[at-l] Minnesota Journal, Part 1

Mark Hudson mvhudson at gmail.com
Thu Sep 16 18:28:31 CDT 2010

The is essentially the Kekekabic Trail:

 Kekekabic/Border Route/Superior Hiking Trails

Minnesota '10

 8/16: Kekekabic Trail: Medas Lake -

Ely (pronounced “eely”) treated me well; good food, good beer, good people.
If the winters were shorter than nine months long I could consider living
there <g>.

One last coffee, one last breakfast, one last e-mail out, and I caught a
shuttle out to Snowbank Lake and the Kek trailhead at 8:30. Much nicer day
to hike than yesterday, sunshine and 66 degrees at 7:45 am. It did feel much
more like fall than summer all day tho.

The Kek had multiple personality disorder all day today. The new section
from Snowbank Lake Road was very nicely done and marked with blue (X-country
skiing) diamonds. South of Snowbank Lake is a long section in an old
clearcut that must be very confusing for the first hiker coming through for
the year. The clearcut ended just before the boardwalk south of the lake,
and from there to the east end of the Becoosin and Benzie Lakes Loop the
trail was very nice. Then the trail goes to seed on the way to the
Disappointment Lake Loop; the farther you go the more it grows in, and the
worse the blowdown gets. I'm assuming it's next on their work schedule,
because once you get to the DLL the trail was obviously worked on recently.

I can't recommend the Kek to hikers still hung up on blazes (other than the
few diamonds at the start there aren't any) or signs (only a couple so far),
to compound that there are few landmarks, so you have to pay attention to
the map and keep track of where you are.

Hit camp early because lunch was too short in the cool breeze – and I still
had that “first day trail rush” going. The trail may not have much going for
views or scenery so far, but Medas Lake is beautiful! Glad to call it a
short day here (only 11 miles), because the next campsite is out at the 16
mile point – too far for Day 1.

Didn't see any people on the trail, no tracks – animal OR people. With as
little use as the trail seems to get it's amazing that it exists at all,
kudos to the trail club!

So, arrived at camp before 2 pm, pitched camp out on the rock point, very
windy but hoping that it dies at sunset. Managed a quick swim, water is warm
but the breeze is not!

Killing time until dinner now...

Turned much more cloudy since I arrived, and the wind kicked up – I think I
heard a couple of trees fall on the other side of the lake. Walked back a
ways and scouted the campsite at the adjacent lake – it looks to be just as
exposed to the wind as this one.

Thinking, probably thinking too much... planned four short days (10-12
miles) to get to Gunflint Lodge. An 18 tomorrow followed by a 15 would get
me there in two more days. I'm not in a rush yet, and too many variables to
calculate – how easy will the trail stay, what will the weather do, and how
will I feel? Just see how tomorrow goes and play it from there. I think I do
need to knock a day off somewhere, or by my calculations I arrive in Grand
Marais on a Saturday night – bet that would make it hard to find a place to
stay. We'll see...

Oh, and today's insect count? Three dead deer flies and a couple of
mosquitoes – not bad.

In the tent, out of the wind, just to stay warm. Reading and relaxing. Then
crawled out to make dinner, and as soon as I fired the stove up it started
to spit light rain. I had already picked out the Pad Thai since it was the
heaviest dinner in the bag – plus the added advantage of just dumping in hot
water and waiting.

Wind down to mostly just a breeze now, might be getting pretty cool
tonight... thought I heard the distant call of a loon (next lake over?)...
it's been MUCH too long since the last time I'd heard that call.

 8/17: Agamok River Bridge Campsite -

The loons were “hooting” last night as the wind sighed in the trees and
occasionally buffeted the tent. I did the classic loon tremolo call as I was
packing camp. Up at six, out on the trail at ten to seven. Cool clear
morning and easy trail.

Much of this morning's trail was run across the landscape with a ruler. Of
course since there weren't any topographical features that didn't matter
much. The overall effect did leave something to be desired, it felt like
walking under power lines or along a gas line.

The Kek *IS* as wilderness trail. While it's not blazed it did occur to me
that the best markings of all are all along it – saw cut blowdowns. If you
stop seeing saw cuts it's time to take another look around...

It seems that each section of the trail must get cleared every five years or
so. When you hit a section that is one year short of being cleared you're
essentially on your own. There's one long section west of Strup Lake that
for all purposes is a bushwhack, and god help you if you lose the trail;
first, to reiterate, that section has no geographical features to orient
yourself. And second, if you were to bushwhack back across the trail at a 90
degree angle there's a great probability that you would never see it. The
Kek is a slot in the woods with a trail – most of the time. Some of the time
it seems like a slot with no trail, or worse – a trail with no slot. At one
point the understory go big enough to be overstory and that made the trail
easier. Oh, and throw in a couple of beaver dam flooded areas to make it
more interesting. <g>

Saw moose tracks and droppings this morning, none too fresh. Scared up a few
grouse. And actually spotted boot tracks that I'm following, don't know how
old they are but they don't look like they've been rained on.

Later in the morning and into the afternoon the terrain became hilly – and
thus real overlooks. My feet were starting to get tender when I stopped at
one for lunch. I finished a too quick lunch and walked down the hill to find
Harness Lake. That was supposed to be my stop for the day (12 miles by
lunch, no wonder my feet were sore!), but there wasn't much to recommend
staying there; tiny campsite, mud-bottomed lake – and too early to stop.
Guessing it was another 3.4 miles to here, and more and bigger hills, I was
running out of steam. Arrived just before 3pm, no problem deciding this is
it. Decent campsite near the river between two lakes. Nice bridge over the
gorge, some scenic falls, and enough of a swimming hole to jump in and clean
off. <g>

Relaxed in the tent for a bit, and then took the scenic walk to the upstream
lake to get water... and heard voices – somebody in a canoe camp. So now at
least I know someone else is out here!

And tomorrow? Eight miles or seventeen? I suspect seventeen knowing me, but
let's wait and see what the trail does...

 8/19: Gunflint Lodge -

At least two showers last night – the ones that woke me anyway. Overcast and
warm(er) this morning, and the mosquitoes were active while I was packing.
Out on the trail early, 6:20 or so. Spent most of the day and the rest of
the Kek walking through recovering burns. The first mile or so was freshly
cut “Gee, this is nice!” trail, then it was back to route finding – many
thanks to whoever puts up the blue flagging tape! Got to Seahorse Lake and
the Kek dropped all pretenses of being a trail – the route dropped you in
the west end of the lake and let you splash your way to the north side. The
boots were not only baptized, they were drowned! Also managed to fall –
twice, and bend the same pole- twice. Took a belated lunch (at least my
stomach said it was late) at Mine Lake, then actually met dayhikers on their
way in from the road. I had just checked the BRT guide which mentioned the
first four miles or so being through an area burned in '07. I asked one
couple about it – they said the trail to Magnetic Hill could be followed,
after that the guide suggested a map and compass, and they described the
area as being “blasted”. Okay, having walked all day through old burn I
decided to road walk to Gunflint Lodge to get around the new burn.

Guess it was three miles by road, thankfully the air is still cool because
there wasn't any shade. Funny thing was that there were more bugs on the
road than there were in the woods. Got to the lodge about 3 pm, got my way
too big and damn heavy food drop, and found out they don't have a campground
here (the place next door does), but they have “canoer cabins” for $18, sign
me up! Not fancy, but I'm set – food drop sorted, gear spread out to dry,
showered. Need to find a pay phone and call home, then wander over to the
bistro and fill my stomach with food and a couple of cold beers :-)

I know I forgot to mention seeing the little garter snake, and the blueberry
laden pile of bear scat. Even better were the ripe blueberries along
Bingshack and Mine Lakes, yum!
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