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, March 31, 2009

Project Polar Bear Gear Pack Out

The below photo shows our smaller dogsleds used for lodge-based trips around Ely. They are now mere skeletons with their sled bags stored for the season.

Today we are packing out dogsledding camping gear for Project Polar Bear. Guide Dave Freeman, the director of Wilderness Classroom, is shown above making a repair to the brushbow of a big camping sled we are taking north.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Project Polar Bear - April 2 - 12, 2009

Between our Minnesota dogsledding season and summer BWCA canoe guiding season lies a wonderful opportunity for new adventure.

This year most of our guides are going north to dogsled around Hudson Bay. We call it Project Polar Bear. You can learn all about it with real time online multimedia updates thanks to Dave Freeman, Amy Voytilla, and the Wilderness Classroom.

Dave and Amy run the educational nonprofit called Wilderness Classroom. They are providing an online multimedia educational adventure on their website, and are sharing their resources to update Boundary Waters Blogger. You can find more on Project Polar Bear and educational info, audio, video, and lots of photos at the Wilderness Classroom website: http://www.wildernessclassroom.com/polarbear/index.html. The site is designed for primary school students to learn through this adventure, so tell your favorite teachers about this opportunity.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Wolf Tracks

We caught a glimpse of a lone wolf trotting across the ice while dogsledding home today. These are his tracks in the fresh snow.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Trail? What Trail?

Seven strong young people with a zest for adventure allowed us to take a particularly challenging route, and cover over 50 miles by dogsled. Obstacles like scaling this rock face with a dog team started to seem simpler and simpler after the incessantly challenging terrain we regularly encountered. This is us leaving Lake One in the BWCA for a bushwhack on a winter only route through the woods.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Late Season Luck

The late season weather and trail conditions can be variable. We had luck on our side for this trip. As everyone arrived, they needed windshield wipers to clear the drizzle. However, a cold front moved in just in time for our first full day of dogsledding. And we still have solid snowcovered trails, like the one above between Little Gabro and Gabro Lakes in the BWCA.

We stumbled upon this 10-point buck frozen in the South Kawishiwi River today. We couldn't tell how much of the deer is still intact because of the solid ice. We left this find for later wilderness travelers to discover.

When late season camping trips face possible rainy conditions, snow is a particularly welcome sight. Two years ago I guided a Last Hurrah camping trip with my personal dog, Lexee. Lexee is a chocolate lab and we even outfitted her with a plastic raincoat for the wet conditions. It's experiences like that which make me particularly thankful for this late season snow. This photo shows us pitching a North Face tent in a snowfall on Clearwater Lake in the BWCA.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Last Hurrah

We call the last camping trip of the Minnesota dogsledding season "The Last Hurrah." However, the title has a double meaning for the last hurrah trip I'm guiding this week.

I'm in the woods with a group of seven twenty-seven-year-old bachelors celebrating their buddy Cory's bachelor adventure. Cory's getting married in July. That's Cory flexing, next to his best man, Josh.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Project Polar Bear

When the Minnesota dogsledding season ends, we go north for Project Polar Bear.

We are traveling by truck (and dog trailer) and train to Churchill, Manitoba, the first of April. Once there, we will be dogsledding and camping in what the locals have dubbed the "Polar Bear Capitol of the World." The area is one of the world's largest polar bear denning sites.

Dave Freeman and Amy Voytilla are Wintergreen guides and run an educational nonprofit called the Wilderness Classroom. Dave and Amy are on the trip, and schoolchildren from around the country will be following us online through the Wilderness Classroom website. Dave and Amy also came up with the name, "Project Polar Bear."

We are hoping to keep Boundary Waters Blogger updated via satellite link during the trip, so be sure to follow us the first two weeks of April.

I took the above photo of polar bear tracks on the Arctic Ocean in April 2006.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Curt (above) pioneered a whole new sport today we call sit-skijoring.

Skijoring is when a person is on skis and tethered to a harnessed dog that pulls them. Sit-skijoring is when a person is on a "sit-ski" - the blue device above. Curt is using his strong upper body balance and the outrigger skis with his arms to steady himself side to side.

Moon is happily pulling him across the lake.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bicycles and Dogsleds

That's a bicycle seat on the back of one of the dogsleds. One of the fun things about journeying with people through the wilderness is adapting things to work in special situations.

Curt, one of our dogsledders this week, doesn't have full use of his legs. The bicycle seat innovation allowed him to drive the dog team with his dad, Rich.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Covy has puppies! These are two of the three of them hanging out on the porch at Wintergreen Lodge.

The adult Inuit dogs don't like the heat because of their thick insulating coats. Today's temps hit an unseasonably warm 60 degrees. These temps are even too warm for the puppies. They did their best to stay out of the sun, and slept in the shade of the entry most of today.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Barefoot Weather

How warm was it today? Warm enough that dogsledders Lilly and her dad, Paul, sat outside barefooted and in a t-shirt.

This week I'm guiding a Continuing Medical Education Dogsled Trip with a group of doctors (including Paul, above). The trip includes some of the doctors' family members. Even after today's warm weather, we are lucky that our dogsled trails still have a good snowpack.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pond Curling

So, how do we pass our time when not guiding dogsledding trips?

Pond curling, of course! Well, that's how we spent this afternoon after the dogsledding trips ended. The guides and everybody got together on our own home-made curling ice on the lake behind the lodge. Thanks to all the folks who took the time to shovel and flood the competition surface.

Part of the fun was creating team names. My team name: Special Brown Wax. It's a bit of an inside joke about skiing through dog poop.

Our competition equipment probably is not up to Intl. Curling Assoc. standards. Our "curling stones" are dog bowls filled with water and frozen with a homemade handle inserted. The brooms are, uh, shop brooms.

Ah, the fun.

Sue Schurke snapped this picture of me sliding the "stone" and Guide Amy Voytilla using the broom.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ever Wash These Things?

Joel, a dogsledding participant, held an armload of stinky dog harnesses and looked over at me this morning: "Ever wash these things?"

In fact, the dog harnesses do occasionally get washed. This video shows the Wintergreen industrial dog harness washing machine - aka, a cement mixer with rocks, water, and detergent. Paul has an ultimately creative mind and I came across this cleaning setup behind the lodge recently.