BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
June 04 2023
Entry Point 27 - Snowbank Lake
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
Wind on Snowbank
October 04, 2006
Number of Days:
Day One (Wednesday): We left the Twin Cities Wednesday morning and arrived at EP 27 Snowbank Lake around 2:00. We had been listening to the Twins vs. A's playoff game on our drive up. They had just gone down 4-2 in game two of the series when we lost the signal 10 minutes before we got to the parking lot. This was our last time check as I like to leave my watch behind during these trips. I liked adding the extra night by going in the same day as we traveled. We can't count on going very far, but I liked it better than staying in a motel the night before. This also allows us to stay two nights move and stay two nights. While setting up camp isn't that hard, with the shorter days, it's nice to enjoy the effort for more than a couple of daylight hours. It also makes it easier to enjoy what I'd call a Wilderness Pace to the day, instead of trying to keep some artificial schedule.
I'd never been to this area of the BWCAW and was impressed with the floating dock at the entry point. A very light wind was coming in from the north as we paddled Snowbank going from West to East towards the portage taking us to Parent Lake. Oh how things would change by Sunday as far as the wind was concerned. We saw one motorboat on Snowbank, I'd have expected more, but it was the middle of the week.
The nice 80-rod portage from Snowbank took us to Parent Lake. Until a couple of years ago I was quite adamant about single portaging. I've definitely come around to double portaging. When I was younger I loved the challenge of "getting it all over in one shot". It seemed silly to waste time going over the same ground more than once. While none of the portages on our planned route are over 100 rods, these days, we typically double portage. I enjoy the challenges of portaging, but I equally enjoying the un-hampered walk through the woods that is afforded as we go back for our second load. Since we started double-portaging, I've seen a lot more of canoe country just because I don't have a 16 ½ foot hat on my head all of the time.
A quick paddle across the northwest quarter of circular Parent Lake, another 80-rod portage and we were on Disappointment Lake. Disappointment was our planned destination for the next two nights. While not a large lake it was the largest one we'd be on until we got back around to Snowbank. Disappointment has a couple of good-sized islands as well as a winding nature that provides a good bit of privacy for most it's campsites. We paddled to the northeast corner of the lake to check out the three campsites that are close to the Lake Disappointment Trail. We'd discovered from the previous year's trip that we enjoyed taking a day to hike through the woods vs. always paddling and portaging. This year we picked a location that has some maintained trails. There are trails that go all the way around Snowbank Lake, Lake Disappointment, and one that goes over Disappointment Mountain. Our plan was to do some hiking on Thursday along the hiking trails. Little did we know how fortunate we'd be to have these trails available to us.
After checking out all three northeastern campsites we decided to use the island campsite. We quickly set up camp and began preparing our supper of brats. As the sunset, the nearly full moon began to rise. It was hard to tell when the sun was gone, because it never got dark enough for "night". From the exposed island point where the fire grate sits, we were stunned by the amount of light reflected by the moon. Our shadows were mid-day sharp and we could practically read by the moonlight. I've often enjoyed the depth and number of the stars that can be observed while in the BWCAW. There was not a chance of that on this night, too much moonlight. Taking advantage of the moonlight, we headed out for a late night paddle to float among the few stars that were able to appear in the light night sky.
Item of interest: Chris thought the "flat" log seats around the campfire were really cool. Someone had taken the time to saw or chop the top surface of the logs that make up the "benches" around the campfire. Chris figured that, not only did it provide a flat spot to set things like cups, but it was more comfortable to sit on as it allowed ones weight to be spread over a larger area. What kind of person has the patience and persistence to spend hours flattening a log that will be used for a day or two?
Day Two (Thursday):
Thursday morning breakfast started with the discovery that I had forgotten to pack the spatula to turn the blueberry pancakes. Oh well, we kept the pancakes small and used a fork instead. After breakfast was complete we paddled to the campsite that appeared to have the closest access to the "Disapointment Lake Trail". We spent most of the day hiking the trail over Disappointment Mountain and back. Along the way we enjoyed investigating a beaver damn as well as a relaxing sun splashed trail lunch. We also observed that the hiking trails were much more primitive than the portages. The trails were very, windy, with greater elevation changes and had many more fallen trees to go over or under. While there was plenty of evidence that trail maintenance had been done, it is probably not as frequent as portage maintenance. However, the practice trail walking would prove useful for the last day of our trip. Another lesson learned was that my insulated hiking boots were not broken in very well. They were great on the portages offering dry feet and good ankle support. Not so good for a long walk.
This very short description does not do justice for a day that was very warm and peaceful. I'm really enjoying these long walks in the woods that we've started to include in our trips.
Day Three (Friday): Moving Day
We packed up Friday morning and headed to our next sight. We maintained a leisurely pace as we didn't need to go very far, and the lakes were relatively small. We planned to paddle from Disappointment, through Ahsub, Jitterbug, Adventure, Cattyman, Gibson and Swing Lakes to Abinodji Lake. There is a single campsite on Abinodji that we hoped to stay at. If it was not available, there are sites a couple of lakes away on either side. The highlight of Friday's paddle was stopping at and exploring Cattyman Falls. Chris took a lot of great pictures from above and below the falls. The water flow was so low that we ate a snack sitting on the jumbled logs at the foot of the falls with a slow trickle of water passing by our feet. Chris commented that he'd like to camp near moving water sometime. The sound of moving water being would be very soothing. I'd imagine that it would also inspire more late night bathroom trips, but the white noise would also be an interuption to the snoring of Chris's canoe partner… me.
It is easy to see that a lot more water used to go over the falls. There is ample evidence that this was a low water time. There are a number of full sized trees jumbled at the top and bottom of the falls. There are exposed rocks with strange striations where you can see and almost feel the effects of a very strong current. The "active" portage was quite a bit closer to the falls in this time of low water, another farther back portage entrance is available during high water times. A neat item if interest was a dried out tree stump that was hollow in the center. The stump was about 4 foot high. I was able to stand inside of it while Chris took a picture.
The campsite on Abinodji was available. It was a bit different from most of the sites I've used before in that it was about 20-30 feet above the water on top of a fairly rocky and steep bank. Wind damage from the '99 Blowdown was very evident. While there were still many trees standing around our site, the path back to the latrine would have been impassable after the storm. A lot of log cutting was evident to open the trail back to the latrine.
Since our travel time was relatively short, we arrived early afternoon, we had ample time to set up our camp. We selected a tent pad and assebled the tent along with a rain tarp. We did not get any rain, so we didn't use the rain tarp at all, but we got to practice using Chris's tarp bungies.
I also found out what kind of person has the patience and persistance to flatten the top of a log… my canoe partner Chris. (see day 1 comments) I'm glad we didn't have a watch in this case. Chris set about making 90-degree cuts about ¼ inch apart across the top of the log. From there, he used the saw as a kind of sideways rasp to chisel the narrow cuts down to a flat surface. This was not a two-minute job. Apparently he'll do anything to work up an appetite to make choking down my cooking an easier task.
Day Four (Saturday) taking it Easy
This was probably the most relaxing day that we had. The number of pictures taken of people napping evidenced this. We both set up hammocks. There were a wide variety of locations to chose from. We also did a good bit of fishing on Saturday. We didn't plan to keep anything for food (wise planning or just an honest understanding of our fishing abilities?) Chris did catch a couple of good-sized Northerns. This maked him our fishing expert until someone else catches a fish next year (This means I use whatever lure he uses). His success was such that he needed to borrow a couple of steal leaders from me to keep the Northerns from biting his lures off. Needless to say I did not have this issue. I could have used 1 lb test line and not had a problem.
We did quite a bit of wood gathering and wood sawing at this campsite, much like our trip last year. Missing this year was our group photo showing off our work. We should probably make it a yearly practice to take a group picture after the wood pile has been completed. As if to say, "look Mom, we cut all of this wood and we still have all of our fingers!" Walking (read climbing over and grunting through) through the woods with all of the blow down to gather wood was quite a task. It is not easy to drag firewood through these conditions. It raised my appreciation level of the Forest Service for the job they did clearing all of the portages after the storm.
Day Five (Sunday) A long day out.
This was exit day. Our plan was to paddle from Abinodji, through Haven, Boot and Snowbank Lakes to EP 27. There were only a couple of small portages separating each lake. While we didn't have watches, I thought we'd be at the parking lot around noon.
Things were going very well on this breezy day as we made our way through the little lakes of Abinodji, Haven and Boot. The portage form Boot to Snowbank crosses the Snowbank Lake walking trail that goes all the way around this 4200- acre lake. For comparison, the next largest lake we were on was Disappoointment at 800 acres. Our campsite was on little 33 acre Abinodji Lake. The portage took us to the Northeast corner of Snowbank in a little bay protected from the wind. Entry Point 27 is on the South/Southwest corner of Snowbank. The plan would have been a 4 -5 mile 1-2 hour paddle straight across the water. Our guess is that we started on Snowbank around 9:00. As we came out of the little bay we were met by the strong wind from the Southwest, right into our faces. The white caps were 2 feet high and growing as we made our way towards open water. We began to paddle as hard as we could to make 100 yards of progress with the waves growing to the 3-foot plus range. I couldn't see what was happening up front, but Chris shouted back that we were taking on water with the larger swells as the canoe came over the top of one tall wave and down into the trough of the next oncoming wave.
Cold October water, no spray cover. These were not good conditions for paddling 4-5 miles. In nice conditions it would not be a problem to cross in 1-2 hours. We carefully worked our way sideways to a small point and got to shore. It was time to think. We knew that the winds had been strong for 3 days, but had been unaffected by them on our little lakes. How long would the wind last? We could camp and wait it out, but our wives were expecting a phone call by 2:00 pm, suppertime at the latest. Option A: Paddle across the white-capped water into the wind. Option B: Wait it out for a day, two days until the winds were reasonable? While our wives worried. We chose Option C: Go back to the portage that intersected the Snowbank Lake Walking trail. From our map it looked like the trail went from the Northeast corner of Snowbank all the way down to the portages at the Southeast corner where there are portages between Snowbank and Parent as well as Snowbank and Disappointment. A guess of 2-3 miles as the crow flies. We are not crows. We hoped to find calmer waters at the Southern end of Snowbank.
Thinking it better to move than to be sitting we headed out. Off we went down the trail. Again we noted that trails are not very much like portages. These were pretty well maintained, but the elevation changes are much sharper and more frequent than the short portages we had used this trip. The trail is also less visible and "groomed". We expected to be portaging our gear for a good 3-4 miles. We could not carry everything all at once for the entire length of the lake, but both of us taking two trips was not really required either. We developed a leapfrog method that divided the work into three loads for the two of us. Essentially it was a two steps forward and one step back method. Chris standardized the length of our carries by counting steps that essentially had us carry a load 80 rods (1/4 Mile), drop it off and then go back 40 rods for a load that had been dropped by the other person.
In this manner we were able to keep in frequent contact with each other. While we passed each other and or met at drop spots a lot, it was mostly a walk alone in the woods. If one of us had wandered off the trail, we would have known that very quickly. The wind that made Snowbank impassable had little affect on us as we walked the trail through the woods. On the trail it was a sunny warm day in the woods. Even though we put a good bit of effort into the walk, the only thing that made the journey unpleasant was the knowledge that the call to our wives was going to be late. We expected it to be earlier than waiting out the wind, but later than expected.
When we stopped for lunch we double-checked the map and our plan. Given the closer examination, we noted that the trail we were on was going to pass fairly close to Disappointment Lake. If we could get access to the lake we would be able to cut a third of our walking out and paddle from Disappointment to Parent and then portage to Snowbank. Because we'd be on the protected part of the lake from the wind, this sounded like a good option.
Off we went after lunch, hoping we'd be able to see Disappointment Lake and thus cut down on the length of our carry. It turned out that the access point was quite easy. There was a campsite at the top of a tall steep hill that we were able to use to get down to Disappointment Lake. Once we had navigated the steep bank, we were back on familiar ground, water.
From Disappointment to the portage was a relatively quick paddle. As we approached the portage we saw our first group of the trip just starting to move across the portage. We took our time paddling up to the portage to give them time to get across. When we got to the other side of the portage we were surprised to see them just standing there looking at the Parent Lake. Surprised that is, until we took a look at the Lake. There were 1-2 foot swells coming straight at the rocky landing. The conditions were better than what we had seen on Snowbank, but a challenge nonetheless.
Determined to get across, Chris and I made preparations to launch while we struck up a conversation. They were in the BWCA for the first time and were rightly unnerved by the conditions on the lake. They were not planning on exiting until the next day, so they had time to find a good spot to wait out the wind. Chris and I prepared for our onslaught by donning our cold weather stuff, we had been in shirt sleeves up to this point from all of the portaging. We pulled on our hats, neoprene gloves, rain jackets with hoods pulled down etc. We knew that at a minimum with the wind and waves, some cold-water spray and splash were in our future. After tieing the packs to the canoe (in case we capsized) we moved the canoe down the shore to a less precarious launch point. The waves coming straight at us made it a bit difficult to get started. Off we went paddling like madmen working our way through each wave gaining inches with each stroke. This is the kind of paddling that I'd call fun in the middle of the summer, when water temps don't make a swim a health concern. Chris and I have been paddling canoes together since Boy Scouts in junior high. Our experience together paid off during this challenge. We kept out of any situations that would have threatened to capsize us. With anyone less experienced, I'd have decided to wait out the wind some more.
When we reached a spot protected by an arm of land, about half way to our portage, we looked back at the group we had meet on the portage. We could see them carrying their stuff along the rocky edge of the lake to a campsite about 100 rods from the portage. A wise choice on their part, if you ask me. As we finished our paddle to the portage leading to Snowbank, the wind seemed to slacken a bit. Still stiff, the waves seemed to be about half of what they had been when we launched. It was almost relaxing. However, our trip was not over yet.
We portaged to big Snowbank Lake and again we were greeted by good-sized waves. The waves were not as big when we made our first attempt to cross, but still a challenge. There is an island between the portage on Snowbank and the entry point. Traveling from east to west, a nearly straight line can be drawn from the portage across the northern tip of the island to the entry point. This would be the "shortest route" to the entry point and the way that we went from the entry point to the portage when we started our trip. The other option is to paddle the long way around the southern end of the island and then to the entry point. The northern route looked like it would keep us exposed to the larger body of water and the larger waves that were moving from West to East into our faces. So again, we took the long (safer) way around the southern end of the island. This route was not without effort. It was a juggling act between keeping the bow pointed into the waves and trying to angle our way to the south and the protection of the distant island.
Once in the safety of the wind-blocking island our trials were basically over. It was a relatively quiet paddle around the island to the entry point with only one more paddling push through the wind when we came around the island again. It was 3:30 when we checked the clock in the truck. In terms if time, we felt we had done well with our alternate route. Tired, but pleased with the effort.
We packed the truck and changed our cloths. We didn't have cell phone coverage yet, so the phone calls home had to wait until 4:00 when the little bars began to appear on our phones as we drove towards Ely. Given that the wind was still very strong on Snowbank Lake when we finally got off the water. I'm glad that we made the decision that we did. It was more work, but it was also a nice walk through woods that we wouldn’t typically see. Making these in flight adjustments and being flexible enough to adapt to circumstances is an enjoyable part traveling through the BWCAW. It would have been a lot of fun to head out again riding the waves. Oh well, maybe next time the wind will be at our backs.