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, January 25, 2011

Severe Slush Continues on Ely Area Lakes

The ice road on Shagawa Lake has been shut down due to slush, and advanced dogsled camping trips are making major reroutes due to severe slush on Ely area lakes.  While guiding dogsled trips, I am virtually always staying on previously used trails to avoid the slush.  This photo shows an example of what happens when you're off packed trails and in slush.  The dark spots are boot prints.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lily the Black Bear Gives Birth to Two Cubs Near Ely, MN

Lily the black bear, one of the research bears studied by the Wildlife Research Institute near Ely, MN, gave birth to two cubs on Friday.  This is the second year in a row that Lily gave birth on the Institute's live webcam.  To see what's going on in Lily's den and try to spy a glimpse or sound of the cubs, see the webcam at http://www.bear.org/livecams/lily-hope-cam.html.

"Very Nice Weather"

I'm wrapping up guiding a four-night dogsled trip and Jan, with utmost sincerity, says, "We've had very nice weather this week." 

You'd never know Jan experienced the coldest week this year - with lows dipping to 38 below zero Fahrenheit.  That's actual air temp.  Another morning hit 27 below.  While this wasn't a camping trip, we dogsledded every day and experienced high temps that never reached the zero mark.

It is a wonderful thing to be prepared and feel comfortable while enjoying the outdoors on an otherwise cold winter day when most are hunkered down, avoiding the cold.

This photo shows Jan and her husband, Gordon, dog sledding on White Iron Lake. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Moon Halo over Ely, MN

I spied this moon halo last night as I drove home from our canoe trip outfitting shop in Ely.  Moon halos are created when millions of tiny ice crystals high in the atmosphere reflect light.  The shape of the ice crystals results in a focusing of the light into a ring around the moon.  Because the ice crystals are six-sided, they reflect light at a 22 degree angle, creating a ring that has a 22 degree diameter.

Though moon halos are certainly more common during the dogsledding season than the canoe tripping season, people are already reserving canoe trips now for the best selection of permits for their desired entry points and dates.  Please contact us and we'll happily talk you through some canoe trip options.  We make BWCAW trip planning fun and simple, and we enjoy sharing stories about our region and the natural world.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Winter Travel Routes Wind Through Labrador Tea

Our winter traveling world varies dramatically from summertime.  During summer, paddling and portaging in the wilderness, we mostly avoid wetlands - for they harbor masses of mosquitoes.  Plus, the prospect of stepping into a particularly mucky spot and going in up to your knees or (gasp!) waist is not most peoples' idea of summer fun.

However, the onset of winter means the mucky bogs and wetlands freeze, and the bugs have vanished.  Now these wetlands make for excellent travel by dogsled, ski, and snowshoe because they are flat, protected from biting winds, and not subject to slush. The fallen snow makes for lovely enchanted forests of black spruce, weighed down with white, in the wetlands.

Although not as eye catching as the trees, a look under the black spruce or tamarack trees in the frozen bogs will likely discover a common wetland shrub called Labrador tea.  While guiding, I pause and point it out along the dogsled trail, encouraging dogsledding guests to pocket a couple handfuls for later back at the lodge.
The shrub often carpets the ground and grows one to three feet tall, with leaves one or two inches in length. Fragrant, elongated leaves have a leathery green top (or, often a brownish top in winter), with edges that roll downward.  The special part of these leaves is the underside.  Flip them over to see the densely hairy copper-colored bottom.  Naturalist and author Mark "Sparky" Stensaas calls them the "hairy armpit" leaves.  I know of no other north woods plant with such a similar characteristic, and it is an excellent identity clue.

The most commonly confused similar plant may be leatherleaf, another common wetland shrub - but one that lacks the hairy underside.  Also, leatherleaf leaves typically angle upward, whereas the Labrador tea leaves often droop downward or point out horizontally.

 In late May through June, once the mosquitoes have returned and the dogsleds are stored, Labrador tea blooms with dime-sized white flowers - each with five petals.  If you are not in the wetlands at that time of year, you may see the flowers while paddling along boggy shorelines.

With such a name, it is no surprise that people steep the leaves in hot water for five minutes or so to make a hot beverage.  I've found that placing a large handful of leaves into a coffee filter, and dunking them in a hot mug of water for five minutes is a simple way to prepare the herbal  drink with easy cleanup.  The concoction can taste quite woodsy and few people claim it to be particularly pleasing straight up.  However, a healthy dose of cream and sugar, perhaps not surprisingly, makes for a delightful occasional beverage.  

Labrador tea is sometimes called medicine tea, Indian tea, swamp leaf, muskeg tea, or Hudson's Bay tea.  The reference to medicine probably relates to the fact that Native Americans, such as the Chippewa, used the tea to treat a range of maladies including colds, digestion issues, asthma, kidney problems and fever.

Although the beverage may provide some health benefits and is commonly referred to as a desirable tea drink, it is important to know that the leaves contain a potentially poisonous compound.  That's probably why you won't find this tea on supermarket shelves.  Thus, the tea should only be consumed infrequently and not in large quantities.  To limit your intake, maybe only drink Labrador tea while you're on a dogsled trip, unless, of course, you're a dogsled guide.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Slush alert for Ely area lakes!

After almost a foot of snow in the last several days, many lakes are mired in slush. This pic shows the bottom of my skis slushed/iced up after trying to ski across White Iron Lake today.