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.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Night Sky in Motion

One of the fun experiments the photo workshop participants have done is try night sky shots. Last night Tom Sheley, of Columbus Ohio, captured this image. All the stars appear to be rotating around the North Star.

I really like how the stars have color in this photo. No one has altered the picture with Photoshop or a similar program. Instead, Layne says that the stars naturally have colors. He says the secret to capturing the star colors is to use a high ISO (or ASA) speed of 400.

Tom took this picture on the shores of Farm Lake, shooting toward the Boundary Waters. The absence of light pollution in the Boundary Waters makes this a perfect place for star gazing and star photography.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Being Watched

Ever feel like somone's watching you? We're in the midst of the Photo Workshop dogsled trip. One of the participants, Jamie Thingelstad (http://www.thingelstad.com/) snapped this picture of some of the photographers shooting me and several dog teams breaking trail on Husky Pond today.

Temps have been comfortable for this trip, with highs in the teens above zero. Some of the worst frostbite I've seen photographed is from the hands of professional photographers. They are sometimes forced to use too light of gloves and the metallic camera equipment conducts the cold, causing cold fingers.

The photographers are getting some great pics. Hopefully they may share a couple more for the blog over the next few days.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shooting into the Light

One of the things Layne Kennedy suggests is to consider shooting into the light for visual effect. This is a photo I took shooting into the late afternoon sun today. Lead dogs left to right are Suma, Matilda, and Juno (puppy). In wheel you see another puppy, Jack.
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Photo Workshop

I'm one of the dogsled guides on a Photo Workshop dogsledding trip that started today. Layne Kennedy is a professional photographer from the Twin Cities. He has led this workshop at Wintergreen for over a dozen years.

I'm hoping I learn some pointers to help me take better photos for this blog. This is a pic of a block of ice from cutting ice at Steger's homestead last weekend.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Eva Finishes the Beargrease & Delivers the Mail!

After 111+ miles, 14 hours on trail, and temps dipping to almost 30 below, Eva Kolodji finished the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon today! She is now the youngest woman ever to have successfully completed the race. Full race results are at http://www.beargrease.com/. A really nice article with Eva's story is in the Duluth News Tribune here.

One photo shows Eva kicking up snow as she brakes going into a turn during the Beargrease.

Also, Eva delivered the official Beargrease mail at the finish line. Just like the race's namesake mail carrier, Beargrease particpants like Eva carry official U.S. mail by dogsled in a special Beargrease mail bag. Eva's mail bag is shown above. Eva, you get our stamp of approval!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon - Hike! Hike! Hike!

Our favorite dog sled racer, Eva Kolodji, made history today. At 17 years, she is the youngest woman ever to attempt the grueling John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. She launched her team of 8 Alaskan sled dogs at about 1:30 PM in front of a packed grandstand of cheering wellwishers.

Eva started running dogs five years ago, at age 12. This is the culimination of five years of training and hard work. Her determination has already earned her the respect of many, the support of her very experienced dog sled racing mentors (the Chapman sisters), and the help of folks at places like Wintergreen Northern Wear in Ely (who generously sponsored her performance Anorak and winter clothing).

Now Eva has 111 miles of racing in subzero temps through today, 20 below and colder temps tonight, and more than 24 hours on the back of her dogsled before reaching the finish line tomorrow afternoon.

Race updates are at http://www.beargrease.com/. We are whole-heartedly rooting on her and her dogs!

The pics are of Eva launching her team at the Beargrease starting line in Duluth, MN.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Putting Up Ice at Will Steger's Homestead

I spent today helping arctic explorer Will Steger fill his ice house with lake ice. His homestead is off the grid, on the edge of the BWCA.

A whole crew of folks assembled to help cut, buck and stack these clear, over-sized ice cubes. We used a team of horses pulling a sleigh to haul the ice up from the lake to the ice house.

This is a brief video slideshow from today, with narration about this custom that hails from a bygone era.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Birch Seed "Tracks"

These Paper Birch seeds fell from the catkins on the tree shown in the Jan. 17 post. The seeds gathered on the snow beneath the tree. Then, a slight breeze swept some of them into animal tracks, making it look like someone painted animal tracks in the snow. They're possibly snowshow hare tracks.

This is a big weekend coming up. Click back here for reports from bucking ice at polar explorer Will Steger's homestead tomorrow, and from the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon on Sunday!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Massive Snow Cubes

These are a couple of the massive snow-filled plywood forms sitting in Whiteside Park in Ely. Once the snow settles, the forms are removed and the resulting snow cube is the blank slate for snow carvers.

The Ely Winter Festival begins on February 6. The Festival highlight is the International Snow Carver's Symposium. The snow carving begins on the first day of the Festival. More than a dozen of these massive snow cubes and 20 smaller cubes will be carved. See some great photos of past snow carvings here.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History and TV

None of the Wintergreen guides have TV.

Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge doesn't have TV.

None of the Boundary Waters Guide Service guides have TV.

So where do you go when you feel compelled to be part of a historic event being broadcast on TV? The local watering hole. The nice folks at the Boathouse Brewpub in Ely opened early and put the Inauguration on their big screen TV. A crowd gathered to watch, listen, applaud, and sing along with the national anthem.

Some may think people in the North Woods are less concerned with the important issues facing the nation and world. After all, we are geographically far removed from major population centers. However, most of my Elyite friends are thoughtful, interested, worldly types. Many of them follow pressing current issues and are engaging when discussing politics.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

T-Shirt Weather

After all of the 40 below weather recently, it felt mighty balmy when temps reached into the 20s ABOVE zero today! I stripped down to my T-shirt during the trip this afternoon.

We are on a small bay off of White Iron Lake near Ely, MN, in this photo.
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Birch Catkins Releasing Winter Seeds

Paper Birch trees are starting to release their winter seeds. The catkin in focus has some of the winged seeds just barely hanging on. These shorter (about 1 1/2 inches) female catkins were pollinated last spring. The seeds have developed over the last seven months. Now they take flight on the wind.

We are seeing these winged seeds covering the ground like shadows under birch trees now. However, with such persistent snow this year (another 4+ inches yesterday, and a heavy snow is falling while I type), the seeds are being obscured by fresh snow layers.

I am guiding a day dog sledding trip this afternoon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who Knew?

A great quote from one of our dog sledding participants today:

"Who knew you could have so much fun at 20 below?! "

Above is Mo on trail cooling down with a face full of snow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Face of 40 Below

Tim, from Kentucky, is on a dogsled trip this week. He helped with feeding and caring for the dogs this morning, during the coldest part of the day.

It took less than 15 minutes for his eyebrows and eyelashes to freeze up in temps south (not South Beach warm 'south,' but lower down on the mercury thermometer 'south') of 40 below F.

The official thermometer at the Ely airport quit working at -39 F, during the night. The temps bottomed out several hours later. Local low temp reports ranged from -43 to -49 degrees Fahrenheit.

Forecasters predict 40 below again tonight.

Yes, we're still dog sledding.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Trip at 25 Below

Started a lodge-based dog sledding trip with four participants today. We launched our teams in temps colder than 25 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The folks are most surprised that they remained quite comfortable, even in the frigid temps. Chalk that reaction up to quality clothing (they all rented or purchased clothing from the Wintergreen clothing store in Ely) and good preparation (pat myself on the back).

We also have a pulk sled camping trip that left for four nights on trail today. While I'm sitting in a warm cabin, they are probably basking in the glow of a large fire drying their socks on sticks like marshmallows. Dave Gossage is one of the guides on the pulk trip. He may blog an entry about it when he returns.

Above, dog sledding at 25 below. The dogs are not throwing up dust. That's steam rising from their bodies.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Guides Do the Darndest Things

What is the psychological profile of a typical guide? Guides tend to be friendly, outgoing, interesting, and adventurous sorts.

After watching Chris' Greenland dog sledding slideshow, we sat back for pics from another guide's recent travels with the nomadic people of Mongolia. Our youngest guide, Christina, is a Luther College student who did an independent study in Mongolia.

Above is my favorite photo from her trip. She says the man is intensely proud of this horse. Possibly this is similar to the pride we have in the Wintergreen dogs? Though we have 80 dogs, and this fellow probably has only one horse.

Back to Ely: I'm guiding a dog sledding trip that starts today and ends Friday. The forecast for this week calls for HIGHS topping out at about 10 degrees BELOW zero. Maybe I'll fix my "Northwoods Stacker" for breakfast. I reserve it for days with highs that stay below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Seal Hunting by Dogsled in Greenland

One of our long-time Wintergreen dogsled guides, Chris Maher, decided to move to where they invented dog sledding: Arctic Greenland.

He moved to Greenland in Spring 2008 and purchased a dog team. Now he spends his fall like the native Inuit people he lives with. He drives his team of Inuit dogs hunting seals by dogsled. This picture shows him with his team and hunting success. He is shouldering a 30-06.

Now it is winter and there is 24/7 darkness at his new home in northeast Greenland. So, he decided to dash back to Ely, Minnesota, for about a month, and spend some time with friends at the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge.

The guides got together tonight to see Chris' pictures, hear his stories from life in a foreign culture, pepper him with questions about Greenlandic dog sledding, and wish him our best as he returns to Greenland tomorrow.

Watch this blog for info on Chris' trek to the North Pole this spring.

Friday, January 9, 2009


It's not too uncommon for forecasters to be 20 degrees off in their low temp predictions for Ely.

Case in point: The National Weather Service and the rest of the forecasting crews predicted a low of -6 to -8 degrees Fahrenheit last night. We woke up to a somewhat chilly 29 degrees below.

And a bit of trivia. The Celsius and Fahrenheit scales converge at 30 below. Thus, 30 below zero is the same temperature, whether measured on the Celsius or Fahrenheit scales.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Three-legged Dog

Over breakfast, a participant mentioned she had a three-legged dog pulling her dogsled the day before.

My ears perked with concern.

Then she said, "Yeah, Baloo was lifting his fourth leg to pee on every single tree that passed by. He may as well had only three legs pulling."

Above, Baloo.
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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kids and Dogs

Kids seem to take to dog sledding with a certain grace and ease that sometimes escapes adults. Here is Lill, age 8, from Texas with Lucy. Lucy is less than a year old, and is happy in lead.

Lill and her twin sister, Georgia, did a great job working with the dogs. Georgia even caught a loose sled, and both of them tried driving solo dog sleds all by themselves.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Beaver Family is: Home

We dogsledded by this beaver lodge today. For curosity's sake, we stopped to see if it is occupied.

If beavers are wintering over inside a lodge, then the warmth from their bodies melts a small chimney in the snow at the very top.

Sure enough, beavers are present in this lodge. The photo shows Cassidy (age 11, Kansas) looking at the chimney vent.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Lufa Cooing

Lufa is a dog that really wants to be with people. She loves human attention. And the guides respond to it. She is the only dog in the kennel of about 80 dogs that is allowed to run free while we are in a winter camp.

Lufa makes a unique cooing sound when she howls. In this clip, you hear me howling back and forth with her this morning.