BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 23 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
Nice Little Trip With The Guys--Entry At Snowbank
September 06, 2015
Number of Days:
We all met at my house the morning of departure to load Craig's van with our gear, the groceries we had made an event out of buying a day or two before and two canoes--Craig's Old Town and my Alumacraft. We were confident that with the foam pads and rope we had we could figure out a way to secure two canoes onto one vehicle sufficiently for a four-hour road trip. After much discussion and some trial and error, we thought we had it. After a few miles down the road it was obvious that our tie-down plan was not good enough so we turned around and went to Erik's house to see if we'd do any better with his Suburban. Again after a good deal of discussion we thought we had a better plan with Erik's vehicle but, again, after a brief trip down the road we watched the canoes move around enough that we thought it best to return to Erik's house and work on plan "C". We decided that what we'd spend on renting a canoe wouldn't be much more than gas for a second vehicle so we left Craig's canoe at home in favor of carrying just one on a vehicle AND all sharing the ride to enjoy the whole trip together. Finally, we were on the road from St. Cloud about 1-1/2 hours later than planned. The rest of our drive was uneventful and we arrived in Ely in the early evening.
After checking in at Canoe Country Outfitters, we got settled in to our accommodations for the night--the house that they have out their back door that fronts East Camp Street. I highly recommend this option! The rooms are spacious, the beds are comfortable, there's a fridge, air conditioning, microwave, TV, private bath AND a relaxing porch to hang out on for some great pre-trip bonding.
After getting settled, our traditional pre-trip pizza at Sir G's and picking up last minute supplies was next on the agenda. After accomplishing this, we returned to the porch for a couple of beers before turning in for the night and attempting sleep through some big excitement for the next day and some significant thunderstorms.
After we each got in our final shower for a few days, we walked down to Brittons Cafe for a very filling breakfast. On our walk back to CCO, we stopped at The Great Outdoors for leeches. I introduced myself to TGO and remembering his comments on bwca.com regarding smallmouth bass, casually mentioned to him that we were going to target some smallies. You took the bait, TGO, and your entertaining response did not disappoint!
After a pleasant drive down the Fernberg road, noting from the standing water and sticks on the roadway that the previous night's storms had been rather intense, we arrived at the Snowbank landing and were off. Light breezes this morning made our crossing of Snowbank a piece of cake. We took the portage from Snowbank direct to Disappointment and while it does have just a bit of length (our longest this trip) that was pretty easy too. The water remained rather flat as we made our way up Disappointment. As best we could tell, all campsites on Disappointment were occupied from the night before. We got reports from those campers, and others on the lake, that the storm was indeed a nasty one and we noticed a number of freshly downed and snapped trees. Our timing for departure on this trip was lucky!
Our target for the day was Jordan Lake and after winding our way through the several small lakes that follow Disappointment, we found ourselves at Jordan just as we were really getting hungry for lunch. We could see that the northern-most campsite was already taken so we headed toward the next site south. It was open and it was a keeper! This site has a great landing area on it's north end and a short walk up hill from there provides a beautiful vista from the firegrate/tent-pad area out over Jordan Lake. After an awesome ham-sandwich lunch and setting up the tents and other gear, we explored the rest of the site before taking a refreshing swim to wash off the sweat from that day's work and high heat. The rest of the day was occupied by just hanging out, swapping stories and wetting a line or two from shore (no luck). As the sun set we started on our fresh-steak supper and enjoyed that under a tarp to avoid the brief showers that fell. A bug-free September evening meant that we were able to hang out by the campfire well into the night before retiring to the tent and catching our Z's sans-sleeping bags due to the unseasonably warm temperatures.
After a leisurely bacon-and-egg breakfast we set off to explore the southern end of Jordan and to see if we could coax a few fish onto our hooks. After a couple of hours with nothing to show for the effort, Craig and I got bored with fishing and decided to return to camp. Scott and Erik chose to stay a bit longer and eventually did land a couple of small northerns from the bay near Jordan's south campsite. Finding themselves without a stringer they decided to release the fish and soon joined us back at camp. Since fish was on the menu for that evening we decided we better give it another try after lunch. Erik and Scott headed back to the south end of the lake while Craig and I headed for the narrow channel that leads to Ima. I also wanted to see if we could find the pictographs that are said to be on the west side of the channel.
Craig and I actually were through this channel once before when we had taken our first trip together back in the early 1990's and we were reminded what a pleasant, scenic paddle this little stretch provides. We looked hard and I THINK we found SOME markings on a couple of different spots that COULD be the pictographs but they were quite faded and rather indiscernible. We did not have much fishing luck here either until we got to the north end of the channel, near the rapids from Ima. After a number of casts with a red/white-striped Daredevil spoon, I suddenly felt a tug and my rod bent sharply. A few thrashes at the surface revealed a nice-sized northern! After a couple of runs, the fish tired enough for me to get it to the canoe and steer it toward Craig, who was waiting in the stern with our small landing net. This fish was really too big for the net and we were lucky to nose it in after two attempts. As soon as we got it over the canoe it flipped out of the net again and started some furious flopping on the bottom of the boat. I had opened my tackle box to get out a stringer and at this point it was still open so the flopping caused hooks and bobbers and lures and line all to go flying. What a mess but what fun! I also think the fish's teeth must have slightly slashed Craig's fingers as he worked this fish from behind me because once we got it on the stringer I noticed his knuckles bleeding a bit--but he hadn't noticed and said he didn't mind either. We measured the fish at 33" long with a weight of 10-pounds, 4-ounces.
We headed back to camp and arrived about the same time that Erik and Scott were returning. They also had a couple of small northerns (on the stringer they now had!) so there was plenty of fish for supper. For the first time, I tried cleaning northern pike using the no-y-bone method as Michael Furtman describes it in his book "A Boundary Waters Fishing Guide." This actually worked quite well and we all feasted on as many delicious, boneless northern fillets that we cared to eat. As soon as supper was concluded we were caught by a surprise rain shower. We scrambled to get the tarp up and wouldn't you know it: as soon as the tarp was up, the rains quit as quickly as they came! This night the temps had cooled so this made the evening fire feel extra cozy before we all turned in and slept soundly--this time IN our sleeping bags.
It was an awesome morning sharing a pancake breakfast and just kicking back enjoying some camp camaraderie. We had planned to start back towards our exit (same as the entry) today but by the time we packed up and were on our way it was late morning and the southwest breezes were picking up. After we left Jordan, a side-trip to view the falls between Cattyman and Gibson Lakes put us still later into the day before we turned south and the wind had picked up a bit more. By the time we got to Jitterbug and Ahsub there was some significant chop, even though these are pretty small lakes. When we got back to Disappointment we could see that this was going to be work. And work it was, but not impossible. We dug in as needed to keep moving forward and quartered the bow as needed to keep from catching any waves broadside. We aimed for a campsite about a mile from the portage on the northeast section of the lake and by the time we got there it was time for a break. The rocks on the shore and the waves made landing a bit tricky but we navigated the canoes to safe ground and checked out this site as a possible home for the night. While we thought it would do OK, we decided to check out the nearby island site as well. By now the waves were big enough that we were going to get a little wet but the site was not far away and our direction would take us straight into the wind--no quartering needed. When we landed at this site it did not show much for shade and the best tent pad looked quite small. I then noticed that the pad actually wasn't that small but that it was half-covered with a freshly-fallen tree. I remembered that when we came in through Disappointment the morning after the storm, this site was occupied and I wondered how those campers fared if they had their tent on this pad and if the tree had fallen on them! Given the conditions of this site, we opted to go back to the first one.
The front of THIS site was pretty open to the lake which made for nice views but also meant we caught the full wind. Setting the tent up was quite the adventure. The site did have some great sunning rocks so once we got the tent up and fed ourselves, we all caught a snooze in the sun. The wind continued all afternoon and into the evening so there wasn't much to do but sit around. It really wasn't even possible to fish from shore since you could not get a decent cast out without it being blown back at you or having your lure drift away from the desired spot in no time. This meant we were going to have to eat the freeze-dried stuff we had brought along as back up. This actually wasn't too bad--Mountain House beef stroganoff and sweet/sour chicken. I had eaten some Mountain House meals before and did not remember them being as tasty. We did find ways to entertain ourselves by hiding items from each other's gear and even making different shadow puppets near sunset on the sun-lit screen provided by the side of the tent!
The wind today made things, at times, less than fun. But each time I am challenged by the BWCA, I am amply rewarded for accepting and dealing with those challenges. As darkness fell the wind finally subsided and we were again able to enjoy a nice evening fire. Then we noticed a faint light on the horizon that soon grew to one of the most spectacular displays of Northern Lights that I have ever seen. This show of the Aurora Borealis was a first for Scott and probably one of the best ever for the rest of us. We sat out on the rocks watching the show for hours and all thought, "Wow! What a way to spend our last night of the trip."
As we crossed Disappointment, the breeze was not bad with only a slight chop. It had picked up a bit by the time we got to the portages at the southwest end of the lake. Therefore, to avoid Snowbank's notorious waves and so we could see some new scenery, we chose to head out through Parent Lake. This would also break up the long portage into two shorter carries. When we got to Parent, the size of the waves convinced us that we had made a wise decision. These waves were not too bad but we imagined that out on Snowbank they might be rather difficult.
On our final portage we had the privilege of meeting and exchanging pleasantries with this delightful couple who were out on their first day of a one-week trip. They had traveled all the way from New Zealand just to experience Minnesota's BWCA! They were quite excited for the adventure that lay ahead of them and were eager for advice regarding the area from which we had just come and for which they were headed. We gladly shared what information we could and wished them well.
The waves on Snowbank turned out to be no challenge after all and we had a pleasant paddle to the public landing, pulling in at about noon. After loading up we headed back to Ely for a much anticipated shower. On the way into town I remember thinking about how good the seats of a vehicle always feel after a canoe trip. After getting cleaned up our final stop in Ely was for a delicious meal at the Ely Steakhouse before hitting the road and arriving home again in St. Cloud that evening, eager to do it all again next year.