Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

A solo new beginning
by TuscaroraBorealis

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/21/2019
Entry Point: Snowbank Lake (EP 27)
Exit Point: Lake One (EP 30)  
Number of Days: 10
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
A solo trip into the heart of the BWCA.
Day 1 of 10
Tuesday, May 21, 2019

I spend the night in the Snowbank parking lot sleeping in my van. I wake at first light, wash my Subway sandwich down with some grape Gatorade, and then crawl out and begin hauling my gear down to the landing. The air is undeniably crisp but, mercifully, there isn't a trace of wind and Snowbank Lake is a sleeping giant of mirrored liquidity. Still, I keep reasonably close to shore as the magical silent elegance of the misty white horses marching around the shoreline are my only companions on my northward traverse across this slumbering expanse of water. I am beyond thankful for the calm paddling conditions this morning as this is my first true solo in ten years and there is a mixture of varied emotions as I shake off the rust of long dormant skills & knowledge. In short order I develop a good paddling rhythm and enjoy the added freedoms soloing affords but, I also miss the curious perspective that Aurora brings to a trip. I don't want to adversely add to either the water level, temperature or saline content so I try not to dwell on these thoughts too long and keep my paddle in the water and my mind on the task at hand.

In hopes of achieving a greater sense of solitude, as planned, I choose to take the less traveled northern route out of Snowbank. Having enjoyed a carefree paddle across the width of Snowbank, I am now maintaining a constant vigil of keeping an eye out for submerged boulders as I enter the bay where the portages into Boot Lake are located. My map shows 2 separate portages originating here. I briefly look for the northern most trail as the map shows it as one long path but, it looks like there is a lot of blow down and I don't see a landing, so I opt for the southern portage. While not overly taxing, this trail is full of bothersome protruding boulders. After finishing the haul, I bushwhack a short distance back into the woods to check out the diminutive waterfall located there. It's a very short paddle across the pond to the next section of the portage. Again, I search in vain for the longer single portage but do not run across anything that looks like a trail. It's of no concern as this second portion of this portage is quite easy.

As I push off into Boot Lake, a bald eagle swoops down from it's elevated perch as if to say "follow me". On this end Boot is very shallow and there are a preponderance of ducks and various waterfowl all within eyeshot as I navigate my way towards the Abinodji portage. I pull off at the campsite located in the SE corner of the lake to stretch and grab a quick snack. There is a neat rock shelf near the fire grate and a nice westerly view can be contemplated from this vantage point. Unfortunately there is a lot of blowdown in camp and the only remaining tent pads are marginal at best.

It's not shown on any map I've seen but, due to a large beaver dam, there is a short (2 rods) portage at the narrows leading to the back bay where the portage to Abinodji is located. The Abinodji portage landing is concealed but, since the bay is relatively small, finding it by default isn't a major inconvenience. The trail climbs almost immediately and keeps doing so for a majority of the trail before dropping steeply down to Abinodji lake. Being out of shape as I am, (only having done one trip early last year) this portage really wiped me out and I seriously contemplate grabbing the lone site on Abinodji if it's available.

The solitary campsite on Abinodji is located high atop a rock knob. The landing is a bit constricted but, workable. After the ascent to the site proper, I am rewarded by a magnificent view of the lake. The site, while small, will certainly meet my needs. I sit and assess the situation and grab a blueberry crisp Clif bar. My hope was to make it to Jordan Lake today so I could make it to Sagus Lake tomorrow. I try to formulate how stopping here will alter those plans. According to the last forecast I heard, tomorrow is potentially going to be a nasty weather day and I may not want, or even be able, to travel. So, after resting up for a short while, I determine to take advantage of todays beautiful weather and push on; fully realizing that there actually won't even be another site until Jordan Lake. It aides my decision to understand that none of my remaining portages are very long, (only the Cattyman trail has much of a climb) or difficult.

Swing lake is a short paddle away. This is a pretty decent trail with a helpful boardwalk on the muddy Swing lake end. A triumphverant of melon sized snapping turtles are inhabiting the landing and I think we are all equally startled by each other. After a short paddle, the next portage into Gibson has a little elevation but, really is a pretty basic up and over. The rapids rushing out of Cattyman can be heard as I push off into Gibson. The huge landing is readily apparent from across the lake. A delightful cooling breeze provides welcome refreshment as I paddle across. The enchanting visionary reward for my choice of continuing on today is, of course, Cattyman Falls. After hauling my gear across I take sometime to enjoy this sublime natural wonder. I also think the rock formations along the portage trail are really neat. Kind of surprised that I am able to enjoy this area without any intrusion while (yet again) I catch my breath and then enjoy some time alone at this wilderness waterfall.

The first other canoeists are seen across Cattyman heading for Jordan Lake. I'm hoping to grab the northern most site there but, they obviously got the drop on me and, at this point, I'll take what I can get. The portage into Jordan is a very nice well worn trail and I see a bald eagle perched atop the highest tree on the Jordan end. And, as it swoops down, I immediately recall the bald eagle from Boot Lake this morning and whimsically believe it is the same bird who has led me the whole way.

As I round the narrows into Jordan lake and turn north, the wind coming from that direction catches the front of the Black Pearl and pushes me around a bit; but after I regain control, to my surprise, the coveted site is unoccupied. Happy Day! The welcoming sandy beach makes for a most accomodating, easy landing. I quickly take stock of the day and, while exhausted, am extremely grateful for the decision to push on earlier today. Camp goes up quickly as I forego trying to set up the tarp as I'm hopeful to continue on to Sagus tomorrow. I prepare my least labor intensive meal (macaroni & cheese) and enjoy a magnificently starlit campfire and the expanse of this awesome site into the evening hours.

~Snowbank Lake, Boot Lake, Abinodji Lake, Swing Lake, Gibson Lake, Cattyman Lake, Jordan Lake