Welcome to the BWCAW blog of Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service!

See our websites at ElyOutfittingCompany.com and BoundaryWatersGuideService.com.

We are a Boundary Waters canoe trip outfitter, Quetico outfitter, and guide service in Ely, Minnesota. This Boundary Waters blog shares photos, stories, humor, skills, and naturalist insights from guiding in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Most entries are from our founder and head guide, Jason Zabokrtsky. He is the Boundary Waters Blogger.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Building a Quinzee Snow Shelter

The dogsled camping group this week is game for just about anything. I really like their eagerness to try new things.

Today the whole group joined in to build a traditional snow shelter called a quinzee. The above photo shows our finished product.

A quinzee is made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow. It is much warmer than a tent, and can be used for winter camping, survival, or just plain fun.

Quinzee construction is a somewhat time consuming and labor intensive process. Here's how.

Shovel a pile of snow six to ten feet high and long enough for two or three people to sleep side by side. A big scoop shovel works well. The below photo shows Fran, a guest from the United Kingdom, scooping snow for the quinzee.

Ideally flip the loose snow over as you shovel it to mix snow of different temperatures. Don't pack it down. Instead, once it's piled, let it sit for a few hours. A process called "sintering" occurs that makes even light fluffy snow firm up while you wait. The below photos show's Fran's husband, Gareth, putting some final scoops on the mound.

Before you walk away from the pile, insert a couple dozen ten inch long sticks into the walls and ceiling areas of the mound. These will be your guides to stop digging out the interior so you don't go through the walls when digging it out. That's what Jen (Minneapolis) is doing below.

When you return to hollow out the inside of the mound, be ready to get wet. You will be working up a sweat shoveling out the snow and working on your hands, knees, and belly getting coated with snow that melts and soaks your clothes.

Start by digging a door on the downwind side. Make it just big enough to crawl through, and then start hollowing out the inside. It helps to have one person inside scooping snow toward the entry, and another person scooping it aside.

As you hollow out the interior, dome the ceiling and smooth the interior snow to prevent dripping. When you hit the gauge sticks you inserted, stop digging in that area. This will ensure your walls are about a foot thick. Be mindful that a smaller space will be warmer and that room to sit up but not stand is adequate. You also may elevate a couple sleeping platforms so the coolest air sinks down and out the entry.

Adequate ventilation is also important. Make a small vent hole in the ceiling and keep it clear. You may put a pack over the entry, but don't seal it too tightly.

It's a good idea to bring a tarp for the sleeping platforms and floor, to help stay dry.

While building and using your quinzee, you will also want to use some precautions. Build the quinzee with someone for safety. There is a danger of collapse if you hollow too far through the walls, or someone walks on top. If you hollow out the inside while on your knees rather than your back, then you have a better chance of digging yourself out in the event of a collapse. Finally, keep a digging utensil with you as a precaution while inside.


Though it takes time and effort, a quinzee ensures a warmer night in our winter wilderness. It also makes for happy campers, like Charles and Catherine from New York City, above.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dog food?

My first dogsled camping trip of the season launched this week. It is four days and three nights on trail.

This morning around the campfire Jen (a guest from Minneapolis) peaks into the breakfast pot and says:
"Hhmm. That looks delicious. Uh, this may sound awful, but when I first saw that
I thought it was dog food."
We both got a good laugh out of the observation. And, after some butter, fruit and brown sugar mix-ins, people agreed the oatmeal tasted pretty good. It also helped keep us warm on trail today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Boundary Waters Bus

Before restrictions on motors in the BWCAW, land-based motorized vehicles made their way into some remote places.

For example, this old International Harvester bus transported passengers across the Four Mile Portage between Fall Lake and Hoist Bay on Basswood Lake. The passengers would be either starting a canoe trip or going to one of the Basswood resorts.

This bus now sits in the woods near Bear Island River Road outside of Ely, rusting and entombed in a grove of saplings. The below photo shows the driver's side by the back fender. Although it is painted over, you can make out the service being marketed: Canoe Trips.

Today, paddlers can still obtain motorboat tows on Basswood Lake, but motorized land transport is no longer allowed over the Four Mile Portage. Instead of a road for buses, the Four Mile Portage today is overgrown (yet walkable) and partially flooded.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pine Marten on the Hunt

This frisky Pine Marten is hanging around the cabin, eating birdseed from the feeders and chasing wildlife. I photographed him today.

Recently I watched him chase a Red Squirrel up a spruce tree, and then give up on the chase to await an easier ambush. Then I spotted him bounding through the fresh snow after a Snowshoe Hare. It didn't look like he had a good chance at running the rabbit down either.

But, the local critters know the Pine Marten is on the hunt. The squirrels are being particularly cautious around the bird feeders. They are staying in the trees, hopping from branch to branch rather than moving through the snow where they'd be easier prey.

Pine Marten are typically chocolate-brown, have a golden throat patch, and a 12 to 18 inch body followed by a seven to ten inch tail. They are smaller than the related fisher (30-47 inches long, including tail). As omnivores, they subsist on Red-backed Voles, squirrels, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, birds, insects, seeds, worms, and berries. They reportedly particularly like raspberries. Pine Marten are excellent climbers, freely jump between trees, and can rotate their back hips to run headfirst down a tree trunk.

They are active all year. In winter, you may see their paw prints in the snow. Their tracks are less than two inches wide and show five toe pads around a rounded heel pad.

The Pine Marten stick to high ground and loathe water that mats their unoiled fur. In summer, you may seem them on portages. However, the brown cat-size creature dancing along the shoreline rocks is more likely to be its water-loving relative with a contrasting white throat patch, the Mink.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Last Boat Ride of 2009

Most folks had their motorboats winterized by the end of October. Virtually all other boats were tucked away by mid-November. But, this photo shows how one motorboater can lay claim to the title of last boater on Shagawa Lake in 2009.

To say the least, it's unusual to be boating on an ice-covered lake. But that's what happened here. Someone used the Shagawa Lake landing for its intended summertime purpose near Grand Ely Lodge on the edge of Ely today.

Shagawa Lake was open water yesterday, and froze over night. This morning the sound of a boat crashing through ice resonated all the way to the Grand Ely, and people peaked out the window at the sight of a motorboat breaking its way through an apparently fully iced-over Shagawa Lake.

I don't know why the boat was out there, but some have speculated that the boat may have been retrieving nets from netting whitefish, or maybe he just wanted the title of last boat on Shagawa 2009.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Northwest Passage Dogsled Expedition - Why They Do This

Tomorrow Chris and Lisa start driving north. The accompanying photos show the sparkling new 14' sledge which they will christen once arriving in Inuvik.

Why do they do this, and why is this expedition unique?

This is nothing less than an epic journey. Chris and Lisa will face the extremes of adversity: bone-chilling cold of 50 below air temps and colder, brutal wind chills dropping temps to inhuman depths, hungry polar bears, blizzards, thin ice over deadly water, and the everyday challenges of life on a tipping edge that requires living in the moment to survive.

One must have a certain predisposition to entertain ideas of expeditions of this sort. Virtually no one on the planet - save that certain fraction of a percent of truly adventurous souls - would consider such a journey.

The dogsled journeys of Greenlandic polar explorer and anthropologist Knud Rasmussen originally inspired Lisa to consider this route. Rasmussen is credited as the first to cross the Northwest Passage by dogsled. His journey is recounted in a classic of polar expedition literature: Across Arctic America (1927). While reading the book, Lisa developed a romantic notion of dogsledding the Northwest Passage. The idea stuck.

As for Chris, he's stuck on dogsledding, the Arctic, pushing the envelope, and Lisa. The expedition was an easy choice.
This trip is somewhat unique in its noncommercial status, and walkabout nature. By that I mean it is really an expedition conducted for themselves. There are no corporate sponsors. There are no press releases or obvious desires for press coverage. There are no clients to satisfy. There is no book deal or obvious desire for one. There is no cause being advanced or charity being endorsed. The expedition doesn't even have an official name.

Instead, it is two people alone on the Arctic snow and ice with their dogs. Should they fail, it will be by only their own measurement - not the measurement of others - and not gauged by reaching a certain point on a map.

In the eyes of people like myself who look at those who see adventure and move toward it, they have already succeeded.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Northwest Passage Dogsled Expedition


Note: This is part one in a series about Chris and Lisa's Northwest Passage Dogsled Expedition.

Chris Maher, of Ely, and Lisa Strom, from Sweden, are making final preparations for an epic dogsled expedition of the Northwest Passage - from Inuvik (near the north end of the Northwest Territories of Canada) to Churchill, Manitoba.

Chris has guided dogsled trips at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge near Ely since 2004. He's also guided North Pole dogsled expeditions in 2008 and 2009, and spent a year running dogs in Greenland. Lisa is also a very experienced dogsledder. She's guided dogsled trips in Svalbaard (north of Norway) for several years. And Lisa also guided North Pole dogsled trips for several years, as well as spending time dogsledding near Ely.

This week, they will leave for Inuvik. It is a 3,200 mile drive pulling a dog trailer with twelve dogs. Once in Inuvik, they will train dogs and take care of last minute preparations for a few weeks.

On January 1, they will begin dogsledding eastward. They have budgeted for up to 150 days of dogsledding, and hope to pull into Churchill by the first of May.

Today I helped them load 880 pounds of dog kibble and 500 pounds of lard. That's only enough for the first leg of their journey. They have already shipped dog food resupplies to native villages along the northern coast of Canada.

This photo shows Chris and Lisa in the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge kennel with Frank "the Tank." Frank is one of the polar huskies they will rely on to travel across the arctic.

Additional blog entries will cover what makes this expedition unique, deep Ely connections to the trip, and how they get their car back from Inuvik.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Beginning of Some Ice

On Thanksgiving Day 2008, we put off the turkey dinner due to ideal ice skating conditions. We had thick ice - maybe five inches - in the bay of Moose Lake, and it froze smooth.

The same bay on this Thanksgiving would support only swimming recreation. No need to delay any turkey dinners this year.

This photo shows the very beginning of ice forming along the shore of White Iron Lake today. Only the still bays have a skim of unsafe ice now, and the main bodies of significant size lakes are virtually free of ice.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Outdoor Adventure Expo at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis

We are at the Expo today through Sunday talking with people about Boundary Waters Guide Service (http://www.boundarywatersguideservice.com/) and Boundary Waters canoe trips. We are also sharing info about dogsledding adventures with Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge (http://www.dogsledding.com/), and Wintergreen Northern Wear apparel (http://www.wintergreennorthernwear.com/).

Visit our booth, chat it up with us, ask for a very special free gift courtesy of Wintergreen Northern Wear (while supplies last!), sign up for great door prizes, and receive some really incredible Expo-savings when you register for a guided canoe trip, or a January dogsledding adventure. Oh yeah, and besides us, take in some really great free presentations about the Boundary Waters and Quetico.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pot Black Miracle

To those of us who have spent what feels like an overly significant part of our lives attempting to scrub every speck of pot black from our camp cookware - let today be the beginning of a new era! Let this be the end of soot covered "mechanic's hands" stained from carbon that outlines one's fingernails, the wrinkles on our knuckles, and anything we've touched along the way. Hark, an epiphany!

Here is the Boundary Waters "tip & trick" for the ages: Leave your camp cookware sooty and black while on trail. Pack it in a stuff sack so it doesn't get other gear sooty while traveling. When you return home, put the pots and pans in your oven. (Note: don't do this with non-stick or painted pots.) Set the oven to "clean." Then, open the door when it's done to see the resurrection of your pots and pans - as sparkling as the day you bought them!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wolf Attacks

Wolves are generally not dangerous to people, and I'm unaware of any human injuries related to wolves in the BWCAW. Instead, if we see wolves on a Boundary Waters canoe trip, we feel especially lucky and pleased.

The same can't be said for domestic dogs and their interactions with area wolves. Wolves are probably one of the greatest threats to my aging chocolate lab. My neighbor's dog was killed by wolves, and wolf attacks on domestic dogs are relatively common in the area. Many folks near Ely know people who've lost dogs to wolf attacks. And there are some fairly incredible stories of leashed dogs being attacked as well.

Unfortunately, more wolf attacks on dogs have apparently happened recently. This sign appeared at Ely grocery stores and at the hardware store this week.

The wolves near town seem to be getting less afraid of the residential areas. Earlier in the summer a resident photographed a wolf that repeatedly raided trash bags at an in-town apartment complex.

Also, one of the packs may be hanging around near town. Three wolves were spotted on the Old Airport Road in daylight recently, and I saw one cross Highway 1 just at the city limits in daylight today.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Lakes, A Love Affair" Movie Trailer



Kerry McNally is a Twin Cities television personality and former Discovery Channel host. I guided him this summer on his first trip into the BWCAW. He found the Boundary Waters so inspiring that he's featuring footage from our canoe trip and scenic plane ride prominently in his new movie. It's called Lakes, A Love Affair. The DVD features striking footage of the Land of 10,000 Lakes - from Lake Superior to the BWCAW to Brainerd to the urban lakes of the Twin Cities. The DVD is available at http://www.lakesaloveaffair.com/.

Besides getting some stunning video on the canoe trip, we laughed a lot. In addition to being a television host and movie producer, Kerry is a stand-up comic. Really. He's performed comedy routines on stage in NYC. And keep your eyes out to see him on Letterman one of these days!

Nov. 23, 2009 UPDATE: The DVD is now for sale at www.lakesaloveaffiar.com for only $14.95 plus s&h.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tamarack Trees are in Full Color


Tamarack trees are ablaze in golden yellows now. After a summer innocuously blending in with spruce and fir trees, they are bursting with color. They are particularly striking against a backdrop of evergreens. The photos show Ely-area Tamarack trees this week.

Once the dogsledding season arrives, the tamaracks will be totally barren. Tamaracks are the only conifer in North America that loses all of its needles annually. Speaking of dogsledding, we'll be relying on fires to keep us warm through the early winter evenings. Losing all of their needles is a good defense mechanism against extreme cold because moisture isn't lost through the needs, but it may not be so effective against unwary wood gatherers. To the unaccustomed eye, a tamarack in winter can be tricky to distinguish from a dead black spruce.

The tamarack wood is rot-resistant and has many uses. Native Americans used the thin, pliant and tough tamarack roots from trees growing in beaver ponds as lashing to connect pieces of birch bark to make canoes, and for building snowshoes. Native Americans also recognized the tree's medicinal properties. A compress of the inner bark was used to treat and soothe cuts, infected wounds, frostbite, and boils.

Naturalist John Josselyn wrote in 1672 that "the Turpentine that issueth from the Larch Tree is singularly good to heal wounds, and to draw out the malice... of any ache rubbing the place thereof." While that sounds intriguing enough, I don't know anyone who has made turpentine from a northeast Minnesota tamarack. If anyone has that experience, please let me know, and I'll report more in the blog.

Tamarack thrive in moist to boggy soils, so fall-colors hunters won't be disappointed by a drive down Highway 1.



Saturday, October 10, 2009

October Snow in the Boundary Waters

As soon as October 1 rolls around, I'm ready for snowflakes that don't stick to the ground. Once the dogsledding season starts on December 1, I'll be ready to wake up to several inches of snow.

However, it is just plain premature for two inches of snow to be weighting down the tents of late-season BWCAW campers. But, that's what campers found this morning. As I write this, it is about noon and some flakes are still dropping, and the wind is gusting.

The seven-day forecast calls for highs only in the mid-thirties. Maybe we're in for an early freeze-up this year.

I snapped these photos this morning outside the cabin.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Poison Ivy in the Boundary Waters

Western poison ivy leaves are not a celebrated fall color, but they can be as crimson as a red maple leaf. The above photo shows poison ivy recently at the sand beach campsite on the west end of Mile Island on Fall Lake.

Some Northwoods guidebooks gloss over or fail to mention western poison ivy. Many people don't consider poison ivy a plant that grows in the Northwoods.

However, you will find it throughout the BWCAW. For example, this summer I've spotted large poison ivy stands at a campsite on the southeast end of Bald Eagle Lake, on the portage to Slim Lake (below photo, and video), at the sand beach campsite on the west end of Mile Island on Fall Lake, on the south end of Newton Falls portage, and elsewhere. It is out there.

One can identify poison ivy by how it looks. Visual characteristics include: (1) three leaflets ("leaves of three, let it be"); (2) a short woody stem that may look like a brown twig sticking out of the ground; (3) oftentimes growing in colonies standing about knee high or shorter; (4) green leaves changing to fall colors in autumn; (5) leaves oftentimes have a wilted appearance; and (6) the western poison ivy species in the BWCAW is not a climbing plant.

One can also identify poison ivy by where it grows. It grows in a variety of ecosystems, but particularly likes sun and dislikes permanently wet soils.

Sarsaparilla plants are sometimes misidentified as poison ivy. Sarsaparilla is a low-growing plant that grows profusely in the BWCAW. It similarly has three leaflets, but sarsaparilla is distinguished by a pair of leaflets further down the stem.

The oily toxin from poison ivy is almost immediately absorbed through human skin. Washing the affected skin within one to three minutes with cold water and soap may help prevent the itchy symptoms. Washing later may wash off the residual toxin and prevent its spread. Itchy blisters may appear promptly or not for 24 hours or longer. The itchy blister fluid does not contain the toxin and is therefore not contagious.


Many animals, including my dog, eat the leaves with no apparent harm. However, animals may carry the toxic oils on their coats and transmit them when they touch people.

Become familiar with poison ivy so you can squat in the woods with confidence. The alternative could be really uncomfortable.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Harvesting Wild Rice in the Boundary Waters



Today we paddled back in time and harvested wild rice by canoe in the BWCAW. Mirroring the traditional ways of the Sioux and Chippewa in this region, we paddled and portaged our canoe to a wild rice stand.

The above video shows us using smooth wooden poles, called flails, to tap off the ripe grains of wild rice, we slowly filled the bottom of our canoe. The wild rice has a relatively short season and we fortunately made it out just before most of the rice had dropped naturally into the water.

The below photo shows a close-up of the wild rice grains before they are parched and finished.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Campfire Song in the BWCAW



It is unusual to bring a guitar into the BWCAW. Everything must by portaged and paddled, after all. And you don't want to disturb the wilderness experience of other travelers. But, it can be done, and we did this week.

We paddled into the wilderness with some friends from Alaska and decided a relaxing song around the campfire with an acoustic guitar would be fun.

This video shows Wilderness Guide Kate Ford playing the guitar and singing "Light of the Campfire" with Maria Allen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Firefighting Equipment for a Planned Prescribed Burn in the BWCAW

Forest Service personnel paddled to our BWCAW campsite yesterday and notified us that we were required to leave our lake due to a prescribed burn of the Four Mile Portage.

As we left the lake today, we saw these fire hoses and pumping equipment at the portage. They had also posted the below portage closure sign. We later learned that, due to weather conditions, the planned Four Mile Portage prescribed burn was not ignited.

In addition to the Wind Lake prescribed burn that we watched yesterday, the Forest Service also conducted a prescribed burn this week around Boot Lake, near Snowbank Lake. I have not heard of any additional planned burns, and the lakes temporarily closed for the burns this week have reopened.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Prescribed Burns in the BWCAW

Today we fished and watched the smoke rise from the Wind Lake controlled burn in the BWCAW. This photo shows our view.
The US Forest Service is attempting to reduce the potential for a wildfire that might result from the unusual fuel loading caused by the 1999 blowdown event that toppled many large trees in the area.
The Forest Service reports they consider the Wind Lake burn successful with 95% of targeted fuels consumed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bald Eagle Wants a Loon's Catch in the BWCAW

When we're lucky, we see wildlife. When we're really lucky, we see wildlife in action.

The few times I have seen a loon eating fish, I have just caught a quick glimpse of silver as the loon swallows down its small meal after resurfacing. Today, my crew and I came upon a loon with a big fish, more than a few inches around and probably ten inches long. It was pecking at its dead fish, and then going under and resurfacing as it worked to grab some flesh of the fish. We watched it for a few minutes as it worked off bites of the fish.

The loon yodeled in the classic manner and then out of its throat came something like a “yipe!,” it dove under, and before we could see it happening, a bald eagle soared over, swooped down with talons out, and grabbed that fish right off the surface of the water.



The eagle flapped a few strokes straight up to the nearby tree where it had a nest, and two young eaglets appeared screeching at the top of the tree, apparently saying thank you as their parent passed off their lunch. The loon reappeared after a minute or so of hiding underwater, probably a bit disgusted at not getting to enjoy its hard-earned meal.



Guest blogger Wilderness Guide Kate Ford

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pancakes with Fresh Blueberries

The wild blueberries are peaking about now. We cooked up these pancakes loaded with freshly picked blueberries on Lake One this morning.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fishing With Kids in the BWCAW is Fun

A nice family from the Chicago area stayed at Fenske Lake Cabins near Ely this week and joined Boundary Waters Guide Service for a couple days of guided fun on the lakes.

The whole family traveled by canoe to see some historic pictographs and pick wild blueberries yesterday. Today Keith took his two sons on a fishing trip with us. Jeremy (age 12) caught this nice smallmouth bass, and Adam (age 15) caught the lunker northern pike. Great job boys!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bear Dog

You never know what surprises you might get from the wild animals of the north. Early Monday morning out at the Girl Scout Canoe Base near Ely, two staff members awoke to the sound of the pet dog Lexee's loud woofing.

Lexee was terribly agitated about something happening, so they followed her as she ran toward the kitchen. As they came around the corner they spied a quick glimpse of a very large black bear standing on the deck with its paws through the open window nonchalantly stealing fruit from a bowl.

Lexee, a 70-lb dog, tore toward the likely 300 pound bear. The bear fled without hesitation, and Lexee followed close behind as far as she could. No need to worry about the bears as long as Lexee the Bear Dog is close by.

Before going back to bed, Lexee did get a treat and plenty of love for staying alert and selflessly defending the unsuspecting staff from this stealthy bear!

By guest blogger Wilderness Guide Kate Ford.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Float Plane View of the Boundary Waters

Bud from Van Air flew me and a client on an aerial float plane tour of the BWCA and Quetico today. The top-down view provides a whole new perspective on how much of this area is covered in water. And what a beautiful pattern the lakes make with the peninsulas and bays, islands, rocks and rugged granite topography. A boundary waters region flight is a truly memorable way to get an overview of some of what makes this region so special.

This photo shows the east end of Lac La Croix on the border with Canada. Warrior Hill is in the lower right part of the photo.

BWCA Happy Honeymooners

In the parking lot at the entry point this week, you couldn't miss the "Just Married" written across the vehicle's window.

So, when we met a young couple on the portage, we asked if it was them. Sure enough, they'd spent their honeymoon camping in the boundary waters.

It had been a cold and rainy week that actually set some record cold temps, but you'd never know it by the smiles on their faces.

A marriage that starts with a week-long BWCA canoe camping trip is certainly bound for success. We wish Phillip and Megan Knapp from Carlstad, MN, only the happiest of marriages!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bear Activity at Campsites on Disappointment Lake in the BWCA

I've received my first report this summer of bears hanging around a campsite. There has been a mother and her cub entering campsites on the east end of Disappointment Lake. Disappointment Lake is one portage east of Snowbank Lake.

Keep a clean camp to discourage bears. If you have a bear in camp, then make loud noises (banging pots and pans and such), and throw rocks at the bear to convince it to leave.

Hopefully we will have a good upcoming berry crop that will fatten up the black bears and discourage them from looking for food at campsites.

I snapped this photo of a bear and cub at the North American Bear Center near Ely this spring.

July 19, 2009 update: There have been reports of bears in campsites on Parent Lake, which is one portage west of Disappointment Lake. It's probably the same bear.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Winter and the 4th of July

Some people say there are two seasons up here: Winter and the 4th of July. That's not quite true. But, once Independence Day rolls around, it is time to think seriously about keeping warm when the snow flies.

Today Kate and I split wood. This photo is her with a rented log splitter. It felt good, like we were the smart squirrel holing away nuts for the upcoming long winter.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How Long Before a BWCA Canoe Pack Sinks?



We set out to answer that question this week. With the help of the guides at the Girl Scout Canoe Base near Ely, we loaded two canoe packs, dumped them in the lake, and waited to see if they would sink.

For the first pack, we used a typical Duluth-style #3 canoe pack with personal gear for a week: 2 sleeping bags, 2 therm-a-rests, 2 bags of clothes, 2 sets of rain gear, some misc. fishing equipment, camp shoes, and bug spray. For the second pack, we used a typical narrow Duluth-style equipment pack loaded down with pots and pans, saw, stove, fuel bottle, tarp, 2 four person tents with poles, toilet paper, flashlight, rope, wash kit, and grill.

After twelve hours in the water, both packs remained afloat. This photo shows the red equipment pack still floating after twelve hours in the lake.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Patriotic Portagers in the Ely Parade


Small town Independence Day parades across the country reflect the communities that host them. Ely is no different. In the "canoe capitol" of the world at the edge of the BWCA, there must be canoes.

Today the Girl Scout Canoe Base guides portaged canoes in our parade. They even demonstrated, in formation, how to do solo lifts: picking up the canoes and putting them on their shoulders. The crowds responded with raucous applause.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nina Moose Lake


We finished up the BWCA canoe trip today by paddling across a glassy Nina Moose Lake under picturesque blue skies with poofy white clouds.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lac La Croix Pictographs

One of my favorite BWCA pictograph sites is on Lac la Croix. The mystery surrounding the origin and meaning of these Indian paintings has interested me for some time. A friend who grew up in the Chippewa village on Lac la Croix once told me that the Chippewa do not know the origin or meaning of the pictographs, but consider them a spiritual place to be respected.

I have seen tobacco offerings at some of the pictograph sites, including this one, in the past. The tobacco offerings are made as a symbol of respect for the paintings.

For extensive information on BWCA pictographs, Michael Furtman has authored the book on them, titled "Magic on the Rocks."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Walleye

Bob and his son Ben spent father's day in the BWCA. I can't imagine a more fitting place to spend quality time with your son. Ben caught his dad some walleye and smallmouth bass and we celebrated with a delicious boundary waters fish fry.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Coffee and Bacon

Bacon and a cup (or 3) of Gene Hicks coffee makes the Boundary Waters an even better place.

If you want to add some Ely flavor to your BWCA mornings, then bring along Gene Hicks gourmet coffee. The Good Morning blend shown above is my favorite coffee in the world. We pack it with all of our guided BWCA canoe trips. You can buy it at an Ely grocery store, or directly from Gene on his website at http://www.genehicks.com/.

We awoke today at the sole campsite on Boulder Lake. This photo shows how we started the day in a perfect way.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Flooded Portage Near Oyster Lake


The portage trail between Hustler and Oyster Lakes in the BWCA is challenging. It is about a mile long. And it is known to be flooded for about a hundred feet at the Oyster end. Some recent rains meant a particularly deep wade for us today. We decided to put the canoes down, load them with our packs, and then wade them across the flooding. This photo shows Bob and Ben rising to the challenge and traveling the long and very wet portage.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

White-tailed Buck on the Little Indian Sioux River

I launched a six day BWCA canoe trip with father and son guests from Chicago today. Bob snapped this photo of a white-tailed buck grazing near our entry point on the Little Indian Sioux River. This young buck has velvet on his antlers, and hardly seemed to mind us paddling past him. The buck appears to be malnourished with obvious rib lines after the long, cold winter.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Smallmouth Bass Spawning Bed

The smallmouth bass are on their beds now. The male smallmouth bass have recently created visible beds in shallow waters along the shores of BWCA lakes and rivers. The male bass makes the bed by fanning the sand and gravel away from an area near a rocky shoreline. If a female bass is impressed, then she will lay her eggs in the bed. Then, the male swims guard over the eggs.

Both the female and male smallmouth bass will aggressively defend the nest.

I took both of these photos of the same smallmouth bass bed today on Crooked Lake. The above photo shows the bright ring made when the male brushes away the sand and gravel. The below photo shows a bass in the same bed, just closer up.

Casting topwater lures such as a Heddon Torpedo near these beds results in a fierce strike for the bass now. This action won't last long, so grab a pole and practice catch and release. You will want to do like we did and release any female bass that have eggs. It is an important conservation practice to allow these fish to reproduce for healthy populations.