Friday, June 21, 2019
The bulk of the campsites along the Border Route Trail are in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). There aren’t many between the Western Terminus, near the popular Magnetic Rock formation, and the western end of the BWCAW.
Our original plan for the day had been to hike from Sock Lake to the westernmost campsite, which would leave us 12.2 miles to hike on Saturday to finish up the trail. After seeing how challenging the trail was, I realized we needed to camp much closer to the terminus – say, 6 miles – because I needed to be heading home by noon at the latest on Saturday.
Hikers are allowed to camp anywhere along the trail outside the BWCAW. The problem is that there is so much undergrowth, it’s difficult to find a place to put up a tent or hang a hammock. But we figured we’d have to be able to find something in 12.2 miles. And if not, we’d have to hike out. That would be a lot of mileage for one day, but at least today is the summer solstice, so we’d have plenty of light.
Is Magnetic Rock in our future today?
We headed out in the morning and immediately faced more gnarly trail. Ugh. Many of the sections here were so overgrown, the vegetation kept snagging our trekking poles. Some of it was just ugly. Luckily, we hit Bridal Falls.
Bridal Falls is a series of waterfalls cascading over a long, rocky ledge. The guys didn’t have the energy to explore the waterfalls, as they required a downhill hike of about a half-mile, and then an uphill hike back out. But I went down and am glad I did. After all, it’s the views that make up for the trail’s challenges!
Things got tough again after that, but then we had a fun surprise. After bashing through vegetation for a long time, we popped out by Loon Lake and found two wooden chairs set out lakeside! Keith and I plopped in them, while Tom sat on a rock in the water. It was here the guys decided to bail.
They had no compulsion to hike the entire trail. I did, since I’m section-hiking the North Country Trail. We hastily decided to split up there. The guys would take a spur trail to a lodge and stay there tonight. I’d push on and camp somewhere close to the trailhead.
Searching for a campsite
Shortly after I left the guys, the trail rolled out of the BWCAW and joined some ski trails built by the lodges. For a while I had some easy walking on wide, grassy paths. There were some confusing markings with all of these new, intersecting trails, but I didn’t get lost. I found one overview that would have been good for camping, but it was some 7 miles away from the terminus, and that was a little too far.
After that, there was nowhere to camp. There was nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. I had to press on to Magnetic Rock and then the terminus and camp by my car. My feet were killing me and I was exhausted, so I hiked slowly. I knew I had daylight until 9 or 10 p.m.
I went through a stretch with really dense vegetation, then a section where I hiked a lot on the tops of rocky outcrops. Finally, I saw a signpost for Magnetic Rock. Yes!
Imagine my surprise, and joy, when I saw Keith and Tom sitting on a big rock here! The guys had enjoyed a beer, checked out a lodge and asked if there were any camping spots around. Then they bought me a Snickers bar and a beer (and ice!) and hiked in to wait for me. Even though they didn’t know if I’d show up or not!
I drank the beer, checked out Magnetic Rock (which didn’t seem too magnetic) and then the three of us hiked out. We checked out this campsite someone recommended – a spot some man had built for himself years ago – but decided to see if we could stay at Gunflint Lodge instead.
The lodge had large cottages for about $400/night (no!), tiny bunkhouses for $18 (no!) and these cute, roomy cottages that slept five for $150/night (yes!). So we all got to shower, enjoy a nice burger and some wine, then hit the hay.
This hike was hard, but worthwhile.
BRT/MN NCT miles today: 19.7
Total BRT miles: 68.7*
Total BRT miles to go: 0!
MN NCT miles to date: 389.4
Total NCT miles to date: 675.1
Total NCT miles to go: 3,924.9
*This is more than 65 miles because it includes spur trails to/from camping sites.