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July 06 2022

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

EP 27 - Snowbank to Thomas and back in May 2018

by BigBearArlich
Trip Report

Entry Date: May 15, 2018
Entry Point: Snowbank Lake
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
My friends and I start planning our trips about a year in advance. There are 8 of us, in our early 30s, and we have been going on an annual bwca trip for the past 5 years. Between weddings, kids, work, school, and the general craziness of this time in our lives, we find a window of time that works for everyone. Sometimes up to half our group is flying in, living out of state, from Florida, to Colorado, to Nebraska, to Kentucky. Our trip this year was scheduled earlier than any other we have taken previously, and the late ice out gave us a run for our money. As the trip approached, and the Ice was unrelenting, our group slowly whittled down in size, from 8 to 6, 6 to 4, and eventually down to 2. We kept our permit, and our plan, and watched the ice slowly progress, refreshing Ely area webcams non-stop trying to urge the ice to melt from over a hundred miles away. Our persistence was rewarded. Snowbank melted in time. And we embarked on our adventure...

Day 1 of 5

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 After a half day at work my friend and I loaded up the car and headed north. The drive was quick and uneventful at Noon on a Tuesday, and we arrived at Voyageurs North Outfitters before we knew it. We checked in, got the key to our bunk house, our permit, and chatted about the crazy winter, our route, and fishing tactics with the guys working the desk. We wandered around Ely for a while, ending up at Rockwood Restaurant for dinner. Shorts and tee shirts on the patio for a beer and a burger, quickly changed to sweatshirts after the sun dipped down below the neighboring buildings. It was a preview of the cool nights we had ahead of us. After dinner we drove around a bit and casted a few times off the dock in Miners lake, but soon retreated back to our bunkhouse to re-pack, and talk about logistics for our big next day. We were sharing our bunkhouse with one other group, so we talked to them for a while, and then went to bed.


Day 2 of 5

Wednesday, May 16, 2018~Snowbank Lake, Disappointment Lake, Ahsub Lake, Jitterbug Lake, Adventure Lake, Cattyman Lake, Jordan Lake, Ima Lake, Hatchet Lake, Thomas Lake

5am alarm. By 5:30 we went down to turn in our key, pick up bait including live minnows, salted minnows, and frozen smelt.

By 6am we were sitting down in Britton's Cafe, one of my most favoritest breakfast spots in the world. Their caramel apple french toast, 2 eggs, and sausage is the perfect breakfast before the huge day we had ahead of us. Out the door by 6:30, we headed back through down on our way to entry point 27, with those pre-departure butterflies in our stomachs.

We arrived at the mostly empty parking lot, unloaded the canoe and gear, and carried everything down to the dock to load up. All set and ready to go, we pushed off from the dock and started our adventure at around 7:30am. Having heard rumors about how nasty Snowbank can be, we counted ourselves lucky that we had a relatively easy paddle across to our first portage into Disappointment lake, after a short unplanned detour the wrong way around a big island... The portage was dry, and relatively uneventful, but we felt every rod of that 140 rod portage. The weather was cooperating, and our 2+ mile paddle across disappointment also felt easy. It was at the next portage where we met our next adventure. As primary navigator, I take full responsibility, but man those little red dotted lines and big red dots and other lines for hiking trails can all look pretty similar. We ended up landing at the campsite near the portage, wandered around the woods for a while, found a trail, followed it, realized we were on the hiking trail, backtracked, found the portage, and ended up making a 25 rod portage into a 200+ rod. But we made it eventually.

Paddled across Ahsub, Jitterbug, and Adventure Lake very quickly. Arrived on Cattyman Lake, and heard a deafening roar from across the lake. Even though it was in the wrong direction, we decided to check out the waterfall between Cattyman and Gibson, and we were glad we did. It was spectacular. Snapped some photos, and a slammed a few handfuls of my homemade trail mix (which consists only of shelled pistachios and peanut butter m&ms because Im a grown man) we headed back to our route.

Jordan Lake was a breeze, through the narrow channel and into Ima. The weather was still with us, with a slight tailwind, and before we knew it we were approaching the portage from Ima to Hatchet. It was here that we saw the last evidence of the late ice out, with a chunk on shore, hiding in the shade between two boulders. I took a picture so we had photo evidence.

It was also about here where things start to get blurry, the amount of physical exertion and low calorie intake was catching up to us. I was so thankful to have my katadyn be free water bottle as I was drinking about two bottles per lake at this point. The trip so far had seemed pretty easy overall, but it was loooong. It was after 2pm at this point and we had been going non-stop.

Hatchet was a quick paddle, and the short series of streams and portages went by quickly with the shores lined with massive painted turtles sunbathing and urging us onward. We saw some moose tracks on one of the portages, and also a bunch of big trout in less than a foot of water heading upstream caught our attention, though they werent interested in anything we offered them.

We finally reached Thomas. Met by a group of 3 canoes fishing in the bay we first entered, the told us that they were the only group on the lake from what they had seen, and confirmed our targeted campsite was available. After another paddle we arrived at our campsite. A short break and then time to set up camp!

With camp set up, we cooked our traditional first night meal, tinfoil dinners. Something I picked up from Boy Scouts - Hamburger, potatoes, carrots, onions, a packet of gravy mix, and some water. Wrap multiple times in layers of tinfoil, put into a zip lock bag and freeze until the morning we enter the woods. They are thawed by dinner time and a welcomed, hearty meal after a long trek. They were amazing. We relaxed for a while, and then after a few exhausted, half hearted casts from shore, we called it a night and went to bed.


Day 3 of 5

Thursday, May 17, 2018~Thomas Lake

Lazy day, pinned down by high winds. We wanted to go out fishing but with sore muscles and the wind gusts, we elected to fish from our campsite. Caught 2 beautiful, ~20" Lake trout from shore, and had plenty of food for dinner. Gut them, put butter and fresh dill in their bellies, wrapped them in tinfoil, and cooked them over the fire. Finished with some fresh squeezed lemon juice, and it was a 5 star dinner.

Also caught a 30" beefy pike that put up one heck of a fight.

There were a pair of very friendly loons that hung out with us most of the day. With Thomas being such a clear lake, and our elevated positions while fishing from up on shore, we were able to watch the loons dive and swim underwater. It was incredible, what amazing critters!

We checked the weather forecast that evening, and saw rain starting the next night, and continuing all day on Saturday, which was the day we were supposed to exit. We made the call to leave the next day, and do the majority of the travel, to put ourselves in a better position to exit on Saturday as planned, even if the weather was awful. Our decision ended up being the correct one.


Day 4 of 5

Friday, May 18, 2018~Thomas Lake, Hatchet Lake, Ima Lake, Jordan Lake, Cattyman Lake, Adventure Lake, Jitterbug Lake, Ahsub Lake, Disappointment Lake

Lazy morning, coffee, breakfast, and breaking camp. We departing around noon to begin the trek back out, targeting a campsite on disappointment lake.

A little windy, but tolerable, we headed back out the way we came. The wind gradually picked up as the day wore on. By the time we hit disappointment lake, it was pretty intense. We checked the map, confirmed we had about a mile to paddle, most of which would be straight into the gusts. White caps, a couple close calls, a quick break in a small sheltered bay, and one final push and we arrived at the campsite we wanted. Luckily it was unoccupied, because we didnt have anything left in the tanks to find another one.

We set up a very basic camp, expecting rain all night and the whole next day. My friend cooked up an amazing thai stir fry with loads of fresh produce we had been lugging around. Totally worth it. Then we went to bed after some unsuccessful fishing at dusk. As soon as we turned off the lights in our tent, the woods came alive with critters. So noisy, not sure what it was but there were at least a few of them running all around our tent. Sounded bigger than a squirrel... but nothing bad happened, and I must have been tired from the days travel because I fell asleep almost instantly, even though I was on high alert from all the critter action. Woke up several times throughout the night from loud rain, and a major temperature drop. It was around 72 when we went to bed, and around 37 when we woke up. I was very thankful for my sleeping bag liner that I brought on a whim in case we had some cold weather.


Day 5 of 5

Saturday, May 19, 2018~Disappointment Lake, Parent Lake, Snowbank Lake

We woke up around 8am to more rain, but it tapered off and was mostly just windy for the rest of the day. We packed up our camp, had a quick cup of coffee, and chose to split a bag of jerky instead of making something more elaborate for breakfast so we didnt have to do any more dishes. We piled into the canoe and set sail around 10:30am, and the paddle across disappointment lake was easy, and gave me a glimmer of hope that snowbank wouldnt be miserable. Just in case, though, we decided to bypass some of snowbank, and instead do an extra portage into Parent Lake. Im very glad we did. Parent was quick and easy, but once we got to snowbank it was a whole different story. Ive heard about it being difficult. It was hell. A monster wind out of the north allowed waves to build over a the majority of the lake before they smashed into the side of our canoe, as we tried to dart across to the west and find some protection behind an island. That 20 minutes is high up on my list of the most scared Ive ever been in a canoe. But we made it to the island, and after another brutal paddle into that same monster, now headwind, we arrive at the dock and collapsed - see below:

Loaded up, and headed back to town for our post-trip tradition: Many handwashings and then a delicious burger from the Boathouse Brewpub. Then back in the car for the drive back down to the cities, and back to reality.

Overall it was an awesome trip. One of the hardest Ive ever done, but in my mind you need to earn your solitude and isolation, which is why we love the bwca. We saw some amazing sights, and not everything went exactly according to the plan, but it rarely does. It fulfilled our need for a yearly reset, away from technology and our normal day to day lives and responsibilities.

THE END! [paragraph break] Lessons learned:

1. the pool noodle trick to cover the metal gunwales is genius

2. the book "the singing wilderness" is wonderful

3. 10 miles a day, while doable for my group, is probably a little too long

4. we always bring too much food, and it pains me to carry it back out

5. Early may trips are not good for my anxiety level, probably wont schedule another this early

6. Permethrin might not be as important right after ice out - we only saw 3 mosquitos, and 2 ticks

7. My new favorite adjectives: "Portagey" "Campsitey" "Moosey" For example, "That looks pretty portagey to me over there."


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