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.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Painting with light in a Layne Kennedy photo workshop

Layne Kennedy is at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge this week leading a dogsledding photo workshop. I'm one of the dogsled guides on the trip. It is a joy to work with Layne and absorb his contagious enthusiasm.

Layne is a professional magazine and nature photographer. At the beginning of the photo workshop week, participants draw "assignments" out of a hat and use them to help focus their lens' attention. I drew "the lodge."

Layne taught about painting with light this week. It's a new concept to me. I'm getting to know my Nikon D5000 digital SLR and experimented with leaving the shutter open on a 30 second exposure. The below photo shows an uninspiring photo of the lodge on a 30 second exposure at f/14.0. The above photo, in stark contrast, shows the lodge moments later taken on a 30 second exposure (but at f/9.0) with some "light painting." While the shutter was open, Layne shined a handheld spotlight on parts of the lodge and trees to bring them to light. It is an exciting technique that created a more pleasant result than one could get altering the picture with Photoshop. None of the photos in this post have been altered in Photoshop.
Finally, the photo with the yurt also demonstrates painting with light on a long exposure. I took this one on a 20 second exposure. The red color in the snow is from the headlamp Layne is wearing in the shot.

Layne will be leading a Boundary Waters photo workshop canoe trip with Boundary Waters Guide Service this September. Click here for more information. Also watch for Layne's latest book on the Boundary Waters to be published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and released in 2010.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wet snow is weighing down branches and small trees

The recent wet snow has wreaked havoc with area trails. Though the snow-covered trees make a winter-wonderland scene from the highways, drooping trees and branches have seriously restricted travel on winter dogsled and ski routes through the woods in the boundary waters.

Most of our dogsledding trails are outside the BWCAW, and therefore we've been able to break open trails with a specially-equiped snowmobile, a chainsaw, and a whole lot of physical labor. The above photo shows weighted-down trees obstructing a trail near Ely. Though it is hardly recognizable, a well-used trail runs through the middle of the photo.

The below photo shows the "Mad Max" snow machine Paul rigged to plow through all the down branches on the trails. The blue plastic cage is to tunnel through the obstructions, and help knock the snow off the branches.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Act Now to Prevent Sulfide Mining From Harming Northeast Minnesota

Precious Waters: Minnesota's Sulfide Mining Controversy from Precious Waters on Vimeo.

The Ely area has a long history of iron mining. It is a prized part of our past. Beginning in the late 1800's, immigrants arrived from afar in search of a better life for their families. Many of these immigrants found mining jobs, or jobs supported by the mining economy. The last names of local residents reflect the eastern-European heritage of many immigrant miners, and the prevalence of last names beginning with the letter Z followed by a lot of consonants makes a Zabokrtsky like myself feel right at home. The Pioneer Mine, the last of eleven Ely mines, closed in 1967.

The closing of the mines devastated the local economy. By the early 1980s people were selling Ely area houses for only a few thousand dollars, if they could sell them at all. But, Ely began to grow again from another natural resource - the unique boreal forest, pristine waters, and unbridled beauty of Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Today, a potential new era of mining is upon us. But it doesn't have to do with iron. And it's nothing at all like the traditional iron mines. Instead, these potential new mines are the first of their kind in Minnesota. They are sulfide mines and they present potentially serious and insidious environmental risks that could irreparably harm the pristine waters that make Northeast Minnesota and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness a national treasure. And could impair the tourism economy that keeps Ely going.

These hazardous sulfide mines are basically outlawed in neighboring Wisconsin for their harmful environmental effects.

Sulfide mining exposes sulfur-bearing rock and soil to air and water. This creates large amounts of sulfuric acid. This then causes heavy metal and sulfuric acid pollution of the surrounding watershed: aquifers, streams, rivers, and lakes big and small. This type of pollution can kill virtually all life in formerly pure waters that had teamed with our state fish (the walleye), smallmouth bass, northern pike, and an assortment of other species. Or it can make these fish hazardous to eat.

These sulfide mines present a serious risk to the health of our waters and our way of life. Our Ely economy depends on clean waters and a healthy environment. The Superior National Forest estimates that it generates $223 million for the region annually. If we protect our pristine waters, we will continue to benefit from this beautiful natural area, and small guide services and outfitters like mine will continue to prosper as we share this precious resource with guests from around the world. To trade this life for a couple decades of mining profits in the pockets of a few large corporations (most of whom are not even based in the United States), followed by perpetual pollution and costly cleanup at taxpayer expense, is not a wise choice.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is currently accepting comments on whether the first-ever sulfide mine in Minnesota should be allowed. This process relates to the Polymet Sulfide Mine that is not in the BWCAW watershed, but is in Northeast Minnesota. And it may set a precedent for similar mines immediately outside the BWCAW, in the Boundary Waters watershed, and expected to go through similar permitting processes. The public comment period ends on February 3, and all Minnesotans who care about this issue should consider commenting.

If you care about preserving clean water and the Boundary Waters, you should watch the above video, and go to www.preciouswaters.org. The Friends of the Boundary Waters organization has tirelessly worked to garner these resources and facts to inform people on this important issue.

Many guides like myself still drink straight from the lakes here. That's a shock to visitors. I want to keep shocking them with the realization that our precious waters are that pristine. The risk of acid mine drainage from sulfide mines isn't worth the trade-off.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Video of Birth of Lily the Black Bear's Cub near Ely, MN

This video shows the actual birth of Lily the Black Bear's cub near Ely, MN, around noon today. You will see the cub's paw reach out from behind Lily's leg and hear the cub's sounds as it cries out for the first time.

I just spoke again with Dr. Rogers and he says that Lily just now fell asleep. Dr. Rogers was awake all night watching over this first-ever live webcam birth of a black bear in the wild, and it sounds like he deserves a quick rest as well.

Lily the Black Bear is Giving Birth - See the Live "Black Bear Cam" in her Den near Ely, MN

The first ever live broadcast of the birth of a wild black bear cub is being broadcast on the web. The North American Bear Center (http://www.bear.org/) near Ely has placed a special live camera in Lily the Black Bear's den to record this event. Click here for the Black Bear Cam.

I just got off the phone with Dr. Lynn Rogers of the Bear Center. He confirmed that it appears Lily the Black Back has just given birth to a black bear cub. She may have also given birth to a second cub, or a second cub may still be on the way. Lily went into labor yesterday at 1:59PM. Lily then made some contortions and gave birth to a first cub at approximately 11:38 AM today. The squawks of the cub and sweet grunts of the mother bear were heard shortly thereafter, says Dr. Rogers.

Dr. Rogers is probably the foremost black bear researcher in the world and says this is the first time in his 43 years of bear research that such a birthing event has been captured in the wild. It is only possible because reseachers worked with Lily in the wild for several years to develop her trust. Without her trust, Lily would have abandoned her den when the video equipment was installed.

The above photo shows Lily the Black Bear looking out of her den on January 11, 2010. The below photo shows her den and the camera equipment.

Dr. Rogers also communicated a request that bear hunters not shoot collared bears, such as Lily, that are the subject of their research.

Photos used with permission. Please note that Boundary Waters Guide Service (www.BoundaryWatersGuideService.com) provides fully outfitted and guided Boundary Waters canoe trips for friends and families, and does not guide bear hunting trips.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Dogsled Guide's Day Off

People often ask me what dogsled guides do on our days off. I tell them that our days off tend to look a lot like our days on.

For example, I had this week off from guiding to celebrate a late Christmas with my parents who visited from Iowa. What did I find myself doing on my day off? Sure enough, dogsledding. I took my dad and a few friends dogsledding up to Basswood Lake for a day trip. We cruised around on the dogsleds, set some tip-ups, and had a nice fire and some Zup's polish sausage. The crappies weren't active, but we pulled up several pike, including the one in the below photo.

We also spied two wolves along the way. We saw one that looked somewhat weak on Sunset Road on the way to Fall Lake. The other seemed healthy and robust as it loped across Muskeg Lake off of the Four Mile.

I suppose it's a good sign that you like your job if you do it on your days off.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Deep Freeze Temps and Hand and Foot Warmers

With low temps around 30 degrees below zero, we cracked open some hand and foot warmers for the dogsledding trip this week.

I just finished guiding a trip with a nice family from near New York City. It turns out one of them worked as a hand and foot model. She really appreciated the hand and foot warmers, and modeled them between her toes for this photo. Ironically, she's modeling the hand warmers in this picture. Chemical warmers labeled as toe warmers work best in the air-restricted space in a shoe. Toe warmers typically get too hot for use in mittens. Chemical warmers labeled hand warmers are best used in mittens, but can sometimes work in oversized winter boots. People concerned that they frequently suffer from cold feet usually find that toe warmers make a significant difference in their comfort level on trail.

You don't want foot warmers that make your feet so hot they sweat and then get chilled. But with the super deep freeze temps this week, that did not present a problem. You'll also want to check the expiration date on any chemical warmers because they can fail to provide heat after the stated expiration.

Upon their return home, I received a nice thank you email from the family and a compliment: "We were colder landing in the wind chill of New Jersey than at any time on the lake in Ely. Go figure."