Cook County Highpoint Trip Report

Eagle Mtn (2,301 ft)

Dates: October 20-21, 2006
Author: Nick O'Connell

Eagle Mountain is the state's highest point and is located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Accompanying me on this trip were my two teenage brothers-in-law who have never been camping before. Our plan was to hike to Whale Lake, camp overnight, climb Eagle Mountain and return to the trailhead. I had previously climbed Eagle Mountain in 2003 and it was my 1st state and county highpoint. We decided that since I had hiked the standard Eagle Mountain trail the last time that this time we would attempt the less traveled Brule Lake Trail. This trail begins at the entry point to Brule Lake northwest of Eagle Mountain. This trail had been closed for many years but was reopened due to the efforts of the Kekekabic Trail Club. It is longer than the standard route (13.5 miles compared to 7 miles round trip) and is by far more rugged.

The hike begins with a 1/4 mile walk from the parking lot on a gravel road to the trailhead. Once on the actual trail, it gradually rises and falls eastward along a series of swamps and rivers. Route finding is at times difficult due to the lack of use on this trail and trees fallen across the path. A week before our hike, a foot of snow had fallen in the area but luckily it had all melted. Temperatures were in the mid 20s and throughout the two days we were in the woods there was a constant gradual snowfall. The trees laid across the path were usually easy to crawl over or under but made the hike difficult and slow.

At one point just past the crossing of the Ball Club Creek, there was a grouping of 4-5 large fallen pine trees that made the trail completely indistinguishable. We bushwhacked for some time to the edge of a large hill and followed that for sometime until we regained the trail. Just south of Fishhook Lake is an old homestead site located along the shores of a small unnamed lake. The trail eventually meets up with the northern flank of Eagle Mountain and passes around the eastern slopes between it and a small unnamed peak. This portion of the trail was almost impossible to navigate due to the lack of trees to mark the trail and snow that covered the path.

We ended up following the valley between the two peaks knowing that eventually to the south we would reach Whale Lake. On the return trip, I discovered that along the trail there were rock cairns placed around every 100 feet, which made the return trip much easier. Upon reaching Whale Lake, we decided to make camp at the site on a peninsula reaching into the northern edge of the lake. After a meal of bratwursts and a few hours in front of the fire to dry out our clothes, we went to bed for an early morning hike to the summit.

From the campsite, it is a short boulder hop to the intersection of the Brule Lake Trail with the Eagle Mountain Trail at the base of the mountain. We climbed up the slopes and the snow on the ground actually made the trail easier to navigate on this section of the hike. After a brief stop at the clearing on the western edge of the mountain, we continued up to the summit. Due to our camp at the base of the mountain we were by far the earliest group to arrive at the summit and had to brush the snow away from the plaque. After a quick celebration we headed back to the bottom in preparation for the return hike.

The trail seemed much easier to follow on the way back and we discovered that the place where we lost our trail near the creek was easily overcome by a small climb over some downed trees that would have saved us an hour of hiking. Due to a colossal storm that downed thousands of trees in this area on the fourth of July 1999, this trail is covered with many young pines. Most of the path consisted of pushing through these trees that would dump their allotment of snow on us each time. The entire trip we did not see our hear another person until we encountered a group from the Kekekabic Trail Club about a mile from the trailhead.

They told us that they were clearing the trail from fallen debris and the route out should be fairly easy going. This was quite the task for them considering that due to wilderness restrictions they are only allowed to use handsaws. We made it back to the trailhead by early afternoon and we celebrated an excellent hike with a world famous pizza from Sven & Ollie's in Grand Marais.

If able to spend more time in northern Minnesota than just an afternoon to hike Eagle Mountain, this trail is a highly recommended alternative to the shorter, busier route. Due to route finding issues and being with 2 rookie campers, we took about 5 hours from trailhead to camp at Whale Lake, about an hour up and down the mountain, and 4 1/2 hours from the base back to the trailhead. If not for the group clearing the trail, we would not have seen another soul the entire trip. Comparatively on the drive in we saw 6 cars at the main trailhead and on the way out there were 5 cars.

Total hike: 13.5 miles, 10 1/2 hours.