Sioux Hustler Trail Run Report
The Sioux Hustler Trail Run Report
On July 3rd, 2020 I ran the 32 mile Sioux Hustler Trail in my 2020 series for Running for the Boundary Waters. As a quick primer, in 2019 I ran the two longest trails - the Border Route Trail and Kekekabic Trail with the intent on combining the two of them for one long run this spring. However COVID put a hold on that longer run with logistics - mostly for support and publicity crews - not able to be lined up. So instead this year I’m focusing on all the 20+ mile trails that wind through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for a series of 7 Wilderness trails plus an 8th - the Eagle Mountain and Brule Lake Trail that reaches the highest point in Minnesota at a nose bleed height of 2,301 feet of altitude!
I’m doing all these as a unique twist on how people can experience the Boundary Waters and as a way to bring awareness of these 1.1 million acres of protected wilderness to the trail running community. The Boundary Waters is currently threatened by a proposal to build a massive sulfide-ore copper mine directly adjacent to the Wilderness where all pollution will flow through the heart of the Boundary Waters, through Voyageurs National Park and also into the Canadian Quetico Provincial Park - managed as another 1 million acres of Wilderness. As trail runners, we depend on vast expanses of protected lands to run through and I’m aiming to highlight this area to trail runners, educate the trail community of the threat and enlist their help in protecting this special place.
Back to the run - The Sioux Hustler Trail:
I apparently have this uncanny ability to pick the hottest day of the year for big Boundary Waters runs. I think I’m learning to mostly avoid late June through July. My Norwegian and Scottish blood just isn’t cut out for 94 degrees with high humidity, which was the temp of this run! We left our family cabin at 4 am to get to the trail head as early as possible to avoid as much heat as I could. The strategy worked out well for the first 20 miles or so but when the sun was overhead and I wasn’t shaded by the forest any longer I could
feel my energy dropping.
Thankfully running through a lakeland wilderness offers lots of opportunities to lay down in a stream or jump in a lake to cool off. So I was able to keep my core temp in check at least, though the last 12 miles were much slower as I had to take care to not overheat. At this point I was on pace to keep trying for an FKT but the necessity to slow down to conserve my energy and not overheat quickly evaporated that goal. Funny thing of suddenly not having to worry about speed is turning attention instead to my surroundings and enjoying the run for what I love most - running through this wild land’s old growth forests, wildlife, and breathtaking land and waterscapes.
Ok, so if the heat was bad, the deer flies were 1,000 times worse. I’ve never been in such a thick swarm of deer flies. Even in the heat I had to keep my hood up to keep them off my neck. But my arms, legs, face, and shoulder blades in particular, where they could land and still bite through the material, were all still on their menu. Reapplying deet lotion frequently couldn’t keep them away. I only had brief respites from them when I was in the lake or in a more exposed area where the wind could help blow them away, or running alongside the
Little Indian Sioux River which is a faster moving stream and cooler environment moving through an old growth white cedar grove - basically not deer fly habitat. Could have stayed there all day! By the end, I’m pretty sure I killed roughly 48 million deer flies - give or take a million - and had roughly the same number of bites. Other notable bugs were mosquitos, of course, though I barely noticed them given the deer fly over population, and ticks again (ticks were a prominent feature of the Snowbank-Disappointment run earlier this year).
The non-bug wildlife:
Around mile 22 or so I saw a mother Moose and her new born calf! They were pretty far off and definitely saw and heard me huffing and puffing and bounding along the trail first. When I saw them and stopped, they ran off before I could get my phone out for a pic. These two are the 3rd and 4th moose I’ve seen running through the Boundary Waters. Last year’s “King of Seahorse Lake” and his lady friend was particularly spectacular given the bull moose stared me down for a few minutes before moving on. Near where I saw the mom and calf this time, I came across tracks in the trail (pic).
The Mad Grouse:
I was this years old when I found out ruffed grouse can be terrifyingly territorial! I had two encounters on this run. It’s grouse hatching/chick raising season. My first encounter was running by a nest and a flock of juveniles jumped out and scattered to the wind in front of me. Thankfully, as I’d learn in a bit, the parents weren’t nearby.
The second encounter was a female who was very upset (video above) I was running by her nest. She played angry, protective momma well and scurried alongside the trail chasing and screaming at me, making sure I wasn’t turning around to threaten her babies.
The 3rd encounter was unlike anything I’ve encountered. I'll start by saying I was too terrified to take my camera out for this one and focused more on lessening the chance of grouse induced punter wounds.
I was toward the end, probably mile 30 of 32 - extremely hot and exhausted when I heard a commotion behind me. A male grouse was crashing through the woods and coming my way. As I paused and turned around to see what was going on, the grouse found a clear area and suddenly flew straight at me. Shocked and terrified I started running away, though not wanting to take my eye off of what this guy was up to I had to run backward - not a great idea on a wilderness trail littered in rocks, roots, fallen trees, etc. At one point he jumped, flew and dive-bombed at me where I had to swing my trekking poles and knock him out of the air - meaning he was within 3 feet of me! - to keep him from pecking my eyes out. Back on the ground, maybe slightly shocked though undeterred he continued his pursuit this time on foot. Still chasing me down the trail and now hissing at me - I’ll never forget the image of his mouth wide open, tongue straight out hissing at me and able to practically see straight down it’s gullet. With his chest feathers puffed out, tail splayed out at full attention, wings prepared for flight attack and hissing at me - my fight or flight kicked in. I ignored my previous strategy of running backward and opted for speed, risking the chance it’ll jump on my back and go for my jugular. But I had to get away so just ran as fast as my weary legs could carry me. Thankfully within a quarter mile I had left him behind and I could stop my panicky run. I definitely took a moment to check if he was still hot in pursuit, but he was probably back laughing with his pals about the idiot runner guy he just chased off.
Last wildlife of note was several bald eagles, some ravens that were following me, I assume because they were thinking… ”just maybe…,” and the largest American Toad or bullfrog I’ve ever seen - about the size of my hand that jumped into the water off the top of a beaver dam as I got close.
The Terrain and Trees
This trail was much less technical than the BRT, Kek and the Snowbank trail. Much less up and down, though it did still have over 3,000 feet in elevation gain overall. The trail is a “lollipop” loop - about 6 miles of a header path, then 20 miles or so of loop, then back to the 6 miles again or the “stick” portion. The first two miles are unremarkable, running mostly through marsh and old logged off area without much cover. There’s a beaver dam in the first mile that actually held me up for a few minutes or so on the other side as I couldn’t find the trail. After that the trail is super bushy for about a mile straight and you can barely follow along at a running pace.
When the trail finally hits the river, it becomes much more scenic.
Initially it winds along the river with mostly old growth cedar forest - characterized by lots of roots on the ground and boulders to scramble around. After veering east, the virgin forest of giant Red and White pines are absolutely breathtaking. I love old growth white pines more than almost anything on this earth and this trail was an absolute treat.
Cathedrals of giant stands line much of the path and it definitely felt like walking back through history. We don’t have much of these sized trees left in Minnesota, much of the north woods having been logged off. But this area is some of the largest and best examples of what the forest used to be.
The trail winds around the Pauness Lakes, Lynx Lake (where I found “boulder portage” a fun story from one of our canoe trips where we couldn’t find the actual portage and hauled some of our gear up and over a giant field of boulders between lakes before finally finding the actual path), Hustler, Range and finally near Loon Lake before coming back to the river and back out via the “stick.” So much to love with the lakes, streams connecting the lakes, beaver dams, marshes and wildlife.
This is a run for the trail runner’s bucket list. Easily doable, just pick a cooler day and check local intel on status of deer flies and black flies. You’ll be glad you did!