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, December 4, 2012

The No-Name Lake

Many years ago, I bushwacked into a no-name lake in the heart of the wilderness.  On my map, the lake had no depth markings, so I didn't know if enough depth existed to support fish - though it had enough surface area that I sensed it might.  And I decided to trudge in with a fishing pole to answer that question.

As I emerged from the thick underbrush to finally see the hidden waters, I looked to my right and spied a moose leisurely grazing in the shallows.  Nice surprise. 

Then I made three casts that resulted in another fine surprise. 

On the first cast I caught a monster smallmouth bass - one of the largest I'd ever landed.  On the second cast I caught a handsome and beefy northern pike.  I laughed.  "Not bad. Two for two."  On the third cast, I pulled in a walleye with shoulders like a football player.  I laughed harder.  A true three-for-three Boundary Waters trifecta! 

I'm glad that lake doesn't have a name. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ely's Dorothy Molter Museum to be Featured on PBS

RARE FINDS will feature Ely's Dorothy Molter Museum on Monday, November 26 at 7:00pm on WDSE-WRPT PBS North 8.1/31.1.  This show will also be re-broadcast on Sunday, December 2 at 3pm on Create and at 5pm on PBS North.  This is a great chance to learn more about the last legal resident of the BWCAW, and to get a look inside her original cabins.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Black Bear Swimming Across Knife Lake in the BWCAW

Seeing wildlife in its natural setting is one of the great treats of a Boundary Waters canoe trip.  Our guide, LynnAnne Vesper, snapped this photo of a young black bear swimming across Knife Lake this week.  Seeing a black bear on trail is particularly nice when it's not sniffing around for your food pack.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cow and Calf Moose on the Moose River

It's an aptly named river.  Our guide, Max Pittman, took this photo recently while paddling down the Moose River.  Our guests, John and his boys, got mighty lucky to see this cow and calf moose (in the background in the river) up-close!  We've had more moose sitings on the Moose River north from BWCAW entry point 16 this summer than any place else.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Why we do what we do

Photos of Boundary Waters Guide Service, Ely
This photo of Boundary Waters Guide Service is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Sharing the Wilderness with people is a real privilege.  When guests share a Boundary Waters experience with us, and then provide feedback, it really matters.  Thanks to our recent guest, Rick, for sharing the following feedback:

I contacted Jason, the owner of the service and booked a two night, three day guided trip for myself, a friend and my two kids ages 8 and 11. My kids have never been camping before, so I was a little worried that they would not have a good time in the wilderness. Jason was a pleasure to deal with and after asking me several questions about what we wanted to get out of the trip, he suggested a route for us, and arranged for us to get our entry permit.

We met Jason and our guide Max the day before the trip started at Jason's shop. Both Jason and Max immediatley put us at ease and did a great job making the kids excited about the adventure the next day. It was obvious they truly wanted us to have a great time. From the moment we hit the water until we left, it was a blast. Max was awesome: great cook, great guide, funny and smart. The kids loved him. We found a terrific campsite on an island that even had a great rock cliff to jump off of. The food was top-notch, as was all the equipment. It is clear that Jason takes pride in providing the best of everthing for his clients. This was no cattle call operation as is the case with other outfitters. We will be back. My kids are already asking when we can go again. Thank you Jason and Max for a wonderful experience that we will not forget.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ice Skating On Frozen Lakes

Our winter season is ending abruptly, and we're making the most of it. Ice skating is a great way to be out on the lakes now at the end of the season. On a warm and sunny late-winter day, the snow on top of the ice melts into water. Then, over the course of a couple of days, that water drains down through natural cracks and holes back into the lake. This happened several days ago, and now we've got a whole surface of relatively smooth ice upon which to skate.

We are using "nordic" skates, which are long skates into which you can clip your own boot. The high, smooth curve at the front end means that you can skate easily over natural lake ice that hasn't been smoothed out by a Zamboni. A great idea, and a fun way to make some miles!

Looks like with the weather at hand, it won't last long. Soon we'll have those canoes out once again! If you haven't started planning your summer Boundary Waters canoe trip, give us a call and we'll help you plan a great adventure.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dogsledding in the FALLING SNOW!

While we've fortunately had adequate snow for dogsledding this winter, we sure haven't had the typical piling on of the white stuff.  This week I guided a couple of families from the Twin Cities area.  They arrived from the brown landscape of the Cities and enjoyed the fresh falling snow on White Iron Lake.  About four inches have fallen, and there are "snow globe" flakes still gentling falling this morning.  We don't typically pile four people on a dogsled, but this made for a fun family photo opp.  Mishka is the dog with the white face smiling at the camera above.
 And there's Otok (the dog) smiling as he runs by, above.
Kent, above, held on tight as his dogs launched with a great burst of forward speed... or he was just hamming it up for the camera as he passed by.

Monday, February 20, 2012

When to See Full Moons and New Moons in the Boundary Waters in 2012

With some advanced planning, you can be sleeping in the Boundary Waters under your choice of a full moon or a new moon.  

A full moon provides perfect light for night paddling and other nighttime activities.  The moon rays cast shadows across the rocks, and the beams shimmer off the lakes.  Such a setting may inspire you to howl at the moon, and listen for what howls back. 

Plan a trip around a new moon to see a purely starlit sky with views of bright constellations and the spectacular Milky Way!

Full – May 5
New – May 20

Full – June 4
New – June 19

Full – July 3
New – July 18

Full – Aug. 1 and 31
New – Aug 17

Full – Sept. 29
New – Sept. 15

Full – Oct 29
New – Oct 15

At Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service, our goal is to provide you the best information and outfitting for a successful Boundary Waters canoe trip.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Best Dates to See Meteor Showers and Shooting Stars in the Boundary Waters

Plan your next Boundary Waters canoe trip for the best chance of seeing shooting stars! You’ll escape light pollution and find the Boundary Waters is a great location to view meteor showers. Imagine lying on your back after a day of paddling and seeing shooting stars all around you! Here are the dates and descriptions for some of the major meteor showers of the 2012 paddling season.

May 5-6, 2012  Eta Aquarids
If you’re planning an early trip to the Boundary Waters this season, try staying up late or waking up early to catch these shooting stars. Look toward the southeastern part of the sky at about 4 a.m. until just before dawn and see if you can spot the brightest stars in May!
Moonrise: 8:23p.m.  Moonset: 5:07a.m.
Sunset: 8:25p.m.  Sunrise: 5:42a.m.

July 28-29, 2012  Delta Aquarids:
Look for shooting stars between moonset and dawn for this meteor shower. In the Boundary Waters, you may see 15-20 meteors per hour in the southern part of the sky. Typically, your best bet at catching these shooting stars is approximately 2 hours before dawn.
Moonrise: 4:57p.m. Moonset: 12:57a.m.
Sunset: 8:49p.m.  Sunrise: 5:39a.m. 

August 12-13, 2012  Perseids:
This is the big one!  It is expected by many to be the best meteor shower of the season.  In the dark sky, these meteors can peak at over 50 each hour. These meteors are often bright and leave persistent trains. Look for them late into the night and into the early hours of the morning.  Photographer Layne Kennedy joined us for several cloud-free nights in the BWCA during the Perseids.  In the above image taken on Lake Agnes, he captured not one, but TWO shooting stars in the same exposure. Look closely. Both shooting starts are in front of the lighter-colored Milky Way.  During this dramatic celestial display, we laid on our backs for hours on a rock point, repeatedly exclaiming, “there’s one.”  We spotted as many as a half dozen in a single minute. 
Moonrise: 1:04a.m. Moonset: 5:00p.m.
Sunset: 8:26p.m.  Sunrise: 6:00a.m. 

October 7, 2012  Draconids:
This meteor shower is best viewed in the northern hemisphere, especially in light pollution-free places like the Boundary Waters! Unlike most, this meteor shower is best viewed in the evening rather than after midnight. Additionally, the number of meteors per hour is difficult to predict for this shower – some years there’s a handful of meteors and other years can have hundreds! Moonrise: 11:29p.m. Moonset: 2:12p.m.
Sunset: 6:35p.m.  Sunrise: 7:15a.m. 

At Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service, our goal is to provide you the best information and outfitting for your successful Boundary Waters canoe trip.  Best of luck with your star gazing!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Quetico Provincial Park Fishing Licenses Change

The Ontario fishing license process is undergoing some changes for 2012.  We received the following notice from Quetico Park indicating that licenses may no longer be available at the Quetico Ranger Stations, and suggesting that visitors should apply for their Ontario fishing licenses online or by phone.  This is the message we received from Quetico Park:

Currently we are undergoing talks with the MNR [Ministry of Natural Resources] in regards to Quetico Park's ability to sell fishing licenses using the new automated licensing system.  At this time it is unknown if we will be able to provide this service to our customers.  Because of this uncertainty, we ask that you inform your clients and request they obtain their outdoors card and fishing licenses prior to arriving at the park.

Licenses can now be obtained online at www.ontario.ca/outdoorscard.   Licenses can also be obtained over the phone by calling 1-800-288-1155 or in person at issuer locations. Licensing Help Line 1-800-387-7011.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How Long is the Little Gabbro Lake (BWCAW Entry Point 33) Portage?

View Larger Map

Depending on who manufactured the maps you're looking at, you may find the Little Gabbro Lake portage listed as 104 rods, 200 rods, or 290 rods.  It's the only BWCAW portage I'm aware of that has such wildly different lengths listed on different maps.  It's not unusual for the same portage to be listed with slightly different lengths depending on the map manufacturer, but this one is exceptional.

One of the reasons for this difference is probably that the portage was re-routed at some point.  Which reminds me of when I was paddling the narrows between Little Gabbro and Gabbro Lakes and a perplexed canoeist paddled up for directions.  He had been searching unsuccessfully for the portage.  The reason for the confusion is that his map had the portaged mis-marked by a long distance.  And because the portage landing was near a designated campsite, he felt that it was just the landing for the campsite rather than the actual portage.  He appreciated me marking the correct location for the portage.  

I've portaged this route many times, and had a guess on the actual length.  But, we decided to put the issue to rest and hiked the portage with a GPS unit this week.  The above map shows our track from the entry point sign to the lake.

Based on our GPS, the Little Gabbro Lake (BWCAW Entry Point 33) portage is 208 rods. A rod is 16.5', so this translates to .65 miles.  As portages go, this is a relatively easy one.  It's an old logging road with a good gravel base over much of the distance.  It includes rolling hills and a total elevation change of about 24 feet.  The hike took us about 16 minutes one way.  The lake landing is a great sandy gravel beach at average and higher water levels.  At low water levels, it is boot-sucking mud.  To avoid the mud, resist the temptation to pull your canoe up at the obvious landing at the trailhead.  Instead, go north along the shore toward the nearby campsite, and use the firmer landing there.  You will get home with both of your shoes that way.

At Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service, we do our best to outfit our guests with the best information for a successful Boundary Waters canoe trip.  At our shop in Ely, you'll find our massive write-on map wall covered with specific tips and fresh info for your route.  We also sell all of the specialized navigation maps for your Boundary Waters trip.  We'll even remind you of the actual length of the Little Gabbro Lake portage.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Inventory of Closed BWCAW Campsites in Area Impacted by Pagami Creek Fire for Start of 2012

The US Forest Service provided the following information on campsite changes for the start of the 2012 paddling season:

Some BWCAW lakes and rivers will have fewer campsites open for use as a result of the Pagami Creek Fire. Forest Service crews will be opening most impacted campsites early in the 2012 season. However, some campsites will remain closed until wilderness crews can address erosion and safety concerns.  And, some campsites may remain closed for several seasons. Please be aware if you plan to camp on the following waterways that some campsites will be closed and you may have to travel further to find an available site. Maps showing the campsites that are currently closed can be found on the Superior National Forest website, and will be updated regularly as campsites are opened.

Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service will also identify impacted campsites on the massive write-on map wall in our outfitting shop so guests can easily determine campsite availability if they choose to travel in the small percentage of the BWCA impacted by the burn.
Campsites Before Pagami
Campsites that will be available for the beginning of the 2012 season
North Wilder
South Wilder
Hudson Pond
Isabella Lake
Isabella River
Island River

Changes to BWCAW Entry Permit Quotas for the 2012 Season

The US Forest Service has notified us of the following changes due to the Pagami Creek Fire: 

Forest Service staff evaluated BWCAW campsites within the Pagami Creek Fire burn area and determined that some need to be closed until they can be rehabilitated. Some campsites have safety hazards such as hazard trees and some have resource concerns such as a high potential for erosion. Of the more than 2,100 camp sites in the BWCAW, only 114 were affected by the fire. Of these, roughly 63 received light to moderate fire effects and will be reopened spring 2012 after minor restoration is done. Campsites and trails with more severe fire effects will need additional site work before reopening, and a limited few may need to rest for a few years to allow vegetation to return. Forest Service crews and volunteers will be working diligently to reopen portages and campsites as soon as possible this spring. Because this work will take time, several entry points will have reduced quota for the beginning of the 2012 season. The table below shows the changes to the entry point quotas.

As campsites, portages, and trails are cleared of windfall and are rehabilitated and re-established, the quotas will be adjusted. Updated information will be available on the Superior National Forest website.

Entry Point
Normal Quota
2012 Quota
30 - Lake One1814Quota will be 16 after several minimally impacted campsites are rehabilitated.
30F - Lake One Restricted02This is a new entry point for Lake One. Entry point 30F will include restrictions for no camping on Lakes One, Two, Three, Four, or Hudson at any time. This entry point will be eliminated when the quota for Entry Point 30 can be restored to 18.
34 - Island River30Island River is closed to overnight and day use going west towards Isabella River. The river is open to day use going south and east to Comfort Lake.
35 - Isabella Lake31Many campsites were impacted by the fire. The quota will increase after campsites have been rehabilitated in early 2012. Travel is prohibited west of Isabella Lake until we are sure the water route is navigable and portages have been stabilized to address erosion concerns.
67 - Bog Lake20Route is open to day use only.
75 - Little Isabella River10Little Isabella River is currently closed to all use because of trees across the portage and river. When trees have been cleared and resource concerns have been mitigated, the route will be open for day use.
86 - Pow wow TrailUnlimited0Trail will remain closed until further notice.
84 - Snake River11Snake River is open but no travel is allowed east of Bald Eagle Lake on Isabella River until the route has been cleared. When route is cleared, travel and camping will be allowed.