This past weekend I ran the Kekekabic Trail in the Boundary Waters (BWCA) of Northern Minnesota. The 41 mile trail goes West-East from Snowbank Lake near Ely Minnesota to the Gunflint trail through the most remote part of the Boundary Waters.
My friend Alex Hansen who attempted to run the Boarder Route Trail with me last fall, offered to be my support crew and drive for me! Our plan was for me to run on Saturday, but rain was in the forecast, so we decided to drive up Saturday night and have me run on Sunday with better weather. One of the first things Alex asked me once I got into the car was “are there any bail points on the trail”. My answer was “Yes, two. The start and the finish.” This sort of points out the remoteness of the trail. There are no easy ways off the trail once you start, and there are no easy ways in for rescuers. Since the BWCA is designated as a wilderness area, motorized vehicles are not allowed in the boundary waters without special permission, possibly making a rescue more difficult.
We slept in Alex’s van at the trailhead near Snowbank Lake and Ely, MN. We woke up around 6 am so that I could start running just after sunrise. The first 15-20 miles of the trail went really well. The trail was in great shape, and there was not a lot of elevation gain. My body felt great and the running was easy. After 20 miles I started to feel the miles. Around mile 25 or 30 the trail offered several hills that were very difficult for me at that time in the run. I walked all of the up hills and hoped that each one would be the last. The last quarter of the trail became mush more difficult with the trail being obscured by dead weeds hanging over the trail hiding the large rocks stuck in the ground. Since I had already ran 30 miles, I was not picking my feet up as high as I would have liked and tripped several times on hidden and non hidden rocks. Twice I fell to the ground, face first and I am very grateful that I did not hurt my self either of those times.
The last 4 miles were very challenging for me. Mostly because of my exhaustion, but also because the trail appeared to be more challenging than the rest of the trail. For several miles I was keeping my eye out looking for the sign that would tell me when I was leaving the Boundary Waters. I was expecting the trail to instantly get better once I passed the sign since chainsaws and weed wackers are allowed to be used outside of the boundary waters. Once I passed the sign, I was quickly hit with the realization that the trail was actually worse than it had been 500 feet behind me. The trail was difficult for another mile or so until it joined the Centennial Trail.
Alex had walked in about two miles and was on the trail waiting to take some pictures of me while running. He was also a little worried and wanted to get a headstart in walking in if he needed to come help me. My last satellite text message sent at mile 20 had not gone through, and I had neglected to press send on my message at mile 30, so he had not heard from me for 30 out of the 40 miles.
The trail ended up taking me 9 hours, 35 minutes and 37 seconds. Based on my minimal training for this run, I am quite happy with this time. A fit runner should be able to easily run the trail in under 9 hours in good conditions.
If I were to do the trail again, which I likely will not, I would do a few things differently. The main thing that I would do differently is run from East to West. That way I would get the difficult section out of the way at the beginning, and I would have elevation loss from the start to the finish, rather than the overall elevation gain that I had going West to East.
From what I can tell, the time of 9 hours, 35 minutes and 37 seconds appears to be the fastest known time on the trail or fkt. I have only found one other party that claims to have run the trail and they said that they didn’t remember their time, but think it was 12 or 14 hours. I wouldn’t be too surprised if someone else has done the trail faster and not documented it.
Below is a link to my GPS track for the run.