Kekekabic Trail Run

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.




Mt. Baker North Ridge

My partner Alex had July 10th and 11th off, so we had been planning on climbing something during those two days.  We spent Saturday texting back and forth trying to figure out what our objective should be.  It was between the North Ridge of Baker and Liberty Ridge on Rainier.  We decided that since we knew the North Ridge was in good shape and we only had two days, we decided on the North Ridge of Mt. Baker. Sunday night we drove to and camped in the Heliotrope Ridge parking lot. On Monday morning we slowly woke up and packed our bags.  I had a new Arcteryx Bora 63 that I hadn’t used and never done the big backpack thing for mountaineering, so we loaded up extra stuff we didn’t really need including a books, a shovel, lots of yogurt and blueberries. About 2.5 miles of beautiful forests and streams took us to the Hogsback camp where there were lots of tents and people packing up after a successful day.  We decided to rope up and continue up the snow to a campsite on rocks at about 2100m.  It took us 3 hours with heavy packs to get to our camp.

On the way to our camp we were looking at potential routes for crossing the Coleman Glacier towards the North Ridge.  Being new to glacier travel, I thought all the routes looked challenging and did not see where the route went that was labeled on our Green map.

In the morning we woke up and saw a party of two crossing the Coleman glacier towards the North Ridge much lower than the listed route on our map.  This party had been camping a couple hundred feet from us, so we decided to give that lower route a go.  After a  while we started to notice the occasional old footprint which reassured us that this was the way.  The route finding was much less complex than we thought based on the views from our camp.  Fortunately there was no obvious footpath and I had to choose my own way around the crevasses with the occasional confirming crampon print from the party above us. A little before we arrived at the base of the North Ridge, a party of 4 AAI employees arrived below us.  It looked like they had camped lower down near the 6,500 foot level and took a more direct bath than us towards the North Ridge.  We opted for the Hour Glass start on the west side of the ridge as it was in the shade.  It was quite easy snow at a reasonable angle.  There was a bergscrund at the base which required a little bit of thought and care.  Once on the ridge it was just a typical slog to the base of the ice cliff.  To me there were three obvious routes up the ice cliff.  One to the right which went up a scrambly rock section and then a very short and low angle section of ice, one of various steep lines up the center, or a low angle 30m looking section to the left where I believe most parties go.  Being an ice climbing and not a mountaineer I decided to try for one of the steeper WI4 lines.  In many sections the ice looked sun affected, but I thought Id be able to scrape off the top layer and find quality ice underneath.  I got two good screws in and then about 50-60 feet up I tried to put in a screw and had to dig about 6 inches before I found some not good ice.  I did not trust the screw at all.  I moved over to the left and tried to get in another screw at a slightly different level, but I experienced the same thing.  Above me the ice looked the same.  Slightly over hanging and hard to protect.  I decided that given our remote alpine environment backing off would be the best idea.  There was no way I could get a quality V thread in the ice, and it was still too hard for a picket, so I left three screws with the hope that Id be able to lower in from the top and retrieved them.  We started with 7 screws and I left behind three, so we had a total of 4 screws to use for the ice pitch.  No problem.  We headed over to the easier section of ice on the left hand side where it looks like most parties climb up.  We started exchanging gear and Alex dropped a screw.  We watched it tumble down the snow slope towards a large crevasse 90m below us.  The whole time I was just hoping it would catch on a snow divet.  Finally it caught and Alex quickly down climbed the 55m to the screw and back up.  The ice section when quick and easy.  The nice flat ledge I was hoping for on top of the ice cliff was a steep and doming snow slope spattered with baby crevasses near the cliff edge.  I guessed on a location of my ice screws, made an anchor and had Alex lower me down to the cliff edge.  I peered over the edge and to my surprise I saw the ice screws 10 feet to my left.  I lowered down, retrieved the screws and climbed backup the steep, challenging and bulging ice.


Up some more steep snow and through a visually interesting ice fall area brought us to the summit where we ate summit yogurt and took in the sites.


A quite long and uneventful trip down the Coleman Demming route brought us back to camp and then the car.

If I were to do the North Ridge of Baker again I would revert to my normal style and do the route car to car with a small pack.  The route is totally doable in a day for an efficient party.  I would also consider trying to pass through the Coleman Glacier lower down than we did.


MT Baker North Ridge GPS Track 7112017


Petzl Pick and Spike Protection Review


The Petzl Pick and Spike Protection set is designed to protect the points of Mountaineering axes. The set consists of two pieces. One for the axe pick and one for a traditional flat mountaineering axe spike.  Both pieces are made of a soft yet durable rubber and fit the majority of ice picks, crampon front points and mountaineering axes

The pick protector has two parts that the pick is inserted into. The pick is first slid into the lock mechanism and then into the protector. If the pick protector is jostled around, it can not fbut can be used on most axe picks and front pointsIMG_0013

The Pick Protector on the Camp Frontier mountaineering axe

IMG_0007The spike protector also has two parts to it.  One part is the toggle that goes through the hole in the spike and tethers the protector to the tool.  The other part is the spike protector itself and slides over the spike.  The spike protector is designed for use on traditional flat metal spikes.  It will not work on rounded spikes or spikes created by aluminum shafts.

The spike protector does not fit on a large variety of mountaineering axes and ice tools


The spike protector on the Givel G-1


Bottom Line: The pick protectors are great a variety of tools  such as technical ice tools and mountaineering axes.  The spike protector is much less useful as it works on a small percentage of tools.  For most people, buying the set will be worth it just to use the pick protector.

Pros: durable, fits most tools, protects spike and picks well.

Cons: Unable to purchase spike and pick protectors separately, spike protector only fits old flat style spikes.

MSRP: $9.95

Competitors: BD Spike Protector, BD Pick Protector, BD Ice Axe Protector, Grivel Axe Guard

Compatible Picks: BD Laser, BD Ice Pick, BD Ice + Pick, BD Alpine Pick, Petzl Ice, Petzl Dry, Petzl Pur’ice Alpix

Compatible Mountaineering Axes: Petzl Sum’tec, Givel G-1, IceRock Idol



Remote First Ascents in Michigan

On Monday the weather was fantastic No chance of rain. The bug forecast on the other hand was horrible. It called for large clouds of gnats. We hiked into the top of the cliff via a spur trail to the North Country trail and rapped down the rappel line on the east end of the cliff. Once at the bottom, the real work began. Our task was to fid a new unclimbed line to the top. Normally that might be easy, but this cliff has a few sections of crappy rock and large sections of crackless roofs that look nearly impossible to protect wit trad gear. We walked almost the entire nearly 2 mile long cliff and decided upon a nice looking weakness with a few slabby sections that looked to go at 5.6. We scrambled up to the bottom of the route. After flaking out the rope, both Kendra and I decided that the route looked very familiar. After a few minutes of discussion we decided that it was The Stritch Route which is the first route we put up on the cliff in September the year before. After a little bit of disappointment, we decided to go for our second choice for a new route which is a couple hundred feet east of The Stritch Route.

The route starts out on a steep but less than vertical face that feels a little insecure. The first pitch ends on a small ledge to the left of the obvious vegetated crack and just under a small roof. The second pitch goes up the vegetated crack and traverses out left on small foot ledges to a ledge which creates the roof above the first belay. Due to a lack of good protection on the ledge the pitch continues to the left side of the ledge and up a small groove through brush and eventually to a vegetated ledge. Be careful with rope drag on this pitch due to the 30 foot horizontal traverse. From the second belay, head up the grungy groove and eventually up some easy slabs to the trees in the forest.

All three pitches of the route are fairly short due to rope drag and lack of other places to belay. As the route is climbed and cleaned up, it may become easier to do the route in less pitches.

Urushiol 5.8 PG13 3 short pitches
May 30th 2016 Carter Stritch, Kendra Stritch, Samantha Glowacki