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, December 29, 2008

Dog Farts and Propane

The propane gas industry adds a rotten egg smell to their naturally colorless, odorless, and very explosive propane product. That's a good start.

However, sometimes that could lead to unsafe confusion. Is that rotten egg smell a dangerous propane leak, or just the Thanksgiving leftovers reminding me of their long-ago demise in the frig?

Alas, some snappy dogsledding guests suggest a stellar and ultimately safer idea: add dog farts to the propane.

The idea arose after our first morning of dogsledding. Our dogs are Canadian Inuit dogs. They eat a special high fat, high energy diet of working dog kibble. It results in especially pungent flatulence. These nice folks picked up on it right away. Then they came up with this brilliant idea!

And, yes, this working dog flatulence is distinct enough that you could never blame a dog fart scented propane leak on, say, your spouse on the couch.

The above pic shows Panda in lead next to Fudgee, thinking: "Was that you?"
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Sunday, December 28, 2008


A saying from Ely's famed Dorothy Molter: Kwitchurbeliakin.
Try saying it out loud if you're not sure what you're looking at.

Dorothy is regarded as the last person allowed to lawfully live in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. A self-sufficient, hardy woman, she did very little "belly aching." Canoeists on Knife Lake loved to stop by for one of Dorothy's home-brewed, ice cold root beer. For her full story, see the Ely museum website devoted to her memory: http://www.rootbeerlady.com/.

The saying (word?) has now made it onto bumper stickers, and the Wintergreen truck, as seen with one of our senior dogs, Moki.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Buster - Lucky Dog

Buster (above) is a lucky dog.

His doghouse is near the main entrance to the kennel. That means he gets extra petting from guests.

He's one of my favorites because he is ultra-consistant and reliable. That means I give him some extra attention.

But, he's really lucky to just be alive. He was born a cute white puppy in Greenland. However, cute white pupplies don't have a long life expectancy in parts of Greenland. The reason is tied to a proud tradition of Inuit (or "Eskimo") hunters, and Arctic customs.

The Inuit men proudly wear polar bear chaps during their dogsled hunting journeys to kill seal and polar bear. When an Inuit family bears a son, it is tradition for the infant boy to be given similar "polar bear" chaps. However, actual polar bear fur is too coarse and abbrasive on an infant's tender skin. In contrast, the soft fur of a cute white puppy works just right.

Fortunately, an Inuit family gifted Buster to Paul Schurke, the owner of Wintergreen Dog Sled Lodge, during one of his Greenlandic expeditions. Now Buster lives in northern Minnesota - far, far away from his birth place. He lives one of the best lives a sled dog could ask for: Pulling sleds through the snow, working with other dogs in a team, and pleasing the people who come to experience the thrill of dogsledding.
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

What's so great about 20 degrees below zero?

When it warms up to 0 degrees, it feels like a heat wave!

So is the case today.

I ski to work at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge. It's about a 15 minute ski from my cabin, depending on the weather and snow conditions. The short mid-December days mean that I'm typically skiing the route in the dark.

Today I skied to work in about -20 degree temps, and skied home in about -10 degree temps. But, man, it got up to 0 this afternoon, and it felt like a heat wave!

This pic is of a frosted up Red Pine on the shores of White Iron Lake, along my ski route to Wintergreen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Twist in a Forest Fire Saga

Living in the North Woods means we are well aware of forest fire dangers. We are particularly conscientious about putting out our campfires. We know, in some cases first hand, about the devastating effects of forest fires caused by improperly extinguished campfires.

Case in point. When I started guiding Boundary Waters trips in the mid-nineties I would sometimes camp on Ham Lake. A forest fire has since dramatically changed that lake.

In May 2007, a camper on Ham Lake, just on the edge of the Boundary Waters along the Gunflint Trail, apparently failed to fully extinguish his campfire. The result: the largest forest fire in the region in at least a century. Referred to as the "Ham Lake Fire," it burned more than 75,000 acres, nearly 150 structures, and the above canoes. It also temporarily closed several Boundary Waters entry points. Although the fire did not directly impact our Ely area entry points, we empathize with our friends northeast of Ely who are still rebuilding.

The U.S. attorney's office indicted a Washington, DC, man for starting the wildfire. The case is pending. The government claims the defendant started a fire at a campsite, did not fully extinguish it, and then lied about it. The accused reportedly visited the Boundary Waters annually, and inadvertently started the wildfire. The Associated Press first reported late last night that the defendant has committed suicide.

Above photo dated May 7, 2007, by Sue Prom, posted at http://fire.boreal.org/hamlake/

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pulling Puppies

Most Wintergreen alumni won't recognize the names on these dog harnesses. They are the new duds for our puppies born in March to Lucky and Thule.

Our dogs are purebred Canadian Inuit dogs and they are, quite literally, born to pull. For thousands of years, the Inuit (or Eskimo) people have relied on the breed for pulling large sleds (called "sledges" in Arctic lingo) over long distances. Pulling our sleds through the North Woods with adventuresome participants comes naturally to these dogs, and gives them purpose in life.

We recently harnessed up these pups for the very first time, hitched them next to a more mature dog on a dogsled team, and let them do what their instincts crave.
It is incredible to see a puppy almost instantly transform from neophyte to real puller. They typically go from being a perplexed pup tethered to a big and boisterous sled dog team to a confident puller working in unison with the rest of the pack in mere minutes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter Storm Warning Comes True

Those smart folks at the National Weather Service got it right this weekend. The following forecast came true:

Weather report for Ely:

... Winter Storm Warning remains in effect until 12 PM CST Monday... Snow intensity will increase through the afternoon... persisting overnight. Snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches an hour. Winds of 20 to 30 mph... combined with the heavy snow... will result in blowing snow and reduced visibilities of a quarter mile or less at times.

Delay travel if possible. Traveling will be very difficult or impossible today and tonight. Additional snow accumulation of 8 to 12 inches are expected today... with drifts of 2 feet or more. Storm total snowfall of 10 to 16 inches is expected through Monday morning.

Be aware that much colder air will blast across the region this afternoon and tonight. The combination of wind and cold air will generate wind chills of 20 to 30 below zero for this evening through Monday. If you must travel... use extreme caution and allow extra time to reach your destination.

If the above report peaks your curiosity, yes in fact, the good ole' Wintergreen folks are out dogsledding today. The dogs thrive on the cold temps. They prefer 20 below over 20 above any day. They seem to kick in a special low gear and pull especially hard when the temps dip.

When not dogsledding through the North Woods (or when travel by car is "very difficult or impossible") you may opt for snowshoeing. It's definitely not as fast, but it is a lot of fun in a deep, fresh, powdery snow. Just ask David and Julie Rochford (above), who ventured out today. David is using a traditional ash wood and rawhide snowshoe with a leather binding. Julie has a cutting edge MSR brand plastic snowshoe with flotation extenders and oversize mitten-friendly rubber bindings.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mugging for the Camera

The earlier post mentions that we recently finished a dogsled camping trip with the Travel Channel. As it turns out, one of our dogs is a natural for the silver screen. Calvin is the gray dog in lead in this pic. He has an uncanny ability to recognize a camera (still or video!) and put on a big canine endearing smile. He didn't even need a personal stylist, makeup, or any coaching for the above celebrity-looking shot! Thanks to Mark, one of our dogsledding participants, for sharing this pic.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Every Flake is Precious

We have luckily received just enough snow to keep our dogs running, participants mushing, and guides guiding. This pic shows one of our trails on White Iron Lake. You can see the black ice where the snow has blown away. Today we dogsledded primarily on the lake. Tomorrow we will head deep into the woods on some "lasagna noodle" bumpy trails.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Greeting the Dogsledding Season!

The dogsledding season is officially underway at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge. The guides just returned from the first dogsled camping trip of the season. This was no ordinary camping trip. It included the Travel Channel's luminary, Samantha Brown, her personal stylist, a videographer, a sound guy, a producer, and a runner. We spent much of the trip working up footage for Samantha's show, Passport to Weekend Getaways (or something like that). We got a good laugh that none of our 8 guides own a TV, and therefore aren't familiar with it. Samantha assured us, however, that it is a top-rated show. Well, if it isn't now, it should definitely top the charts after the dogsledding episode. It is set to air in April 2009.
The above photo is of me working on getting my skiing legs back. We Wintergreen guides ski while the participants drive the dog team - after careful instruction from the guides.
There is no rest for us as several guides start another "back to back" trip today.