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.

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.