the southeast portion of the island and that a loon was onshore, seemingly on a nest. I hoped that I might be able to return with a telephoto lens to capture the scene.

Since it had started to rain, I quickly paddled back to camp to close the rainfly over the tent and have lunch while listening to Blue Jays and White-Throated Sparrows. An adult Bald Eagle sat on the highest tree on the island before flying to another high tree above the southern shore. I also heard and saw a merganser.

After lunch, I hung my hammock for a little while between rain squalls. I had hoped to go fishing again but thunder started around 2:30. The wind was from the northeast. Suddenly at 4:15 the wind shifted to out of the south and its strength increased greatly. A major thunderstorm was overhead with rain pelting down at a 45° angle. It lasted an hour or more. There were streams of water throughout the campsite and water collected under the tarp that was sheltering my gear near the fire grate.

I went to bed early, around 8:20, but within a few minutes I heard three loud plops in the water nearby. I rushed out to look, but I couldn’t see ripples in any direction, nor did I see any animal swimming. Maybe a tree weakened by the storm had fallen into the lake in large pieces? It was a mystery. I planned to go to Raven Lake the next day.

 



Part 4 of 7


[paragraph break]"Raven Lake"[paragraph break]

Sunday, June 24:

I had planned to get up at 6:30, but it was closer to 8:30. I was really tired and cold and had not slept well. Today started cloudy, windy (N to NE wind), and cold. The sun started to peek through the clouds at 12:30, just about the time that I finally got organized and left for Raven Lake. I had hoped to leave much earlier. I also had hoped for a 2-hour trip to Raven, but it turned out to be closer to 2.5 to 3 hours, partly because I had a bit of trouble locating the mouth of the stream into Raven. Once I reached Roe Lake, the sun was shining full and it lasted until sunset. It even got hot. I finally got on the water at Raven at 3:30. I needed to leave Raven by 5 to get back to Sagus for dinner, etc.

The portage from Sagus into Roe is quite easy and not as “thin” as the portage between Sagus and Fraser. I met two women at the landing on Roe; that seemed wonderfully strange because I had not seen any person in a few days and here we met in a remoter area with them coming from the direction of Cap Lake. We had a nice short chat.

The lengths of the portages into Raven are incorrect on the McKenzie map. The map shows the longer portage first, but it is only about 5+ rods, and it starts maybe 100 yards from the mouth of the stream. There is no way to avoid it: there is a small drop at the portage and there is a large boulder in the middle of the stream. The second portage starts just where the rapids end coming down out of Raven, and it is about 40+ rods long. Between the two portages the stream does some serious meandering; I would think that people in canoes longer than 17 feet would have trouble. It reminds me of the stream coming out of Quetico’s Isabella Lake. The landing at the second portage is very mucky. The mud/muck seemed to float; it kind of rebounded when I stuck my paddle into it. I moved the boat forward by shoving with the paddle and by grabbing the brush on either side of the canoe and pulling until I could get out of the boat without sinking into the muck. There is a tree near the start of the portage that hangs over the trail at about a 30° angle. You have to put the canoe on the ground and drag it under the tree. The trail is still fairly open. You have to step over a few trees here and there.

I trolled mid-lake and parallel to the long axis of the lake. I tried two different deep divers: a 3.5 inch Berkley Flicker Minnow in Slick Mouse (a kind of pearlescent white with a dark gray top), and a 4.75 inch Rapala Jointed Deep Husky Jerk in Yellow Perch. I caught two 20 inch lake trout, one on each lure, within an hour. They were beautiful fish. They were the first lake trout I had ever caught! It was really obvious when they took the lures. I had replaced the treble hooks with single hooks on which I had pinched the barbs; these changes did not seem to detract from my ability to catch fish.

All I needed for a Grand Slam on this trip was a northern pike and a smallmouth bass! I had caught small- and large-mouth bass before, and walleye, but I’d never caught a pike. So this little jaunt today had seen two goals met: reaching a PMA lake and catching a lake trout.

Raven is a really pretty little lake in the Mugwump Lake PMA, although there seems to be some blowdown or burned areas on the western shore. The end of the portage at Raven would make a nice campsite, and I saw another possible spot further NE along the eastern shore. I did not look for the old campsite on the western shore. I definitely recommend getting a PMA permit to camp on Raven. It offers solitude and great lake trout fishing.

It took me only 2 hours to get back to camp on Sagus Lake. Just as I was approaching the campsite around 7 PM, an adult Bald Eagle flew from a large white pine just above me. I had not noticed the bird before that moment. That was a cool sight.

I planned to leave the next day and rain was expected tonight. After dinner I packed everything away and turned the canoe over on land to keep the anticipated rain out of it. Fish were rising just off the campsite this evening. No wonder with all the mayflies around. Mosquitoes came out by the hundreds (thousands?) at sundown around 9 PM. I was praising God for a good day.

 



Part 5 of 7


[paragraph break]"Thomas and Jordan Lakes Revisited"[paragraph break]

Monday, June 25:

Sagus had provided a really peaceful and solitary experience. I decided to return to Snowbank the same way I came in rather than trying to loop through Kekekabic, Vera, etc. I’d scaled back my plans so that I could focus on relaxing, fishing, and photography. Besides, I wanted to see Thomas and Ima again. I went around the island to see if the loon was in the same place as Sunday. It was there. I wanted a picture, but the east wind was strong, making boat control very difficult. It was too much to handle the boat and camera and not stress the loon. Seeing it on its nest is a good memory, however. I traveled to the west side of Thomas, fighting the east wind all the way. I couldn’t shift enough weight to the stern without putting the camera back there. Putting the camera in the stern would eliminate the possibility of pictures taken on the way.

I took a picture of a glacial erratic on Sagus in a somewhat wind-sheltered place. I thought that my sister-in-law would like to see it. She studied geology in college and has an enduring interest in the subject. I also took pictures of flowers on the Fraser end of the Sagus-Fraser portage and then of beaver-chewed tree stumps in the Thomas-Fraser narrows.

Glacial Erratic on Sagus Lake[paragraph break]

The campsite south of the Thomas-Hatchet portage was free, so I took it. I saw more 9-person groups traveling on Fraser and Thomas today: 1 on Fraser and maybe 3 on Thomas after my arrival. I cleaned clothes, set up the tarp, made dinner, washed myself, and tried fishing from shore (no luck). It was still pretty windy. A turtle cruised back and forth south of camp. I was able to take pictures of 2 loons about 100 feet away. The campsite is very open and grassy with a number of wildflowers. I found 1 tick on my pants and killed it. The tent sites are rocky. I found a grassy spot near the campfire area for my 1-man tent. The latrine trail is overgrown, as was the trail on Sagus. I was in the tent and writing by my Luci light by 9 PM.

Campsite on Thomas Lake (view to the South)[paragraph break]

Tuesday, June 26:

I spent the day on Thomas. In the morning I took pictures of five different types of flowers I found in the wooded and open areas and of a beautiful large Hexagenia limbata (Michigan Caddis) mayfly. A beaver swam past and I got a picture of the local turtle sunning itself on a log. Two Forest Service people, a young man and woman, stopped by to check the site for maintenance issues. We had a nice 10-minute chat and exchanged weather forecast information.

Smooth Sowthistle Flower[paragraph break]

Twinflower[paragraph break]

Hexagenia Limbata Mayfly[paragraph break]

I fished two shallow bays near me without luck. It was challenging and frustrating because the wind was blowing me around while I was trying to cast. Being alone, it was difficult to free snagged lures. I finally decided to just troll deep out to the constriction in the lake and back. I put on a 2.75 inch diving Rapala Jointed Shad Rap in Red Crawdad with a snap swivel and headed east. Two young guys in solo canoes passed me going east. They were traveling extremely light. At the constriction I stopped and reeled in the line only to discover a northern pike had taken the lure. It was about 25 inches long and its mouth was about 3 inches wide. I was excited to have caught my first pike and I was ¾ of the way to a Grand Slam. I trolled all the way back but caught nothing.

I grabbed some 2 hours of hammock time in the shade while the heat and humidity were high. I’d been reading Matthew’s gospel at night and during hammock time. Many more 9-person groups passed through Thomas today, maybe 4 or 5. Thomas was beginning to feel like a highway compared to a few days ago. A light rain started around 6 after dinner. I got into the tent around 6:40 while it was still raining to do more reading and writing. I heard some squawking and looked outside to see a crow swooping up and down; then I saw it chase an eagle away from the end of the bay; a second crow joined in the chase.

After the rain stopped around 8 PM, I tried fishing jerk baits from shore. I had no luck, of course. Why do I keep doing that which produces zero results? The turtle was cruising the shore again. It stopped and gave me several looks. Was it hoping for a handout?

Wednesday, June 27:

I traveled from Thomas to Jordan Lake today, setting myself up for a last night on Disappointment Lake. I was followed into the Hatchet River by a 9-person Boy Scout group. They might have been the group on the campsite north of me on Thomas. While paddling between the rapids, a merganser swam ahead of me and then turned back alongside, passing within 10 feet. Unlike most mergansers, it did not take to flight when we got close to each other. That was kind of cool. The scouts caught up to me at the portage into Ima, just as I was picking up my second load. We had a brief conversation; they were a very polite bunch of guys. They were from Texas. They were impressed that I was traveling alone and had been out 8 days so far. One of the adult leaders asked me how old I was, guessing in the mid-50s. When I told them I was 67, they were even more impressed. Maybe the tone was more one of hope. The leader encouraged his boys that they could keep doing adventurous things like going to the BWCA all their lives. That was encouraging to me, too.

Ima Lake is pretty; I like it and Thomas. There were campers on several sites today. I took the middle campsite on Jordan and was thankful for it, seeing that the other 2 sites were occupied. I still prefer the northern campsite because of its sandy beach. This site has a lot of blowdown to its south. Fortunately, the trail to the latrine is not affected by the blowdown, but the trail is not obvious at first. There are several trails going into the brush from various parts of the site. I placed two logs to form an X at the beginning of one rather nasty trail going to the east (not everyone has found the latrine). The trail to the south will provide campers with all the firewood they could possibly want for many years.

I tried fishing Jordan both deep and shallow in many spots without any luck. Fishing from shore after dinner proved fruitless, too. Jordan has been a disappointment as far as fishing goes. At least I got to see another beaver just down the shore from me while I was fishing this evening. I spent some time this afternoon in the narrows between Jordan and Ima photographing the cliffs and the water lilies and then I tried fishing around the rapids coming out of Ima. Although I heard thunder around 6 PM, the storm did not hit Jordan. I was able to get a nice picture of the clouds over Ima just before sunset.

At 9:30, while I was in the tent, a heard a grouse drumming nearby. Then I heard a large bird flying low and near me about 4 times. I presumed that it was a grouse. Loons were sounding off, of course.

Cliffs in the Jordan-Ima Narrows[paragraph break]

White Water Lily in the Jordan-Ima Narrows[paragraph break]

Evening Clouds over Ima Lake (view from mid-Jordan campsite)

 



Part 6 of 7


[paragraph break]"Exit Through Disappointment Lake"[paragraph break]

Thursday, June 28:

I left the Jordan campsite at 9:15. I saw a 3-inch Perch in the shallows as I approached the portage into Cattyman. I shared that first portage with 2 couples who had been base-camping on the northern site on Jordan. They were pretty chatty. They were going out through Ensign. I then wished that I was going that way rather than having made a plan to exit through Snowbank. I think that it would be more interesting to exit a different way. The Jordan couples told me that they had seen pitcher plants on Ahsub. I saw them when I reached that lake. They are interesting flowers on a long stem among grasses in the bog at the south end of Ahsub. The petals are burgundy and the flower has a kind of green umbrella in front of the petals. I was unable to take a picture because my camera was in the stern for better boat control in the wind.

The campsite at the far north end of Disappointment Lake looks large and very shady; it is near a bog. I thought that it might be buggy so I moved on. The next site on the eastern shore was taken (it looked good from the water). The small island nearby was free so I took it, but it is very open at the fire grate and the 2 tent sites. There were 2 trees near the dirt tent site that I used for hanging the tarp and pitched the tent in a small grassy area nearby. At the end of a trail were some trees that I was able to use to hang the hammock in shade. There are a lot of Red Elderberry bushes on this island. It was a hot day with an occasional light breeze early in the day.

Red Elderberry bush[paragraph break]

Spreading Dogbane[paragraph break]

Bedrock detail on Disappointment Lake[paragraph break]

In mid afternoon, the temperature climbed from 89°F to 94°F and there was barely a breath of air well into the evening. The inReach weather forecast predicted 13 mph winds from the southeast starting around 10 AM on Friday. To meet my arranged shuttle, I needed to get going early or delay until the winds had died down. I had scheduled a 2 PM pickup at Snowbank. I’d need about 3 hours from where I was camping to get to the Snowbank landing.

I went swimming around 5 PM. One of the reasons I grabbed this site was that it looked good for swimming. The cold water felt very, very good.

I heard muttering or moaning sounds across the water around 6 PM. They were like the sounds of beavers that I’ve heard on those TV nature programs that put cameras into beaver lodges. A beaver lodge was on the shore in the direction of the sounds. The narrow waterway between me and the beaver lodge was like a canoe highway; there were lots of Boy Scout groups passing through looking for campsites. Solitude was a thing of the past; the northernmost campsite would have provided some privacy, but this site is on the direct route up and down the lake. A hummingbird flew past my head around 8 PM.

Friday, June 29:

A beaver swam back and forth in front of the landing early this morning. It dove under with a loud “plop”. It was then I realized what had probably caused the loud sounds on Sagus Lake.

I was hoping to get underway by 7 AM to get to the Snowbank landing by 10 AM and thus beat the high winds. At 7:30 I knew that I wouldn’t make that deadline. Checking a new forecast via the inReach device, I saw that high winds were predicted to last at least through 2 PM. I took a chance and texted W&H with a new pickup time of 4 PM. The weather grew threatening very quickly with dark clouds and thunder to the south. I decided to stay put for the time being. Soon enough the thunderstorm was on top of me dropping lots of water amid strong winds. Unfortunately, I had packed the tarp away with all my other gear. I endured as long as I could, but after about 45 minutes the rain lessened a bit and I got the tarp out so that I could at least get out of the rain while I waited for everything to calm down.

The rain finally stopped around 11 AM and the wind calmed down, too. That was unexpected. I hurried to pack up again and load the canoe. Then the wind picked up again and grew even stronger. I had barely got underway, so I turned back. A Boy Scout group came down the lake and asked whether I was camping or just resting, meaning, I suppose, “Can we take a break here?” I told them they were welcome to stay. They had high-bow Kevlar canoes and were having difficulties in the wind. They gathered in the lee of the island, but eventually they got out of their boats. I told them about the forecast of strong winds until about 2 PM, so that information may have influenced them to stay awhile.

In the meantime, I got back in my canoe and paddled across the narrow waterway to hold onto the shoreline, hoping that the wind would eventually die down enough to start paddling. Based on the direction of the wind, I had put the camera case in the bow so that I could trim the boat to handle headwinds. I waited there maybe 45 minutes. At 12:45 I realized that I might have to stay another day because the winds were still very strong, literally whipping large trees back and forth. From where I was I could see that the waves had white crests on them. I needed to start paddling at 1 PM to make the Snowbank landing by 4 PM. It was then that I remembered reading something from Matthew’s gospel a day or so earlier. Jesus told his disciples, “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” I prayed then, asking God for the good gift of calm winds so that I could start paddling at 1 PM. I know that I am nobody special and that the granting of that request was entirely up to God, but at exactly 1 PM – not a minute before or after – the wind calmed down to a few-mph breeze. The trees were no longer being whipped around and the white wave crests disappeared. Thanking God profusely, I took off. About half way down the lake, when I had to change course for the portage, I started to have trouble aiming the canoe along my preferred course because the breeze was then off my stern quarter. I had to find a spot out of the wind so that I could get out and move the camera case to the stern and push all my gear and myself as far back as I could. That fixed the trim problem and I arrived at the portage with time to spare.

By the time I portaged everything to the Snowbank side of the 140-rod portage at 3 PM, it was clear that I would be at the landing before 4 PM. The course to the Snowbank parking lot was easy. The wind had died to a slight breeze and the waves, while still following me, were barely 2 inches high. I again had a close encounter with 2 loons – a good way to say farewell to the BWCA.

I probably talked Nate’s and Blayne’s and Dave’s ears off about my experiences. Dave told me that a neighbor at the top of the hill above them had recorded 80 mph winds (he wasn’t sure if that was sustained or a burst). That speed is a lot more than that predicted by the inReach forecast. I showered and went to Ely for dinner at the Ely Steak house. Of course I visited the Piragis store afterwards and bought a new book there after admiring the paddles and knives.

 



Part 7 of 7


[paragraph break]"Epilogue"[paragraph break]

I got up early the next morning, packed up the car, and had a large pancake breakfast in the lodge dining room before starting the 11-hour drive home. This time a Boy Scout group was also present for breakfast. It is always nice to have a chance to talk with Charlene during breakfast or dinner. I then went down to the office to buy a T-shirt and chatted again with Dave and Blayne. I just wanted to let them know how much I appreciated everything they did to make my trip a success. I decided to visit Burntside Lodge on my way out of town so that I could evaluate it for potential vacations with my wife. It also seemed like a nice place to eat dinner.

While I did not go as far or as fast as I had hoped, I did achieve several good goals during this trip. I learned to feel comfortable paddling a solo canoe and spending extended time alone, and I enjoyed doing both. I appreciated being able to set and change my own schedule, taking time to relax and photograph whenever I chose to do either. I caught fish that were on my bucket list and had fun doing it. On most other canoe trips, I am the stern guy who maneuvers the boat so that others can fish. I was able to see some new-to-me wild, unspoiled country in a way that replenished my soul while challenging my abilities. Finally, I was able to visit a beautiful lake in a Primitive Management Area that reminded me of travels in less-managed parks like Ontario’s Woodland Caribou or Quetico Provincial Parks.

 


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