Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Snowbank and Kekekabic Trails
by NorthlandFan

Trip Type: Hiking
Entry Date: 09/02/2018
Entry Point: Other
Exit Point: Other  
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
My boyfriend, Colin, and I hike 52 miles through the BWCA on the rugged Snowbank and Kekekabic Trails, both heavily impacted by straight-line wind storms and forest fires. The trails offer a way to experience the beauty of the BWCA by foot and offer great challenges and even greater rewards.
Day 1 of 8
Sunday, September 02, 2018, 8 p.m.

Snowbank Trail Canoe site, southwest corner of the lake, 1.5 miles hiked

We’re camped out beneath towering red pines on a point reaching out into Snowbank Lake in the Superior National Forest (SNF). The sun is setting, and the wind is sighing the trees. Far off, a seagull cries and the faint sound of a motor from a late evening fisherman‘s boat can be heard.

We drove up to the very end of Gunflint Lake Road yesterday to leave Colin’s car at Heston’s Lodge. We decided to drive both our cars up, and leave one at each trailhead, as shuttle prices were running around $300 with the outfitters we contacted.

We camped at the Iron Lake SNF campground, then drove up to Ely to pick up our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) permit at the Kawishiwi Ranger Station. A charming ranger there convinced us to add the Snowbank Loop to our trip, another 15.75 miles. The Snowbank Trail was closed last year after a straight-line wind storm in 2016. We hiked through similar damage last year on the Border Route Trail (BRT), some of the hardest hiking I’ve ever done.

We left the Snowbank/Kekekabic shared trailhead going north at 3 PM. Within half an hour, we were convinced that we were on the wrong trail. We started consulting our compass and Gaia GPS app, and after a wrong turn down a private trail that led into someone’s backyard, we started to suspect that the GPS couldn’t be trusted for more than giving us our general location. We also suspect the site where we are currently camping is incorrectly marked on our McKenzie map as we hiked down the portage, where the site is supposed to be, to double check that we’re on the right path. There was no campsite, but also no other trails, so we must be on the right one. Gaia keeps showing us flipping between the Snowbank Trail and another trail running to the west called the Flash Lake Snow Trail. I suspect our first 1.5 miles have set the navigating tone of the trip.

The trail so far has offered easy hiking through boreal forest of birch, pine, spruce, alder and more. The bugs are still around but are manageable, not like the bugpocalypse of last year‘s monsoon summer. It’s been very dry this year. It feels so wrong to hike with dry feet. Aside from some slick rocks and a couple patches of mud, the going is easy. I’m not sure why our pace was only 1 mile an hour today. We started late and already tired from the drive, I guess, and we took it pretty easy.

We set up our tent, sat for a minute soaking in the silence and watching a flock of birds feeding in the pines above us. Then we jumped in the lake for a swim and the water was bracingly cold. I climbed out right away to sit on a warm slab of granite while Colin swam more.

I feel such relief and gratitude to be back in the woods, back in the BWCA.

Sunset over Snowbank Lake