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, December 4, 2010
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Sunday, October 31, 2010
While this post is a lighthearted holiday entry, the brain shown here is undergoing important scientific research that may help people better understand the moose population in Minnesota. I helped extract this brain from a bull moose harvested up the Echo Trail near Ely, MN, earlier this month. At the time, I was assisting the MDNR with the moose check-in and sampling station in Ely.
Scientists know that a brain parasite fatal to moose is causing moose mortality, and that the parasite is carried by white tailed deer. The full extent and effect of the brain parasite issue is still being researched.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Here in Ely, Minnesota, we live on the edge of the wilderness with plenty of colorful characters, and some Norwegian Lutherans.
Today we're driving south to see the live performance of Garrison's radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, at the Fitz in St. Paul. When I'm driving south, I usually stop at SuLu's Espresso Cafe a half hour south of Ely in Tower. I typically order a skinny latte (fufu, I know, but SuLu's are my favorite).
You'll see the second drink listed on the menu behind the owner, Brenda, is the "Lutheran."
What is the "Lutheran?" Every Sunday after church, ladies from the Lutheran church stop by SuLu's for coffee. But the SuLu "Coffee" is just too strong for them. They asked to cut it with a little water. And should they pay full price for a coffee that has extra water? Of course not. Thus, the "Lutheran"coffee is a nickel less.
Garrison Keillor, eat your heart out, and be sure to stop at SuLu's on your way to Ely for a Boundary Waters canoe trip.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
I awoke to a Pine Marten peering from an overturned canoe outside my bedroom window this morning. Then a second one appeared. Then they loped around the cabin to the deck. Once on the deck, one of them took up residence in a flower pot, and the other one decided that looked like a fine idea. This video shows what ensued. Keep an eye on which one starts in the planter and which one ends up in the planter.
Pine Martens are about the cutest creatures in all of the North Woods. They 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.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I have guided canoe trips over ten summers for teenage and adult women in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park, working at the Northern Lakes Girl Scout Canoe Base and here at Boundary Waters Guide Service. I have become a believer in the truly different and remarkable experience that is possible with a group of only women.
I haven't seen the statistics for travel by men versus women, but what I have noticed personally is that there are substantially more men traveling in this wilderness area. By far, the majority of groups are exclusively men, with a fair amount of groups with one or two women. This reality underscores just how unique an all-women's trip is in the Boundary Waters.
As much as I tried to deny it when I first started guiding canoe trips in the Great North Woods, women really don't have the muscle mass that men do. The canoe that men (of many ages) can pick up without any technique does not go on my shoulders without teamwork or some real practice. That applies big-time to groups of first-time women to the Boundary Waters. Teamwork really becomes key.
During an orientation before getting out on the water, we tackled portaging technique, which is typically the most intimidating aspect of a BWCAW trip. Each group learned how to use three people to flip the canoe upside-down, and then each person took a turn carrying the lightweight Kevlar canoe. The task was surprisingly conquerable to most, even a breeze to a couple of the stronger women!
After our first few hours of paddling, everyone discovered, despite their trepidation, that the portaging was actually quite do-able, though still a workout. Both groups of women smiled with accomplishment (and maybe a little tiredness) at the end of their first long portages. Everyone was definitely appreciative a little while later of a campsite where we could rest and relax.
The eight ladies of the first group were friends since having their children involved together in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, and boy, were they a get-er-done kind of group. They gathered armloads of firewood, found time to relax, and shared much laughter. Some felt a little nervous about the physicality of a canoe trip, others just looked forward to relaxing and not having to cook. These ladies were all made for this kind of canoeing adventure, amusingly calling themselves "Kate Plus Eight."
My second group of ladies, four this time, were nurses or nurse practitioners with numerous stories about the many babies they had delivered. Lovely women with great stories, also quick learners and very capable in a canoe in the gusty conditions we experienced. These four ladies had worked together in their profession for years and were absolutely great at working with each other in this new environment.
These two trips in the late summer season had lovely weather -- highs up toward 70 degrees and low temps in the 40s, sometimes dipping down to the 30s. Since women typically tend to feel colder, I used another trick for our ladies: we filled everyone's water bottle with hot water overnight to keep our sleeping bags toasty warm. It proved to be a delightful surprise.
It seems to be true no matter the woman's age: after experiencing an all-female canoe camping trip, there is a definite sense of empowerment. I believe these already intelligent and accomplished women were no exception. Being "out there" for three or four days and relying only on each other for forward movement tends to build trust, make a lot of fun moments, and create an experience that will not be quickly forgotten.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Thursday, September 9, 2010
We found these extraordinarily curious Bluegills on Hustler Lake in the Boundary Waters. They are called Bluegills thanks to the dot of color you can see on the side of both fish. That blue or black spot is actually an extension of the gill cover. They are excellent fish to eat, and these particular fish sure didn't make themselves too hard to bring in. Lucky for them, all I had was my camera! They are known for nibbling on bait, and you might notice that one of the fish went for my finger shortly after I put the camera in the water. (Apologies for jerking the camera a little at that point... I wasn't sure if it would hurt! In fact, I don't think I even felt it at all.)
Saturday, September 4, 2010
We discovered that the nearly mile-long Oyster to Hustler portage is flooded out for about ten rods (or canoe-lengths). While a few portages may have some muck and mud, I have never seen another portage as flooded as this. Not to be dissuaded, our group went for it.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Greetings from this lovely Painted Lady butterfly living near Wood Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness!
This beautiful butterfly may look familiar to you, and for good reason: they are quite common, even around the world. They migrate from Mexico all the way to Canada just below the Arctic circle and are also found around the globe, including Europe, Asia, and Africa. In fact, because of this multi-national policy, this butterfly has the nickname "Cosmopolitan." The only places the Painted Lady (Vanessa Cardui) is not found is Antarctica and Australia.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
This particular group of two women and three men seemed exceptionally pleased to be out there, despite the fact that the only non-mud color on every person was their yellow Conservation Corps-issued hard hat. A job well-done!
Thursday, August 5, 2010
It is the Compton Tortoiseshell (nymphalis vaualbum), which is a species found in much of the northern half of the United States. We felt lucky to find such a beautiful specimen that was also helpfully still for a photo.
This butterfly, like most others, eats only liquids as an adult. However, unlike many other butterflies whose main source of nourishment is nectar from wildflowers, this butterfly prefers sap and rotting fruit. Fortunately, there are plenty of raspberries and blueberries this season! The adult lays her eggs in clusters, typically in hardwood forests. This particular butterfly likely started out life on one of our plentiful paper birch trees, as it emerged from its egg stage. As a caterpillar in the larva stage, it started out munching on the tasty birch leaves. After gaining enough nourishment, it then transformed itself into the pupa stage (also called chrysalis), and later emerged as this beautiful butterfly.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Summer is a busy time for Cedar Waxwings here in northern Minnesota. Much of the summer, you will find these birds on their perfect perch waiting for dinner to pass by. When the 7-inch bird spies its scrumptious meal of mosquitoes or moths, it swoops down, snatches the bugs up, and returns to the same perch to await more unaware passersby. These birds typically eat the abundant bugs of summer, but come mid-July, tasty berries lure them away from their carnivorous ways.
We found these Cedar Waxwings enjoying quite a meal in the BWCAW from the relatively small (not more than 20 feet high or so), smooth-barked Pin Cherry tree. The Pin Cherries ripen in mid- to late-July, and are bright red and partially translucent with a large pit in the middle. Fortunately for the birds, who are wild about the cherries, the fruit is very sour to our human taste buds. It takes a lot of sugar to make the Pin Cherry taste decent!
There was one other little guest hiding in the tree. This chipmunk was perched a few feet up in the tree enjoying his own snack of Pin Cherries!
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Some people embrace the water and bring along waterproof cameras. They definitely take some of the stress out of the possibility of dunking an expensive camera. Kate is carrying a waterproof camera this summer and she really likes that she can keep it at hand rather than packed away in a cumbersome case. She shot this photo by holding her camera under water and pointing it toward the sky. My favorite part of this perspective is that you can see the air bubbles on the underside of the lilly pads!
Kate is using an Olympus waterproof shockproof camera and she likes it.
If you're interested in photography and want to improve your skills while immersed in the BWCAW, consider participating in our Boundary Waters Photo Workshop led by professional magazine and nature photographer Layne Kennedy. More info on our BWCA Photo Workshop is at this link: http://boundarywatersguideservice.com/PhotoWorkshop.html. Most folks bring cameras that are not waterproof on photo workshops, and we take special care to make sure they return safely.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Fly Amanita is the quintessential toadstool we started drawing as kids in elementary school. It's also known as the "fly mushroom" or "fly poison mushroom" because it is believed a saucer containing Fly Amanita in milk will attract and kill flies.
The young mushroom begins covered in a universal veil and may be misidentified as a Puffball mushroom. As the mushroom grows, the veil breaks apart and its remnants are seen as whitish "scabs" on a bulbous cap. As it continues to mature, the bulbous cap becomes more flat and the white gills are visible on the underside of the cap. When the mushroom reaches maturity, the outer edges of the cap may cup upward.
The Fly Amanita is indigenous to northern Minnesota. It is usually yellow-orange here - in contrast to bright red varieties elsewhere. The cap size ranges from 3 to 10 inches wide, and the white stem grows 3 to 7 inches tall.
They are found growing from the ground - not from trees - from June through September. They are typically found among stands of pines and aspens.
The toxins muscimol and ibotonic acid are contained in Fly Amanita. Ingestion can cause serious internal injury and, in some rare instances, death. They are generally considered poisonous and not edible. However, some report that the toxins may be parboiled out of the fungus, and rumors surround the hallucinogenic effects caused by people eating these dangerous mushrooms. Lore has it that the Vikings of the eleventh and twelfth centuries ingested them and found superhuman strength. And Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, was a known experimenter with drugs. His book illustrations included a white-spotted red mushroom appearing to be Fly Amanita. Another side effect of ingesting Fly Amanita is macropsia - a condition making things appear larger than life size. Sounds like the book, doesn't it.
I snapped these photos recently on a portage along the Little Isabella River in the BWCAW. During the canoe trip, deer flies buzzed around our heads. It makes me wonder: Might Fly Amanita in a milk concoction work for meddlesome deer flies around camp?
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Border Lakes Outfitting and Jason Zabokrtsky teamed with the Friends of the Boundary Waters recently to raise awareness for the potential environmental impacts of proposed sulfide mining operations on the edge of the Boundary Waters. Jason guided the group of environmental advocates and media representatives, including Stephanie Hemphill of Minnesota Public Radio and John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune.
See the Duluth News Tribune Article here. Listen to the MPR story here, or see the full text below.
Ely, Minn. — Six mining companies are doing exploration work that could lead to mines near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and that's got a lot of people concerned.
The companies are drilling deep holes, probing huge deposits of valuable copper, nickel, gold, platinum, and palladium.
Steve Koschak looks at a drill site near his River Point Resort on the South Kawishiwi River just east of Ely, Minn.
"This goes 24-7," he says of the constant drone of a drilling rig.
A contractor for Ely-based Duluth Metals is drilling a six-inch hole, about 3,000 feet into the earth. A trickle of water runs to a pit a few feet away. The pit holds water and a scum of gray muck, finely ground rock from deep in the earth.
"If you were to analyze all that, there's probably copper-nickel in that. But look what it's going into, it's going into the swamp," he says. "That's all this is, is a network of spruce swamps, all interconnected, this all goes into Birch Lake, all this water."
When the drilling is done, workers will bury the muck on site, a state requirement. The trouble is, around here there are so many wetlands, it would seem impossible to keep the muck out of the water system. Duluth Metals officials say there won't be enough mineral waste here to be any cause for concern.
This drilling is a precursor to what could be a deep shaft mine, more than half-mile below the surface of the earth. A mine would produce tons and tons of ground-up waste rock.
And this is sulfide rock. When it's brought to the surface, a chemical reaction occurs that produces sulfuric acid. If the rock is not carefully isolated from air and water, it can acidify nearby streams and wetlands -- possibly enough to poison the life in the water.
In many mines, discharges also contain traces of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and manganese. The problem is called acid mine drainage, and it's happened wherever copper mines have been drilled.
The advocacy group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness has organized a canoe trip for reporters to show how close the mining operations are to the Boundary Waters wilderness. We put in at entry point 32 on the South Kawishiwi River.
We pass turtles sunning themselves on rocks, and a pair of mergansers keeping a close eye on their young brood.
"This is where all the mining exploration's going on, just to the east of the river," says our guide, Jason Zabokrtsky. He points out that the drilling is going on about three miles south of the edge of the Boundary Waters. But here the river turns north and then flows into the heart of the wilderness.
"Into Fall Lake, then into Newton and Basswood Lake, across to upper and lower Basswood Falls, into Crooked Lake, into Iron Lake, across Curtain Falls, and into Lac la Croix," he says. "All really well-known Boundary Waters lakes."
Some people who live near the potential mining sites are worried. Bob Tammen, who lives in Soudan, about 20 miles from Ely, and has vacation property on the South Kawishiwi River, says he doesn't trust the state to protect the environment. The state, he said, hasn't been able to completely clean up pollution from the Dunka pit, a waste site from a taconite operation that accidentally exposed sulfide rock 50 years ago, and ever since has been leaching metals into a nearby creek.
"We've been trying for 30 years to get the Dunka site cleaned up. My contention is, if the state of Minnesota, working with the mining industry, can't clean up a mining site in 30 years, why should we ever grant a permit for a copper mining operation?" Tammen says. "We know that copper is generally in sulfide ore bodies, whereas our iron mining industry is generally in oxide ore bodies, which is not as damaging as sulfide. They haven't been able to manage the iron mining industry; we should not, at this time, trust them to permit a copper mining industry."
State officials say the Dunka problem happened before rigorous rules were imposed on mining operations.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Ann Foss says it's difficult to solve an unexpected problem, but the experience at Dunka has taught the agency a lot about how sulfide rock reacts when exposed to air and water. She says that experience will help inform environmental reviews of any sulfide mining proposals.
The Friends of the Boundary Waters has backed legislation at the state level to beef up requirements on financial assurance -- similar to the escrow fund that BP has agreed to set aside for the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, the Minnesota measure died in committee.
Some of the neighbors here, around the edge of the Boundary Waters want to go further: they want the state to prohibit sulfide mining unless a company can point to one place in the world where a mine has operated without polluting water. Since a similar law passed in Wisconsin, no mines have been built in the state.
The exploration is happening on the southwest edge of the Boundary Waters. Fifteen miles to the west is the town of Ely.
There are varying opinions in Ely on the exploration and possible mine development. The area has long been dependent on jobs in mining, logging, and tourism. Some people are excited about a new source of good-paying jobs. They still remember when the underground mine in Soudan used to ship tons of rich, iron ore. It closed in 1962 and now is a state park.
Duluth Metals has an office in Ely, in a house on a quiet street. The walls are covered with colorful geologic maps, and in an attached garage there are lots of core samples from those drill sites down the road.
David Oliver, the project's manager, is very excited about the minerals that lie more than a half-mile beneath the surface, on 1,500 acres near the South Kawishiwi River.
"We have now drilled 170-some drill holes that verify a resource in excess of 900 million tons that was never on the books before," Oliver said.
He says a mine tapping into that resource could employ 400 people for decades to come.
Copper and nickel, and the associated precious metals, are used in everything from electric wires and computers, to catalytic converters and rechargeable batteries, so demand is going up all the time.
The combination of higher prices and improved technologies to recover the minerals is generating new excitement about a deposit that geologists have known about for a long time. Oliver discounts worries about polluted groundwater. He says the core samples are solid, nearly free of cracks, so it wouldn't be easy for any polluted groundwater to travel through this ancient rock.
And, he says, the waste rock will contain so little sulfur that the kind of pollution that has occurred at other mines is unlikely.
"This is deemed below any threshold that would generate acid drainage," Oliver says. "It just doesn't have enough sulfur to do it."
Until recently, a different company -- Polymet -- was the front-runner in the race for copper-nickel in Minnesota.
Polymet's property is just south of the land Duluth Metals is exploring. The Minnesota DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Polymet project, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency did a scathing review of the work, saying it was inadequate. It will take more than a year to re-do it.
Meanwhile, Duluth Metals' new partnership with Antofagasta, a Chilean company, provides enough money to move that project ahead quickly. David Oliver says Duluth Metals should be ready for environmental review in about three years.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
We paddled to a quiet bay away from the main travel route to look for wildlife on a guided day canoe trip today on Lake One.
Luckily, we spied this Common Merganser and her ducklings. The young were probably born in a hollow tree - where Mergansers typically nest. The mother must have just recently nudged the furball ducklings out of the nest because they are still tiny creatures. Part of me expected to see a giant pike splash out of the water after one of them.
We saw no sign of the male merganser, which is not uncommon. Motherhood is a lonely job for these females. The males typically play no part in raising the ducklings.
We watched this Common Merganser dive down looking for minnows to catch in its orange serrated bill - often called a sawbill. It didn't appear to succeed in hunting minnows, but it did successfully pluck a dragonfly nymph from a rock wall as it swam by.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
We are looking forward to hosting our guests at our new canoe trip outfitting shop at 129 E. Sheridan St. in downtown Ely, MN. We are passionate about sharing the Boundary Waters and our outfitting shop is a convenient launching point for your Boundary Waters canoe trip!
We're having an open house on Wednesday, June 16, from 5-7 PM. Please stop in for refreshments and say hi if you're in the area.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Thanks to Kara at Border Country Signs for helping us with the new sign. That's Jason and Kate in front of our outfitting shop.
Friday, May 14, 2010
As of noon today, Friday, May 14, 2010, fire restrictions are lifted in the Superior National Forest. Campfires and charcoal grills are allowed at anytime of day. As always, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, fires are allowed only within steel firegrates at designated campsites.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Around Ely, canoe trailers bounce down some pretty rugged roads. Names like “Echo Trail” and “Tomahawk Trail” reflect the rustic nature of the routes here. These roads and harsh northern elements put canoe trailers to the test.
Meet one of the most durable canoe trailers available. This photo shows our six-place canoe trailer with box by Remackel Welding. As we talked with other outfitters about canoe trailers that last the longest under heavy use, we repeatedly heard about the custom trailers by Dennis Remackel. He’s been making them by hand for several decades.
Dennis gives people several options to customize their trailers. Rust is the nemesis of a trailer, so we chose to have the trailer hot-dip galvanized. Once welded together, the trailer is dipped in molten zinc resulting in a trailer that won’t rust and never needs painted. The cool-factor is pretty high, and the practical durability factor is even higher.
We chose a few other options also. We ordered an extended tongue to allow room for a couple canoes on the roof of the towing vehicle. That allows us to transport eight canoes - two complete BWCA canoe trips. Also, the canoe racks are removable so the "canoe trailer" converts to a simple utility trailer. We also like the added steps on the back of the trailer, wheel wells strong enough to stand on, and a plywood step on the tongue. The plywood is all marine grade.
If you take lots of canoe trips and want to tow your own canoes, then you may want to consider one of Remackel's four-place canoe trailers with a large box and optional box cover. See photos on the Remackel website.
Shown in front of the new trailer are Dennis Remackel and Kate Ford.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Sure enough, the spring sap is running and he found it. But, no problem. He just needed the liquid hand sanitizer out of the toilet paper kit.
It's a good tip to carry liquid hand sanitizer on your Boundary Waters trip for the obvious purposes, and also to remove pesky sap that doesn't come off with plain soap. That's one of the reasons we include hand sanitizer in our complete Boundary Waters canoe trip outfitting packages.