Day 1 of 5
Monday, May 18, 2020 After spending the night at our cabin in Ely, we woke early to eat breakfast and get started down the trail. We arrived at the Kek trail parking lot and were the only car there. The hike started at 5:42 am and spirits were high. We had previously day hiked in the fall of 2019 and made it about 4 miles in so we knew what we were getting into. After only about a half hour on the trail we were passed by two female hikers and a dog who were haulin a$$! They didn't appear to have much gear on them and I'm not sure if they were daytripping or spending the night somewhere. We ran into them later down the trail as they took a wrong turn and did the Becoosin-Benezie loop and we passed them in the process. Lunch was around 11:30 on Moiyaka Lake which is rated the quitest campsite in the USA by backpacker magazine due to its remoteness and lack of overhead air traffic. Tiny site, but pretty and it made me wish I brought a fishing rod because something was jumping on the lake. After lunch we continued on and made it to the Thomas Lake rapids crossing. We stopped here for a snack and some photos before continuing on into a tunnel of tree growth and the straightest portion of the Kek. It is in this stretch that we started to get a little tired, and a little ornery. No lakes, no vistas and a world of ticks. On the bright side, moose activity really picked up through here. After 18 miles we had dinner at the Strup Lake campsite. It was a tasty Backpacker's Pantry dinner and then the hike had to continue as we wanted to make it past halfway and the next site was at Harness Lake, 23.7 miles from the western trailhead. At this point our feet hurt, our shoulders were sore, but we powered through and set up camp at 7:30 on Harness Lake. We had hiked almost 24 miles since 5:45 am and we fell into our sleeping bags for a chilly night's sleep.
Day 2 of 5
Tuesday, May 19, 2020 I woke up at 3 and had to put on a pair of pants as the temp had dropped to around 40 after a high of 70. We woke around 6, ate breakfast sans coffee (I shipped it with the canoe stuff, and forgot to pack some for the hike) and hiked on. We were both super sore and Sara had some bad blisters on her feet. I patched them up with some 2nd skin and we marched away with aching shoulders and tired legs, excited that we only had to go 18 miles today. We reached Agamok-Mueller Falls and really enjoyed this spot. There's a cool bridge, a campsite and a gorgeous gorge of flowing water. After a 30 minute snack/bathroom break we continued on. The next campsite was about 5 miles away at Howard Lake, we ate a hot lunch here from the twig stove and the bees were everywhere. They were glued to our pack straps, buzzing our feet as we took boots off for relief and were a real nuisance. There was a pair of army boots and a torn up camo shirt at this site. The boots were in great shape, but too small for me so we left them. We left the Howard site and entered the lowest morale portion of the trip. Sara was in rough shape already, and now the trail went through tons of elevation changes and the tread had changed from moderately difficult to nothing but ankle busting boulders. Every step took measured calculation which slowed us down, took more energy and absolutely demoralized us. Right before reaching Gabimichigami Lake, I spotted a Lynx on the trail, but couldn't get any footage of it as it snuck off quickly. We ate some Fritos at the Gabi sight and continued through the boulders, 10 miles to go. As we labored on, the trail didn't get easier until we got to Warclub Lake and we were able to pick up the pace a bit. We hit the edge of the BWCA just after passing Bingshick Lake, but we still had another couple of miles to hike. We took the Centennial Trail as it is a more direct route to Tuscarora Lodge and it was hard as well. We hobbled into our bunkhouse at Tuscarora at 7 pm, took hot showers, bandaged our feet and ate some bagels with peanut butter before passing out. My empty ibuprofen bottle was resting next to my head when I woke up the next morning.
Day 3 of 5
Wednesday, May 20, 2020 We woke at 6 am and packed some of our last items for the canoe portion of our trip before breakfast was delivered to our door at 7 am. After satisfying the tab with Andy and discussing some route options for our return to Ely, we jumped into our 20' 9" four person canoe with 2 people and 2 packs. I'm sure some of the other groups at the resort were a little perplexed as to why these two yahoos were paddling off in such a barge of a canoe. Needless to say, the Bell Northshore 4 paddled beautifully as predicted and I got used to the extra portage weight rather quickly as we had 13 portages to do today. We paddled from Round Lake all the way to Little Saganaga today via Brant-Gotter- Bat- Gillis- Crooked-Mora. It was a full day of paddling, but we loved it compared to hiking the Kek and we set up camp on Little Sag around 5:30. After a hot dinner, some lounging in the hot sun and some candy for dessert we decided to call it a night. I was brushing my teeth by fire grate and happen to see a fish boil. I brought fishing gear, but up until this point we hadn't had time or the desire to toss a line in as we've been trying to put miles behind us. But, now was the time, so I pulled out my son's telescoping, 5' long, 6 pound test rod with a jig and twister tail and threw it out there. On the second cast, I was pulling in a nice, eater sized lake trout. Awesome. After a quick video, I released it and decided to call it a night. It's always fun pulling in a fish, a bonus when it's a laker. This day improved our morale amazingly and really turned the whole trip around.
Day 4 of 5
Thursday, May 21, 2020 We woke early again and after a hot breakfast of oatmeal and a bagel to carbo load, we were on the water by 7:15 and headed for the southwest corner of Little Sag. We had another tough day ahead of us with another 12 or so portages, three of them over 140 rods. Today's route would take us from Little Sag all the way to Ima via Makwa, Hoe, Fee, Vee, Ledge, Cap, Roe, Sagus, Frasier, Thomas, Jordan, etc... It was a hard day, but we found a nice rythm and were able to single portage most of it. My wife carried two packs on many of the portages which was amazing especially considering her feet were all torn up from the hike, she always finds a way to blow my mind on these trips. Anyway, we made it to the island site on Ima around 3:30 and set up camp. This site was massive, and it was lots of fun to explore. The site had a massive cliff face and the water must have been 10-12 feet deep right off the site. It was cool. I fished a little before dinner and joined my wife soaking our feet in the ice cold water. They were numb in minutes. After another awesome dinner with the twig stove, we had a candy bar for dessert and called it a night around 9 pm. The loons were a chorus all night long and sleep was easy as a gentle breeze came through our vestibules to cool us off.
Day 5 of 5
Friday, May 22, 2020 Once again, we woke early and ate breakfast and coffee, and were paddling by 7:45. After the last few days, today was going to be relatively easy. We only had 7 portages and 6 or 7 lakes to travel before we were back to the Snowbank landing. We had to be back today as my mother-in-law would be arriving in Ely with our 3 kids to spend Memorial weekend with us at our cabin. We needed to get back around lunch time so that we could grocery shop ahead of their arrival to feed the 3 bottomless pits for the weekend. We portaged through the first couple of lakes quickly and easily with a few nice scenic rapids along the way. When we got to Disappointment, we started to see more groups. I wanted to check out a few of the sites on this lake as we'll be heading this way for a June basecamping trip with my dad and the kids. I saw several sites that would be kid friendly and that was enough to make me happy. Once we got to the end of the lake, it was no doubt we would be doing the portage to Snowbank as the water was calm as can be. Snowbank was uneventful and after landing at the Entry Point, I ran back to get the car. I thought it was a 1/2 mile or so, but nope, it was closer to two miles. I was a sweaty, smelly beast. When I got to the Kekekabic Trailhead where the car was parked, it was full! 5 days earlier, we were the only car in the lot. I drove back and we racked up the boat and headed for the cabin. After a hot shower, we went and got a burger at the DQ and ran our errands. It was a great trip, one of those trips that was incredibly challenging, but in the end, we will look back on it years down the road and smile. The Kek was a formidable opponent and I have a lot of respect for the trail and it's history.