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.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bubba - Pulling Harder Than Any Other Dog


GUEST BLOGGER: Wilderness Guide Kate Ford.

The second annual Ely Wolftrack Classic sled dog race is happening this weekend, so Ely is buzzing with visitors. Tomorrow our friend Eva Kolodji will take her dogs out for the 30-mile race from Ely to Tower, which she estimates will take about 3.5 hours. That’s much less than the Beargrease she competed in a month ago, so we hope it will feel like a walk in the park! Good luck to her!

In addition to the speed race, this year the organizers have a new competition included as part of the Wolftrack Classic: a weight-pull. One dog must pull a 390-lb wheeled cart about 20 feet, with 2 cinder blocks added every round. Wintergreen decided to enter one dog into the amateur division (there is, in fact, a professional circuit of weight-pulling dogs). Bubba, as his name might suggest, is one of our strongest and most hard-working dogs in the kennel. Toby and Max, from the Wintergreen crew, took on the task of being Bubba’s handlers. The above photo shows them with Bubba. And, yes, Bubba is wearing a red cape, like any self respecting super-dog.

The first round, Bubba couldn’t quite get past the new smells and odd sites around him. He stepped off the special pulling carpet several times (each time resulting in a 10 second penalty), and marked his territory on the wheel (another 10 second penalty - though it did get a good laugh from those watching). One of the unusual elements of this for Bubba was to get the sled moving by himself. We always ask our dog sled participants to give the sled a little shove, as the dogs feel the slack and will then pull forward. Bubba jumped in his harness, but when the sled hadn’t moved right away, he stopped pulling. After a few false starts, he got the hang of it and pulled the cart to the end of the carpet without appearing even to try.

We watched as 2, 4, 6 and more cinder blocks continued to be added to the cart. Each handler can provide any kind of encouragement without touching the dog. Handlers had different methods to encourage their dogs, including running next to their dogs, throwing a toy in front, having their kids pull in front. Toby just said “hike!” while standing in front of Bubba, and moving forward.

The competition topped out at 14 cinder blocks totalling over one thousand pounds. Bubba made it to the last round. He put his whole body into it by the last two rounds, with his back hunched and nose down.

Bubba pulled hard today, harder than any other dog as it turns out. Even with his first-round time penalties, he took first place! Our participants occasionally inquire if the dogs are strong enough to pull all their weight, and the answer from Bubba is a clear yes: his last round, he pulled 1,006 lbs.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Canadian Border Dogsled Camping Route

I just returned from a 7 day dogsled camping trip from Gunflint Lake east along the Canadian border, through the BWCA. We ventured out with two groups of students from Lakehead Univ. in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Most of our Wintergreen dogsledding trips are not comprised completely of college age people. Thus, this felt like a refreshing blast of youthful Canadian culture.

The above photo shows a team starting the Height of Land Portage between North Lake and South Lake. The silver cone is a permanent international boundary marker. The letters down the right side say "Canada" and the left say "United States." Thus, it's easy to straddle the line with two feet (or paws!) in different countries.

We started the trip in two days of consistent snowfall. The below photo shows two dog teams in the snow on Gunflint Lake.





Friday, February 20, 2009

Snow Sculptures


Artists recently completed another display of incredible snow sculptures in Whiteside Park in Ely. The Snow Sculpting Symposium is part of the Ely Winter Festival.

This snow sculpture is "They Called the Wind Mariah," by Sherry Rovig, Nick Lee, and Dianne Goodwin.

Three days of warm weather and drizzle after the carving means that photos like this one are about all that's left of the most ornate sculptures.

Note: Jason is on trail guiding a dogsled camping trip this week. This is a previously scheduled post.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Spectacular Scenery and Cold Temps on the Central Circle BWCA Dogsled Camping Trip


Guest Blogger: The following photos and text are by Wilderness Guide LynnAnne Vesper. Jason is guiding a dogsled camping trip this week.
I was so cold last night! I just couldn't warm up in my sleeping bag. I thought, 'How am I going to survive this trip if I am such a weenie?'
Around the morning campfire, in the first rays of sunlight, the stories spilled out. Everyone shared their challenges of the previous night, our first night on the trail. We felt well-rested, and after a hearty breakfast of steel cut oats and flax, we were ready to take on the challenges of dog sledding up to beautiful Knife Lake. But we all knew that our first night had been exceptionally cold. We wouldn't know how cold it had been until we got home.

One evening, LynnAnne found a "dead and down" old, dry white pine trunk. Full of sap, it nearly engulfed the water pot in flames.

People who sign up on Wintergreen Advanced Camping Trips do not expect to lie on a beach lounger sipping pina coladas. They accept, by and large, that winter camping brings with it exceptional challenges, both physical and mental. It also has its rewards.

Why do we do this? I put this question to a couple of seasoned veterans, alumni of several of Wintergreen's most extreme trips, including Wintergreen West dog sledding in the Rocky Mountains. Here is what they said:

When you go on these expeditions, you get to places that other people don't
go. You see things that other people will never see.

Travel by dogteam is such a rare opportunity. Anyone can get a backpack
and explore the wilderness on foot.

The dogs are so excited to go, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

Winter camping seems so improbable, like an oxymoron. You cannot camp in the winter and have it your way. You learn to accept the weather on her own terms, and you learn to adapt. The wilderness is a teacher, and we are the students. The wilderness must be accepted as a whole. We can take in the beautiful scenery because we have worked together to get there.

Likewise, we also have to accept ourselves and each other as whole people. People are people; we have to take the characteristics we like about other people together with those characteristics we would rather leave by the side of the trail. Modern people spend so much of their lives seeking comfort. Like Goldilocks, we gravitate toward not too hot and not too cold, toward just right. Although we consider ourselves disciplined, we avoid adversity. A winter camping trip is an opportunity to face adversity, to push our personal limits of what we think we are capable.

When we got home, we learned that the temperature on our first night was -37 at the lodge. At low points in the trail, it can be a few degrees colder. But we should consider ourselves lucky. It could have rained.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day Sushi Savior

Kate and I both had yesterday off from our busy guiding schedule. We decided to make sushi for our Valentine's dinner. I've never created home-made sushi, but Kate has, and it sounded like fun.

Kate stopped at the local grocer's to pick up the ingredients. Fresh salmon: check. Avocado: check. Shredded carrots: check. Green onions: check. Nori seaweed sheets: uh, well, we are in Ely... 2 hours from the nearest Wal-Mart, and four hours from a major metropolitan center.

No luck checking the aisles for the seaweed sheets. Kate asks the clerk at the checkout for guidance. The clerk responds with a puzzled expression. Fortunately, a nice lady in line at the checkout overhears the conversation and mentions she has some seaweed sheets in her pantry. She offers to share them. Kate follows this kind total stranger to her home, and is gifted four seaweed sheets. Only in Ely.

The sushi was delicious, thanks to the kind lady in Ely.

Today I pack out for a 7 day dogsled camping trip along the international border. We plan to dogsled from Gunflint Lake to Lake Superior via the border lakes and Grand Portage. This is new territory for us. I am looking forward to the new scenery, and a good challenge.

Friday, February 13, 2009

North Pole Shakedown


I just returned from a North Pole Shakedown. Adventurous people who want to ski and dogsled to the geographic North Pole journey to Ely for Shakedown dogsled camping trips. Participants learn dogsledding, winter camping, and skiing skills needed to successfully reach the Pole. This is their opportunity to determine if they have what it takes to endure an attempt on the Pole.

If, after a Shakedown trip, the participants decide the expedition requirements are too significant and withdraw from a Pole attempt, they are "shook out."

Three participants ventured with me on the trip this week. The below photo shows (from left) Lieva and Koen (both from Belgium) and Diem (from Switzerland) packing a special camping-style dogsled. The above photo shows Diem driving a dog team.

One of the most important skills necessary on Pole trips is the ability to overcome adversity. The adversity on this trip took the form of an unseasonable drizzle that soaked us every day while on trail.

The participants all endured and excelled, even in the adverse conditions. All three of them will attempt to reach the North Pole by dogsled and ski in April. We wish them the best.



Monday, February 9, 2009

Sourdough Pancakes with Historical Flavor

Thanks to some generous Elyites, I now have an Alaskan sourdough pancake starter with a hundred year history. But, how do the pancakes taste? I felt somewhat nervous after seeing the science experiment-type bubbles in the batter the first morning.

However, the dogsledders loved them. It's a good sign when the dogsled participants are demanding a second breakfast of sourdough pancakes!

This photo is of Karen with my first batch of sourdough pancakes. Karen is from England, but currently lives in New York City. She and her husband spent a week dog sledding, smiling and eating good food near Ely.

The North Pole Shakedown participants arrived today, in a drizzle. We are leaving for a three day dogsled and ski camping trip tomorrow. I'm hoping the rain turns to snow soon.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Social Event of the Winter

Everyone knows the social event of the Ely winter is the annual Mukluk Ball! Kate and I donned our mukluks last night and joined some friends to tear up the dance floor. Hundreds of people danced to the tunes of the Lamont Cranston band. If you ever wanted to be a part of small town winter Americana, you should make plans to attend the Mukluk Ball next year.

Don't know what mukluks are? Steger mukluks are made right here in Ely. All you ever wanted to know is at their website: http://www.mukluks.com/. The Arctic Mukluks are my daily winter footwear.

Polar explorer Will Steger made a guest appearance and the proceeds went to Steger's Global Warming 101 initiative, and the Ely Winter Festival.

No luck convincing the 8 guests I've been guiding this week to join us dancing (wore 'em out dogsledding, possibly!). But they enjoyed another part of the Winter Festival: the snow sculptures. More on the snow sculptures later.

Tomorrow I start a North Pole shakedown trip. People who are interested in going to the North Pole by ski or dogsled arrive for a preparatory winter camping trip.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

No Ordinary Pancake

The sourdough starter story continues.

After graduating from Ely High School, David attended MIT, graduating with a degree in engineering. His long-time friend, Sig Olson, Jr., insisted David and his wife visit him in Alaska. [Sig Jr.'s father is my favorite author and probably the person most responsible for creating the BWCA.] So, during the Alaska visit, David landed a job and they moved to live in Alaska.

Now to the sourdough starter. While in Alaska, they befriended the granddaughter of Judge Wickersham, who shared with them her family's prized sourdough starter.

But, who is Judge Wickersham? After growing up in Illinois, President MicKinley appointed Wickersham in 1900 as the first federal official in what is now Alaska. As a federal judge, Wickersham traveled across the roadless northern frontier dispensing justice. Travel through the interior meant time dog sledding through the Alaskan wilderness. Judge Wickersham later served as a representative in Congress, is known as the first person to attempt to climb Mt. MicKinley for which Wickersham Wall is named after, and was instrumental in founding the Univ. of Alaska for which a residence hall bears his name.

When David and his wife returned to Ely for retirement, they brought their special Alaskan sourdough with them. They still eat sourdough pancakes once each week.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sourdough Starter Story - The Beginning

My sourdough starter story begins at Ely's local radio station - WELY.

When you live in Ely and you're looking to find something or get rid of something, you call the radio station. Trader Craig is our local peddler supreme. Just give him a call at WELY, and he'll broadcast your wishes on the Trader Craig show from 9 - 10AM weekdays.

That's what I did this week. He broadcast my goal: to find a sourdough pancake starter with a good story behind it. It worked. A few minutes after the first broadcast, I received a call from Dave Peterson. Dave grew up at his family's resort on Basswood Lake near Ely. The federal government bought out his family's resort, and dismantled it, as they created the BWCA.

Dave's sourdough story is better than I ever expected. The sourdough starter, and its story, goes back over a hundred years.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Photo Workshop Themes

The Photo Workshop dogsledding trip has wrapped up. We are lucky to have professional photographer Layne Kennedy leading these trips. He is a wonderfully dynamic and talented photographer and teacher.

The group learned a lot from Layne. One of Layne's main ideas for better photos is to ask yourself, "What am I trying to say with this photo?" Another of his suggestions is to think: expansive (overview), medium (mid-distance from subject), and detail (close-up) to create a more interesting set of photographic results.

Above is a photo Layne Kennedy (www.laynekennedy.com) took of a participant dog sledding through the wilderness. Notice the sense of motion he conveys with the blurring effect on the trees. Our dogs don't always travel as fast as is conveyed with the blurring effect - they average 3-4 mph. However, the group agreed that everyone, at some point during the trip, experienced a feeling that their dogs were moving as fast as is shown in the photo!

I start dogsleding with a new group of eight participants tomorrow. We have several distinct accents reflecting the distance some of them have traveled.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Happy Dogs

There are many reasons why I return to guiding dog sledding trips at Wintergreen Lodge. One of the main reasons is that the dogs love to pull.

If the dogs exuded some sort of complacency or indifference to pulling, or even if it seemed like pulling a sled burdened them in some sort of a negative way, I would not be part of the practice. Instead, the dogs seem happiest when tethered with a team, moving together through the wilderness, pulling with their well-suited, strong bodies. The pulling gives them purpose in life. The worst thing you could do to these dogs is not let them pull.

The Photo Workshop dogsled trip wrapped up today. One of the participants, Jamie Thingelstad, took this great picture. I like the photo because it captures the happy dogs smiling and pulling. In lead are Gracy, Bailey, and Barnum.