Border Route --Loon Lake to Rose Cliffs
Trip Type: Hiking
Entry Date: 06/12/2009
Entry & Exit Point: Other
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Having just finished the Snowbank Loop with my brother in May, my friend, Justin and I hit the Border Route with the idea of getting to the cliffs above Rose Lake.
We drove up and parked along Loon Lake, making the brief hike up the Brice-Breon trail that runs for some length along the lake. The short trip became interesting when we missed the campsite (we found out on the last day that the side trail to the site was behind a big tree that we both missed in our eagerness to begin). So we ended up a little confused when we found a stone fire pit and mossy ground to pitch a tent but no typical fire grate. We assumed that since we were not yet in the BWCA, perhaps this was the campsite, and we made camp as if it were. It ended up serving the purpose just fine. We had a brief hail storm after setting up camp, but otherwise a pretty uneventful opening day.
Distance hiked: 0.8 miles
With a long day ahead, we broke camp before 8 am and made our way along the Brice-Breon trail and up to the ridge above Gunflint Lake and our first introduction to the Border Route. The Brice-Breon was in pretty good shape, except it was fairly wet. We each went through three pairs of socks on this day. The views along the ridge by Gunflint Lake were very nice and the breeze rather welcome. We followed the trail east as it descended down the ridge, eventually skirting Loon Lake again and moving us back up and over some bluffs and burnout above Gunflint Lake. The trail through Bridal Veil Falls was fairly easy to follow and we stopped there for a late morning lunch.
East of Bridal Veil Falls the trail was a bit more obscured, though there were plenty of blue ribbons to follow through the burned out area. It was pretty hot up on those hills exposed to the sun, but the wind helped some. After the Crab Lake Trail, the Border Route stayed mostly below the ridgeline, which was cool but buggy. God bless bug nets. We finally reached Topper Lake around 1 pm and found a very nice campsite there. Our general plan was to hike mornings, chill and fish in the afternoons and get to bed early after dinner, so Topper was the destination.
The loons on Topper were very a constant source of entertainment but I failed miserably fishing it. Still, there was a nice, big rock to lay in the sun and dry our clothes, so Topper was rather nice.
Distance hiked: 8.2 miles
We had a little slower start to our Sunday, as we both slept in a bit, enjoying the campsite as long as possible. Our destination for today was the campsite along the north edge of Partridge Lake and then a day-hike up to the cliffs above Rose Lake. As we hit the Border Route again, walking east, we reflected on how often the terrain of the trail would change. Sometimes we would be walking on a wide path (before entering the BWCA), then hit a burnout area, then find ourselves between stands of pines, then have brush obscuring any aerial view of the trail, then be forced to hop deadfall with annoying frequency, etc.
The first two miles of trail were fairly flat and bland, though certainly a relaxing way to start the morning! Then we hit the view from the end of the ridge above Mucker Lake. The descent down was rather angular. In other words, we were already grumbling about how ridiculous this would be heading out (more on that later!). While the area around Mucker Lake was low-lying and swampy, it had a certain kind of appeal. The log across the stream pouring out of Mucker made us both remark that this looked like a State Park trail and yet it most definitely wasn't. There was plenty of mud on the trail alongside Mucker, but thereafter things changed considerably.
The Border Route east of Mucker is a different kind of animal. It's not that the trail was hard to follow. In fact, there were very few moments from here out where the trail wasn't obvious. Instead, the biggest trial was the encroachment of brush on the sides of the path. Every step meant that something was going to rub against my legs, arms and face. Even clad in light fabric covering my arms and legs and a bug net across the face, this did get a bit tedious. There was plenty of deadfall to struggle with a backpack through, as well. The ascent of the Border Route just east of the South Lake Trail was very tiring, but at the top all of the bothersome brush of the past hour or so was well worth it. The first views of Rose Lake whet my appetite for a later hike to the top of the cliffs.
The Border Route trail guide warns that the path to the Partridge Lake campsite is not well-marked, but in fact there is now a new-looking sign that pointed us in the right direction. The trail down to Partridge Lake wasn't hard to follow, but there was a ton of wild encroachment on the path. We found ourselves after about fifteen minutes at a swamp with trees strewn everywhere. I would not be surprised if a tornado blew through here recently for how the trees were thrown about in just this one location. We couldn't find the path for several minutes, eventually weaving through several trees to find the trail on the far side of the swamp. Afterward we realized the intended route here is over a beaver dam. However, that dam looks particularly fragile (not to mention wet and muddy!) and we decided later to retrace our steps rather than try to cross it.
After setting up camp on Partridge, which is a pretty nice campsite as well, and resting for the better part of the afternoon, we left our packs back at camp, hung our food and made for the Rose cliffs. The word that comes to mind here is spectacular--well worth the trip for this alone. This was the highlight of my trip, hands down.
Distance hiked: 8.0 miles (5.6 with packs)
Heading back was a little bit of a let-down, but at the same time the thought of a warm shower and bed was beginning to sound really nice with only one more night in a tent. The trip back to Topper was a short but tough one. When we came back to the hill heading up from Mucker, it did seem like it would never end. This was the only time I was really reminding of hiking Montana and Idaho. The ridges of the Border Route generally have gradual elevation changes, but here was the exception.
We took breaks at the bottom and top but were still quite happy to return to Topper by noon and rest all afternoon. After a particularly early dinner, I spent the early evening exploring the shoreline of Topper and then taking the portage down to South Lake. After doing this, I realized why we hadn't seen any canoes on Topper--that is quite an uphill trek to be doing with a canoe and gear!
Distance hiked: ~6.5 miles (5.6 miles with packs)
Our last day was a monumental 9 mile hike back to the car at Loon Lake. We set the alarm for 5:30 am, made the rest of our oatmeal and hit the trail. The early morning made the hike much more bearable, though still hot, but the added benefit of leaving early was the wildlife. Justin had remarked that we really hadn't seen much big wildlife about fifteen minutes before we startled a moose cow and sent it crunching through the wilderness up a hill. I have an affection for moose that I can't particularly understand, but they are definitely my favorite animal to come across while hiking so this was a nice treat. But only thirty minutes later we came across another moose cow and calf just before Bridal Veil Falls to cement this being the most exciting day hiking from an animal viewing perspective.
The last few miles of the hike were tedious (aren't they always?). We eventually collapsed next to the car, changed clothes and headed for Sven and Oles post haste. Quite a fun trip, exhausting but good. I would have liked to do more of the Border Route, but five days kind of limited us and we saw what we came to see. I would definitely recommend the Border Route as a fantastic wilderness trail!
Distance hiked today: 9.0 miles Total: ~30 miles