Eddy Gilmore: An adventure in the old pines only you and I know

For the better part of a month I found myself practically studying McKenzie Map No. 9 under the covers with a flashlight. The anticipation and planning are half the fun of exploring. For weeks I cajoled a friend to join me in a style much like Da...

For the better part of a month I found myself practically studying McKenzie Map No. 9 under the covers with a flashlight. The anticipation and planning are half the fun of exploring. For weeks I cajoled a friend to join me in a style much like Darth Vader used with Luke Skywalker.

Working in a 4-by-5-foot room in the basement, as I do on a daily basis, tends to stir an overwhelming need for adventure when time off is to be had. Having a young family, day trips generally are all that are available, but I push the limits set by the decreasing day length as much as possible.

On paper, this trip looks tiring but doable in a single day. We left before dawn from Duluth bound for Snowbank Lake, east of Ely. After a portage we found ourselves in the Boundary Waters, and after beaching the canoe at the far end of Disappointment Lake we were within proximity of the Kekekabic Trail.

The idea was to commence upon a running adventure at that point, and we planned on shuffling about 15 miles before being forced to return home in our canoe at the end of the day. I'm training for next year's Moose Mountain Marathon, so I do my best to combine this with my insatiable thirst for exploring and wanderlust. For those of you who think running is boring, because you've only run the roads, you're right!

We ended up covering just half the desired mileage due to the very rugged nature of the trail, which really isn't the best for running. Every step brought a thwack from bushes hanging over the trail, and pretty soon our naked shins were raw. Pressing on, we reached the nearly unknown Old Pines Loop, which is not too far from Disappointment Lake.


It's alarming to observe how few people have heard of this trail. For instance, one person in an outdoors-oriented store in Ely advised us she worked for the Forest Service for 15 years and had never heard of it. Calls to the ranger station and an outfitter were also fruitless. It wasn't until I e-mailed Sam Cook, the outdoors writer for the Duluth News Tribune, that I finally was provided a real lead. He gave me the name of the retired Forest Service worker who actually laid out the trail in the 1970s, along with the Snowbank trail loop and others.

After tracking him down in Ely, I had an encouraging conversation with him. Following along with him on the map, he had a fantastic knowledge of the trails and land, just from memory. In a way it's discouraging, though, because nobody else seemed to be able to help. This is emblematic of a common problem I've seen, and that is the dying-off of local outdoors knowledge.

Unfortunately it has become common for visitors to state parks and wilderness ranger stations to be served by rangers who have become little more than bureaucrats. Frequently these folks behind a desk have little, if any, knowledge of the land they are ostensibly stewards of. My intention isn't to ruffle any feathers, but it would seem to be good policy for these people who are the faces of the Forest Service and Department of Natural Resources to spend at least one day in the field for every two days spent behind a desk pushing papers and directing tourists to the bathroom.

Anyhow, the old pines were magnificent. Here there are many white pines well over 300 years old with diameters greater than 5 feet. This is a rough trail in places, though, so you will need a good map, compass, and have your wits about you as you follow the trail. For instance, I rather suddenly fell down a hidden Alice in Wonderland-styled hole smack dab in the middle of the trail clear up to my midsection. This one wasn't from an overly industrious rabbit, but was kind of a peat bog above a beaver dam. It was rather alarming, yet it induced hearty laughs. It's definitely good to have a buddy along on such a trip.

This trip proved a bit much for a single day due to the round-trip nature of the journey, but we were blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime perfect east wind that blew us all the way down Snowbank Lake right to the canoe landing that cut our paddle time in half. A very fine trip is waiting to be had by eager readers, however, who could camp on cute little Medas Lake at the intersection of the Kek and the Old Pine Trail. There are no canoe routes to this lake, so the awesome campsite right on the water that is typical of so many in the BWCAW appears to almost always be available.

It really is peaceful back there, and you'd have the entire lake to yourself. We saw loads of ruffed grouse, moose scat and endless blueberry bushes. My motivation in laying out the location is to help preserve this amazing heritage by getting more people out there to enjoy it.

We live in an age when some people only have physical contact with natural earth when they mow their lawn.

Can this possibly be good for the soul?


Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. He can be reached via e-mail at .

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