Entry Point: Snowbank Lake #27 with a tow across Snowbank Lake to the 140 rod portage into Disappointment Lake
Type: 5 Day trip
Equipment: Rental canoe from Spirit of the Wilderness outfitter, bent shaft paddles, all gear provided by outfitter, personal gear, rain gear, ax, and Garmin GPS.
We started our trip preparation on Sunday 3 September 2017. We had been camping for the last week with our small light weight Tiger Moth trailer at the Fall Lake Federal campgrounds. Now we pulled it and parked it in town at a friend’s house for the next week. This was great as we hung items that needed to dry in my friends shed.
At 3pm we headed to Spirit of the Wilderness outfitter in Ely to complete the last-minute gear check and get our permit for the next morning. We had purchased a full outfitting package in the winter that included the canoe and all the camping gear plus food for the week. The staff walked us through all the gear and how it was going to be packed in our packs and gave us tips on the food prep. This walk through gave us a great time to ask any last-minute questions and to “see” the gear prior to opening the pack at the campsite.
The complete outfitting package included a night at the bunk house and so after we completed our gear check and set a time for rolling out the next morning we spent the evening going through the last of our personal items and unpacking things that now we knew we didn’t need. The emergency radio, our small hand saw and some of the extra clothes were removed and placed into our parked trailer.
Day 1 : We started out at 0630 am at the Spirit of the Wilderness parking lot where Troy drove us out to Snowbank Lake with our canoe, gear, and the tow boat. We had a great discussion with Troy and he mentioned that not many people take a tow to Disappointment Lake portage. We explained that our experience the prior week had us decide that it was the best option for us.
Troy set us on shore at the 140 rod portage just after 7:15 am. We took some last minute pictures and headed across the portage with our first load the canoe and paddles and two packs. We had gotten our gear down to two personal bags (medium size military packs), a small water proof bag, and one gear pack and a bear barrel which had our food. We returned and picked up the other 4 bags.
We found the portage was not difficult although long we were glad to have this one long portage instead of the two shorter ones on the Parent Lake portage side. The weather was clear and warm.
On the Disappointment Lake side of the portage we started seeing our first canoes of the morning. A canoe with two young men from WI were the first to arrive and quickly asked about the waves on Snowbank Lake. Instantly they headed towards Parent Lake portage. The we passed three canoes just after launching that were heading out. They mentioned the rainstorm the night before and seemed most camps on Disappointment were breaking camp and heading out early. This was the last day of the Labor Day weekend and we expected a mass exodus from the BWCAW. Better for us and maybe also for getting our planned campsite on Ahsub Lake.
As we paddled up Disappointment Lake we noticed that all the campsites on the lake had to have been full the night before. We also noted the ones we liked as we passed in case we had to come back and camp here if Ahsub Lake was full.
We made it to Ahsub Lake portage around 10:00 am and found that this portage was not flat and was narrow and rocky. We encountered a team of 3 men and a boy who were heading towards Disappointment Lake. I carried the canoe for the first time and I guess because we look older (but maybe just because they were nice) they picked up our gear at the portage and carried to the Ahsub Lake side of the portage. The only problem I had with that was that they didn’t ask us, and we couldn’t double check we had all our gear removed from the other side of the portage. Being that I like keeping my gear in my hands I would have opted out of their kindness. But- thanks anyway guys for being kind!!!
The paddle from the portage into the campsite at Ahsub Lake was almost silly to repack the canoe. It was less than 50 yards around to the left of the portage. Lucky for us, we knew it was empty as we had passed the occupants the night before just before the portage. We landed the canoe and quickly went to check out the site we had planned all winter to stay at. It was now 10:45 am. This was our home for the next three days.
Campsite #1206 on Ahsub Lake sits on a ridge high above the lake and overlooking the lake to the east. It is nestled on the southwest side with a rockface and has a good trail that links the latrine to the main camp. The latrine trail also leads and links up to the Old Pines hiking trail which has suffered extensive damage from the 2016 blowdown. The forest service had recently been through and cut the blowdown that had hindered the hiking trail. This was our source of firewood the entire stay at this campsite.
This campsite had two nice tent pads, a large kitchen area with trees that provided good points to tie off a tarp and large logs to arrange for cooking surfaces. The fire grate overlooked the lake and this was where we spent most of our time watching the lake and the canoe traffic in the days of our stay.
Soon after setup on 4 September it started to rain and it continued until 6 September mid-day. This was not the type of vacation we had planned for and it made everything harder to manage. Wet ropes, tents, packs, and clothes are hard to manage and it tested our skills and our tempers. I have lots of experience with outdoor camping but my partner had none. He found out that it was a challenge for everything. I have to say that he kept going even when he was frustrated.
Wednesday 6 September brought us some much needed sun and a break in the weather. We decided to explore Ahsub Lake into Jitterbug. The wind was still a bit strong but the sky was clear and warm. We had seen several canoes that morning heading towards the Jitterbug portage.
From the Ahsub Lake side it is a wonderful paddle into the portage as it is protected on both sides with rock shore line that towers above the channel. The channel does get shallow as you get closer to the portage and I now understand all the trip reports of how hard this area is in low water.
We met two paddlers at the portage who were on a day trip out of Parent Lake and were now heading back. We decided to play it safe and just walk the portage to Jitterbug and not paddle as it was late in the afternoon.
Day 4: We broke camp early and headed back into Disappointment Lake. We had a couple of campsites picked out on our map that looked nice on our way in. We wanted a short paddle the last day when we needed to be at Snowbank Lake portage to get our tow back to the entry point.
The weather was perfect for this paddle and we took our time enjoying the shoreline of Disappointment Lake. We made it to and checked it out and then headed to check out the campsite located on the small island just south only to find it was taken. We paddled back and set up camp on #1385.
Campsite #1385 has a flat sloping rockface southeast facing towards the lake. It was perfect for drying out our gear. It had two nice tent pads, two areas that could be used as kitchens and a very long walk through the brush to the latrine.
About half and hour into our camp setup we had a jack rabbit run through the campground and jumped over the canoe. It was running like it was being chased but nothing else appeared.
Then about 10 minutes later it camp back through the campsite and cleared the canoe again, headed towards the lake, jumped in and started swimming. This was crazy behavior and I told my partner that we should stay clear of the rabbit as it was “not right in the head”. As my partner started back up towards camp from the shore we heard a screech from the rabbit. He ran back to see a pine martin hauling the rabbit from the water. He grabbed his camera and filmed the pine martin running into the woods with the now dead rabbit! What an experience! Even I (growing up in Northern Minnesota) had never seen a live pine martin! Thank you BWCAW for providing us a show!
Day 5: We woke early to fog over the lake and headed out with our GPS in hand paddling towards the portage. This was a new experience, paddling in fog. Everything looks different and it was a good thing we had our GPS to keep us on track. Even with it we felt like we were going nowhere and maybe even in circles. We did scare a beaver as we passed him in the fog and he slapped his tail on the water to show us his disapproval.
We portaged our lighter load to our end point in two loads. I was proud that I carried the canoe on the 140 rod portage without stopping. We shared the portage carries equally on this trip. For a couple of middle aged 50+ers we felt we just experience and did something that most our friends our ages couldn’t or wouldn’t do we are still very proud of ourselves.
We waited two hours for our scheduled 10 am tow. So we looked around the portage site and picked up small things people had dropped while on the portage. Fishing leaders, ties to sacks, snack wrappers… leave no trace had not been the rule at this portage. We were glad we had time to try to improve the area. We also noticed a few flinted arrowheads at this portage. What a find! Look for them too if you have time and go through there.
Ricky from Spirit of the Wilderness showed up right at 10 am. We were glad for the tow as the ride towards the boat launch was bumpy. A perfect way to end the trip with a fast ride with the wind in our face to whip the 5 days of dirt from our skins.
Well… we still had to take the provided shower at the outfitter.
For more pictures and locations of this trip please visit