Our family likes to get early starts so we have a chance at having favorable conditions getting across the big lakes. On our trip last year Snowbank was so smooth that the water was like glass when we pushed off from the dock. We were not going to be so lucky this year. When we got to Snowbank we were a little behind when we wanted to be there, but still at a good time. There was a group unloading ahead of us, and for September we were quite surprised to see how full the parking lot was at Snowbank. There was only one parking slot available when I pulled our van around to park it. When we pushed off at around 0700 the water was already a little choppy. It wasn't bad, but it definitely wasn't the smooth water we had the previous trip. When we got to Disappointment the wind began to pick up and at times would come from different directions. My 13 year old son and I were in one canoe with the 3 year old, and my wife and 12 year old daughter were in the other canoe. After battling through headwinds and sidewinds on Disappointment we finally made it to the next portage and began talking about how far it was realistic we could make it under the current conditions. We had wanted to make it to Thomas and beyond, but we knew that would only happen if we had had great conditions - which we did not. After talking about it we decided to see how things were when we got to Ima and if there was even a site available (since there was such a large number of groups out at that time). By the time we reached Ima it was pretty much decided that if we found a site there we would take it or head over to Hatchet and then move on the next day. We were very relieved that one of the first sites we came to on Ima was free and quickly pulled in and began setting up camp. We were tired from the long day of paddling and portaging, but still felt pretty good about reaching some of our goals. My wife really wanted to make it into some lakes past Thomas, so we got together as a group and began to plan out the next few days. The next morning - the wind was not any better than the day before. Actually, the wind was worse than before, but instead of being head on or coming from the side - it was coming from behind. After talking about it we decided to pack things up and see how far we could get - still hoping we could reach some of our adjusted goals. We put in the water mid-morning and headed out. It didn't take long till we were rocking and rolling on whitecaps heading across the big part of Ima towards Hatchet. We weren't paddling hard since the wind was to our backs, but we were having to be extra cautious since we didn't want to see any of our crew or gear head to the bottom of the lake. I kept thinking how nine years ago when we brought my parents to the BWCA how my mom thought a little but of choppy water was sure to tip our canoe and send us to the bottom.......she would have had a heart attack if she would have been with us now. And yet, my three year old, just sat in front of me in her seat, not moving, perfectly positioned to ride the waves that were tossing and churning beneath or canoe. The only challenge the three year old presented was that she wanted to grab her paddle and help us go faster. When we reached the portage to go to Hatchet our new problem was to get out of the canoes and get all our gear out. As my family sat in the canoes, I carefully unloaded them. When pulling the food pack out, (the heaviest pack), I tripped and fell, but fortunately did not fall in the water. (We later found that our bottle of cooking spray got damaged when I fell.) After evaluating how Ima had gone and looking forward to Thomas we weren't sure it was such a great idea to keep going. Even though the wind was behind us, what was going to happen if everyday was as bad as today. Would we get way out there and struggle to make it out? We took a detour into Hatchet to see if there were any open sites and when we saw them both open made the tough decision to call it a day. Since it was still early, we had camp set up by early afternoon. Since we still had a lot of the day left we decided to work on the science project that my father in law had sent for the grandkids to do on our trip. We pulled out a sonar device and paddled around the lake attempting to identify submerged objects and fish them out. (Ok, he sent us a fish finder and we went fishing.) My son caught two walleye which contributed to a nice dinner. We spent a day on Hatchet and even though the weather was nice, we were reluctant to go further for fear that we would struggle to get out.....so we stayed on Hatchet and enjoyed the site we had....and fished. That night my wife and I talked about maybe heading back to a lake closer to our exit point if the weather was nice. When it turned into a beautiful morning we decided to go. It took us about an hour and a half to tear down camp and we were in the canoes by around 1030. Compared to a couple days before Ima was a dream to cross. We found a nice site on Jordan and set up camp....then did some more sonar work (fishing) where my daughter caught a nice walleye that again added to our dinner. We spent a whole day on Jordan sitting in our hammacks, fishing, and exploring our surroundings and then a second night after which we packed up and were on the move again. We figured this late in the year there should be plenty of sites on Disappointment that we could camp in to spend one last night on the water before heading back in. But as we headed towards Disappointment and passed group after group heading the other way - we learned that Disappointment was as full as ever and there was a good chance that we were going to have to head back into Ely........a day early. When we finally arrived, a group we passed on the portage told us that all the sites they had seen had been filled. We headed out not hoping for much and as we checked site after site, they were all taken. When we turned the corner to check a site that was a little off the beaten path, we saw that it was EMPTY! We quickly paddled to shore and began the process of unloading and setting up camp one more time. After getting camp set up, (and having several canoes sadly pass us looking longingly hoping our site was empty), we went to the shore and waded into the water which our three year old had a great time "swimming" in the water. When we went to bed that night it was a little sad to know that we were going to have to leave in just a few short hours. That night it rained a bit, (because that means we were going to have to dry things up in town), and when we got up the air was nice and cool and great for our paddle out. When we reached to portage we came across several groups heading in. One group had no idea where they were going and only one person in the group had ever been out there before. They said they came because they had nothing better to do. I showed them on the map the site we had just left and recommended they get out and claim it....but when I got my last pack, they were cooly sitting on the side eating a snack. As we headed across a partly foggy Snowbank it was nice that is was pretty calm and cool. We made it to the dock by about 1100 and loaded everything up and headed back to town.....until our next adventure!