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, October 6, 2013

Bushwhacking the Boundary Waters Without a Boat

Jason Zabokrtsky, of Ely, MN, is attempting to cross the BWCAW and Quetico on foot, alone, and off-trail from Atikokan, Ontario, to Ely, Minnesota, from October 11 - 25.

Jason Zabokrtsky, of Ely, is trading paddles and Duluth packs for trekking poles and a backpack during a bushwhack across the Boundary Waters without a boat.  Photo by Paul Skorazczewski.

During two weeks on trail, Jason will experience the area he has lived, worked and played in from a totally different perspective.  As a Boundary Waters wilderness canoe trip and dogsled guide and outfitter, he has seen this region extensively, but in the same way virtually everyone who experiences the Boundary Waters sees it:  either from a canoe, on a portage trail, or around a campsite.

This journey flips convention on its head. The Boundary Waters region is an extremely water-rich environment experienced primarily by canoe.  However, this is an unprecedented journey without a boat.  Travel will be primarily on foot and off-trail.  But, it's impossible to cross this region without getting wet.  So how will he manage without a boat?  Jason will don a dry suit and swim the necessary water crossings - his backpack stowed in a dry bag and floating beside him.  He's minimizing this risky part of the trip by only swimming in the narrowest stretches and using extra caution around the frigid water.  The anticipated route has about a dozen significant swims.  The payoff is that he will experience remote wilderness that is virtually never seen.

Jason says this journey will also help him relate to the guests of his Ely Outfitting Company, a Boundary Waters canoe trip outfitter in Ely, MN, and improve his understanding of the region.  Guests of his business challenge themselves mentally and physically as they prepare to experience a new adventure.  While outfitting the information and gear for a canoe trip isn't particularly challenging for Jason these days - he could probably pack out a canoe trip in his sleep - an unconventional trip like this bushwhack means learning new skills, evaluating new travel systems, and preparing for the unknown.  Jason says, "this journey will definitely provide me with a deeper understanding and better appreciation for this exceptional wilderness area that I love dearly."

The approximate route is shown in green and red.  The red designates the bushwhack route within the BWCAW and Quetico.  The green designates the route outside of these wilderness areas.  The yellow line is the international border.
The total trip distance is difficult to predict because the bushwhack route doesn't follow established trails, and the route will need to change based upon the best option found in the woods. With that said, Jason estimates the total trip distance will be around 80 miles.  The total horizontal distance of the anticipated route shown in the satellite map from the northern edge of Quetico to the southern edge of the BWCA is about 50 miles.  The route shown outside of the Wilderness is about 25 miles.

But how does a person stay on course and not get lost during this sort of bushwhack?  After all, Jason tells canoe trip guests that the way people get lost on trips up here is when they walk off-trail into the woods.  Canoeists may get turned around on the lakes, but they don't get lost when in a canoe.  People do get lost on foot in these dense woods.  Jason will stay on course with the help of the old reliable paper map and a navigation compass.  He's also using an iphone gps app (MotionX), satellite imagery (particularly helpful for determining stream widths), and electronic topo maps (good for avoiding particularly rugged topography).

A satellite phone will allow Jason to make occasional updates from the trail.  You'll find those updates at www.facebook.com/ElyOutfittingCompany

Jason thanks those providing planning and logistical support for this attempt, including Max Pittman, Kate Sinner, Paul Schurke, Dave Gossage, Dave Freeman, Amy Freeman, Jerritt Johnston, Chris Hartmann, and Joe Mattson.  Also, he particularly thanks Jerritt Johnston for staffing the outfitting business and communications during the trip, and providing social media updates.

Jason owns Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service (www.ElyOutfittingCompany.com) in Ely, MN. 



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