Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Trek or Treat - Round 3
by TreeBear

Trip Type: Hiking
Entry Date: 10/29/2022
Entry & Exit Point: Snowbank Lake Only (EP 28)
Number of Days: 2
Group Size: 4
Day 2 of 2
Sunday, October 30, 2022
The next day, we were up a little after sun-up. It's always interesting to get into camp late and never truly see where you stayed until morning. It's a bit of a surprise to see the beautiful view looking up the lake you only imagined the night before. We headed south around Moiyaka taking in the remote wilderness scenery and musing that we hadn't seen anyone to trick-or-treat this year, and wondering if we even will. As we crossed the main grade of the Kekekabic, it was fun to think of the history and the old rangers that have headed to and fro between fire towers. Just south of the trail, we turned off to the Medas campsite. Suddenly a loud crash took off through the woods. Despite our best efforts, we didn't see that moose again. However, it seemed we disturbed it from its favorite scratching post. There was a tree mid-campsite full of shed moose fur. So cool! We also found the holes for the previous fire grate. This was a much cooler site then when the grate was by the water (it's now tucked back into the woods a bit more.) It was fun to think of the Backpacker mag article about this very site and to experience a lake so comparatively few people get to. We continued south with anticipation. I as a forestry degree from college and a MAJOR tree and forest ecology nerd, was practically salivating at the hope of walking amongst the ancient pines of Old Pines Trail. Part of me was holding back as I didn't know what 2016 had done with it, but a guy can hope.
The first of the old pines was magic. It was twisted, adorned with a broken top, and filled with character only centuries of endurance can sculpt. The following hour would turn into a practical recreation of a parent trying to drag their kid from the amusement park once time is up. The group knew we were far from the parking lot and they all had long drives home. I was in Eden, amongst thousands of the most ancient of pines, each with a story of storms, harsh winters, close calls with fire, and lives bountifully lived. I wanted to go and introduce myself to each and every one! Don't think me totally crazy. As an environmental educator, one thing I have told every group is that nature is a storybook. As we learn to understand each piece, we gain one page of the story of this landscape. And these trees had quite the story to tell. Though I have a single day's perspective on this parcel of northern Minnesota forest, these trees have the perspective of centuries, and oh to hear their stories! It was obvious from my educated perspective that this stand is on its way out. The space between the big pines is over 50 feet most of the time which lends to a wide open, pretty sunny aesthetic. Even still, I have to find a way back to old pines before they are gone. The place is marvelous beyond measure and singlehandedly transports a person walking through it into the depths of history before the logs of ancient pines were used to build our cities and towns. Such forests are strangers to our modern world, like something distant and isolated, and I could have spent the entire day there. Alas, my group's pleading pulled me asunder from the venerable pines. I'll be back.
We continued west on the Kekekabic, stopping for water and some grouse hunting near Drumstick Lake. The campsite has one of the saddest biffs I have ever encountered! Also, water retrieval is a challenge. Even still, the old saw blade was a cool connection to history, and a reminder of what the Old Pines avoided. Still further west, we happened upon something disturbing. Next to the path, on the north side, lay a backpacking pack. It had been there for awhile as evidenced by the leaf-litter sprinkled on top. This kind of spooked the group. No one leaves their gear behind unless they are in trouble. And a full pack could mean someone is lying hurt or worse not far away. We decided to rummage into the pack and see what was left with the thought being that if the essentials were gone, perhaps they grabbed an item or two to make a quick exit. It seemed many of the main items were gone and the pack was fairly empty. Though it would definitely be a burden, we decided to haul the pack out with us. If the person had left the pack and made for the nearest trailhead, then they would be able to get it back from there. If someone was missing that we hadn't heard about, we'd pass important info along to the USFS about where we had found it. Though there was some risk we were stealing someone's gear (unlikely from how long it had been in place), we figured leaving it at the parking lot would get it out of the wilderness and allow whomever left it to find it. The Kekekabic was flat compared to the steep hills of Snowbank and we made good time till the BW line. Past the line, a few steep ridges slow us down some as we also found ourselves momentarily distracted by overlooks and rock faces. By the time we had made the timber land, the sun had started to set. We had a snack and some water, and set off to finish the last couple miles in the dark. Even with the extra pack, Gramps and Dan-in-the-box still outpaced us to the finish. Lil Grumpy and I had the time to reflect on this tradition and on how many of our adventures turn to nighttime travel. On the PowWow, we were still very far from the finish when the sun set and we had nearly six hours of night walking through the snow before reaching our cars. Even with the hardship, the beauty surpasses it all in our memories, and tonight would be no different. The weather couldn't be anymore unlike that year as we hiked close to the finish. And as we came through the trees with the cars in view, we celebrated another successful trip. This edition of Trek-or-Treat was challenging for me in different ways than before. On PowWow, where I had sprained an ankle half way through, and we found ourselves crawling over hundreds of still-down trees, that was challenging in a whole different way than post-covid tough breathing. In every trip here, I know that I am blessed to continue to get to share these experiences with good friends in an incredible place that means so much to all of us. Another trip's in the books. As I drive home to Ely, I reflect on these past three trips, smile every now and again at the fun and the humor of costume-clad hiking through some rugged and wild spaces, and dream ahead to the trail we'll explore for Trek-or-Treat 4.