BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 20 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1276 feet
Little Isabella River - 75
UL overnight solo
June 28, 2009
Little Isabella River
Snake River (84)
Number of Days:
My original plan was to spend two nights alone in the BWCA but my girlfriend's flight home got delayed so I only had one night. Looking at the weather forecast I knew I was in for some serious wind and possibly some showers. I planned my route accordingly selecting small rivers sheltered from the wind.
Driving north I left the beautiful weather around the Twin Cities and entered the seemingly perpetually gloomy SNF as per my usual trip. The rain started somewhere north of Two Harbors. When I showed up at the Isabella Work Station about noon the help was definitely surprised to see me. She wasn't expecting another party until Thursday July 2nd and I was only her second walk up of the YEAR! In fact she had a hard time figuring out the reservation system because she so rarely had to use it. Fortunately I had my "get-out-of-the-movie-free-card." It still was almost a 45 minute stop. But I was still in good spirits.
I drove up to the Little Isabella River entry point and started on my way. I single tripped throughout this trip. My gear all fit in a Granite Gear Vapor Trail hiking pack and GG thwart bag. I lashed my two paddles (why do I even bring 2? The ZRE never leaves my hands) and one fishing rod into the boat. I was paddling my new (to me) Bell CJ Solo. Long story short this is my second CJ Solo and I love the boat. And my girlfriend let me keep this one! I built a yoke that attaches to the seat that worked awesome.
I was dressed for war. Full rain gear. Water shoes. Headnet for the fierce skeeters. DEET.
The Little Isabella River was a great paddle! A couple short portages (marked properly on Voyageur Map) and a few beaver dams that could be paddled over easily. I made good time on my way up to the Isabella River. I paddled on the "Big" Isabella River~6 years ago from Island River to Quadga Lake. The Little Isabella River dumps into the "Big" Isabella just west of Quadga so this was all new water and I was looking forward to it.
I rigged up my fishing rod and managed one walleye (fishing pool below rapids) en route to my campsite on the Isabella River-just north of the 8 rod portage. I turned her loose not really interested in cleaning fish tonight and it was approaching 6pm.
The campsite (just north of the 8 rod portage along the river) was pretty nondescript. Not very big but a couple decent tent pads albeit in close proximity to the fire ring. Overall a small campsite.
I hung my Warbonnet Superfly tarp and Blackbird hammock beneath it. The superfly provided plenty of room for gear, cooking and generally getting out of the rain/drizzle.
After a quick dinner of Mountain House Chili Mac (my first time and it was great) I paddled downstream to the nearby rapids/swift water to fish. You can easily paddle this swift going downstream avoiding the 8 rod portage but no way you're paddling up it. No rocks or major obstacles to avoid. I parked my boat out of the way at the upstream landing and walked to the landing beneath the fast water. No sign of company so I started casting. I landed 4 more nice eater walleye between 14 and 20" all of which were released-seemingly no worse for the wear. It had been raining for the better part of my 8 hours out so I decided to head back to my shelter and dry out. Drank too much Jim Beam and fell asleep before the heebie jeebies got to me.
Woke up to more rain. Slept like the dead in my hammock. I highly recommend the Blackbird, double-layer-bottom (mine is 1.1 material), paired with a wide closed cell foam pad (got one that's 60"x40" and 1/4" thick from Gossamer Gear). Only downside to closed cell foam is that it doesn't pack down very small-so I just lashed it to the outside of my pack. It still fit under the pack cover and stayed nice and dry. I was plenty warm with the CCF beneath me and unzipped my sleeping bag and used it like a quilt.
Had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and Chai tea while I packed up. Tarp was the last thing down so even the hammock went away dry (except for the straps). Was on the water by 9am. Not surprisingly I can break camp a lot faster by myself and without crap everywhere!
I paddled down the Isabella toward the Snake River-what a beautiful stretch of water (and land)! Reminded me of Endor-land of the Ewoks. Fished beneath the "falls"/rapids after the 178 rod portage with no luck. I tucked away the fishing rod at this point since the Snake River was within site and I didn't anticipate any more fishable water. The Snake River Valley is wide in its lower stretches with emergent vegetation and bog hundreds of yards wide. The aptly named Snake River channel is only 20-30 ft wide in most places. There is little discernable current. This changes as you approach the first portage.
Mind you I have never been on the Snake River but I had a heck of a time finding the active portages. I was at least the second party of the day to take out at a muddy landing river right. My Voyageur Map showed the portage at this very location. After more than an hour bushwacking, following extinct portages and well worn game trails, trying to retrace my footsteps and starting to get a little nervous I made my way back to the muddy landing. Clearly this was not the right portage. I had decided if I couldn't find the proper portage I would wade my way through the rapids and follow the stream south. Just when I thought I would be getting wet the portage appeared at river left-practically in the rapids.
The river in these stretches is much narrower with overhanging brush that nearly touches midstream. The channel becomes so narrow that I was beginning to doubt its navigability. The gradient here is greater but still very manageable even paddling upstream. I was reassured when I came across another well worn short portage river left-again opposite the Voyageur Map's suggestion. The third and final portage starts river right (again mismarked on Voyageur #7). The trail climbs uphill before turning sharply to the left/South. (If you look right/North at the turn in the trail you can make out an old trail which appears to be an old road or railroad bed. In retrospect I am 99% sure that this connects up the Snake River a couple miles downstream at "that" muddy landing. I think I walked most of that trail when I was lost.) After crossing a nice new looking bridge over the river, the last 200+ rods of the portage back to the Snake River Trailhead climb gradually along the same old road bed.
Back at the trailhead I met a family from Indiana who had tried the same false portage. They were also navigating off of a Voyageur Map. They were "rescued" by a father son team who had come in through the Snake and knew where the portage was hidden. After swapping stories and peeling off my now adherent rain gear I ran the two miles by road back to my car at the Little Isabella River Trailhead.
Overall it was a nice little trip! The rain and portage woes just enhance the story!