Northern views await on Border Route TrailWhen Ed Solstad heads for the Border Route Trail, it's usually with a chain saw and a work crew. When backpackers or day hikers lace up for a trek on the remote route, he recommends they bring a good map or two.
By: Ann Wessel, St. Cloud Times
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — When Ed Solstad heads for the Border Route Trail, it's usually with a chain saw and a work crew. When backpackers or day hikers lace up for a trek on the remote route, he recommends they bring a good map or two.
Overlooks reveal lakes, cliffs and panoramic views of the Canadian border to those who don't mind a little bushwhacking, a trio of experienced backpackers told the St. Cloud Times.
"You're up on top of the ridges looking down. So all of these bluffs that you see when you're canoeing, you get to go up on top of them. There are a lot of spectacular views," said Solstad, 71, of Minneapolis. He led efforts to build the trail in the early 1970s, and returns about nine times a year — usually in his capacity as the Border Route Trail Association's mechanized maintenance coordinator.
About half of the 65-mile trail runs through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. One of the 4,600-mile North Country Trail's unofficial connectors, it links the Kekekabic Trail to the west and the Superior Hiking Trail to the east.
Only about 1 percent of BWCAW visitors go there to hike.
"You have the place to yourself," said Tom Kaffine, a Grand Marais-based trails technician with the U.S. Forest Service. "It's just about the prettiest area of the state, as far as I'm concerned."
Kaffine said his office issues about 60 permits a year to Border Route backpackers who intend to camp within the BWCAW. That number has held steady for 10-plus years.
Three years ago, 415 day-use permits listed 1,118 people who intended to hike the trail. But trail-use numbers are inexact at best. Permits are required only within the BWCAW. Some trips may incorporate canoeing. Backpackers may access the trail from several points.
"When you're hiking the Border Route or the Kekekabic trails, you're kind of upping the ante, said Todd "T-man" McMahon, 55, of Madison, who hiked the Border Route in two segments over two years. He said most backpackers can finish the Border Route in five or six days.
"On every other trail around, there's a road every three or four miles. On the Border Route, you're 10, 15 miles away from the closest road," McMahon said. "You really have to be a little more experienced."
He suggested beginning backpackers start with the Superior Hiking Trail.
Even day hikers who set foot on the Border Route should brush up on their map-and-compass skills.
"They should know where the trail is supposed to be," said Rudi Hargesheimer. A Midwest Mountaineering manager since 1976, he helped build the Border Route and has returned for a half-dozen backpacking trips. "If there's a windfall, it can completely disappear. Or if there's a particularly brushy and weedy season and it hasn't been cleared for a year."
More recently, Hargesheimer's trips have focused on photography.
"It's the premiere trail in Minnesota for dramatic, big-cliff overlooks," Hargesheimer said. "Here you're seeing trees, lots of them. You're seeing the Boundary Waters as if you were flying over them in an airplane."
Some of the most sought-after cliff and waterfall views are accessible to day hikers or one-night campers.
McMahon provided a summary, starting from the Gunflint Trail.
"First, you're seeing this Magnetic Rock. ... All the other rocks are smooth and round. This looked like something that God just chucked there like some spear or arrowhead," McMahon said.
"Then you're hiking along these high cliffs near the Gunflint Lodge where you see spectacular views of Gunflint Lake," McMahon said. After Bridal Veil Falls come the Rose Cliffs and Stairway Falls. At the eastern end of the trail the overlooks thin out. One easily accessible view, the 270-degree overlook, is near the the Superior Hiking Trail junction.
"It used to be 360 degrees when we first got there, but then the trees grew up," Solstad said.
Solstad, McMahon and Hargesheimer made the several recommendations. (Miles are measured in distance from Grand Marais.):
SHORT HIKE: For navigational ease in an area rich in overlooks and old-growth pines and cedars unaffected by the 1999 blowdown, Solstad recommends a 12.5-mile stretch from mile 65.4 at the Superior Hiking Trail (and the Swamp River) west to mile 52.8 at McFarland Lake and the Arrowhead Trail (Cook County Road 16). Views of Canada and the Pigeon River Valley unfold at the 270-degree overlook, followed by three miles of ridgeline with more views of bluffs and cliff faces. After Portage Brook and the Stump River comes a nice lunch spot on the banks of the Pigeon River, 3 feet from the rapids.
LOOP ROUTE: For a five-mile loop, Solstad starts at Loon Lake just off the Gunflint Trail (mile 11.3). The Brice-Breon Trail hugs the north shore then veers through a grove of old-growth cedar before connecting to the Border Route, overlooking the Gunflint High Cliffs and returning to the lake. "It gives you a feel for the Border Route. It's probably the easiest overlook to get to," Solstad said.
SHORT JAUNT: For a look at Magnetic Rock and an area recovering from a fire in the 1970s, Solstad recommends a 45-minute walk to the site starting from the westernmost parking lot off the Gunflint Trail at the Kekekabic Trail (mile 46.5).
CAMPSITE: For an easily accessible site within two miles of Stairway Falls and portage (mile 25), McMahon recommends the Rose Lake East campsite. From Clearwater Lake Road, the three-mile Daniels Lake Access trail leads to the Border Route, where a two-mile hike west leads to the site. "What's significant about this hike to this campsite is it's all a former railroad bed. So it's real nice and easy hiking," McMahon said. Some choose to leave a canoe at Duncan Lake south of Stairway Falls then explore the area on foot.
PHOTO SPOT: For a good vantage point, Hargesheimer has photographed from the Rose Lake Cliffs (mile 22.7). He described the view as dramatic but typical. The Border Route Trail guide and map (by Marcia Scott and Chuck Hoffman) describes four, including one perch 500 feet above Rose Lake. The cliffs lie west of Stairway Falls.
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.