BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 08 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1274 feet
Snake River - 84
First time for a portage
July 24, 2018
Number of Days:
We took off from the Knotted Pine Inn near Isabella at first light, about 5 AM. I am glad we waited for first light. Our inexperience in northern Minnesota travel was readily apparent. GoogleMaps suggested north on Rd 177 or going way out of the way to stay on Hwy 1. Note to self: stay on the blacktop road as long as possible. Max speed on Rd 177 was maybe 5 mph. All things considered we made it to the entry point by 7 AM without major incident, just a few new scratches.
The first portage from entry point 84 is marked on the maps as 290 rods. We started attempting to single carry. I should mention at this point that I have taken a couple of kayak float trips in WI but no one else in the group has camped in anything less than a pop up camper in the past 15 years. Needless to say, we had too much weight and too many individual packages to carry. Halfway through the portage we dropped the 18’ Wenonah Sundowner (kevlar) and 16’ Wenonah Adirondack (tuf-weave) and finished with the packs coming back for the canoes (1 1/2 portage).
The paddle down Snake River was interesting. We were very excited at the prospect of seeing a moose but ultimately did not see one. There were 3 portages all on the east bank as expressed on BWCA.com but not reflected on the Fisher map. The second portage was tricky as there was a very muddy (up to my thigh) false landing. The portage actually ended further down with some rocks we could use for loading. The last portage into Bald Eagle had a large tree over the portage trail. We could haul packs under the tree but decided to line the empty canoes down the rapids.
Once we reached Bald Eagle we were welcomed by whitecaps. Being very novice paddlers we took off for an island on the southeast shore to get out of the wind. The second site north on the east shore became our home for the afternoon. My dad promptly started to remodel the kitchen area (this would become a theme). Everyone set up their respective hammocks, my dad set up the gear tent (did I mention we brought too much gear), and we set up tarps as a wind break for the kitchen. A little bit of fishing and wood spoon carving rounded out the day. Overall the site was nice but I would have liked a bear hang tree outside of camp. We hung in the only tree that had branches more than 4 feet from the trunk, it was right on the shore at the edge of camp.
We woke up early and made some pancakes on the fire. Everyone packed their gear up while I cooked breakfast. Just an observation but a single 7” fry pan on the fire does not cook a pile of pancakes for 4 people very quickly. After breakfast my dad did the dishes while I packed my hammock/tarp up. We set up around 7 am from the campsite with the 190 rod portage from Bald Eagle to Gull in mind. The wind had not started yet and the first 40 minutes of paddling were awesome. The silent glide of our canoe through the water with the mirror image of the shoreline was a treat after the wind the evening before.
Unfortunately my map skills were a little off. The Fisher map shows a small island on the west shore of Bald Eagle with a campsite tucked behind, in real life the “island” was connected to the mainland with a 15 yard wide strip of land and a bunch of reeds. I paddled right by it and went another 3/4 mile up the lake looking for the “island” to turn right after toward the portage landing. We did find the portage after backtracking (and my brother using GoogleMaps on his phone). The reviews on this forum are right, the portage landing is incredibly rocky. I left some new epoxy on the rocks there.
We double portaged the 190 rod portage without incident. It was quite rocky with some hills. I personally enjoyed the rose hips and raspberries next to the portage trail. Toward the stream coming from Gull Lake the black flies did get worse. The stream below Gull Lake paddles a lot like snake river and the final 40 rod portage into Gull Lake was pretty good. A couple tight turns in the trees with an 18’ canoe but nothing impassible.
On Gull I had my heart set on trying the campsite on the islands at the east side of the lake but at this point a storm looked like it was going to hit. It was also lunch time. We made the paddle across the lake and couldn’t find sign of the site from the canoe. We could have done a better job searching but with the storm looking like it was blowing in there was no dilly dallying. We returned back to the island site on the west side of the lake, of course paddling against the wind now. The storm never hit us, it looked like it skirted a few miles north sparing us.
After a much needed lunch of chili burritos and lots of water everyone felt better. We set up camp, found firewood, and did some fishing. I should mention that at this point the gear tent was now the sleeping space for my dad and sister. They decided maybe they should have tried the hammock more at home because it was not the camping style for them.
We slept in having decided there would be no travel today. I still woke up by 0700 and started water for coffee on the alcohol burner. I had my brothers coffee made and was making my cup (using the Aeropress) when my dad got out of the tent. He set about remodeling the fire grate area. He first removed of the rocks from the area, disturbing a few snakes in the process. Then he scraped the old ashes out and we buried them outside of camp. Next he restacked the rocks leaving gaps low on the east (windward) side of the grate and then leaving a gap on the opposite top corner of the grate to create draw. He also found a roughly 18” by 24” by 2” rock sheet that he placed next to the grate as a roof extension off to the side of the fire grate. This gave us the ability to have the fire under the rock as well as the grate sheltered from weather.
It turned out that the fire place remodel was a good thing since we started a fire and having part of it sheltered meant that the constant rain all day was not enough to put our fire out. Lunch was brats and cheesy cauliflower soup. While my dad stayed at camp to tend the fire I went out with my brother to find some fish. We caught a couple northern and a walleye each. These became our mid afternoon snack. We had our first wildlife encounter while filleting the fish outside of camp. It scared my sister terribly but an otter came within 10 yards of us to see what we were doing.
I found some wild blueberries and we had blueberry pancakes for breakfast. We leisurely set about packing up camp and started the paddle back toward EP 84. Our goal was to set up at the southernmost campsite on Bald Eagle. The portages back weren’t bad as our paddling and portaging muscles were taking shape. Once we reached Bald Eagle lake the wind was again blowing directly down the lake coming out of the NW. We rode the whitecaps down the lake and were happy to get in the marsh/river channel at the south end out of the wind. To our delight the campsite was unoccupied and we pulled in as 2 different groups of people came up from the Isabella and/or Snake river toward Bald Eagle. Both groups kept going without stopping but one we saw set up at the next site up when we went out fishing the river channel later. My sister managed a 5 lb smallmouth from the river channel. I struck out trying to dredge a walleye up from the channel, oh well.
We hung around camp in the evening making sure everything was ready for a quick depart in the morning. Everyone was missing their respective girlfriends, husbands, wives, and kids back at home. We had a nice evening until about 0815 pm. At that point the mosquitoes literally sounded like a bike gang of crotch rockets roaring through the woods. We retreated to the hammocks and tents since even my 100% DEET didn’t deter the mosquitoes.
Departure day. The morning breakfast was a quick, quiet affair of oatmeal and leftover beef jerky. We paddled back up Snake River avoiding the rocks, the water level was about 4 inches lower than on the day of our entry. By 0930 we were back at the truck. A quick wipe down with wet wipes and new clothes made us feel almost presentable and we started the 5 hour drive back home.
In reflecting on this trip I wish I would have put the extra effort into making a daytrip to Pietro Lake. I had heard good things about the smallmouth there and wanted to see for myself. We packed way to much including 2 hammock sleep systems that only saw 1 night of use. Next time I also want to try bringing leeches in for slip bobbering from camp. Next time...