Boundary Waters Traverse Coming Up - 110 Miles through the Wilderness
Updated: May 17
On May 22, I will be running the Boundary Waters Traverse - approximately 110 miles through the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in a journey that will connect the Border Route (BRT) and Kekekabic (Kek) Trails in the first known attempt and running them both continuously. You can read trail reports from my previous BRT and Kek Runs here: BRT attempt 1, BRT finish, and Kekekabic Trail.
The Running for the Boundary Waters project is designed to highlight the issue of potential sulfide-ore copper mining proposals in the watershed of, and directly adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the running community. Trail runners as a community lately have become environmental advocates, using their running as a public awareness tool for issues they care about.
Now is a great time to take action, we just had a bill introduced in Congress - H.R. 2794, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act by Rep. Betty McCollum. Please sign my petition in the Take Action tab! And if you are able, consider a donation to the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. We’re leading the national coalition to protect this place for all generations to come and your donation will keep us in this fight!
My project - Running for the Boundary Waters, was inspired in large part by Clare Gallagher, an elite trail runner, who has dedicated a lot of her running and national attention she gets from winning marquee races such as the 2019 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run to fighting climate change. I first met Clare after a panel she hosted in January of 2019 at the Outdoor Retailer show, described my idea and she immediately jumped on board with support, looping in Patagonia’s Trail Running division and helped get some national attention through a piece she wrote in REI’s Journal and Patagonia’s trail running social media.
I am thrilled beyond comprehension that she will be joining me for 2 segments of this run this year!! She’ll join me for roughly 40 miles of Wilderness trail starting where the Border Route Trail intersects with the portage between Clearwater and West Pike Lakes. We’ll head east through the BW, up and down and over the palisades and past the Rose Lake Stairway Portage and emerge on the other side! I am also excited that Peyton Thomas, a Ph.D student and trail runner from North Carolina is coming along running the first BW segment from McFarland Lake to Clearwater where she’ll swap out with Clare, and then again on the other side to help finish the Border Route. On the Kekekabic trail side, I’ll be joined for the entire trail by Kyle Pietari, an incredibly accomplished professional ultra trail runner who will keep me moving and sane as I wind my way through the main unit of the BWCA crossing rivers via fallen log and beaver dams! Matt Wardhaugh, a Scotland native and Minneapolis area trail runner and manager of The Running Store will be joining Kyle and me for the Kek. Also joining on the front end of the Border Route Trail will be Grand Marais Mayor, Jay Arrowsmith Decoux.
Logistics for this run are off the charts. A typical ultra marathon will have aid stations every 8-
10 miles with food, crew support, etc. Since 80% of these trails are Wilderness and only bisected twice by roads (The Arrowhead Trail on the East and Gunflint Trail in the middle) I am being supported by friends willing to paddle out and in some cases camping overnight and waiting for us to ramble on by! “Paddle-in aid-stations” are probably the best, if not most unique, ultra run support logistic ever! I’ll be able to eat some real food (vs. energy bars or chews or candy) and get moral support along the way. They also help me mentally break the 110 miles into smaller bite sized chunks, focusing on what it’ll take to go the next set of miles until the next station. They’ll provide me with food and freshened water (taken straight from the lakes!) to run with, new socks (the most exciting thing for me, actually) and given the unpredictability of the weather up north, take or give changes of clothes to stay warm, cool down, dry off, etc.
To dive into deeper details of the run, I am breaking the run into 7 “bite sized” segments at the end of which friends, coworkers and family will meet me at the paddle in aid stations or on gunflint trail:
Border Route Trailhead East to McFarland Lake ~ 12 miles
McFarland Lake to Clearwater Lake ~ 19 miles and where the WTIP Boundary Waters Podcast will meet me!
Clearwater Lake to Rose Lake about 16 miles- where I’ll be met by Campaign staff Ingrid Lyons and Megan Wind
Rose Lake to Loon Lake Road about 11 miles - this will be the first road crossing after about 40 miles of Wilderness trail
Loon Lake Rd to the BRT West Trail head on the Gunflint Trail ~ about 9 miles
Kekekabic Trailhead East (which is about a quarter mile south of the BRT Trailhead on the Gunflint) to Kekekabic Lake ~ about 20 miles and where Levi Lexvold from our Campaign and Tim Barton from Piragis Northwoods Co will meet us.
Kekekabic Lake to Kek/Snowbank Trailhead about another 20 miles to the finish!
Overall the two trails will cover roughly 110 miles through the heart of the Boundary Waters. They have a combined approximately 18,000 feet of overall elevation gain - which if you think for Minnesota that really means just constantly running up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down… And we’ll cross an innumerable set of streams via fallen logs, boulders or beaver dams.
During previous runs I’ve seen almost all the major BW wildlife - black bear, moose, river otters, deer (real and hallucinated - 🤪), grouse, eagles, beavers, snapping turtles and about a billion mosquitos, deer flies and a few hundred thousand ticks. The views from the top of the Border Route Trail over into Canada are majestic to say the least. The lower lying Kek going through the marshes, streams and beaver dams brings a connection to the land and a sense of how the water is so intricately connected.
We’re doing this for these clean waters that need protecting. There’s almost nowhere else on earth like this place. Almost nowhere can you drink straight from the lake. We also need to protect this place as part of the greater 4 million acre BWCA-Voyageurs-Quetico ecosystem that is the heart of the continent. We have at our back door an ecosystem that supports Menomin (wild rice) which is at vital risk from the sulfates that would be released from the proposed mine. This ecosystem is also home sensitive and listed species like Moose, Canada Lynx and the Grey Wolf. And this boreal forest is a giant carbon sink, one of the most powerful sources of carbon capture as we look at how to not only stop additional carbon, but to keep intact the ecosystems in place that naturally pull it out of the air.
All that depends on clean water. Not a lot can survive perpetual sulfide-ore generated
acid mine drainage. And that is exactly what will happen if this mine were allowed to be built. Every sulfide-ore mine in the world pollutes nearby ground and surface waters. It’s just a fact of this sort of mining. We cannot let this take place in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
Thank you for reading this far and please sign the petition and donate to the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters if you can! The future of the Boundary Waters depends on all of us taking a couple small easy steps together.