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.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Patriotic Urban Paddling

People often ask what we Boundary Waters guides do on our days off. My response is that our days off look a lot like our days on.

For example, Kate and I are in DC visiting friends (it's the Ely "mud season," after all). But, you can't keep us away from getting our paddling fix while around open water.

Today we rented kayaks from a fun place called Jack's Boathouse in Georgetown. We did a self-guided kayak tour of Washington landmarks from the Potomac River. If you're in DC and looking for a way to be a way cool tourist, talk to Paul at Jack's Boathouse and he'll get you some nice boats at a fair price. They even have some made-in-Minnesota Wenonah canoes.

This photo shows us paddling with friends in front of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hudson Bay Recap

We've returned happy and healthy from our Hudson Bay dogsledding adventure.

Every spring, after the Minnesota dogsledding season ends, Wintergreen Lodge leads dogsled adventures to various destinations such as the North Pole, Greenland, Svalbaard, other Arctic locations, and the Rocky Mountains. Eight of our Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge guides left Ely by truck and dog trailer on April 3 bound for Churchill, Manitoba, via truck, train, dogsled, and ski. Local Ely Wintergreen guides who joined the trip include Paul Schurke, LynnAnne Vesper, Kate Ford, Don Watson, Ellen Root, Dave Freeman, Amy Voytilla, and Jason Zabokrtsky.

We drove to Thompson, Manitoba, boarded the "Tundra Train" going north toward Churchill, and then got off the train at a tundra stop for a six day, hundred mile journey by dogsled and ski to Hudson Bay and Churchill. The trip also included five additional adventurers who joined to learn about dogsledding, winter camping, Arctic wildlife and tundra travel. A unique feature of this trip is that schoolchildren around the globe followed our progress via electronic updates to WildernessClassroom.com, an educational nonprofit led by Dave Freeman.

We experienced dogsledding on the frozen Manitoba tundra and pack ice of Hudson Bay, endured the unrelenting frigid winds of vast open expanse, and journeyed along the tracks of recent polar bears and polar bear cubs. This photo shows our team on Hudson Bay. Pack ice extends to the horizon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dog Treats With a Twist

It's a Wintergreen tradition to buy the dogs soft serve ice cream cones when returning from long trips. This is Daisy enjoying hers after we crossed the border back into the US today.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Polar Bear Jail

As we arrived in Churchill, we dogsledded to the Polar Bear Jail. It is where problem bears are taken, on the edge of town. These photos show the polar bear traps used for the problem bears.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Churchill Northern Studies Center

We spent our day dogsledding and skiing with our heads down and noses angled away from the wind. Sustained winds blasted us as we traveled along the coast of Hudson Bay to the Churchill Northern Studies Center. Wind speeds peaked at about 30 mph, with an air temp of about 0 degrees F today.

The Center is an incredible change from the camping we've been doing. It is heated, and has hot showers, a full kitchen, and internet access. The Center is a base for polar bear and other arctic researchers.

When we arrived they had us sign a stock form acknowledging the risk of polar bear attacks. One section of the form forbids us from camping here because of the danger. It seems ironic to be signing such a document after all the camping we've done this week.
Tomorrow we will dogsled and ski about 10 miles to the town of Churchill.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


We are in the midst of an all out gale. Winds blowing upwards of 35 mph have stopped us in our tracks. Air temps are about 10F, but the wind chill has pushed temps into the deep freeze.

Blowing snow is piling up in drifts around the dogsleds and we have hunkered down at an abandoned research station on the shores of Hudson Bay. We have kept warm building snow walls to shade the dogs from the wind.

A photo shows our dog, Franky, behind his snow wall. Another photo shows a dogsled getting drifted over.

We are passing the time resting, snacking, playing games, enjoying conversation and waiting for the weather to break.

We continue to follow proper protocol for camping in polar bear country. For example, you see in the photo of camp that the dogs are staked out in rows to the left and right, and we sleep in between them. This configuration ensures that the dogs sound off should a polar bear approach in the night.

Tomorrow we will hopefully awake to lighter winds. We will dogsled to the Northern Studies Center near Churchill.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hudson Bay!

The weather has remained ideal. The sun continues to shine brightly and we are slathering on sunscreen. The wind has calmed today.

The scenery is changing rapidly. As we move further north, the trees are getting smaller and smaller, and fewer and fewer.

The efficient traveling conditions allowed us to log 25 miles today. Our tired bodies felt uplifted when we arrived at Hudson Bay and its shining expanse of white flatness this afternoon.

Today we saw a white arctic hare that blended in with its snowy surroundings, and we saw a fox scampering across the tundra in front of us.

We pulled into camp at about 6:30 tonight. We are camped at an abandoned research station on the shores of Hudson Bay.

Most of the area polar bears have recently moved onto Hudson Bay to hunt seals. Tomorrow we will venture out onto the bay by dogsled to see what the ice holds.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Covering Miles

We covered a lot of ground today - about 23 miles by dogsled and ski.

We are passing through some brushy areas with small trees. The snow collects in these areas and can mean deep, fluffy, difficult to get a dogsled through, conditions. The dogs bottom out in the deep snow and the sled starts to snowplow. However, none of these places slowed us down more than we expected.

The wind has changed from a NW to an easterly gail, and we wonder what change in weather that may mean. The wind of 15-20 mph today dropped our windchills to subzero. The air remained in the teens or low twenties.

We saw more polar bear tracks in the snow today.

We pulled into camp at a little after 6 PM and luckily found a good spot out of the wind.

We are sleeping in 60 below sleeping bags. The photo shows Amy waking up this morning after spending the night cozy in a dogsled bag. Behind her are some of our team waking up after sleepig under the stars.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Polar Bear Tracks

Today we traveled about 15 miles. The wind started out gusty. We saw several firsts. We saw tracks in the snow from polar bears (including tracks from a mother and two cubs, shown in the photo), caribou, wolves, wolverines, and fox.

The wind subsided and a blazing sun is giving us a tan. The temps again today are about 32F.

Today we traveled about 15 miles, and set up camp in the sunlight.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

We Launch Dog Teams

We've received several varying reports from the conductor regarding the arrival time for our drop off point. Originally we heard mid-morning. It kept getting pushed back due to the rough track conditions.

At 1PM, the train screeched to a halt, the freight door slid open, and we started on assembly line unboarding. The train staff took quite an interest in us. All three of them gathered in the box car to admire our jovial scene. The conducted snapped photos, looked at me with a smile and said, "I may never see this again."

We waved goodbye to the train and watched it bounce away down the tracks. The group quickly harnessed dogs, hitched them to the sleds, and finally launched our dog teams across the frozen tundra.

We are fortunate our trail conditions are relatively firm with wind-packed snow. The sky is blue, the Arctic sun is shining, the temp is about 32F and the winds are calm. This region is known for high winds, and a ground blizzard swept through last week. We feel fortunate for our current ideal conditions.

One building exists between where we launched and Hudson Bay. Is is called Watchee Lodge. We dogsledded six miles to the lodge and took a lunch break. During February and March, photographers and tourists flock to Watchee Lodge. They are here to see mother polar bears emerge from their earthen dens with polar bear cubs in tow.

I spoke with a polar bear tracker there who searches out polar bears so visitors can be guided directly to them. Most of the polar bears just recently left this area to hunt seal on Hudson Bay. The polar bear tracker says they saw a bear last week, but they haven't been looking because they are closing up the lodge for the season. I ask the polar bear tracker if we will see any polar bears. With a steely expression he grunts, "I hope not."

We dogsledded a few hours after Watchee Lodge and camped on Fletcher Lake. The moon is bright, but we still see white-colored northern lights fade in and out across the lake.

Total dogsledding today: 14.5 miles.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Trucks, Trains and Dogsleds

We arrived in Thompson, Manitoba, at about 2:30PM. We drove straight to the train depot, staked out the dogs, and then put our sleds, dogs, and gear in order next to the tracks to await the next leg of our journey.

We heard several times that the Tundra Train is "always late." It remained true to its typical tardiness today, at a couple of hours behind schedule. Once it arrived, at about dusk, we loaded the dogs and sleds in the box car along with someone's truckload of fresh produce, a plush living room set, and some miscellaneous luggage. It took about 15 minutes, we grabbed our seats and the train started to creap north.

Really, it creaps north at only about 28 mph, and sometimes much more slowly. The slow pace is necessary because the frost heave from the tundra has left the tracks in a terribly uneven condition that would bounce a speeding train right off the tracks like a rubber ball.

We will be training overnight (about a 13 hour ride). Then the conductor stops the train on the tundra - not in a town - and we will carry on by dogsled to Hudson Bay and Churchill.

We are sleeping in our train seats tonight.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Dogs Know

At 6AM we arrived in the Wintergreen kennel to start loading sled dogs into the trailer, and launch our journey to Hudson Bay. That's earlier than we are typically at the kennel.

The dogs knew something was up instantly. I walked several dogs from their doghouses to the trailer. Lightning had a glint in her eye, leaned forward for mechanical advantage, and pulled me with all her might to the trailer. Then she hopped into the portable kennel and I closed the door. The photo shows the main entrance to the Wintergreen kennel this morning.

We hit the road with 20 dogs in tow at 6:30AM. It's now about 17 hours later and we are still driving. We are in Canada's Manitoba Province about 100 kilometers south of Grand Rapids. It is snowing.

We stopped for a generously privided lunch at the home of an expert on the Canadian Inuit Dog, near Winnipeg. The photo shows our guide Don Watson leading the dog Steve back to the trailer after a water, stretch, and bathroom break.

We will pull off the road and camp soon.

The dogs know a new adventure in a foreign land is underway, and they are excited. We are too.