“A trail eases our way, but it also narrows your focus,” Paul Gruchow.
The 64-mile Border Route Trail can be merciless with its steep grades, thick forests and rocky trails.
It can also be the most beautiful trail you’ll ever hike. Nestled between the Canadian border and the Gunflint Trail, it offers with majestic views of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, with lots of plant and wildlife.
Last September, seven North Country Trail (NCT) Association members and volunteers hiked the rustic trail for seven days, recording conditions, doing some clearing and maintenance work and enjoying its rugged beauty.
The NCT team members were Matt Davis, Carter and Florence Hedeen, Bruce Johnson, Harlan Liljequist, Mike Doyle and Tom Moberg.
The Border Route Trail, which is part of the North Country Trail from New York to North Dakota, goes west out of Grand Marais running close resorts along the Gunflint Trails. The group were able to make day trips out of the first and last day carrying only day packs, and spent five days camping along the trail and carrying overnight packs.
“We experienced our most challenging hike, from lakeshore to metamorphic rock peaks, with views so spectacular they defy description,” said Florence Hedeen of the hike. “The weather added interest, with temperatures ranging from the 20s overnight to the 70s during the day and rain for an entire day and two nights.”
On the first day the group set out on an eleven-mile trek to Loon Lake Road, where they saw the eerie sight of recent burns and the optimistic start of new growth. A maze of cross country trail made it difficult to stay to the Border Route Trail.
Despite a 28-degree morning, the group set out on the second day with full bellies, full backpacks and high spirits for a nine-mile trip to the campsite on South Lake. The trail is made up of east-to-west ridges and valleys with long narrow lakes. The north-facing hills are long gentle slopes. The trail runs along the tops of most ridges.
The Bridal Veil Falls deserved a photography and stop for trail mix.
The third day, the group hiked eight miles to Rose Lake, where they found their most spectacular vistas of Rose and Gunflint Lakes, with some of the toughest, steepest hiking near the Stairway Portage.
On day four they set off on an 11-mile hike that included the Long Portage Trail section to Clearwater Lake campsite.
A side trail at Daniels Lake enabled them to pick up a stash of food waiting for them on the Gunflint Trail. This was a long, rainy day and the group considered quitting for a few minutes, but their optimism agreed the rain would dissipate, and it was just too beautiful to stop.
In sight of Canada, on the Long Portage Trail, the group sang, “Oh, Canada” to lift their spirits.
The fifth day was another wet, misty day, when slippery rocks and heavy packs made the eight miles to Pine Lake very treacherous. At one stop they poured water out of their boots and wrung out their socks.
On day six they packed their wet gear and set out for McFarland Lake nearly nine miles away, where a car waited for them. The sun soon appeared, revealing bright yellow aspen leaves against a powder blue sky overlooking a deep blue Johns Lake.
On a 12.6-mile hike to the Otter Lake Road to complete their adventure, the group was put on notice of the season as frost lined the trail and a low fog covered the Pigeon River Valley. This was an easy day, with daypacks and legs strengthened from six days on the trail.
The hikers finished their trip with a night of hot showers, good food and lots of memories of the Border Route Trail, sprinkled with hopes for the future of the North Country Trail and its connection from New York to North Dakota.