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 31, 2010

Moose Brains

Today's Halloween, so here's a moose brain.  It's about the size of a grapefruit. 

While this post is a lighthearted holiday entry, the brain shown here is undergoing important scientific research that may help people better understand the moose population in Minnesota.  I helped extract this brain from a bull moose harvested up the Echo Trail near Ely, MN, earlier this month.  At the time, I was assisting the MDNR with the moose check-in and sampling station in Ely. 

Scientists know that a brain parasite fatal to moose is causing moose mortality, and that the parasite is carried by white tailed deer.  The full extent and effect of the brain parasite issue is still being researched.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Garrison Keillor, Eat Your Heart Out

Lake Wabegon is Garrison's fictitious community on the edge of the prairie. It's full of Norwegian Lutherans and colorful characters.

Here in Ely, Minnesota, we live on the edge of the wilderness with plenty of colorful characters, and some Norwegian Lutherans.

Today we're driving south to see the live performance of Garrison's radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, at the Fitz in St. Paul. When I'm driving south, I usually stop at SuLu's Espresso Cafe a half hour south of Ely in Tower.  I typically order a skinny latte (fufu, I know, but SuLu's are my favorite).

You'll see the second drink listed on the menu behind the owner, Brenda, is the "Lutheran."

What is the "Lutheran?"   Every Sunday after church, ladies from the Lutheran church stop by SuLu's for coffee. But the SuLu "Coffee" is just too strong for them. They asked to cut it with a little water. And should they pay full price for a coffee that has extra water? Of course not. Thus, the "Lutheran"coffee is a nickel less.

Garrison Keillor, eat your heart out, and be sure to stop at SuLu's on your way to Ely for a Boundary Waters canoe trip.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pine Marten Breakdown

I awoke to a Pine Marten peering from an overturned canoe outside my bedroom window this morning.  Then a second one appeared.  Then they loped around the cabin to the deck.  Once on the deck, one of them took up residence in a flower pot, and the other one decided that looked like a fine idea.  This video shows what ensued.  Keep an eye on which one starts in the planter and which one ends up in the planter.

Pine Martens are about the cutest creatures in all of the North Woods. They are typically chocolate-brown, have a golden throat patch, and a 12 to 18 inch body followed by a seven to ten inch tail. They are smaller than the related fisher (30-47 inches long, including tail). As omnivores, they subsist on Red-backed Voles, squirrels, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, birds, insects, seeds, worms, and berries. They reportedly particularly like raspberries. Pine Marten are excellent climbers, freely jump between trees, and can rotate their back hips to run headfirst down a tree trunk.

They are active all year. In winter, you may see their paw prints in the snow. Their tracks are less than two inches wide and show five toe pads around a rounded heel pad.

The Pine Marten stick to high ground and loathe water that mats their unoiled fur. In summer, you may seem them on portages. However, the brown cat-size creature dancing along the shoreline rocks is more likely to be its water-loving relative with a contrasting white throat patch, the Mink.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Women in the BWCA Wilderness

I recently guided two all-women's camping trips. What a blast! Both groups of talented, smart and go-get-em women sought out a female guide for their Boundary Waters camping experience.

I have guided canoe trips over ten summers for teenage and adult women in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park, working at the Northern Lakes Girl Scout Canoe Base and here at Boundary Waters Guide Service. I have become a believer in the truly different and remarkable experience that is possible with a group of only women.

I haven't seen the statistics for travel by men versus women, but what I have noticed personally is that there are substantially more men traveling in this wilderness area. By far, the majority of groups are exclusively men, with a fair amount of groups with one or two women. This reality underscores just how unique an all-women's trip is in the Boundary Waters.

As much as I tried to deny it when I first started guiding canoe trips in the Great North Woods, women really don't have the muscle mass that men do. The canoe that men (of many ages) can pick up without any technique does not go on my shoulders without teamwork or some real practice. That applies big-time to groups of first-time women to the Boundary Waters. Teamwork really becomes key.

During an orientation before getting out on the water, we tackled portaging technique, which is typically the most intimidating aspect of a BWCAW trip. Each group learned how to use three people to flip the canoe upside-down, and then each person took a turn carrying the lightweight Kevlar canoe. The task was surprisingly conquerable to most, even a breeze to a couple of the stronger women!

After our first few hours of paddling, everyone discovered, despite their trepidation, that the portaging was actually quite do-able, though still a workout. Both groups of women smiled with accomplishment (and maybe a little tiredness) at the end of their first long portages. Everyone was definitely appreciative a little while later of a campsite where we could rest and relax.

The eight ladies of the first group were friends since having their children involved together in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, and boy, were they a get-er-done kind of group. They gathered armloads of firewood, found time to relax, and shared much laughter. Some felt a little nervous about the physicality of a canoe trip, others just looked forward to relaxing and not having to cook. These ladies were all made for this kind of canoeing adventure, amusingly calling themselves "Kate Plus Eight."

My second group of ladies, four this time, were nurses or nurse practitioners with numerous stories about the many babies they had delivered. Lovely women with great stories, also quick learners and very capable in a canoe in the gusty conditions we experienced. These four ladies had worked together in their profession for years and were absolutely great at working with each other in this new environment.

These two trips in the late summer season had lovely weather -- highs up toward 70 degrees and low temps in the 40s, sometimes dipping down to the 30s. Since women typically tend to feel colder, I used another trick for our ladies: we filled everyone's water bottle with hot water overnight to keep our sleeping bags toasty warm. It proved to be a delightful surprise.

It seems to be true no matter the woman's age: after experiencing an all-female canoe camping trip, there is a definite sense of empowerment. I believe these already intelligent and accomplished women were no exception. Being "out there" for three or four days and relying only on each other for forward movement tends to build trust, make a lot of fun moments, and create an experience that will not be quickly forgotten.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Boundary Waters Autumnal Colors

Fall colors are here! In fact, they are at peak already. If you've got the time, head on up to Ely and enjoy the beautiful colors. Here, two photos from recent guided canoe trips. These beautiful light purple flowers really complement the yellows, oranges and red of the autumn woods.