Snowbank Trail

My Friend Molly & I were set to hike across the Kekekabic trail in one thru-hike over Memorial Day weekend, but due to a beaver dam blowing out near the Agamok bridge, we decided to amend our hiking trip with a little saunter around Snowbank instead.

The trip started months ago when Molly mentioned to me that she wished she had done more of the Superior Hiking Trail with me, so I suggested perhaps a hiking trail in the BWCA, she immediately said YES to an adventure!

This would be her very first adventure into the BWCA, and as such she had NO gear. Over the course of the winter (nearly every day) we burst with excitement over text message, and instagram DMs on her gear procurement, and You Tube videos from SHUG & Midwest Backpacker & The Marine etc sharing tips of the trail.

We were so sad and –disappointed – when we realized based off several pieces of intel that we were going to get “Kekked” before we even set foot on the trail we had to amend our trip. We figured since she had just spent the entire winter and spring getting new gear we were going to use it!

So after some consideration on the water situation we decided to do Snowbank Trail instead. We heard also ahead of time from someone on Facebook that the beaver dams were dry (no wet feet), and that the bridge across Snowbank/Boot was also still intact.

The guy up at Snowbank Lodge was a BLAST to talk to, and he had so much good information for us as well, warning us that a bridge on the Dissapointment/Parent portage was out, and that we’d have to do a wet foot crossing.

Finally, the week of May 23 we were packed, and ready to go!

Friday May 27, 2022

It was finally trip day! I woke up at about 4 a.m. and got on the road ”just north of the Twin Cities” at about 4:45 a.m. It was a lovely drive with minimal traffic. I met Molly at the Kawishiwi Ranger Station. We watched our obligatory video, got our permit, and stopped by Spirit of the Wilderness for a few quick items.

Finally we were off down Fernberg Road heading towards our EP, and before we knew it we were taking our photo at the entry point sign and we were off!

We had chosen to go clockwise around the lake, and the first half mile was a complete breeze. I knew from a little research not to get pulled into the allure that the trail was easy based off this section, but I bragged to Molly that I loved this trail and I thought I’d do it every year.

The trail offered lots of vistas and glimpses of the lake. Unlike the Superior Hiking Trail, which is mostly a green tunnel, this trail had no shortage of views.

It was different however in terms of how rocky it was. While certainly there are sections of rock on the SHT, many in fact, I never felt like this trail was very cruisy.

We knew we had a nice 6 miles or so to camp, so we were a little overzealous thinking it would be an easy day.

The carins were super easy to follow, moose droppings, and wolf scat abound, and some mysterious droppings that we later found out were Ruffed Grouse Droppings littered the trail.

Our sights were set for Newfound Bay Campsite, and we had two beaver dams to cross to get there. With all of the spring reports of flooding, we were nervous we would have super wet feet, or fall in, or have to ford a river basically of beaver flow!

We were delighted to find both dams on this day intact, and mostly dry. The first one was basically a full bridge to cross, while the other was a little more technical.

Sorry I do swear a little bit at the end!

After what seemed like much further than 6 or so miles, we had finally arrived at camp!

The campsite was really nice in a red pine forest. For how sprawling it was however there were limited tent pads, but we found one, and got snuggled in for the night.

Saturday May 28, 2022

We woke up peacefully, after no animal encounters over the night, save for a whip-poor-will who sang their song, on repeat from 3:30 a.m. and on… I got out of the tent finally at about 7 a.m. and had coffee etc. I had a Honeystinger Waffle for breakfast since I’m never actually in the mood for oatmeal and charted our plan for the day. Our original idea was to make it to the campsite after the Snowbank/Boot portage, and then on Sunday night camp at Parent, but we also started toying with the idea of hiking straight to Parent, and finishing a day early.

We decided to take the tent down, and shortly after, it began to rain. We packed up in haste, donned our rain gear and decided we’d best get hiking, and back on the trail.

During the morning, I grew super hot with my rain gear on, so I made the ’fatal’ mistake of taking off my rain pants, and instantly had rain dripping in my boots. From 10:30 a.m. on it was ’squish-squish-squish’… not what you want while hiking a wilderness trail.

The entire northern section of the trail is one huge granite slap of rock scramble, and with it raining, and being wet it was treacherous. Every foot placement was unsure, and slippery, and it took us a long time to cross this section. We were treated to some absolutely spectacular sights though, and more beaver dam crossings.

We finally made it to the Boot/Snowbank portage, and were eager to see what condition it was in. The water flow was going FAST and deep through it so we were so grateful there was a little bridge up, however it was closer to the water than I think either of us wished it was, but we made it across with no incident.

Quickly enough we came to the campsite we initially intended on staying at, but it was only 2 p.m. something, so we decided to push to either the site on Disappointment, or even better yet, Parent Lake. We knew we had the wet water crossing between Disappointment & Parent, so we thought since our feet were soaking wet already, today would be the best day to do it.

Finally, after a day and a half, we had reached the portage, and it was time to cross. Molly went first, and it showed to be about mid-calf, so probably near knee for me. She made it across without much fanfare, and now it was my turn. While the current was strong, it was definitely crossable. I just made sure my feet were planted strong, and we both unclipped our packs, so if we went down, we wouldn’t be pushed down by our packs. Not sure if this was a good idea, or bad idea, but regardless we made it, and we were off to Parent Lake!

After what seemed like the longest day ever, we finally arrived at the campsite spur trail. It was long, and I wasn’t sure I was even going to make it. When we arrived, something didn’t quite look right. In fact once our eyes came into focus, a group of paddlers had taken over the HIKING campsite. We were absolutely devastated. Hiking campsites don’t show up on paddling maps, so we weren’t expecting competition from paddlers no less. The camper locked eyes with my tripping partner and said nothing. Finally, we turned around, and swore under our breaths that we had another mile of hiking AND another beaver dam to cross to get to the Becoosin site which we prayed was free.

The mile was taken at snails pace and when we got to the beaver dam on the Becoosin trail, we were crushed. We went further and further back into this desolate forest, which it was now gloomy and overcast. The idea of camping back here was utterly dreadful but we had no other choice.

We finally arrived, got the tarp set up and then collapsed.

It turned out the campsite was nice enough, and we got a fire going to dry out our boot liners, and boots as best we could. Made dinner, and we were finally off for bed. Just a little 5 miler the next day out to the car, and we’d be done.

Sunday May 29, 2022

We were fully expecting to wake up to rain, but instead it was actually kind of sunny out. We had a really lazy morning at camp knowing it was our last day, and we were in high spirits. We both packed super smart, compared to the day before, and by some miracle of God, my liners were dry, and boots were mostly dry! YAY, no more squishy feet. I had managed only one blister as well, which was a miracle in and of itself.

Finally we were off! The Kek was fairly easy to follow, and even had moments of regular tread like the Superior Hiking Trail. We were completely DONE with any kind of rock climbing, but we were treated to a few, plus two beaver crossings.

The five miles were deceitful, because it sounds like, a baby 5 miler, but towards the end I must have been hiking 1/4 mile per hour, I felt I was going so slow. My pack weighed a ton for my body weight, and I knew that for my Border Route Trail I best figure out how to lighten the load, or I’m going to be completely miserable on that hike.

The Snowbank Trail is approximately 25 miles with around 3,500 feet of elevation gain while the BRT is a 65 mile trail with nearly 12,000 feet of elevation gain, so I too will become one of those ’gram-weenies’ who obsess over every gram!

FINALLY we reached the car! I had never been so happy to see the car in my life, and vowed to myself never to pack so heavy again. This will require some changes, such as sleep mat, and possibly ditching hot food in substitution for cold soaking!

I plan a few shake-out hikes this summer, and early fall to get a feel for cold soaking my food, and my BRT hike pack weight. Peloton has lots of hiking classes, and I plan on taking ALL OF THEM between now and my BRT Thru-Hike.

The Snowbank Trail was a rugged, technical trail which was made worse by having squishy feet, and slippery wet rocks. I had an excellent time with my trip partner Molly, and can’t wait to hike with her again.

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