Snowbank Lake BWCA
BWCAW Trip Report
This trip report is my first ever. This particular trip brought out many “firsts” for me. A few months ago while perusing through the Trail Talk trips, I noticed a local trip that I thought would be a lot of fun. The trip description talked about trampling through some of my favorite lands in northern Minnesota. Although I have been to the boundary waters many times before, I have never been on a hiking trail in the BWCA. I was excited to view this area by foot, looking at the beautiful lakes instead of looking from them. A different point of view is what I was looking for, and in many ways, it is exactly what I found.
A couple months ago I told my wife about a trip that I was thinking about taking. I left out a few minor details of the trip in order to get approval. One of these minor details that I left out was the fact that I would be hiking with folks that I had never before met in person. As time went on I explained the route, the dates, and lastly, I told her the names of the folks that would be joining me. The names I listed were forum member names and she certainly wasn’t exited about my decision. I tried my best to ensure her that those people were not axe murders, but she had her reservations. She talked to her family members, co-workers and many others who all agreed that I was making the biggest mistake of my life, and that I would surely never come back.
Anyway, I left home after work on Wednesday heading for Eveleth, MN. I made a few stops on the way. The first was at Gander Mtn. for a stuff sack to make my tent smaller as I planned on only using the rain fly and ground cloth of my Half Dome. In Cloquet, I stopped at the grocery store to stock up on food. Now supplied, I headed to Eveleth where my dad had recommended the Kokes motel. When I arrived to check in, and give them my credit card, the lady at the counter said that the bill already taken care of. After unloading my truck and called my parents to thank them for picking up the tab.
Thursday morning I left for Ely. Had a great breakfast at a Vertins. Piragis opened at 9:00, I stopped by for smaller stuff sack for my clothes and headed to the trail head. I rolled in about 9:45, and found all three hikers waiting for me. I introduced myself and met Simer190, Mountainrunner and The Lorax. After packing up my stuff and weighing our bags we hit the trail. My pack’s full weight was slightly over 32 pounds which I thought was pretty good.
The first day’s hike took us around to the north side of the Snowbank lake. I was amazed to see very little snow in the woods. Only in low areas hidden all day from the sun did we see some small patches of snow. We all hiked in a pretty tight group lead by Forest, Simer190’s English Shepard. I am not used to hiking that close to others, usually folks get spread out after a mile or two, but the four of us stayed together throughout the entire trail.
The trail was a lot more rugged than most parts of the SHT which I have been hiking the last few years. During the first day’s hike, we crossed many fallen trees, due perhaps to the winter’s snow, and wind. The trail also provides many hidden rocks to catch a toe on. There were also a few areas where forest rangers had done “burns” to prevent fires. I noticed a few ups and downs but nothing too bad. The first day we hiked about 7.5 miles. We found a campsite on the north end of Snowbank lake, I believe that is was the 3rd site on the route just west of Grub lake. The site was very nice, it had enough room to easily pitch our four tents and although the site was in a bay it had nice view of the lake. That bay would protect nicely from any big storms that may pass through. People traveling by canoe also would be able to access that site if they wanted, but it is marked on maps with a triangle which signifies a backpacking only site. Canoe sites are marked with a red dot. That bit of BWCA trivia provided by Simer190. Thursday night was the coldest night of the three. Temps dropped low enough to add a layer of ice to the 10’ gap between the shore and the rotting ice. Bedtime was about 10:00 or so.
Friday morning, we woke up early to a beautiful day. Sunny skies and cool temps made for a great morning for hiking. Breakfast for me consisted of an oatmeal-peanut butter-burrito concoction, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. We filled up our water bladders/bottles and started out for the day. Temps climbed quickly that morning and by noon, we were all pretty hot. We took a nice lunch break at a campsite along the trail. During lunch we all made a decision to cut our route a little short. Instead of going up and over Disappointment Mtn. we decided that we would head for a campsite on the western edge of the trail which went to the mountain. In the morning we had planned to slack-pack to the top of the mountain from the campsite. We were unable to find either of the two sites which were between Disappointment lake and Ashub lake. We did however, find a bear-bag stuck in a tree. We must have been close to the site, but we decided that we would press on. Just over a mile later we did find another campsite on the east side of Disappointment Lake, but too far away from the spur trail to the mountain. Disappointment mountain would have to wait for another trip. The second day I believe that we covered another eight miles or so. Mountainrunner would be able to provide exact distance with his GPS.
The second night provided us with a nice campsite. Tents were pitched a little closer together, I chose a spot close to the water, but protected from wind by some large red pines. Just after we had our tents pitched, we did get a little rain, but nothing to send us to bed early. I forgot to mention earlier that my BA Aircore had sprung a leak. Every 3 or 4 hours I would find myself on the cold ground and would need to blow it back up. The Lorax had the same problem with his insulated version. That morning while adding some air, I alerted a beaver who had been swimming near-by. For the next hour or so we all heard a lot of tail slaps on the water, followed eventually by a loon and some ducks- morning was upon us, time to pack up.
We had a short day planned to the next campsite. Only four or five miles I would say to Becoosin Lake. We passed some nice ponds with trees dead, but still standing. Another very nice day sunny skies and cool temps. The trail followed a nice ridgeline for a mile or two and we eventually came to Becoosin Lake.
Smoke Lake BWCA
Smoke Lake Trip report
Sometime during the planning of this trip our dates changed due to cold weather. So on Saturday Feb 18th, I woke up at 5:00 to get my truck loaded up with my sled and gear and headed off to Gander Mtn in Forest Lake to meet up with Paul and Greg. From there we picked up Paul’s uncle Dave about an hour north.
That morning was very cold somewhere in the double digits below zero, but the excitement of the trip kept me warm. We took two vehicles up as there was no way that all of us and our gear would fit in either the truck or the explorer.
We made a couple stops on the way up, one of which was the army surplus store in Duluth. Even though I had lived in Duluth for a few years, I had never been in that store. It was very interesting although I walked out empty handed. Perhaps if I would have had some more money in my wallet I would have picked up a few items. I will keep that store in mind for future trips.
We made it up to the closed Tofte ranger station to grab some self-issue permits just incase there were none at the Sawbill entry point. We got to the end of the Sawbill trail just before 1:00pm. The Sawbill entry point permit box was empty-good thinking Paul! We filled out our permit, strapped on our snow shoes and started out across the lake. There were a bunch of cars in the parking lot and a few tracks from folks who had set out before us. We couldn’t tell if they were from the day before or from earlier in the morning.
Although it was cold, hiking across the lake pulling our sleds forced us to shed layers rather quickly. I tried to make sure that I didn’t sweat too much, I was worried about wet clothes in such cold weather. We got to Smoke Lake and found that turned north to find shelter along the shore from the wind. Dave, was the most experienced outdoorsman in the group, and I had no problem letting him find an appropriate place for our campsite. We soon found the owners of the tracks that we had been following. They had placed their tents between an island and the shore on smoke lake. At the time we thought it odd that they did not choose a spot in the trees. We went up the lake a ways and Dave picked out a nice spot with a small hill which blocked the wind. We quickly setup camp. Greg and I used tents, Paul and Dave used tarps. The tents looked warmer, but I heard no complaints. Dave had his tarp setup and a fire going just before it got dark we all stood around it trying not to let any heat escape unused.
We fixed ourselves some food, Mountain House for them, Lipton’s chicken soup with Sweet Sue chicken for me. About 7:00, someone asked how late we planned on staying up, I responded as late as I could stand the cold. We started boiling water to fill our Nalgene bottles in order to keep out sleeping bags warm. The fire was small, the air was cold, and we were in bed an hour later. Because of the early bedtime, I had a tough time falling asleep. Eventually I managed to get some Z’s but I tossed and turned all night.
Sunday morning, we woke up at daybreak and started breakfast. Paul cooked Egg Beaters and sausage for all of us. It tasted great, better than the oatmeal that I normally would have eaten. Sunday was warmer than the previous day, Greg and I decided that a little exploration was in order. We again strapped on our snowshoes and headed to the far side of Smoke Lake to the Burnt Lake portage. Dave and Paul headed back to the Sawbill lake portage to clear some deadfall. Greg and I found a nice campsite on a point on Burnt Lake and had lunch of frozen bagels, meat and cheese. We lingered a bit and eventually headed back. The wind was in our faces so we made a bee-line for the sheltered shore just like we would have done if we would have been in a canoe during the summer months. One thing that is different in the winter is that you can see who or what has used the lake recently. We noticed fresh moose tracks and droppings close to the campsite.
Back at camp we stoked up the fire and waited for Dave and Paul to return. They told us about a couple of cross country skiers who had thanked them for doing such a good job clearing the trail. They talked about campsites and explained the two schools of thought about camping on the ice. This explained why the other campers that we saw had stayed so exposed. I think we all wondered which “school” was correct. It was pretty darn cold to stay out on that ice.
Supper was made, water boiled back to the warmth of the sleeping bag. I used my MSR dromelite instead of Nalgene bottle and was very happy with that decision.
Monday, we woke up a little bit later than the previous day. I think we all slept a lot better than the night before. Dave made flap jacks and we broke camp. We made it back to the entry point just before 1:00pm.
Dave and Paul headed directly home while Greg and I stopped by Betties Pie to get some real food. We never did catch up to Dave on the way back although we sure thought that we would. To quote Dave, “I ain’t going no 70 ‘r 75”. I still get a chuckle out of that.
It’s now time to start looking for gear for the next President’s Day winter excursion. New snow bibs and a pair of goggles are top on my list. I suppose I should get some snowshoes instead of using borrowed gear too.
My1st trip of the year. April 21-23 EP 31 Farm Lake/Kawishiwi River- just south of Clear Lake and back.
Some of the best trips are ones that you plan weeks, months and even years for. My wife wonders why I put so much time into getting things ready for each trip, and I explain the main reason is so that I can some back to her safely. This trip however, was a trip that I spent two days getting ready for. I had originally scheduled this trip three weeks later, but because of the early ice breakup and also because of the crazy alignment of the stars, I decided to go early. So, Wednesday morning I decided to get my things together.
The first thing that needed to get done was to figure out a way to get my new canoe up to Ely. I drive a truck without a topper and haven’t ever put a canoe on top of it. One of the advantages of being a new father is that I have plenty of quiet time in the middle of night while bottle feeding my son in which to ponder the intricacies of car topping a canoe. My solution came quick, I would build a rack out of 2x4’s and anchor them with cam straps in the middle of my truck bed. My rack system consisted of 2-2x4s, 4-cam straps, 4-eye bolts, and the rack was done in an hour. Yakima and Thule are going to be ticked if this method ever gets out.
Thursday night on my way home from work I stopped by the grocery store and picked up some food, not anything too elaborate. Some meat, cheese, soup and a package of bagels along with whatever I had from last year. That night, I also packed up all my gear and set it out in the garage. Friday morning I had some business to take care of and by noon I left the office and was headed home to strap on the canoe and to grab my backpack and boots. The weather was looking nice, but rain was threatening.
I arrived in Ely just a couple minutes past 5:00 and looked for a place to buy a pair of yoke pads and maybe pick up a map if I had enough money. Every outfitter that I drove by was closed, so no pads for me. My solution was to duct tape a rolled up towel to my life jacket. It wasn’t a very good solution as it turns out. I had a GPS unit that I am pretty good with and because I wasn’t planning on going too far in, I decided to use just that and not to take a map. No map, no pads, could be an interesting trip.
I got to Farm Lake at about 6:00 after getting a foot-long at subway. I filled out the self-registration card and unloaded my backpack and canoe then I laced up my boots. Luckily, the lake was flat and that was something that I had been worried about. Although I had paddled my new Northwind on a small lake a week prior, I was still unsure about how it would handle with only one person and little gear. I added three good size rocks to the bow and hopped in. Before I knew it I was half way across the lake with a huge smile on my face. I snapped a picture and continued the 1.5 mile trip across the lake. Because it was getting late, and due to the heavy rain that was starting to fall, I grabbed the second campsite that I came to. It was a pretty good one. The rain stopped soon after I setup camp. I explored the surrounding land mostly looking for dry fire wood.
At the campsite, (waypoint KR2 on my GPS) just before lighting a small fire, I found a live round from a 38 special. That gives one pause. I sifted through the ashes to make sure there were no others and lit a slow burning-smoky fire. If people want to bring guns and ammo into the wilderness, they should at least take them back out with them.
During my first solo evening of the year, I found that I was very sensitive to every little sound from the woods and water. A couple times I caught myself thinking about large hungry man eating bears and wolves jumping out of the dark. I had to pull out my bag of Jedi Mind tricks to eliminate the thoughts of what could be.
At 11:15, fog had engulfed my campsite. Prior to that, the stars had made a nice appearance. I put out the fire, packed up all my gear, slung the bear bag over a tree limb(one shot) and changed into some expedition weight thermals. I then situated my insulated air pad in my hammock and maneuvered my way into my sleeping bag. It wasn’t too bad, but not the easiest thing to do.
The 2nd day I woke real early, then went back to sleep. I was up only twice during the night. Once because a great horned owl visited my camp site and started hootin’ away and the second time I had to pee. That is pretty good considering I was in a hammock with temps close to freezing and I rarely sleep well the first night out. It rained for the majority of the night but everything that I placed under my hammock was still dry in the morning. Rain always helps me sleep.
I did manage to break camp rather early. Breakfast was oatmeal and coffee, pretty much what I eat everyday.
I paddled for all morning, crossed four portages I think. Just before a short portage I quietly paddled up to some timid mergansers and tried to get a picture of them. I managed one rather blurry shot as they flew away. After putting the camera away I happened to glance up and see a huge Osprey right above perched on a dead limb who had been watching me for probably quite sometime. By the time I got my camera back out, it had just taken flight and I snapped another lousy shot. They sure are big birds.
One draw back to using a GPS is that you have to zoom in and out to get a big picture of where you are. I ended up making a right instead of going straight and found myself on a longer portage than I expected. It was about 170 rods into Clear Lake. I really would have liked some yoke pads for that one. Since I had to route planned this detour was just fine with me. I continued south over a beaver damn and another portage. I eventually found a nice southeast facing campsite and claimed it. Not too much competition this time of the year. I really wanted to make full use of these long days, but all the miles that I covered Saturday, would have to be redone on Sunday, in addition to Farm Lake which I did Friday night. I must have had my hammock slung early in the afternoon. I decided to enjoy the nice breeze and take a nap. I crawled inside without a sleeping bag thinking that I would probably just get a few short winks in. There was something about those pines and the wind. The sun was shining directly on my shelter and I slept like a baby. I would guess that I slept for over two hours. I love those hammock naps-there is nothing else like it.
When I woke up, I wanted to paddle, but before that I figured that I would be better off gathering some firewood and exploring the land around the site. I stumbled upon a rotting redwood so I yanked off as many knots as I could. They make great fire fuel, and sometimes can create colorful flames if there is a lot of sap in them. After gathering an arm full I made my way back to camp, and jumped into my boat. I went across the bay to watch the sunset. I was early but enjoyed the two and a half hours sitting on a rock with a stick and a knife. I watched lots of clouds pass by, thinking that soon they would all break-up.
After the sun had set, I paddled back to camp and started a fire, cooked some soup and a "camp burger" which is basically summer sausage, cheese, peanut butter on a bagel. They are my favorite non-cook camp food. It was still pretty cloudy although I could see a couple stars. A couple loons were sounding off, nice fire, no bugs and very calm.
The stars arrived in all of their glory. Mars was almost in the same place as last august- low in the horizon to the east.
I woke up and got an early start to the day. Breakfast was cooked and the canoe was loaded, I was on the water by 7:30. I could hear a growing breeze in the trees on the other side of the island which concerned me a little. After paddling a short ways, I rounded a corner and saw a large moose taking a drink right next to the 70 rod portage. Either it had to move or I would have to wait on the water. As I paddled towards it, I snapped a couple pictures and then slapped my paddle on the water to let it know I was there. It looked up, snorted and then it ran back into the woods, crashing through some brush. I made my hike and launched into Clear Lake.
Clear Lake gave me a little trouble right out of the portage. As soon as I packed up the canoe and pushed off, the wind grabbed the canoe and pushed me right back into the reeds. I was laughing at myself and eventually got it together.
The rest or the trip was very nice, by the time I reached Farm, the water was pretty calm, and I headed straight across to the entry point.
Perfect weather, even when it was raining. Great critter sightings and complete solitude made for a great trip although it was far too short.