Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Snowbank Loop
by BlindMoose

Trip Type: Hiking
Entry Date: 05/22/2009
Entry & Exit Point: Snowbank Lake (EP 27)
Number of Days: 3
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
My brother and I were looking for a 3-day hiking trip in the BWCAW, so we decided to make for the Snowbank Loop. Originally, our plan was to do a larger loop, but this was my brother's first legitimate hiking trip in some time and it was more of a precursor for my longer trip this summer. So, we decided to cut it short and just do Snowbank, which definitely ended up being a wise decision.
On a Wednesday, we pulled into the parking lot at the western end of the Kekekabic Trail and the Snowbank trailhead. We arrived about 2:30 pm with the idea of hiking as far the campsites around the Benezie Loop. The going that first day was fairly decent. We were warned by the ranger in Ely about clear-cutting on the trails, but the pink ribbons marked the path fairly well. We reached the Benezie Loop by 4:30 pm. At first, the loop was very hard to follow. After crossing a beaver dam, there was a bit of a climb and then no path. After some minimal bushwhacking, we made our way down to the path again and followed it to Becoosin Lake. The first campsite on Becoosin was nice, but we had ideas of fishing there and the area was very open and we were aware that Becoosin is a perch lake whereas Benezie is something of a pike lake.

So, we continued on to Benezie. The first campsite at Benezie was a disaster and we were beginning to regret going forward, but the last campsite along the northwestern edge of the lake was actually pretty nice. My brother caught a nice pike even as I was filling up the water and we had a bony, pike fillet for dinner. It rained that night, but all in all it wasn't a bad day.

Thursday was much more difficult. Our only full day of hiking, we began around 9 am and figured we would have plenty of time. However, our first trick was finding the Snowbank Trail. We had to backtrack from the far end of the Benezie Loop. The loop itself was in okay shape, but I dare say my opinion of it improved dramatically by the end of the day when we faced what lay ahead. Finding the Snowbank Trail wasn't particularly difficult, as it was marked by a large post, which was rather nice considering how few markers there are out there. We were beginning to think we had gone past it when we hit it.

We made our way up the Snowbank Trail for a little while and then we came to a campsite. A little confused, we broke for a snack, thinking this must be Disappointment Lake, though no campsite was listed on the map. Only when we didn't find a trail going forward from there did we realize that we had turned into a campsite off the main trail and ended up on Parent Lake. The campsite itself was very nice, though the marker for it was difficult to see (obviously). Heading further up the trail we did come at some length to the portage between Parent Lake and Disappointment Lake. It was here that we saw people at both portage entrances. It would be the only time we saw people the entire trip and it was a welcome feeling.

We stopped for lunch at the campsite along the western edge of Disappointment Lake, which was only disappointing for its extreme amounts of black flies. With a fire going, however, they were manageable. No fishing luck on Disappointment, though I had a nice 30-35" pike follow my spoon right back to me before disappearing back into the depths. My brother ran into a turkey at the latrine, which was the most significant wildlife we saw. Birdseye Lake was the next sight heading north on the trail. I think this was the prettiest lake all trip. Elevated above the rest and not accessible by canoe, the water was a deep azure blue.

We passed a very nice but open-to-the-wind campsite on Snowbank Lake just before the Boot Lake portage. It was well-kept and guarded by a garter snake that simply didn't want to get out of our way, though we found no way to get down to the water to fill back up.

It was only another quarter-mile from here until we reached the portage between Snowbank and Boot Lake. This is where the trip got infinitely more difficult.

The problem: The place where the trail crosses the portage between Snowbank and Boot Lake was hardly marked at all. We spent over half an hour trying to find the place to cross the stream and when we crossed we did so at the wrong place and had to bushwhack our way up along the stream until we found the trail. That was not fun at all, and just a little frightening. GPS or no GPS. It definitely didn't help that the Forestry Service map shows no stream between Snowbank and Boot. When we did find the place where we were supposed to cross, after reaching the other side, it was about fifteen-feet wide with swift-moving water and probably three-feet deep--certainly no adequate place to ford the creek.

From here the trail was hardly marked and very difficult to follow. It rose and fell frequently and there were only a few rock markers to distinguish where we were supposed to go. We decided to press on to a campsite marked on the forestry map north of Grub Lake. The trail took us on an excursion deep into the swamps north of the lake. Finally, we came to what was left of a beaver dam, which we were to cross before beginning our descent back towards Grub Lake. However, the dam was little more than a bit of mud with a foot or more of water on both sides. Getting muddy and gross was bad enough, then not being able to find the campsite on Grub Lake made it all the worse.

We finally made camp at the first available site along Snowbank Lake after pondering camping off the trail once or twice and giving up on that idea only because there was no water. Exhausted and wary of what lay ahead the next day, we hit the hay almost immediately after setting up camp, de-ticking ourselves the entire time.

Friday we had to hike about 7 miles back to the car, and we were eager to get it over with. However, once the trail headed out toward Wooden Leg Lake it actually became fairly visible again. I had spent a good portion of my Thursday night tossing and turning, worrying about the state of the trail ahead with no alternatives but to press forward, but it was actually fairly decent. The area north of Wooden Leg seemed well cared for. If it weren't for the ever-present, annoying black flies this day would have been just fine. My brother was exhausted, however, and we were happy to put those last few miles behind us and hit up the Ely Dairy Queen. My brother swore never to hike again, and I assured him next time we'll take a canoe.