BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 17 2022
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
Snowbank to Spider Lake PMA Loop
August 08, 2021
Number of Days:
We drove up from the twin cities and had lunch at a nice little cafe in Cotten called Wilberts Cafe and el Toro Lounge. The food was good and gave us a nice break in the drive.
When we arrived at Snowbank Lodge we were greeted well and happy to find the bunk rooms there have electricity and water. We have stayed at others where they had neither, which is a little bit of a bummer when you're wanting a nice night before heading out.
I grilled us up burgers, brats and bacon for dinner, had some adult beverages and we all went through our packs to see that we had the appropriate gear and weren't severely doubled up on anything
Opening day and it was fairly beautiful weather: slightly overcast in the morning and sunny the rest of the day. As is the norm only one of my friends reviewed the route prior to getting on the water, so the other one was a bit surprised by the announcement of 7 portages to our preferred campsites for night #1 on Jordan.
I try to do as much homework as possible when identifying the choice campsites, but as we all know that doesn't always work out and you when things are full. I planned for us to stay on Jordan, but those sites were full. We ended up camping on the site (#1198) in the bay on the west side of Ima and it was a good site, though the wind had begun to kick up, so it made fishing tricky. I did some casting into some lily pads and took the canoe around the lake trying a few spots, but ultimately caught nothing :/
We woke and exited the bay and turned north, making our way towards the PMA. It was my goal to get us into the PMA and ultimately to Sedative Lake this day, where we would camp for two nights. That did not end up being the case. The winds began kicking up hard mid-morning and we stopped at site 1193 to hold up and see if they'd die down before continuing on. Mid-afternoon the winds died enough to let us move up to the northernmost campsite on Ima, but my companions and I didn't feel comfortable canoeing up into the PMA given the hour of the day and the distance left to travel. No need to get ourselves into a stupid and ultimately avoidable situation, so we camped here for the night. I fished a little more and lost a lure :/
This site was really nice. The wind was really strong out of the south but the tree cover was dense enough so that you felt barely anything once you went into the trees.
Morning brings bad news in the form of a weather report (both of my companions brought their phones and I guess got signal here) of incoming sustained 25mph winds from the south. With my friends being less experienced in paddling I was concerned about the route out back to Snowbank in the following day or two if the winds stayed strong. Again, I didn't want us to be in an avoidable situation. So, sadly, we make the decision to cut the PMA from the trip and begin making the trip south. The decision was tough, but it was the right one to make :(. Again my buddy was disappointed with the amount of portages in our future hehehe :). The winds lessoned every now and then, but ultimately built up and stayed strong for the rest of the day and the following day
So we made our way south to Disappointment. Of note this trip as with others recently was the insane amount of people. There was a huge hold up to Jordan with 3-4 groups of 7 or 8 people going both ways :(
The plan for today was make it through this constant wind to Disappointment and find a site there and if that fails I guess go out to Snowbank. At the portage into Disappointment we had folks saying everything was full in Dis and in the following lake, Parent. Lucky for us at Disappointment we ran into a dude named Tiger and his dog Rufus who were game to share their campsite with us. The only requirement being if we were vaccinated, which we all are :). The campsite was maybe the worst one I've seen in a while with really only one tent pad and the latrine in full view of the camp and the hiking trail, but any port in a storm, right? Lucky for us we have hammocks. The winds continued to press hard through the night. Didn't even try to fish.
Shoutout to Tiger and Rufus for being some great folks and letting us hang out for the night before he went further into the BWCA.
Now for what was absolutely the hardest day of paddling for my companions and certainly one of the most challenging ones for myself. This is also where my incorrect marking of Snowbank Lodge's location comes home to roost as well :(. No pictures this day did justice to the whitecap fun
In the morning we all take off from camp around 9:30. The winds never reduced over night and increased as we waited in the morning. I figured we had 6.5mi of paddling to do, so let's get to it.
We headed south on Disappointment, fighting through the whitecaps. Around halfway down as we were about to turn west towards the final portage or two (the choice was a single 140 portage to Snowbank or going to Parent and then to Snowbank) my companions got stuck near an island, flipped their canoe and in the course of that lost one of our walkies, which means we were now out of contact in potentially (no clue what the day would bring) dangerous weather. I was able to backtrack to them and helped get them situated, but in that I was now stuck in a current and fought for a while to get back across Disappointment towards the next portage.
At the next portage we had a choice of a single 140rd or two smaller portages through Parent, but totaling more. We decided on Parent because that put us closer in line with where I marked our exit point at and potentially less direct canoeing on Snowbank. As we came to Parent the whitecaps continued and, we feel, got stronger, but at this point the math said to continue, so we did.
We reached Snowbank and were a bit pushed back by the whitecaps and wind. At this point we called our Outfitter and a few other contacts but it seemed that nobody had water taxi capabilities on the lake, which seemed really odd. We also called Wilderness Bay Lodge, which apparently is just a resort located just north of the portage, and they indicated we could come hang out while we waited for the wind to die down. As places go it was pretty but I did not feel welcome. This place was the epitome of "Minnesota nice" where they'd say helpful things but when you actually asked for it they'd suddenly find that they had plans or were unable to help.
We asked a few folks if they knew of a taxi service or if they new the owner of the pontoon that was parked there. Everyone said "no" and walked by, trying to make as little conversation with us as possible. Eventually we consigned to just get to it and went back to our canoes and get on the water. We shot for Burnt Island directly ahead, but halfway there my friends got tossed by the waves. I approached to grab a floating backpack and about that time one of the residents of Wilderness came along to help tow them to the island. Once there we got ourselves situated and traversed around the south end of the island, which caused havoc with my friends' canoe. They didn't get tossed again but they had to backtrack a few times as the currents and winds got the best of them. A little while later as I approached the boat landing -- I was shooting for this because I was hoping they had a map posted as I had a feeling that I maybe had something wrong on my map -- the pontoon from Wilderness Bay went past me and docked and I saw that one of the folks that got out was one of the folks we asked for help at the lodge, cementing my thoughts. I reached the dock just in time to see them drive off.
At this time my companions reached the dock and were drained and angry. I figured I had another 15 minutes of paddling to the outfitter, since it was just north, so I told them to hold and I'd go on. I jumped back in the canoe and turned north. I didn't fully realize my mapping error until I reached the next boat launch, which was the actual EP, and looked at their posted map, did some mental math and thought about what our launching had looked like a few days prior. I was a bay or two around a point east from where I needed to be and I needed to get there before the owners left for the night so I could get my friend's car keys to come back and get them.
I felt stressed, happy and invigorated. This was my jam. Put me in a physically challenging situation after I've already been going for hours, in a canoe meant for two people, in 20-25 mph winds, with an unknown end-point (I knew it was at least a bay over, but I had no clue where) and put a hard time limit on it? Let's do this :).
I jumped back in the canoe and pushed. I knew my friends were tired and I had brought up pizza and beers for dinner and I did not want to disappoint. I fought through the white caps up around the point and found that the next bay did not house my outfitter and nor did the following much larger bay. I knew it had to be on this southwest side so I kept pushing. With the sun in my eyes I came around the next point and laughed at the strength of the wind and size of the waves. Looking across the lake I could see the sun reflecting off a metal roof, but I couldn't make out if that was our outfitter. I pushed south and west and gambled. Eventually I noticed a red colored building in the trees and looked east to see one of the cabins a companion had mentioned on the day we left. I had found our outfitter :). I docked, tossed everything on the walkway and ran up to the main building to find our proprietor still around. It was 7:30 at this point, so I was lucky. It had taken me an additional hour to hour and a half from the EP to paddle what amounted to an additional 2.5 - 3 miles. I guzzled a bottle of water and he gave me the car keys and jumped on his ATV to show me the way and pick up the canoe that they had there.
We took off and found my friends. We then took off to Ely and brought back some great food from The Boat House.
Woke up and drove back to Wilberts Cafe and el Toro Lounge for breakfast :). The place was solid for a second time, so I'll gladly hit them up whenever I'm up that way and the timing works.
Overall this was a different trip than normal. I don't feel like we basked in the BWCA beauty as much as persevered through it. Our friend's cancelling caused us to have to awkwardly paddle a canoe meant for two with just one person and an extra pack; loading that canoe meant the other canoe wasn't as loaded as it should have been, which increased the risk for flipping, which happened and caused us to loose my walkie and some pride. His cancelling also meant we had to cut the PMA, which was our whole point anyways. Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face, right?
I loved the challenge of this trip. It required a lot of tactical paddling and sterning and my friend asked me at the end "if someone asked you to do that again right now would you do it?" and without a pause I answered "absolutely".