BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
water and ice and no bugs
November 02, 2023
Number of Days:
Thursday, November 02, 2023
Our intended entry was Lake One, but the thick ice at the landing scared us off and we headed back down the Fernberg Road to Snowbank. Open water there so we discussed a route north and decided that Adventure Lake needed to be on the trip. And as long as it’s an adventure, might as well take the slow train through Parent (wide open) and Disappointment. And that’s where the fun started. A hatchet in the front was too slow, but by loading the gear in the stern and kneeling by the yoke, Bob was able to bounce/crack his way through to the open water behind where I rejoined him via a ferry ride from Doug and Sam. We stopped for trail lunch at a campsite near the waist band of Disappointment and fueled up for more anticipated adventures in ice before the end of the quickly fading day. My share of the food was breakfasts and lunches, so I went with the traditional TL of tortillas, summer sausage, cheese, peanut butter, raisins, and chocolate - still one of my favorite meals, maybe because of the good memories of so many childhood trips. As we made our way towards Adventure we weren’t disappointed by the intervening excitement of more ice on Ahsub and Jitterbug. Bob narrowly avoided an over-the-boot surprise as we navigated the initial ice on Ahsub and we all were a little confused about a game plan for the too thin to walk on, but too thick to break through hard water on Jitterbug. We eventually found that rear loading and a lot of pushing from the other canoe behind could get us through the tricky ice and back on to thicker ice from open water. Sam quickly pointed out that either all ice or no ice was better than the messy mix and he got his wish on a long smooth crossing of the second half of Jitterbug. At this point I was kicking myself for not bringing ice skates while wondering if tying small rocks to my boots would result in traction. As we passed through the remaining smaller lakes - Adventure, Cattymsn, Gibson, Ashigan - it was an exciting guessing game as to the conditions that we would find at the end of the portage. Even the lakes that were completely open upon arrival sometimes threw us a loop going to the portage at the end. Moving water, bay-free shorelines, and deeper lakes seemed to be the winners. By the time we reached the desired Ensign, the sun had set and we felt our way a mile across to a sheltered east facing campsite that would score low on stars, but which for the bill as a great place to crash for the night. The temperature was probably in the 20s, but without a wind and after working up some heat, it felt like perfect paddling weather. Tent (Bob and I sharing a roomy 4-man) and hammocks (Doug and Sam came with an arsenal of under quilts and sleeping bags) were set up, some firewood was found, and we consumed two delicious brats each before retiring.
The day dawned and we slowly got out of our sleeping bags to survey the surroundings that we weren’t able to see last night. Over breakfast of oatmeal and some pancakes we discussed the route forward. Options include north to the border lakes or west to the chain ending in Moose. Eventually the three 100 rod portages up to Birch Lake and the border won out and we packed up for the short paddle to the first carry. We had to break through a bit of shore ice to get to what we thought was the portage out of Trident, but it turned out to be just a well worn rest spot. After a little bushwhacking around we discovered the actual portage to be towards the end of the little stream coming in from the north. This stream contained walkable ice, but getting there from the marsh was a bit dicey. Sam got a little water in over the top of his boot in the process of hopping from the grass clumps to the solid stuff. Thankfully it wasn’t that cold of a day and later on we even saw sun after a couple of snow flakes floated down on us. Other than the remains of a wolf visit, there wasn’t much to see on the route through Frog Lake and we were soon on Birch Lake which was clear of any sign of ice. We threaded our way through a few islands and narrows on the Canadian side of the border and stopped briefly to decide to have lunch at Prairie Portage. This was Sam’s first time out of the country and he was enjoying the fun of traveling abroad without a passport! As we neared the historic portage into Basswood, we saw what appeared to be a slightly rusted, but colorful roof. Once much closer it was clearly a billboard with a Canadian flag welcoming us into the country that we had been paddling in the past hour or so. After a little exploring around the signs and sights of the falls and Prairie Portage (and seeing how expensive a week long trip into Quetico would be!), we settled down for lunch beneath the white pines with a view of the south approach from Sucker Lake. It was a surprise to see a canoe with two paddlers and a dog. It was even more surprising to see that the only gear they had was an empty plastic container. They pulled up next to our canoes as we were getting ready to depart and we found out that they had been around camping nearby for about a week and were checking their nets on Basswood. The woman was 8-1/2 months pregnant and seemed to appreciate Doug’s cheese and summer sausage portion. Pretty tough couple to be up here at this time of the year! Before leaving the area we landed at the dock on the American side of the falls to check out the truck and trailer miles away from any real road. $19 seems like a lot of money to carry your boat 60 rods, but I guess worth it for those motor boats heading into Basswood. Unfortunately the truck was locked so the dead mouse in the trap will probably be decomposed by next spring. As we paddled into and out of Splash Lake on our loop back to Ensign, we noticed a couple of bald eagles hanging perched and flying nearby. Turns out that they were feasting on the hundreds of fish (whitefish or suckers maybe?) that had congregated in the moving water. I dangled a Rapala in front of them, but they didn’t exhibit any interest. Our curiosity was (and still is) piqued about what they are doing. We were rewarded by a beautiful view of open water at the end of the long portage into Boot. The only tricky part came when we encountered ice at the narrowing by the laces (?) of the lake, but we were able to break through with a little push and shove from the rear canoe. A glorious sunset met us as we entered back into Snowbank after leaving it about 30 hours before. As is almost always the case for me on Snowbank, the wind had produced some nice waves that we fought against for a short paddle to a partially sheltered campsite on the east side. It was starting to get a bit chilly as we set up camp once again in the dark. On our approach to the campsite I had noticed some nice looking firewood along the shore and so paddled over to load up the canoe with my favorite - dried and seasoned cedar. It made for a nice fire that we huddled around until it was time once again for sleep.
The night was definitely chillier and my little window of air in my sleeping bag kept getting smaller as I cinched it up against the cold. The sounds of a ruffed grouse drumming drifted through the night and I found myself sleepily wondering how late in the season such activities occur. If he saw us, he was probably thinking the same of us! I got out of bed a bit before light, inspired to get a fire going. The reward was a beautiful sky as I paddled out for some clean water for coffee and oatmeal. After breakfast and packing up we loaded the canoes for the last time and pushed off for a 3 mile paddle to the takeout. The wind had already produced some waves and it was chilly enough to convince us to take the far side of the island. We saw a boat full of blaze orange clad folks heading out into the lake, presumably in search of deer on the opener. By the time we reached the take out I was ready for a warm car and found Bob’s keys to start it up and crank the heater on high. Unfortunately I had put it on full blast cool and when we hopped in after loading up it felt as cold as last night’s tent. A fitting end to a great and cool, out of the ordinary trip.