BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 05 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
First Winter Camp- Birch Island- Snowbank
January 15, 2016
Number of Days:
Drove up to Ely and did some last minute errands in town. I always love coming back to the town where I was blessed to live for four years.
I bought a pair of the Yukon Mukluks from Steger's and I have to throw in a quick review of them: They are awesome! Very comfortable to walk in, and extremely warm. I normally wear a size 12 shoe and I bought a size 13 double wide mukluk. I wore a liner sock, a thin merino wool sock and mid-weight merino wool sock. My feet stayed dry and toasty in temperatures exceeding -25F.
I had a really good Walleye taco from the Boathouse Brewpub, washed it down with the house double IPA, and made my way to Smitty's on Snowbank to meet my friends, and spend the night, before putting in.
We decided to choose Snowbank for our first winter outing because of its trout population, proximity to civilization should something go wrong and ease of access. My two friends have mountaineering experience but no BWCA winter experience. I had no cold weather experience. I had just bought a canvas tent, 2 toboggans and a stove, used, and I was eager to use it!
The owners of Smitty's seem very nice, but the motel was very rowdy on trout opener eve. My friends and I could not sleep and decided to abandon our room at about 2 AM and head to the access. We had not paid yet so we left a note to assure the owners we would be back!
By the time we finally set out with the toboggans it was near 3AM Saturday morning. We skied to the east side of Birch Island and found a great camping spot near the Wilderness line. We quickly set up our tents and got some sleep.
We woke after just a couple hours of sleep and began gathering wood for the stove.
There were many people on snowmobiles and 4-wheelers close by with portable fish houses. This didn't really bother me as I was just happy to be out. After getting a fire going we set out some tip-ups.
The temperature felt like it was dropping on us and my two friends made the decision to leave late in the morning. They had barely gotten there! I think they underestimated the weather. They were cold early Saturday morning, and it was going to be much, much colder the next few nights, so they left.
I was sure I wanted to stay and wished them farewell. Armed with 2 sleeping pads, 2 -20F bags, wool pants, many layers and my new mukluks I was sure I'd stay warm, sleeping cold at night.
I moved one of my two tip-ups one time on saturday. I broke the ice out of each hole a few times, and changed depth on them a few times. Other than that I really did not have much effort in fishing. I had to pull my tip-ups out to go on wood runs, because I would not be close enough to tend to them.
In fact, I quickly found out that all of my responsibilities and focuses in life had quickly devolved into just a couple key, but simple tasks. Search for wood, gather wood, haul wood, saw wood and split wood. I was also busy boiling water as well (though I did just drink some straight from the lake as well).
Thanks to the extreme cold of the weekend, paired with solo winter camping, I discovered that this would not be the leisurely fishing trip I had envisioned. It certainly felt great to work outside on my shelter, while watching for those flags to fly! I did not have a flag all day, however, a group not too far from me caught a nice lake trout off of a tip-up. That was that group of four's only fish of the day, and a group of two near me as well, got skunked.
As the sun began to set the fishermen returned to their warm accommodations on shore while I settled in to my canvas tent and zipped it up for the first time while stoking the fire. How satisfying to be so warm in such cold conditions!
I had let my stove burn out during the night and relied on my gear to keep me warm. I woke a few times during the night, but was able to get back to sleep. Just before first light I got up and got the stove going as quickly as possible, it was freezing!
After some coffee, venison bacon and oatmeal I was ready to drill some holes.
I set the tip-ups out just as some of the first groups of fisherman arrived for the day, hugging the Wilderness line with their motor vehicles.
Most of the day I was involved with gathering wood, intermixed with fishing. I had two flags and missed on the hookset each time. The group that had caught the one nice trout the day before had returned, but had no luck, leaving early in the afternoon.
I was by myself on the lake by the early afternoon, save for another group of winter campers at a dedicated campsite about a quarter mile to the north of me. For supper I reheated yeserday's chili and relaxed with a little Bushmill's Irish Whiskey that I packed in, in a canteen.
Awoke again to frigid temps and started the stove in a hurry. It's such a comforting feeling as the first surges of heat start to warm you, as water for coffee starts to steam.
I had all the wood I needed now, and added to that from the campsite where the other winter campers had left plenty behind. There was no one else on the lake in my sight today. It was time for more aggressive fishing tactics...or so I thought!
The wind had picked up, hitting the east side of the lake, which had been salvaged from any wind the past two days. What I thought would be the warmest day, felt like the coldest. I drilled about seven holes and began jigging in a few of them while leaving a tip-up in one. I got way to cold after about thirty minutes and drilled another ole to try, while warming up. I just could not shake the cold, however, and retreated back to the tent, leaving out a second tip-up. After a bit a flag went up and I ran about 300' to where the tip-up was. I set the hook and had a live one on! She felt nice, and had peeled out a lot of line, but before I could catch a glimpse of her, little own my swivel, she shook loose and was gone!
Deflated and cold I took inventory of my situation. The sun was just beginning to disappear, behindthe island from me. It would bury itself below the horizon in the southwest sky very soon. I was set to stay one more night, but I made a quick decisison to pack up and leave. The toboggan was awkward and heavy with many items that were not on it the first time around. I did much better on the hardpack snow walking than I did with skis. I made it back to the landing around 6PM and had a good meal in me by 8.
All in all, it was a good trip. I'd like to go with people more dedicated to fishing and camping than my buddies were. I'd also like to get in a bit farther, away from the crowds. This was not a bad situation for a first trip. I'm very happy with the HDPE harside toboggans I bought, as well as the snowtrekker style tent which was home made by the gentleman who sold it to me. My Muskrat stove is lightweight and wonderful. It is an artform to operate which I am just learning. At times I would have it so hot and then I'd be blowing inside to let the flames catch. I am getting the hang of how to work the dampers still, I suppose. A few times I had it so hot that a spot on the side of the stove was glowing cherry red. I hope that is normal?
I had virtually no ice melt under my stove, which I read a lot about before I went camping. I used a welders blanket I bought at Northern Tool and placed a car windshield reflector underneath the stove, on top of the blanket. I'm not sure if that mattered as much as the fact that the lows were constantly double digits below 0f while I was out. Maybe it was just too cold to melt ice?
PS: A couple other things: There wasn't much that I brought that I didn't use. I'd bring less cooking utensils and less food next time. Way less food!
One thing i'd bring that I didn't, lotion, chapstick and eyedrops. That stove sucked moisture right out of me!
One thing i'd do different. Process wood on land, not on ice. It made a mess on the ice which was hard/impossible to clean up completely when I left.