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.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Much of the country has been getting record amounts of snowfall. While Ely itself may not be breaking records just yet, we are enjoying a real winter this season. Every few days or so, it snows another couple inches or more. Unlike with cars, extra snow while dog sledding is not too problematic, normally. More snow gives us more padding on our trails and generally freshens things up.

With all this repeated snowfall, our packed dog sledding trails get covered anew. Recently, during a day of dog sledding, it snowed about eight inches, a hefty amount for us. Here, Otok and Patches pull Nancy and Colleen through the collecting snow.

The day after this eight inches of snow, my dog sled group was out breaking open the same trails from the day before. Two Wintergreen staff also headed out that morning on snowmobiles to pack down some of the trails for us. As we were leaving our lunch spot on Saturday, we got word from one of those staff members saying he'd got the snowmobile pretty well stuck in slush and thin ice and thought he needed the help of our dogs to get it out.

We gallantly headed on over, with the "Here We Come to Save the Day!" theme in our heads. We found the snowmobile on a trail over a small creek. The weight of the snowmobile had pushed through some wet snow and down into the ice above this beaver creek, where it's not uncommon to have thinner ice because of moving water underneath. Because the snow had not been well packed down earlier in the season, the left side of the snowmobile had dropped down through thin ice. Despite attempts with logs to give it traction, our valiant staff member could not get the machine up and out.

So we removed the team of six dogs from our sled, backed them up (easier said than done!... sled dogs pull forward), and attached them with a tow strap to the sled. We revved up the snowmobile and gave the dogs the "Hike!" command while another guide prepared to lead in front.

The dogs didn't hesitate to jerk forward and pulled it right out of its hole. Success!

In the next instant, though, after the snow-go had made it out by a few feet, the tow strap came loose of the dogs.

They went running like mad without any weight behind them, taking over the front guide. She heard our yells, saw that the dogs were in fact entirely loose though attached to each other, and tackled some of them. Two more of the guides ran up as fast as possible and got the lead and wheel dogs held down. We held tightly until the dogsled could be reattached to the gangline, and we got people standing on the brake again.

Our group thought it was great! That hole in the ice, now exposed to the cold air, froze promptly. To ease the minds of those yet to be dog sledding this year, the snowmobile punched through because of its weight. The dogs are individually light enough to run right over that trail, and the sled's weight would be spread across its runners evenly.

There's never a guarantee, but here's to hoping the next snowmobile run goes smoothly! This was a meeting of technologies that doesn't occur terribly often.


Bill Griffin said...

Hey... that was a great story, loved reading it, loved hearing about your adventures!

Northland said...

What a great day, with only happy endings!