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Postby phighlander » Fri Feb 09, 2007 9:56 am

What can you tell me about the Kekekabic Trail?

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Re: Kek

Postby PaddlerJimmy » Sun Jan 03, 2010 2:11 pm

Here's an article from the Star:

When a pair of hikers tested themselves against Minnesota's tough Kekekabic Trail, they discovered wonder in its wildness
By LARRY OAKES, Star Tribune

Last update: January 3, 2010 - 9:34 AM

It was one part inspiration and at least one part Lagavulin.

Emboldened by the smoky magic of that single-malt scotch in front of a fireplace last winter, my neighbor Tim Colburn and I resolved that in 2009 we would finally pull the trigger on our dream to hike the Kek.

The Kekekabic Trail is renowned among hikers to be Minnesota's meanest, wildest trek. It slithers like an agitated snake almost 40 miles from Snowbank Road, east of Ely, through the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to a point about 50 miles up the Gunflint Trail, west of Grand Marais.

Named for a lake near its midpoint with a name derived from the Ojibwe, "Kekequabic" (meaning hawk-cliff or hawk-iron lake), the trail emerged when foresters hacked through the brush in the 1930s to make a footpath for fire-suppression crews.

In 1949, Boy Scout Whitney Evans captured some of the trail's traits in a description timeless enough that Martin Kubik and Angela Anderson used it in their Kekekabic Trail Guide in 1996:

"The trail struggles its way through swamps, around cliffs, up the sides of bluffs, and across rocky ridges. It is choked with nightmarish patches of clinging brush. It is blocked with tangles of windfalls and standing timber. It is pressed in places on all sides by outcroppings of rock.

"Sometimes it snakes its way over old river beds, slippery, rocky and treacherous. In other areas it is a peaceful path loping through open stands of timber with a soft, mossy carpet underfoot."

It went from tough to impassable for a couple of years after the infamous 1999 blowdown flattened the forests along miles of the trail's eastern half. More recently, wildfires ravaged the dead timber, scouring the landscape to bare rock in many places and obliterating all traces of the path.

BWCA's rules against permanent markers -- even after a pair of hikers lost their way in the late fall of 2008, prompting a search and rescue by helicopter.

That incident only made Tim and I more determined to test ourselves against the Kek.

Yes, we decided under the influence, but as September neared we prepared in sober earnestness. We made lists and decided our pace: 8 to 10 miles a day. We packed the smallest and lightest tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and quick-dry synthetic clothing we could find.

We chose tough, broken-in boots with room for two pairs of socks, to prevent blisters. Tim ordered freeze-dried meals to cook on his tiny butane stove. I bought a hand-pump micro water filter. We were pleased to find our packs each weighed less than 35 pounds.

Tim acquired detailed McKenzie maps and a GPS unit, but then we discovered that waypoints -- latitude and longitude coordinates -- weren't readily available for much of the trail. So we navigated the old-fashioned way, by dead-reckoning, map and compass. We used the GPS only to record waypoints, to post to websites and share with other hikers.

When the day finally arrived, we set out from the western trailhead near Ely under clear skies that stayed with us for five days.

There's not enough space here for a blow-by-blow of the hike, but here are some impressions of this wild and wonderful trail:

It's an odyssey, a series of adventures to experience and problems to solve.

As we journeyed eastward the trail switched back and forth along ridges and through gullies rubbly with boulders and cross-hatched by gnarly roots of 200-year-old pines. It jumped rivers where only a log or two had been laid down for a bridge. It traversed boot-sucking swamps where tops of beaver dams often afforded the only dry crossing.

When the trail disappeared in a grassy slew or on a bare-rock bluff, we continued our direction of travel until the terrain or vegetation changed to something that would give definition to a footpath, then zigzagged or circled until we reacquired it with a shared smile of relief.

The first night, as we watched the sun slip behind the western shore of Disappointment Lake, we talked in hushed tones about how a broken leg or even a twisted ankle could turn the hike of a lifetime into a living nightmare. We resolved to keep our boots tight and our eyes open.

A waxing, nearly-full moon rose in the eastern sky, flanked by Jupiter. They became our nightly companions.

It's a slog. The average person could walk 10 miles on level ground in a day and not feel exhausted. We walked 8-10 miles a day carrying 35 pounds over steep, jagged, and blocked terrain, and each night we were so tired we almost fell into our sleeping bags.

"That was a death march," Tim, a lifelong runner and basketball player, panted as we sloughed off our leaden packs at a campsite along the tumbling Agamok River after a 10-mile day.

After dinner, chasing Ibuprofen with nips from a flask, we decided the Kek's drain on a hiker was two-fold: Each step required not only the exertion of a stride, but also a quick decision about where to plant the foot, and often a balance shift in midstride, when a rock would wobble or a log would roll.

We agreed that a good part of our fatigue was from spending hour upon hour in a state of hyperawareness, our brains firing double-time to do the countless calculations required to make a good pace without injury.

It's a worm hole -- a pathway to a former time, when a person could walk one direction for days in Minnesota and not encounter another human.

The Kek is so challenging that in the past five years the BWCA issued an average of only 56 overnight hiking permits a year for the trail during it's "quota" season, May through September. (In addition, an average of 90 permits were taken out each year for day hikes and off-season hikes.)

Other than a pair of fishermen in a canoe on Disappointment Lake, we saw no one during our five days on the trail - not a single other hiker.

After two days of walking we were so far into the BWCA's interior that we no longer heard even the faint drone of airplane or boat. Campsites got so little use that dead wood for fires lay everywhere -- no need to scrounge.

There, crouched in silence on the shore of an undisturbed lake with a fire flickering and Jupiter on the rise, a guy could believe with newfound certainty that while life is hard, its rewards can be great -- and some moments are perfect.
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Trail Closure

Postby bwca » Fri Apr 23, 2010 12:35 pm

Beginning Friday, April 23, 2010, the Forest Service will close the entire Kekekabic Trail on the Superior National Forest (SNF) to public use. The closure includes ALL connected trails.

The SNF managers are taking this step in response to the very high fire danger in northern Minnesota. The concern is that hikers could potentially become trapped if a wildfire starts and spreads.

This closure is in addition to a Forest-wide prohibition on the use of any campfires, charcoal or wood-burning campstoves on any national forest lands within the SNF. State and local government have enacted similar restrictions on other lands in northern Minnesota.

For additional information call 218-626-4300 or visit the SNF web site at ot the Minnesota Incident Command System web site at
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Re: Kek

Postby bwca » Tue May 11, 2010 8:50 pm

Superior NF to Adjust Campfire Restrictions and Reopen Kekekabic Trail The USDA Forest Service is adjusting campfire restrictions and closures on the Superior National Forest.

The Forest Service will re-open the Kekekabic Trail and associated trails to public use beginning May 5, 2010.

Also beginning Wednesday May 5, 2010, campfires will be allowed any time of day ONLY in designated fire grates in developed campgrounds.

On all other Forest System lands, roads and trails, within the boundaries of the Superior National Forest, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire or wood/charcoal burning stove continues to be prohibited. The prohibition on campfires, charcoal and wood-burning campstoves includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Gas and propane stoves are permitted anytime of day in any area of the Superior National Forest, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Forest managers are making this change in response to recent precipitation and green growth in northern Minnesota which has decreased fire danger in many areas. Conditions in the Arrowhead Region continue to contribute to high fire danger and the need to reduce potential human-caused fires.

Previously, due to extreme fire danger across all of northern Minnesota, the Forest Service had prohibited campfires, charcoal and wood-burning campstoves in all areas of the Superior National Forest and the Chippewa National Forest and closed the Kekekabic Trail system. Restrictions on the Chippewa National Forest have since been lifted.

For additional information, please contact Superior National Forest at 218-626-4300
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Re: Kek

Postby Jaws » Tue Oct 26, 2010 12:03 am

Anyone able to give a recent report on thus trail? Great article posted above, this sounds like a trail I need to try!
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Re: Kek

Postby bwca » Tue Oct 26, 2010 9:37 pm

Superior National Forest

Kawishiwi Ranger District
Kekekabic Prescribed Burn
October 21, 2010 Final Update

Units: Three units within the Kekekabic Burn area have been completed. Unit 302 is 1260 acres, Unit 310 is 1450 acres. Unit 316 is 900 acres.

October 14: Unit 316, located near the northwestern end of Kekekabic Lake, was ignited beginning at 12:45 on Thursday afternoon, October 14. Lighting continued throughout the day. The ignition helicopters then moved into Unit 310, located east of Kekekabic Lake, and continued lighting until early evening. Ignition will continue on Friday, October 15, in Unit 310 and into Unit 302.

October 15, 2010: Aerial ignition began at 11:45 am, continuing in Unit 310. Lighting then proceeded into Unit 302, between Wisini and Raven Lakes, south of Kekekabic Lake. Ignition will continue on Saturday, October 16 until Unit 302 is complete. Burn efforts have been successful. The fire is burning well in the blowdown. An underburn is being utilized in the areas of standing pine. Fire will be allowed to continue to work in these units. Crews are monitoring the area. Closures remain place.

October 16, 2010: Lighting continued in Unit 302 and ignition was completed by late afternoon. Lighting of all units is complete. Aircraft and crews will remain in the area to monitor the burn. The portage, campsite, and trail closures will remain in place until the area is safe for people to return, at which time a final fact sheet, with any additional details, will be provided.

October 18, 2010: Fire is still smoldering in some locations within the three burn units. There was some minor spread of the fire to the southeast near Van and Your Lakes on Saturday night. This additional burning was within our project area and helped to clean up some additional blowdown. All areas are being monitored with aircraft and appropriate action will be taken if needed. Crews are doing campsite and portage clean up of snags. Campsites, portages and trails will be re-opened as soon as we feel it is safe to allow people back in these areas.

*October 21, 2010—Final Update: The closure order for this burn has been rescinded. All campsites, portages, and trails have been re-opened. Hikers and campers are encouraged to use caution when travelling through or camping in the burned area. Hikers are encouraged to stay on the trail between Wisini and Harness Lakes. Trees may topple unexpectedly and hot spots may linger in deeper soil.

Responsible Agency: USDA Forest Service

Legal Description: Unit 302: T64N R6W Sec 6, 7, 8, 18; T64N R7W Sec 11, 12, 13, 14
Unit 310: T64N R6W Sec 6; T64N R7W Sec 1, 2, 11, 12; T65N R6W Sec 31; T65N R7W Sec 35, 36
Unit 316: T64N R7W Sec 2, 3, 4, 5; T65N R7W Sec 27, 32, 33, 34, 35

General Location: Lake County, North and East of Ely approximately 30 miles. The units are in the area of Kekekabic Lake.

Objectives: Reduce the fuel loading of 0 to 3 inch woody fuels in the blowdown affected areas by 60-100% through the application of prescribed fire.

Resources and Personnel: Helicopters were utilized for aerial ignition. Fire crews and public safety crews are no longer on the ground. The area is being monitored from the air and by wilderness crews.

Affected Portages and Campsites: The portages affected: Strup to Wisini Lake, Ahmakose to Wisini Lake, Kekekabic to Strup, Kekekabic to Pickle Lake, Pickle to Spoon Lake, Spoon to Dix Lake, Dix to Skoota Lake, Missionary to Skoota Lake. The campsites affected: all campsites on Strup Lake; all campsites on Wisini Lake; all eleven campsites on the west end of Kekekabic Lake; all campsites on Pickle Lake; all campsites on Dix Lake; all campsites on Skoota Lake; all three campsites on the west end of Spoon Lake (some Spoon Lake and Kekekabic Lake campsites will remain open unless posted closed). The trails affected: Kekekabic Trail from the Strup Lake to Kekekabic Lake portage to Harness Lake and includes the spur trail in Section 31 (south of Kekekabic Lake). There are no more closures in effect at this time.

Social Impacts: Smoke may be visible throughout the burn process. Travelers in the area may hear or see aircraft. Visitors are encouraged to use caution when traveling through burn areas.

For more information, contact the Kawishiwi Ranger District, 1393 Highway 169, Ely 218-365-7600.
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Re: Kek

Postby isawtman » Tue Dec 14, 2010 11:34 am


I have the best collection of photos of the
Kekekabic Trail on my website at
Scroll down to Minnesota Arrowhead Hike 2009
or take the Quick Tour

regards from me, Tman
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Re: Kek

Postby BRTman » Fri Jun 03, 2011 5:54 pm

FYI - Trip report from Cheryl Batson's Rover trip on the Kek.

On 6/3/2011 2:51 PM, cheryldbatson wrote:
> A few of us set off to do the 42 mile Kekekebic Trail that goes from Ely, MN to near Gunflint Lake, MN on the Grand Marais, MN. It is a 4 hour car shuttle one way to get to the opposing trailhead. The trail was completed in 4 days. We backpacked 12.2 miles the first day through good trail with markers and occassional trees over the trail to camp at Medas Lake. There is grass in this section which grows to waist high which may make trail finding difficult later in the summer.
> Day 2 was 12.4 miles for camping at Harness Lake. There was more downed trees in this section of the trail and a few brief spots of significant brush growth on the trail. There was a beaver dam in this section that was difficult to see from the trail. Looking to the left at the point where it appears the trail goes directly into the water (or off to the right where many have also hunted for the trail), will locate the beaver dam if you are truly looking. Then cross on the beaver dam and all is well. There is also a few miles of an fall of 2010 burn which has faint trail with no markers through it. If you look look instead for the clearing of trees, instead of for the actual trail, it is much easier to locate the trail.
> Day three was a short hike of 7.1 miles to camp at the Gabichimigami Lake campsite. There is significant brush and downfall through this section in spots. At times the trail is very faint starting just after the Agamok Bridge and it is more of an idea or a "whisper" then a trail. When you get to the beaver dam area just after the Agamok Bridge, you avoid the most obvious trail and take the new re-route off to the left and uphill. I got temporarily lost within 25 ft of the actual trail a couple times (for a total time off trail of about 20 minutes). A GPS with pre-loaded trail coordinates is very useful through this section. The best way to tell if you are off trail is encountering far more brush and downfall then on the actual trail. This is typically obvious within a few steps off trail. The re-route section has no flagging or cairns. Look for the signs of recent brush cut. The entire section after this is flagged with blue flagging and cairns occassionally. However, I found that I had to be right almost on top of the markers and flagging to see them due to them being bits of flagging lying on the ground or a scrap of flagging left on a trail, or the small cairns blending into the landscape. A few cairns are large and up high and therefore obvious.
> Day four was a backpack out to the Gunflint Lake area for 10.4 miles. Most of this section was reasonably obvious and there was signs of recent trail maintenence (Thank you Kekekabic Trail Association!). There was little obstacles or trail finding difficulties. In the summer, it is probably another story as the grass can reach waist high.
> This was a great trip and well worth the seclusion afforded. Just have a good, calm head of your shoulders, good trail finding skills, and good knowledge and skills in compass reading, map reading, and use a pre-loaded GPS. --Cheryl Batson
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