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Kids and Camps of the BWCA

Friday, March 12, 2021
Posted by
Save the Boundary Waters

Youth and adult camps surround the Boundary Waters and are directly in the Twin Metals path of pollution. Proposed sulfide-ore copper mining will ruin these longstanding educational centers. Generations of Minnesota families have sent their kids and grandkids to life-defining experiences in and near the Boundary Waters. Hear some of their stories below: 

"When I was 12 I started going to YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, and it’s amazing how a group of strangers can be thrown into the Boundary Waters together, and then come out two weeks later best friends. I knew more about their hopes and dreams and fears than any of my school friends because of the time we spent together in nature.

I attribute a lot of my identity and confidence and strength to growing up with the Boundary Waters.

I’m fighting for the Boundary Waters not only because it’s my favorite place, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

-Elsa attends Middlebury College and is on the advisory board of Kids for the Boundary Waters and has led trips of youth advocates to Washington D.C. 
Hear Elsa's full story about the Boundary Waters here.

"The Boundary Waters is my favorite place in the whole world."

- Jules Billmeier (age 18)

Hear Jules's full story about the Boundary Waters here.

"Going to the Boundary Waters built up my identity and the grounding principles that are most important to me."

-Julia Ruelle (age 19)

Hear Julia's full story about the Boundary Waters here.

"I remember coming away from that trip and just remembering that feeling of true inner peace."

Hear Mia's full story about the Boundary Waters here.

Mia Sande


"Every summer, Girl Scouts from all economic backgrounds, from northeastern Minnesota and across the country, experience wilderness travel for the first time through a Boundary Waters trip based out of the Northern Lakes Canoe Base, run by Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakes and Pines.

 The Boundary Waters brings out the best in teenage girls, teaching them that their individual strength and the power of teamwork is far greater than they ever imagined. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described Girl Scouting as a "force for desegregation”, and nowhere is this more clear than on a canoe trip.  A girls’ race and class is irrelevant when a Girl Scout crew is problem-solving to get across a muddy portage or get a fire started from soggy wood.  The wilderness brings out their creativity and kindness, and they learn that hard work and getting dirty are part of the fun.

Girl Scouting, and in particular, Girl Scout canoe trips, expose us to so many meaningful experiences and interactions with other people, and countless girls have found their voice and strength to use it while traveling through the Boundary Waters.  They use this voice to go on to make their communities and our world a better play in so many unique and important ways."

-Ann McNally is the Summer Program Director for the Girl Scouts Northern Lakes Canoe Base in Ely Minnesota

"For years, I have been going to the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness to experience the outdoors and the northern part of our state. My great aunt and uncle, Heidi and Mike Pazlar, used to own Bearskin Lodge on East Bearskin Lake, and my family makes a point of visiting the Gunflint Trail often. 

I had the opportunity to attend OLT, Outdoor Leadership Training, with Sovatha Oum for the first time a few years ago. Personally, OLT has given me a large opportunity to experience the BWCA and what it has to offer at a greater scale while working on leadership skills, including mapping a course when going on trail, navigating through the lakes and portages while leading a team of young people. 

I have also learned how to plan an outdoor wilderness trip and how to properly prepare to be ready for any eventuality, such as valuable survival skills for taking care of myself and others and keeping us safe. Through my experiences in the Boundary Waters, I have gained confidence in myself and my ability to problem-solve. It has allowed me to believe in myself and my opinions when taking the lead on group projects at school as well and allowed me to have more of a voice in social situations.  

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is an escape from the city. It’s hard to find something that allows you that space and distance from the distractions of outside people and influences. I feel that it’s a very good way to have your own personal time, to be able to reflect on yourself and who you are in the world. When I return from a trip, there is always a period of grief that my time there has come to an end, but I immediately start looking forward to when I can visit again. " 

-Lene (age 14)

My experience with the BWCA through OLT is very good, it was a great experience when I first started because usually when my family and I would go up north we would stay in a cabin, but through OLT I was able to see more of the Boundary Waters through a different perspective. The BWCA has so many great features and attributes that are just overlooked by a normal tourist. Plus the fishing is great most years and we can get out to some untouched waters and throw a line in. The program has made me take a different approach on life and made me more responsible in general. Coming up on my 5th (technically 4th) year with the program, I am very excited to get out and do a trip this year since our last one was canceled because of COVID 19. Since my first trip into the BWCA I have been able to problem solve and work things out better with not just my family but also friends and teachers. That’s why I’m always ecstatic to tell someone about my experience because I know they will get hooked as well. 

-Kjell (age 15)

Watch This Wild Land and learn more.

“One thing this summer that’s stuck out to me, especially, is that coming up to Ely in a time of covid when all the Y camps and all the other youth camps have been closed, I was expecting to see a little bit decreased, or a little bit less than normal, youth participation in the Boundary Waters.”

“And what I’ve noticed, just between my time both on trail and at the shop [at Ely Outfitting], is that I don’t think I’ve seen any decrease at all. If anything, I feel like more youth have been coming through [to the Boundary Waters]. I’ve seen, you know, a lot of kids coming with their parents but also a lot of purely youth groups. You know, a lot of groups comprised entirely of 15, 16, 17-year-old kids have been going to the wilderness, and I’ve been seeing them on trail. So I think, I mean, that’s just really stuck out to me this summer, and I think it’s great. I think youth participation in the wilderness is really, really important, I think particularly this year.
Increasingly, the amount of technology that’s available as youth, we’re sort of sucked into this 24/7 media cycle, and especially in a year of pandemic and all the other things that are going on in the world, it can be really easy to get sucked into that and stuck in it. And I think the wilderness is, part of what it’s providing this summer is an escape, for everyone to disconnect but also for us youth, who I think are increasingly being trapped in that cycle, and increasingly called upon to be social activists as well with what’s going on.”

Joseph Goldstein president of Kids for the Boundary Waters 

“For more than ten years I’ve seen first hand the way a Boundary Waters canoe trip provides young people with the opportunity to dis-connect from the distractions and stressors of their daily lives and full engage with their own capabilities and strengths. I’ve seen students grow more confident and emerge as leaders and team members. I’ve seen firsthand how a canoe trip is an opportunity for young people to learn as much about the natural world as it is an opportunity to learn about themselves.”

-Fred Sproat lives in Duluth Minnesota and is the Program Director for Big City Mountaineers, an organization focused on getting youth outdoors, including on wilderness trips in the Boundary Waters.

Partner spotlight: The Conservation Alliance

Thursday, March 11, 2021
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

The Conservation Alliance is a group of companies that value conservation as part of their business model. The fund disburses its collective annual membership dues to grassroots environmental organizations each year, specifically directing their funding to community-based campaigns to protect threatened wild habitat and outdoor recreation. The Alliance was founded in 1989 by outdoor industry leaders REI, Patagonia, The North Face, and Kelty, who shared the goal of increasing outdoor industry support for conservation efforts. The Conservation Alliance now has more than 250 member companies, a number of whom are also members of the Boundary Waters Business Coalition.

In early March, The Conservation Alliance announced that the fight to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from copper mining was one of their three top conservation priorities for 2021, along with restoring Bears Ears National Monument and protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Additionally, Save the Boundary Waters/Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness has been chosen as one of two organizations to be included in The Conservation Alliance’s brand new, multi-year grant funding program.

We are so grateful to The Conservation Alliance for their phenomenal partnership over the years and are honored to be included in their new funding program. TCA has supported our efforts through grant funding every year since 2015, demonstrating an incredible confidence in and support of our multi-pronged strategy to achieve permanent protection for the Boundary Waters and Rainy River Watershed. The Conservation Alliance has also helped spread awareness and drive action to protect the Boundary Waters through their advocacy efforts, events, and the reach they have with the people and brands across the outdoor industry.

In addition to the support of The Conservation Alliance staff, we are extremely grateful to the many member businesses of TCA that have supported the Boundary Watersand our grant applications year after year. A full list of TCA member businesses can be found here, but in particular, we’d like to highlight TCA members that are also members of our Boundary Waters Business Coalition, including:

  • Patagonia**
  • Keen**
  • Backpacker’s Pantry
  • Biolite
  • Buff Inc.
  • Eagles Nest Outfitting
  • Fjällraven
  • GSI Outdoors
  • Katadyn
  • KEEN, Inc.
  • Klymit
  • KAVU
  • Klean Kanteen
  • LifeStraw
  • Merrell**
  • MiiR
  • NEMO Equipment Inc.
  • The North Face**
  • OBOZ
  • Osprey Packs
  • Outdoor Industry Association
  • Petzl 
  • REI Co-Op**
  • Royal Robbins
  • Ruffwear
  • Sea to Summit
  • WigWam Mills Inc
  • Toad & Co. 

** This business is a Pinnacle Member, meaning that they donate a minimum of $100,000 each year to The Conservation Alliance.
You can read more about The Conservation Alliance’s 2021 conservation priorities here, as well as their brand new multi-year grant funding initiative here

Thank You Conservation Alliance and business partners!


Sunday, March 7, 2021
Posted by
Mike Tilden

Every year I have the privilege of traveling to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. There are few places I enjoy more than the Boundary Waters and no physical place that brings me greater peace. It is a place that allows me to imagine what Earth might have looked like before humans began to tinker with it. It is a place that offers the kind of silence, true silence, rarely ever heard in the busy world of today. 

Imagine for a moment that you are gently lowering yourself into a canoe. You push away from the shore smoothly, making sure not to lean too far. You gather your balance again and begin to paddle. You’re sitting in the front, so all that’s before you is the tip of the canoe, the water and the tree-lined shores of the Wilderness. In the early morning there is a misty fog that sits atop the water creating a mystical canvas through which the horizon is nearly indiscernible. As you paddle your way across the lake the only sounds you hear are the droplets of water that fall from your paddle with each stroke and the occasional call of a distant loon. If you are close to shore you might hear the rustle of leaves or branches as the squirrels and chipmunks scurry about. You can, at times, hear your own breathing…a sensation that highlights the quieted world around you. 

If there were ever a time you were going to bear witness to the divine, this is it. There is nothing to distract you and no one to interrupt you with a text. This is a place in which I feel God’s active presence every time I visit. From year to year, no matter what is happening in my life, my time in the Boundary Waters is a spiritual “reset” for me. It reminds me of the people I hold most dear and the ones I’ve lost on my journey. It crystalizes for me the things that are most important - my family, my friends, and my church. That time of silence in the Boundary Waters is perhaps one of the moments of my year that speaks to me the loudest. 

Thank You to Our Law Firms

Thursday, March 4, 2021
Posted by
The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

One of the critical ways we fight to protect the Boundary Waters is to ensure that the state and federal governments follow laws regulating public lands and minerals. Unfortunately, over the four years of the Trump administration, the federal government has engaged in unlawful activities to promote sulfide-ore copper mining on public lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters, including reversing decisions without following the rules, engaging the public, or considering science. At the state level, decades old rules benefit mining companies because they fail to incorporate current science and ignore the siting of sulfide-ore copper mines away from valuable and vulnerable areas.

Sometimes we find that the best path forward to resolve these conflicts is through lawsuits brought in federal and state courts. Hiring law firms to sue the government or a foreign mining giant is generally not feasible for the budgets of most public interest nonprofit organizations - including Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the lead organization in the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. We have been extremely fortunate, however, because we have benefited from extraordinary pro bono legal representation by several law firms and additional legal guidance from other non-profit organizations.

In particular, we have been represented in our federal efforts, including three lawsuits,by Morrison & Foerster, LLP, a national law firm headquartered in San Francisco, since 2013. In that time, we have initiated two major lawsuits against the federal government and joined a third lawsuit as an intervenor. In  the two lawsuits still pending, we have challenged the unlawful reinstatement of expired mining leases and the subsequent renewal of the expired mining leases for Antofagasta’s Twin Metals. Top notch lawyers from Morrison & Foerster and their many support staff have provided an extraordinary amount of pro bono legal services (“pro bono” means at no charge). They have worked countless hours on behalf of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and have built extremely strong cases on our behalf. We are convinced that when the Courts hear our cases that we will prevail in overturning the unlawful practices of the Trump administration. A special thanks to the Best & Flanagan law firm and Stephen Snyder for their pro bono assistance with our federal lawsuits in the role as local counsel for Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness.

We are engaged in a fourth federal lawsuit challenging federal prospecting permits on public lands next to the Boundary Waters. In this case, we are represented pro bono by the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center has done an exceptional job demonstrating the failure of the Bureau of Land Management to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. We are optimistic that this case will be resolved favorably. Thanks to Marc Fink and Alli Melton and the entire team at the Center for representing Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness. 

At the state level, we have been extremely fortunate to secure the pro bono services of Ciresi Conlin, LLP, a Minneapolis law firm. The Ciresi attorneys and staff have documented a strong case under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act that state mining rules are insufficient to protect the Boundary Waters. The lawsuit demands that the mining rules be changed to prohibit copper mining in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters, a reflection of the serious negative impact sulfide-ore mining would have on the Boundary Waters. The state has proposed a process to review the rules. Antofagasta’s Twin Metals has opposed this, of course, and we are presenting our case to the Court at this very moment. While this lawsuit has only been underway for less than a year, we are already the beneficiary of generous pro bono legal assistance.

Finally, we have enjoyed effective collaboration with environmental attorneys at the non-profit law firm EarthJustice. This group of attorneys works with us and our partners at Morrison & Foerster to build and bring our lawsuits against the federal government. They specialize in environmental law, and have incredible expertise in this area. In addition, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness has several attorneys on our Board of Directors that help guide and advise all of our legal efforts.

Without these extremely generous and talented firms, we would be without one of our most powerful tools in the fight to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We are extraordinarily grateful for the outstanding legal services these firms bring to our cause. Everyone who enjoys the BWCAW today - and for those that will enjoy it tomorrow - owes a huge debt of gratitude to these amazing partners.

A Quick Camping Trip in Winter

Sunday, February 21, 2021
Posted by
Lisa Pugh

“Late” is something you don’t want to be when heading out on a wilderness trip, especially in winter. There is much to do, daylight is in short supply, and you never know what kind of surprises wait for you out on the trail. You may find deep snow, downed trees across the trail, or a layer of slush sandwiched between lake ice and snow that slows your progress. You might wind up with busted zippers that need to be repaired, dropped mittens or water bottles that must be retrieved, or make a navigation error or two. You could have to re-route around weak ice and there will certainly be animal tracks or sunsets or snow-laden pines which must be marveled at. Anything can happen and all of it takes time, patience, and humble attention to detail. All of that is the reason I love the winter in the wilderness more than any other season.

As the clock struck noon on a day in late January, we were cinching down the straps of our pulk (sled) and clicking our ski boots into our bindings to start our overnight trip into the Boundary Waters. Twenty four hours was all the time we had in our busy schedules for the trip and we had meant to leave by 9 am. After a series of time-consuming events, including slicing my thumb on a can of dog food and nearly fainting at the sight of my own blood, here we were with a mere five hours left before dark and we were just beginning our journey.

My excitement to sleep on the ground and breathe the cold, clean air all night long soon edged out my annoyance over our tardy start and the first few strides on the frozen lake made my sore thumb a distant memory. My partner, Paul, skied ahead breaking trail and gave our sled dog, Iceman, a target to focus on as he and I followed with the gear and food. I’ll give Iceman most of the credit for pulling the weight. This was Iceman’s second Boundary Waters trip and while it is a little change of pace from the type of running and pulling he did before we adopted him a few months ago, I could tell by his enthusiastic leaps and wild shrieks as we got things moving that he was more than happy to be a part of our team.

We skied hard and took breaks every so often to drink water and have snacks to keep our metabolisms going in the low-20’s temperatures. In typical sled dog fashion, Iceman refused water, choosing instead to eat snow for hydration. We made good time across our entry lake and across the long portage and we paused in mid-afternoon to decide where to camp. 

Most of the year, the Boundary Waters rules require you to camp at a designated campsite to minimize impacts, but in the winter you are to camp anywhere but a designated campsite for the same reason. 

We had a few good options and chose to cross a small lake into what seemed like a protected little bay on the north side. Paul found our first bit of slush while scouting a route and soaked one of his feet. Because the temperatures were relatively warm and because we were staying warm on the move, he opted to wait until we made camp to change his socks.

Slush, or standing water hiding beneath a layer of snow, is very common on lakes and can be hard to spot. It usually lurks in sheltered bays where the snow is deep but it can often be found out in the middle of lakes too. It forms when lake water seeps up through the many small cracks and fissures in the ice and stays insulated beneath the snow above it. It is typical to find slush after warmer days or a heavy snow when the weight of the snow forces more water up through the cracks, but you can find it on the bitter cold days too. The trouble with slush is, it’s hard to ski through and if the temps are cold enough, it freezes to your skis almost instantly and acts like glue holding you in place until you scrape it off. We hit a big pocket of slush on our way to our camp spot and had to stop to free ourselves. Iceman demonstrated his eagerness to keep moving by tangling himself and me up in his line, requiring a few more minutes and a little more patience before we could continue to camp. 

We found a great spot with a slush-free place to build our fire out on the ice where it would have the least impact, a nice spot back among the pines for our shelter, and plenty of good-looking firewood close-by. With about an hour and a half to sunset, our first order of business was to layer up, drink water, eat a ton of cheese and crackers (Iceman got some treats), and change out of our ski boots and into our heavy-duty pac boots for the night. After finishing a Snickers bar each (and a chewy for Iceman), Paul and I divvied up the next set of tasks required for a winter camp.


While Paul found some big, rotten logs to make a base to keep our fire up off the ice and some good, sturdy boughs to make a tripod for cooking, I went in search of firewood. Iceman, having already done his part on the expedition by hauling our gear, curled up and watched us work. Once we were satisfied that we had enough wood for the evening and the following morning, we ate some more snacks, turned on our headlamps, and headed back into the woods to tie up our tarp. 

I’ve typically just used a tarp over-head for winter shelter with another tarp underneath for protection from the snow and I’ve found I prefer it to being enclosed in a tent (nylon or canvas) where condensation tends to build and zippers tend to freeze more. I also prefer to sleep without any sort of external heat source, aside from a Nalgene full of hot water I throw in the bottom of my sleeping bag to keep my feet extra warm. With the right sleeping bags, I find this system to be simple, minimal work, and overall more comfortable for me than trying to keep a wood stove going in a canvas tent all night or, worse, falling asleep in a warm tent and waking up in a cold one. This isn’t to knock the way others like to sleep in the winter, there are benefits and drawbacks to any system, this is just the style I like best.

Paul and I each bring two sleeping pads (for me one inflatable, one foam, and two foam pads for Paul) plus two sleeping bags each. I use a 0° down sleeping bag nested inside a bigger 0° synthetic bag. Paul uses two synthetic bags, one rated at 0° and one at 30°. He will often bring a silk or fleece sleeping bag liner as well to have more options. There are lots of ways to make a successful sleeping bag combination that can get you through even the coldest Boundary Waters nights. 

Iceman, like all sled dogs, relies on his double-layer fur coat and his instincts to tuck his nose under his tail on the really cold nights. Because he is an Alaskan Husky with a shorter coat and is now acclimated to indoor life with us as opposed to living outside in a big dog yard, we bring a fleece jacket and a wool blanket for him to lay on as extra insulation. If the temps get really, really cold, he’ll be offered a place in one of our sleeping bags. Seeing as the forecasted low was about 11°, that wouldn’t be necessary for this trip.

With the shelter set up, it was finally time to get the fire going and make dinner. Paul worked on splitting a good, dead red pine I found and I got the kindling broken up into some piles to make feeding the fire while cooking dinner easier. I filled our biggest pot to the brim with snow and added some water from my Hydroflask to keep the snow from charring while it heated up. With the pot hung on the tripod Paul made, ready to catch the first heat of the fire and start its process toward becoming our cooking and drinking water, I heaped a pile of birch bark onto our homemade fire pan, added a bunch of dry kindling on top, and fished out the lighter I keep on a string around my neck. Cold lighters won’t ignite, frozen sunscreen and toothpaste won’t squeeze out of a tube, and ice-cold contact solution is not that fun to work with, I’ve been told. For this reason, it’s good to keep those types of things in the warmth close to your body so you can use them when you want or need to.

While I got the fire roaring and kept adding more snow to the pot as it melted down, Paul worked on our Pizza Roll appetizer, my favorite. We filled all of our water bottles (two each) with freshly boiled snow-water and used the rest to boil up the vegetables we had copped back at home where such things are easier. A benefit of winter camping: you can chop vegetables ahead of time (it’s very hard to chop an onion once it’s frozen solid) and bring lots of meat and butter and since you’re camping in a big freezer, none of it will go bad like it might in the summer. I stirred in some ramen noodles and fried up brats as Paul got a hungry Iceman squared away with his kibble, some extra fat, and water. With dinner prepared, water ready, and a fed sled dog, it was now, well after dark, that we were finally able to take a good, long look around and enjoy some peace, some chow, and some good company.

The stars were bright, the moon was nearing full, and the wilderness was still. This is my absolute favorite time to be in the Boundary Waters. It is stunningly beautiful, the chance of running into other visitors is low, the chance of bug bites is zero, and the stakes are high for decision making, problem solving, and survival in general. I love to see the record of who else we’re sharing the trail with in the tracks left in the snow, I love to camp and cook out on the ice, and to admire the way the snow reflects back even a sliver of moonlight. If the moon is full, you don’t even need a headlamp to illuminate your path. I love the sounds you hear in the winter too – the squeak or crunch of snow under your boots that changes tone with the temperature, the more frequent howls of the wolves in their mating season, the groans and cracks of the ice as it forms and shifts on particularly cold nights. I love how the winter can embrace drama and peace at the same time. I love how in winter you must keep moving but then feel such satisfaction in the moments when you can become still. 

I should perhaps mention that I spent many years and many hundreds of frozen nights as an instructor for Voyageur Outward Bound School in Ely, MN. My job was to take groups of teens and adults, almost always totally novice and sometimes as their first-ever time camping, on week-long or many weeks-long expeditions in the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters is where I really learned the values and skills I most cherish – compassion, stewardship, humility, risk management, group facilitation, and how to hold a paddle and steer a canoe. The Wilderness, even on my own personal trips, or maybe especially on my own personal trips, continues to serve as the ultimate classroom in my life. Time spent in the Boundary Waters has helped me become a more patient, more aware, more capable, and more confident person and I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to witness such profound beauty and persevere through challenges great and small.

Sitting across the crackling fire from my partner now, with my best little pal curled up next to us, I breathed a sigh of relief at having made it here, back into the Wilderness, back to my home.

We built the fire back up to reheat some water to take in our Nalgenes to bed with us and then let the fire go out as we tidied up the kitchen and covered our wood stash in preparation for the snow that we could already see on its way. 

While I brushed my teeth back at our shelter in the woods, the advice I heard on my first winter trip echoed in my mind, “if you put hot coffee in a thermos, it’ll stay hot for a long time. If you put cold coffee in a thermos, it’ll stay cold for a long time.” Sleeping bags act much the same way a thermos does so for that reason, we did some jumping jacks and squats to raise our body temperatures before plunging ourselves into our respective sleeping systems, peeling off and storing our heavy outer layers as we went. The last thing I saw before turning off my headlamp and zipping up the hoods of my sleeping bags, were the big, soft snowflakes falling all around us.

When I later asked Paul what stood out to him about our trip, he said that it’s amazing how you can get the best sleep of your life on the ground in the freezing cold and that it’s incredible how easy it is to leave traces of your visit. I totally agree. We all slept like babies on our 24-hour camping trip, and I’d say we dedicated about 3 of those hours in total to practicing the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles that are Boundary Waters law. You’ll never be able to make a winter camp fully disappear – I mean, eventually the snow will cover all evidence, but come late winter/early spring, it’ll get uncovered and will become an unsightly mess to anyone who might happen upon it - and you can do a lot to minimize your impact. It takes some planning and preparation to be a good steward of this amazing resource we have here in Northern Minnesota and that’s probably why it’s the very first principle of LNT.

After we’d made our morning fire, melted some more snow, cooked our bacon and breakfast sandwiches, and drank our coffee, we began the process of disassembling everything we had assembled the night before. We made sure to burn up all the wood we had brought out for the fire, not leaving any piles behind on the ice, and we even used the shovel that we took along to scoop up the bits of debris and sawdust left over from our wood-processing operation. Pro-tip here: if you clear the snow out of an area on the ice before you haul your firewood out, you can usually clean up the debris in just a few shovel-loads and then fill the snow back in once you’re done for an almost-invisible post-camp aesthetic. 

We took apart our tripod and returned it and our base logs to the woods, taking with them the cold ashes that had accumulated on our fire pan. The fire had melted into the ice a bit and it would be impossible for us to get all the bits of ash and coals that were now half-frozen in a sloshy mess, but we scraped up what we could and covered the rest with snow. This would all eventually melt back into the lake, leaving no scars upon the land, and minimal visible impact to anyone who might travel past it later in the season.

I actually find this whole process to be pretty enjoyable. I mean, yes, it’s a chore, but it’s part of the responsibility we take on in exchange for the freedom of the spirit that this place offers us. I’m so grateful for even 24-hours in the wilderness, and I’ll gladly put some of that time back into the place that has given me so much. Would we have liked to stay longer? Definitely. Is 24-hours really worth it? Absolutely. Even if you get a late start.


If you’ve never been winter camping in the Boundary Waters and would like to go, I recommend letting one of these fabulous local businesses show you the ropes:

Women’s Wilderness Discovery

Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge

Voyageur Outward Bound School

Piragis Northwoods Company

Meet the Winners!

Monday, February 15, 2021
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

Meet the winners of our Merrimack Canoe contest:

GRAND PRIZE – Northern Light II

Aspen Anderson
Grand Rapids, MN

Paddles rupture still water. Swirling, twirling tornadoes follow underneath a glassy blue. One, two, three, I count. And then they are gone, melting back into the current that runs below. A current that will bring these waters north, to the lake where my family lives, eventually to the Hudson Bay. Seven tween girls scatter themselves about our three canoes. I lead.   We filter water from the lake and make dinner around a campfire that smells of pine needles. Afterwards, the girls skinny dip in the blackness, pinpricks of light dangling above their heads. Laughter and screams ñ sounds of friendship forming ñ echo in the night.  I stand on the beach, allowing the grandeur of it all to humiliate me.  I think about the whipping winds sending white crested waves into our boats, 12 year olds with twigs for legs carrying canoes on their shoulders, packs twice their size on their backs, each portage leading us to a new world.   I think about how these waters have shaped us. How they have nurtured, comforted, provided. How it is our duty to respect, protect them.   Incoming waves tickle my toes, sinking my feet deeper into the grainy sand, rooting me, keeping me here.

First Runner-Up – St. Croix Rods Legend Package

Chris Francis
Madison, SD

I lay here with my son,  awake,  beneath a canopy of jack pine, spruce, and cedar,  as stars and constellations flicker,  from the highest of celestial limbs far above,  a song of woods and waters plays in our head,  a throbbing pulse drumming in our hearts,  vulnerable to the allure of this most special of place,  we yearn to know,  to find,  to climb,  to stumble,  to run through,  to look what lies behind those firs,  that bit of rock,  that yellow lichen below,  to gaze,  to step upon,  leaving not a trace,  our sounds of song linger in that air,  water that ripples away from our canoe,  it will dissipate,  but we were there,  of that moment,  now we are near dreams,  tired and nestled away,  in song with my son,  my boy,  he looks up with me, I say to him kept words,  that these deepest of woods have raised me,  these the woods of my youth,  are now of his,  once it was me and my grandfather,  now me and him,  of these sacred woods,  of these cherished waters,  of these stars,  I leave my boy these places,  filled with mystic songs of youth and memory.

Second Runner-Up – Gunflint Paddle 

Anna Heil
Ely, MN

There are summers where I've spent more nights camped on beds of fragrant pine needles than on box springs. Winters when I've longed for clear cold stars over popcorn ceilings. Sometimes the in-between seasons have found me knee deep in mud, watching loons and geese flee south, or return home... And on the days when I wasn't, when I was far away from the Boundary Waters, I wished for the weight of a canoe on my shoulders. Sometimes it's hard to communicate to the ones who've never sweat and strained behind a dog sled what exactly is wrapped up in this wilderness. What meaning the misty mornings of stillness and the smoldering fires and the sweet blueberry bushes hold. For me, it's independence and vulnerability. It's shared memories and triumphs. Defeats that cracked me open and laughter that sewed me back up. For my community it's pride. It's contention but it's liberation. Stewardship, recreation... It's permission for entry into the world of trout and moose and wolves. I hope we'll always be able to have these experiences, timeless and endlessly fresh. I hope those who haven't yet had the privilege will always have the choice to discover it for themselves.

Third Runner-Up – Cooke Custom Sewing Hybrid Pack 

Carolyn Reilly
Westminster, Colorado

I have four brothers, and my parents were the Boy Scout leaders. I tagged along on small trips with the boys, but I was never allowed at the official camps. I was so jealous of my brothers going to Philmont and Sea Base, but I didnít have the opportunity. We lived in rural Iowa, and the local Girl Scout troop just did crafts in the church basement. At 13, I finally found a troop an hour away that went camping. My first trip with them was to the Boundary Waters. It was the first time I met other girls who would rather wear the same shirt for five days in the wilderness than tie dye one. It was the first time I saw that girls can portage canoes and fish for dinner. It was the first time I didnít have to feel left out by a bunch of boys in the woods. Iíve been back twice since then, and always with a bunch of badass women. The Boundary Waters is my favorite place in the world, not only because I love loons, but because every girl should have the chance to go and see how strong they are.

Fourth Runner-Up – Lake Commando Combo Package

Jeff Sonderegger
West Jordan, Utah

I recently returned from Afghanistan. I was proud to be there, as serving my country has been my deepest desire since childhood. Regardless of the reasons the war there started or the reasons it has continued for two decades, I knew my reasons for serving there when asked. Because I love my family and the land that we call Home.   Such is the case for every other servicemember that I have ever met. And for all warriors throughout history. We don't fight for industry, organizations or national coffers. We fight for the people and places we love. We fight to protect them so that we can come back to them. We fight for Home.   The Boundary Waters is one of those places. Specifically for some, but representatively for all. No deployed soldier daydreams of open-pit mines or oil fields. It's the peaceful places where one is allowed to be alone with their thoughts, or where oneís thoughts finally allow them to be alone that are behind a warriorís tired eyes. Home.  These wild places have so much meaning for so many. They must be protected, for they are so much more than just places. They are home.

Fifth Runner-Up – Frost River Grand Portage Canoe Pack

Samantha Lamers
Ely, MN  

The wilderness is my home. I've literally planted myself on its front doorstep. I have explored only a percentage of what the Boundary Waters has to offer in the last 8 years, but I've traversed her over dogsled, skis, canoe, and by foot.   I am lucky enough to have a job with the USFS fire program. I've made it a point to tailor my career to living on the edge of this wilderness, because I truly believe it to be one of the most unique places in the country. I've seen first hand at the positive impact this wilderness has brought to our community, the energy of travelers from all around the world that have come to our little corner to experience something truly one of a kind.   The Boundary Waters provides me with a career im passionate about and the ability to be a member of a community in a town I love. I will probably never find fulfillment in a 100k job, a fancy sports car, and a luxury home on the lake. Where I find the most fulfillment is working in the woods with a group of dedicated folks and sleeping under stars of an incredible wilderness.

Sixth Runner-Up – Northland Tackle Ice Package

Collin Couey
Grand Marais, MN

This morning we wake to rain.  The water plays plinko down balsam branches and softly patters our tent.  We sleep in.    The storm tires and wanders wayward.  Great pines guarding our island campsite dance in the mist.  We make coffee on a fractured granite slab, then find our canoe and shove off into the unknown.    On a calm forgotten pond, the bow gently parts sedge and bulrush.  The grass leans under stress - thousands of dragonfly perch on stem and flower, awaiting their final molt.   We paddle around aimlessly, catching a few small pike. A beaver slaps their tail in protest and a moose departs across the muskeg.  The sun burns through the clouds and we bask in the warmth.  A sun-dipped dragonfly discovers its new wings and takes flight.  Another follows.  Then another.  Soon the air is filled.  Birds take notice of the naive lunch and swoop en masse.   At camp we sit by the fire while a trout roasts on cedar boughs.  A dozen loons call out and we respond with our own barbaric yawp. The echoes recede with the painted cotton ball clouds... I think to myself: let greed never destroy such a wild and sacred place. 

The Boundary Waters Permanent Protection Bill Factsheet

Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

Bill Summary - The Boundary Waters Permanent Protection Bill -  H.F. 840 (Morrison) / S.F. 763 (Cwodzinski) 

  • The Boundary Waters Permanent Protection Bill permanently protects the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and Voyageurs National Park (VNP) from the inevitable and devastating damage that would result from sulfide-ore copper mining pollution in its watershed. 

  • Pollution from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining on lands upstream of the BWCAW and VNP would flow directly into the system of pristine lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands in the Wilderness.

  • The bill permanently bans both sulfide-ore copper mining and the issuance of state permits, licenses, or leases for sulfide-ore copper mining on state-owned lands in the watershed of the BWCAW.

  • The bill is the state companion to the bipartisan Boundary Waters Protection and Pollution Prevention Act introduced in Congress by Congresswoman Betty McCollum that establishes the same permanent protections on federal lands in the Rainy River Headwaters.

  • The bill ONLY applies to sulfide-ore copper mining and does NOT prohibit or otherwise impact existing or future taconite, iron ore, sand, gravel, and granite mining.

What’s at Stake 

  • The BWCAW is America’s most-visited wilderness area. It contains 1.1 million acres of pristine water and unspoiled woodlands. It is a uniquely water-intensive lakeland wilderness ecosystem. Its interconnected system of lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands set in a forested landscape provides critical habitat for fish, plants, and wildlife, including several endangered and threatened species.

  • The waters of the BWCAW, some of the cleanest in America, lack buffering capacity, which leaves them uniquely vulnerable to pollutants.

  • Scientific modeling and empirical evidence show overwhelmingly that sulfide-ore copper mining in the BWCAW’s watershed threatens with near certainty the destruction of the healthy, intact, and productive wilderness area that supports a full range of recreational and economic activities and is a beloved national and state treasure.

  • The BWCAW is the economic lifeblood of northeastern Minnesota's lucrative tourism industry. Tourism generates $913 million in revenue per year in economic benefits and creates 17,000 jobs that support local families and businesses.

U.S. Clean Energy Transition Does Not Require, & Would Not Benefit From, a TMM Mine

Monday, February 1, 2021
Posted by
Matt Norton & Marley Kehew

“Critical Minerals” Offers Poor Justification for the Twin Metals Mine.

Over the past several years, mining interests and President Trump’s Administration have misused the concept of “critical minerals” as a scare tactic partly to justify the rolling-back of clean water protections and the gutting of longstanding environmental review rules. See, e.g., Sections 3 (a, b, and d) and 4 (b) in the Dec. 20, 2017 Executive Order 13817 “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals,” instructing federal agencies to create a list of minerals of critical importance to the economic and national security of the United States.  The Administration’s argument can be refined to something like this:  1) the U.S. relies on imports to obtain supplies of key minerals; 2) import reliance leaves the U.S. vulnerable to having its mineral supplies cut off; 3) mining more at home will free us from our reliance.

Yet upon inspection there are serious flaws in how the industry and Administration use the concept of critical minerals. The most-promoted solution by the mining industry and its mouthpieces -- more mines (in more sensitive places) -- has been grossly oversold.  In addition, the Administration’s actions to advance one such mine -- the Chilean-owned Twin Metals Mine proposal in northeastern Minnesota -- undercut the Administration’s own critical minerals case for the mine. These flaws and inconsistencies are explained below.  

1. Import reliance does not equal import vulnerability. 

In its June 4, 2019 “Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, the Department of the Interior correctly notes that the U.S. imports 100% of certain minerals it has classed as critical.  Interior errs, however, in defining import reliance as a problem and a vulnerability.  For example, Canada is a leading supplier of critical minerals to the United States.  This puts U.S. national security at risk only if we expect imminent hostilities from our northern neighbor.  The U.S. imports other minerals on the list from Mexico, Belgium, India, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Australia, Austria, Estonia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Rwanda.  In short, the U.S. can and does source important minerals from a host of trading partners - many of them long-time allies.  Our allies and trading partner options are a source of strength and security.

2. For many of the listed critical minerals, the industry imports because the metals are produced more cheaply overseas.

Many of the 35 identified critical minerals are not mined alone, but are produced in significant quantities in the as byproducts of hardrock gold, copper, and lead mining operations.  Call them “byproduct critical minerals,” or simply “byproducts.” The U.S. has no shortage of gold, copper, and lead-producing mines, and these mines produce metal concentrates that must be processed in a smelter and then further refined to produce pure streams of distinct metals. 

The U.S. Geological Survey explains that, “the recovery of these byproducts typically is low compared to the total amount of material that was made available from mining, and recovery facility capacity poses a greater restriction on supply than geologic availability.”  The copper, gold, and lead concentrates shipped to smelters contain lots of critical minerals such as arsenic, antimony, bismuth, cobalt, tellurium, and others, but the smelters discard these byproduct minerals as impurities and waste products. The smelters do not invest to fully recover these “byproduct critical minerals,” simply because it would cost more to produce them than the smelter/refiner could make in selling them.  In short, a new mine [the Twin Metals Mine] won’t solve this problem, and therefore this set of critical minerals should not be used by the Administration as an excuse for promoting risky mines in sensitive places, or for gutting environmental laws. Rather, a production credit (if that’s desired) or a run-of-the-mill supply crunch would cause prices to rise, and the market to respond accordingly.

That’s exactly what happened in the rare case of an actual constraint on trade in rare earth elements. In 2010 when China attempted to corner the market for the rare earth elements by restricting exports, the market reacted by raising rare earth element prices (the WTO also intervened, but the metals market achieved results more promptly). As a result, additional mines, some of which had been on long-term “care and maintenance” since the cheaper producers in China had undercut their prices years earlier, came back into production. The Mountain Pass rare earth elements mine in California is the prime example. 

In addition, if the real concern short-term interruptions such as might occur between the start of a restriction on trade and a resumption in supply from either domestic producers or replacement trade from allied countries, the U.S. has in the past and could in the future rely on domestic strategic stockpiles of select minerals. Particularly when overseas mines are lower-cost suppliers than domestic sources of potentially critical minerals, it makes sense for the federal government (Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Commerce, or U.S. Geological Survey) to make steady additions to our domestically-based strategic stockpiles.

3.  Even if it were ever built, the TMM mine would meet less than 2% of the U.S. annual demand for cobalt, (assuming perfect recovery), and as U.S. consumption rises, that percentage would decline; the U.S. could sacrifice water and air quality in the Boundary Waters, and still need to import > 98% of its cobalt needs.

The Trump Administration promoted the Twin Metals Minnesota copper-nickel mine (TMM) as a way to “reduce the vulnerability to disruption of critical mineral supplies,” even though copper and nickel are not critical minerals. The minerals at issue are the very small amounts of platinum, palladium, and cobalt that could be produced by a TMM mine.

It is not wise to get hung-up on platinum and palladium from a mine that might come into production 14 years from now. Both palladium and platinum are heavily used in the manufacture of catalytic converters, which are not found on electric vehicles.  Gasoline vehicles are expected to be in steep decline 2035, which is likely the earliest a TMM mine might possibly come online. The advent of price parity between electric and gasoline cars, after all, is expected by 2025, if not sooner, which means long-term demand (and prices) for Pt and Pd will likely decline.  That leaves cobalt to consider.

Proponents of the TMM like to talk about cobalt, of which the U.S. has almost no domestic sources. But TMM, if built, would produce only very small quantities of cobalt, as a byproduct mainly from the smelting/refining of its nickel concentrates, and the U.S. has a growing appetite for the metal.  For example, the U.S. apparent annual consumption of cobalt in 2019 was 12,400 metric tons. In comparison, TMM’s average annual cobalt production would be no more than 185 metric tons per year, meaning that, if built, then many years from now TMM could supply at most 1.5% of the U.S. cobalt consumption in 2019.  

Thus, under the TMM proponents’ plan, the U.S. would risk the permanent pollution of the Boundary Waters and still be reliant upon imports and other mines for 96.3% of its cobalt consumption. Who but the mining company and its Chilean billionaire owners could possibly think of this as a good bargain?  

Moreover, the focus even on that tiny supply of cobalt presumes that it would be mined, smelted, and refined and made available in the U.S., which turns out is a false assumption.

4. Critical minerals from the Twin Metals mine would go to China, not the U.S. 

Critical minerals from a TMM mine would be sent overseas, most likely to China.[2] This is true for two reasons. First, the U.S. already produces more copper and nickel concentrates than it has capacity to smelt.  Thus, the TMM mine, or indeed any new copper-nickel mine, would be sent for smelting overseas. 

The result of initial mining extraction is a mineral concentrate that needs to be smelted and refined in order to produce pure stocks of copper, nickel, and other metals from which manufactures create end products.  There are only three active copper smelters located and still operating in the U.S., and these are vertically-integrated, meaning that the companies that own them also own their own copper mines, which supply the smelters with enough concentrates to keep them running at or near capacity. In addition, there are zero (0!) nickel smelters in the U.S. Accordingly, any new copper-nickel mine (such as TMM) will certainly send its copper and nickel concentrates out of the country for smelting, most likely to China, Japan or South Korea. Since it is owned by Antofagasta PLC, a TMM mine would likely send its concentrates to China for smelting/refining, as Antofagasta does.  

In short, a TMM mine would not make America great.  It would produce very little critical minerals, and it would send American critical minerals to China or other overseas countries with ample and cheap smelting capacity.  

The second reason why any critical minerals from a TMM mine could be shipped overseas to fuel China’s economy is a Trump Administration decision in 2019.   The old version of the federal mineral leases held by TMM contained a provision requiring the leaseholder, if it shipped concentrates overseas for smelting, to return an equivalent amount of refined metal to the U.S. In 2019, however, the Department of the Interior removed that provision when it renewed the leases. By removing that key provision from TMM’s federal mineral leases, the Trump Administration aided the movement of critical minerals out of the United States.  

If "critical minerals" were anything more than a fig-leaf for the Administration’s determination to gut environmental protections, gut NEPA, and force risky mines into some of the most sensitive and beloved public lands in America, then the Trump Administration would have kept in place the “return to U.S.” provision in the federal mineral leases.  Now, however, Antofagasta PLC has neither the obligation nor the incentive to bring the refined metals back. 

To summarize, “critical minerals” as a concept is a poor justification for the TMM mine: 

  1. the U.S. has many trading partners, including long-time allies, with whom we trade for critical minerals.  Those trading networks are a source of U.S. strength.

  2. Many of the minerals that are identified as critical minerals are in fact produced in sufficient supply in copper, nickel, lead, and gold concentrates, but are discarded as waste material and not recovered during smelting/refining because the costs of recovery exceed the sale price at current prices; hence the issue is one of lower-cost producers overseas, as opposed to domestic lack of supply from existing mines. 

  3. Even in the case of cobalt, the best example of a critical mineral that the TMM mine can offer, pushing the TMM mine would meet less than 4% of domestic demand, and dropping.  

  4. And the TMM mine, if it were ever built, would supply China with critical minerals, not the U.S., because the U.S. has no nickel smelters, its three copper smelters are all fully-subscribed, and furthermore because the Trump Administration changed the terms of the federal mineral leases needed by TMM, so that TMM no longer has to bring back to the U.S. any of the metals it sends overseas for processing.

2.  The customers for the nickel concentrate will likely be nickel smelters in North America, Europe, Russia and China. China will be a potential market for the copper concentrate, along with other custom smelters in Europe and Asia. Twin Metals Minnesota Project, 2014-10-06 NI 43-101 Technical Report on Pre-Feasibility Study

Executive Order focused on addressing climate change

Friday, January 29, 2021
Posted by
Tom Landwehr and Becky Rom

On Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order focused on addressing climate change in all relevant work of the federal government. For the Boundary Waters, a key component of the Executive Order is the mandate to achieve permanent protection of 30 percent of America’s lands and adjacent oceans by 2030. This goal is intended to simultaneously help address climate resilience, slow the species extinction crisis and support maintenance of native biological diversity. This is an opportunity for permanent protection of the Boundary Waters - a critical element for biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation. 

While the Boundary Waters currently has a high level of protection through its designation as a federal Wilderness, it is still extremely vulnerable to degradation from outside influences. Since it is a water-rich ecosystem, pollution from sulfide-ore mining anywhere within its watershed will cause irreparable damage for centuries to come. Further, while the adjacent Superior National Forest has basic protections from private exploitation, it is subject to devastation that would result from sulfide-ore copper mining. Destruction of boreal forests and massive pollution of aquatic habitats and interconnected lakes results directly in the emission of greenhouse gases and the loss of climate change resilience. 

A key part of fulfilling the ‘whole-of-government’ approach to the climate crisis should include development of specific actions by federal land management agencies to determine which public lands should be completely protected from mining, drilling and other detrimental development. Protecting and preserving Minnesota's Boundary Waters Wilderness and the surrounding boreal forest ecosystem from sulfide-ore copper mining is an important part of a national climate solution. 

An important first step will be for the U.S. Forest Service to request a mineral withdrawal (or a mining ban) of all federal lands and minerals on Superior National Forest lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters. Such a request would trigger an environmental review of the proposed mineral withdrawal (mining ban), and the risks that sulfide-ore copper mining would pose to the Superior National Forest, the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and downstream lands and waters. The Forest Service made such a request in early 2017, after concluding that the renewal of two federal mineral leases in this location would pose an unacceptable risk of harm to the Boundary Waters Wilderness. The environmental review based on the 2017 request was abruptly halted by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in September 2018, after more than 181,000 people submitted comments (98% supported a ban) and dozens of ecological and economic reports had been received by the Forest Service. A new request would allow the environmental review to continue to completion, and provide the scientific basis for a decision by the Secretary of Interior on the request for a twenty-year mining ban.

The recent Executive Order is wide-reaching, visionary and critically needed. Permanent protection of the Boundary Waters fits squarely into the intended actions of the Order. An important first step will be the initiation of a request for a twenty-year mineral withdrawal and an environmental review of the proposed ban. 

Be sure to stay connected with the Campaign and follow us as we help ensure this step - and the ultimate protection of the Boundary Waters Wilderness - is quickly initiated and comprehensively addressed.

Want even more information?  Watch the hour-long Campaign webinar here from January 29, 2021 with Becky Rom, Board Chair, Tom Landwehr, Executive Director, Matt Norton, Science and Policy Director, and Alex Falconer, Government Relations Director.  

Watch the full webinar here.

The Beginner’s Guide to Hiking the Kekekabic Trail

Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Posted by
Lauren Eggert

Have you ever hiked 47 miles in 4 days? I hadn’t either—in fact, I had never truly gone on a backpacking or a Boundary Waters trip without a canoe. But that’s what I did, a hike on the elusive Kekekabic Trail in Northeastern Minnesota—a trail almost all within the breathtaking Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The “Kek”, as the trail is called, stretches from Snowbank Lake in Ely, Minnesota all the way to the Gunflint Trail, near Grand Marais. And to make the longest walk of my life even more interesting, I signed up for it with a brand-new, Almost Boyfriend, of all things. (What can I say, I like to keep things interesting...)

Maybe you’re like my (now) boyfriend and are an experienced hiker who doesn’t need to look down to make sure you don’t slip or trip over every single rock on the Kekekabic Trail. Or maybe you’re like me: a walking, talking, and tripping-over-your-own-feet and every rock machine.

Lesson #1: Pack a deluxe first aid kit—you will have no cell service on the Kek and no canoe to act as your gurney in the case of a rolled ankle—more on this later.

The sun peeking through as we crossed the bridge on the Agamok River Gorge.

No matter your personal experience, you can do this hike if you truly want to. You see, the Wilderness welcomes everyone, no matter your skillset or level. You don’t have to be an extreme hiker or weathered outdoorswoman. You can come as you are with borrowed or outfitted gear. Hell, even a “How to” book is good company on a trail if you’re a novice, although I did prefer my survival-encyclopedia, Almost Boyfriend, as a resource on this trip. But I still had to do it, all the hard stuff, on my own. Just like you’ll have to. All you need is the will to put one foot in front of the other, no matter what comes your way.

Lesson #2: Trekking poles are a must if you’re as graceful as me and are prone to tripping while walking on flat surfaces.

While planning your trip, people will tell you, “oh there’s just a little bit of elevation on the Kek, you’ll be fine.” However, I’m not going to lie to you, yes you will be fine, it’s not like hiking in the mountains at 9,000 feet, but to a novice hiker, this was more than a little elevation. I remember going breathless up what felt like a mountainside, explaining to myself out loud how I was going to write so many reviews on all the group-hiking pages I researched before the trip to warn people like me that the phrase, “a little elevation,” is extremely subjective.

Lesson #3: Stop and take as many breaks as you need and consider borrowing or buying a hydration pack, but water bottles work just fine. 

The Kekekabic is described as a remote, minimally maintained trail, but we had no problem following the trail—we still brought a GPS which read 47 miles at the end of our hike and not the claimed 41 miles. 

However, instead of writing a review, I’m leaving you with my packing list and a non-sugar-coated run-down of what I encountered on my journey (which I would wholeheartedly do again) to fully prepare you for your first hike on the Kek.


*Some items are per person
50-70L backpack

Tent (lightweight if possible)

Sleeping bag (w/ stuff sack)

Sleeping pad (Must fit into backpack)

Water bottle or Reservoir

Water filter

Backpacking Stove (can cook on fire grate at campsites if wood is available.)


Cookset (lightweight if possible)

Bowl/plate and a utensil

Meals (dehydrated preferably) and snacks


Biodegradable Soap (do not use directly in lakes)

Bear bag and paracord to hang from non-existent bear-safe trees

Toilet paper


Garmin GPS (optional)

Ziplock bags or  trash bag to leave no trace

Headlamp and backup batteries

Hiking boots (Broken-in….more on the joys of this classic move later)

Camp booties to give your feet a break at camp (optional)

Trekking Poles (optional)

Insect Repellent (depending on the season)

Duct Tape (You can bring a small amount wrapped around a nalgene)

Kekekabic Trail Guide

Permit to enter the BWCAW 

Fun items that I brought:

Cribbage board and cards that you’ll be too tired to play

Journal and pen to document your travels

Deluxe first-aid kit (with extra duct tape)

.410 shotgun and ammo for hunting grouse

Flask of whiskey, for those 16 mile days (keep reading for more on this)

Two Cars—one at either end of the trail or a friend to drop you off/pick you up


Fresh socks - for every day

T-shirt (Moisture wicking, not cotton)

Longsleeve (Moisture wicking, not cotton)

Fleece or wool sweater (depending on the season) 

Quick drying pants and shorts

Rain jacket and pants

Hat (warm for cold weather or baseball cap for sunny days)

Gloves or mittens (for cold weather)  

Our furry sidekick for the entire journey on the Kekekabic Trail at a campsite at Parent Lake.


On the first day of our October trip, Almost Boyfriend and I started off late in the afternoon. With the sun sinking in the sky earlier and earlier on the rapidly decreasing Fall days, we found ourselves in camp only 6 miles East of the Snowbank Lake trailhead on Parent Lake, with less than an hour of light left. We quickly set up, ate, and crashed for the night after a swig or two of whiskey. Although we hadn’t accomplished what we set out to do day one, we were happy to finally be surrounded by the beautiful Wilderness and it’s serenity—finally we were alone in the wild.

Lesson #4: Plan your miles-a-day around the hours of daylight you have and set up camp before it’s dark. Check seasonal sunset times before you head on trail.

Stopping to soak in the scenery and admire the lakeland wilderness that is the BWCA.


Day two started off bright, early, and full of dreams of making up for our late start on day one by hiking a full sixteen miles. I’ll say it again—SIXTEEN MILES of hiking in a single day. As you can imagine, this was mentally hard for me, as a novice, to even comprehend. I don’t think I’ve even walked sixteen miles in one day on a paved road before. Nonetheless, I managed to accomplish it, even though I tripped more than a few times and even rolled an ankle. 

However, this is the day I learned that breaking in your brand-new hiking shoes is a crucial step in preparation for a biped journey such as this one. About 6 miles into day two, I had blisters the size of a silver dollar (Google “silver dollar” if you were born after 1984) on the back of each heel. By the time we reached camp, I could barely walk right because I was in so much pain.

Lesson #5: Break in your hiking shoes before you go on a hike. Moleskin blister covers aren’t a bad idea either, although I found duct tape and gauze to stay in place and work much better. Did I mention trekking poles? 


We were blessed with really great weather on this early October trip, but even the sunshine on day three couldn’t take the sting out of my now torn-up heels. However, nothing could stomp on my spirit. We were now halfway through our journey, in the middle of the wild (aka, I knew I  had to keep going unless I wanted to live in the Wilderness forever), and my heart was so happy to have this experience. That is until I discovered what people meant by, “a little elevation on the Kek.” 

LOL oh my goodness. You will go up and down and up and down more times than a kid on a perpetual sugar high while hiking the Kek. Pair this with painful, duct-taped, double-socked heels and you’re in for a real treat of a day. In all seriousness, once you do make it to the tallest point of your journey at about 1900 feet, you will love the view and the feeling of sheer accomplishment on how far you’ve physically and mentally come.
Lesson #6: Hiking is mind over matter. No matter how tired your body is or how much your feet hurt, you can push past the pain to reach something beautiful.

Almost Boyfriend taking in the Ham Lake forest fire remnants.


The last day of our hike was a bittersweet one. I knew my blistered-heels needed a break and that we needed to get back to our civilized lives, but I was lovingly lost in the wonder of the wild—I didn’t want to leave. 

You see, humans are marvelous creatures of adaptation. After three days of living amongst the beautiful Boundary Waters, the trees, forest fire remnants, even the sometimes scary sounds and winds at night, I no longer felt like a visitor there but a part of it. Like the wild was what reality should be and that my home in the suburbs was just a facade. 

In short, I didn’t want to leave this quiet place or even be separated from my now-bonded Almost Boyfriend who had shared my laughs and pain on this incredible, wild journey with me. But we had done it. There were no more steps to take and honestly, no more gauze left for my wounds. 

Lesson #7: Soak up every moment, even the bad ones. They are the stories and scars you will tell once out of the woods and you’ll be damn proud of them when you’ve officially taken your final step off trail.

Eating well on the trail thanks to Almost Boyfriend hunting grouse!

In the end, was it all worth it? Hell yes! On so many levels. 

Let me be clear: a trip into the Wilderness will show you your true self. It strips away any shred of fiction in your life and reveals what’s hiding behind your screens, social posts, and societal masks. It has the capability to force you to see yourself as you truly are. No makeup. No “cute” clothes. No lies. There is no hiding from it. From the weather, from the wildlife, from the pain and challenge of completing your first epic hiking or paddling trip. The Wilderness will find you—the real you. And I personally can’t wait to do it again.

For more information on the Kek, contact local outfitters and the Superior Hiking Trail Association for resources. 

“It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.” -Confucius

Our last scenic look before exiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.