Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Eagle Mountain Trail during Blowdown
by Sagebrusher

Trip Type: Hiking
Entry Date: 07/03/1999
Entry & Exit Point: Other
Number of Days: 2
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
This was the first time I had been to the BWCA in nearly 15 years. The last time was in 1984 when I went on a canoe trip with the Boy Scouts. Ever since then, I have dreamed of going back. I almost went back for a long trip earlier this year, but I had to use my vacation time to go to Arizona. The weirdest thing about the whole experience is that I did it on impulse. When I woke up at home early Saturday morning, I had a great urge to go the BWCA. I grabbed all my gear, and was on the road within an hour. I got to the Tofte ranger station at about 7:00 pm, and got my overnight hiking permit and rented a few items from Sawtooth Outfitters. I got to the trailhead at about 8:30pm. I had a large Duluth pack and a daypack. I put the Duluth pack on my back and my daypack over my chest. Altogther, my gear weighed over 70 pounds. Much of the weight was composed of 2 gallons of water, and my tent which is quite heavy. I carried my gear to the border of the BWCA, which was a 1/2 mile in. By this time I was already quite exhausted. Just across the border, I divided my gear and double "portaged" it to the first campsite. The campsite is another 1 1/2 miles beyond the BWCA border. It was well after midnight by the time I went to sleep.
Part 1 of 2
I solo camped Saturday night (July 3rd) on the Eagle Mountain trail. On Sunday morning, I hiked to the summit of Eagle Mtn, and then went back down and broke camp and headed back to the trailhead, which was 2 miles from my camp. By this time, about 1:30pm, about 15 day hikers were on the trail headed to the mountain. About a third of the way back, I passed a large family group. About 10 minutes later, I crossed a bog that had a boardwalk and at about that time I noticed that it was thundering to the south (downtrail). After the bog, the trail climbs a small ridge. The storm hit as I was nearing the crest of the ridge. The wind first hit the trees at the top of the ridge, and then it rushed downslope towards me. It uprooted a medium sized pine tree about 100 feet to my left. The wind was generally from the south. The wind gusts continued and I decided to run back down the trail to the bog, which had very few trees. I sheltered under a small pine tree growing in the bog next to the boardwalk. After about a minute, a woman and girl from the family group ran up the boardwalk from the direction of the mountain. They came up to me and seemed uncertain as to where they should go. I am not an expert, but I told them the bog would probably be safer than just about anything else in the area. They had decided to leave the rest of the family and head back when they heard the storm coming, and the woman was very concerned about the rest of their family, as they were probably on the mountain by now. After about 5-10 minutes, two couples came by and also waited out the storm on the boardwalk. At one point the tree that I was standing by started to move as if it was going to uproot and I jumped in the opposite direction of the movement onto boardwalk, almost knocking over a guy standing there. I was a bit jumpy, to say the least :) After another 5 minutes or so, the storm abated enough that we decided to try to get back to the trailhead. What followed was about a mile and a half bushwhack through fallen trees. Fortunately for me, several people offered to carry some of my stuff so my pack was much lighter (my gear is old and not lightweight, except the food and cookware). In most cases, the trees were uprooted and not large, and usually not more than a few in one area. But one section of the trail was absolutely devastated. Large trees were snapped off either at their base or mid trunk, and some of the trunks looked like they had been thrown quite a distance from an area just off-trail. That area was at least 5 acres in size and almost devoid of trees except for a few large half-trunks, their tops totally gone. I think their tops ended up on the trail. Going through this section of trail was more like spelunking, not hiking, as we had to crawl on our hands and knees to go over and under the tangled mess.

After the blowdown area, the going was a bit easier, with only a few spots that were difficult to traverse. Finally, after about 2 hours, we made it to the parking lot. Fortunately, this area had not been hit bad and none of the vehicles were damaged. In the next half hour the rest of the family group and another couple emerged from the trail. Amazingly, no one was hurt. Apparently they had been on Eagle Mtn when the storm struck and contrary to (my) logic the storm was not as bad on the mountain as it was in the lowlands. When everyone had left, I noticed that there was still one vehicle in the lot besides mine. Not feeling up to trying to search for the owners, I left the parking area and went to contact the ranger station in Tofte. The road to Tofte, however, was blocked by fallen trees. A guy with a boat trailer, headed to Brule Lake, told me the road to Grand Marais was clear. This route led me past the Eagle Mtn parking lot, so I checked it again. The vehicle was gone, so everyone made it out. This greatly relieved me. While I was there, yet another group drove in. As they were preparing to go on the trail, I told them about the condition of the trail, but they refused to take my advice and proceeded to set out on the trail. They did'nt even know about the storm, despite the fact that they had to drive around many fallen trees on the road from Grand Marais. I hope that they made it back alright, because later that day the area was hit by another wave of storms, which were mostly heavy rain from what I have heard. When I got to Grand Marais I reported in to the ranger station. They were greatly relieved to see me, as I was on the search and rescue list. I also told them that everyone on the trail made it out without injury, and about the new group that was attempting the trail.