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 6, 2013

Bushwhacking the Boundary Waters Without a Boat

Jason Zabokrtsky, of Ely, MN, is attempting to cross the BWCAW and Quetico on foot, alone, and off-trail from Atikokan, Ontario, to Ely, Minnesota, from October 11 - 25.

Jason Zabokrtsky, of Ely, is trading paddles and Duluth packs for trekking poles and a backpack during a bushwhack across the Boundary Waters without a boat.  Photo by Paul Skorazczewski.

During two weeks on trail, Jason will experience the area he has lived, worked and played in from a totally different perspective.  As a Boundary Waters wilderness canoe trip and dogsled guide and outfitter, he has seen this region extensively, but in the same way virtually everyone who experiences the Boundary Waters sees it:  either from a canoe, on a portage trail, or around a campsite.

This journey flips convention on its head. The Boundary Waters region is an extremely water-rich environment experienced primarily by canoe.  However, this is an unprecedented journey without a boat.  Travel will be primarily on foot and off-trail.  But, it's impossible to cross this region without getting wet.  So how will he manage without a boat?  Jason will don a dry suit and swim the necessary water crossings - his backpack stowed in a dry bag and floating beside him.  He's minimizing this risky part of the trip by only swimming in the narrowest stretches and using extra caution around the frigid water.  The anticipated route has about a dozen significant swims.  The payoff is that he will experience remote wilderness that is virtually never seen.

Jason says this journey will also help him relate to the guests of his Ely Outfitting Company, a Boundary Waters canoe trip outfitter in Ely, MN, and improve his understanding of the region.  Guests of his business challenge themselves mentally and physically as they prepare to experience a new adventure.  While outfitting the information and gear for a canoe trip isn't particularly challenging for Jason these days - he could probably pack out a canoe trip in his sleep - an unconventional trip like this bushwhack means learning new skills, evaluating new travel systems, and preparing for the unknown.  Jason says, "this journey will definitely provide me with a deeper understanding and better appreciation for this exceptional wilderness area that I love dearly."

The approximate route is shown in green and red.  The red designates the bushwhack route within the BWCAW and Quetico.  The green designates the route outside of these wilderness areas.  The yellow line is the international border.
The total trip distance is difficult to predict because the bushwhack route doesn't follow established trails, and the route will need to change based upon the best option found in the woods. With that said, Jason estimates the total trip distance will be around 80 miles.  The total horizontal distance of the anticipated route shown in the satellite map from the northern edge of Quetico to the southern edge of the BWCA is about 50 miles.  The route shown outside of the Wilderness is about 25 miles.

But how does a person stay on course and not get lost during this sort of bushwhack?  After all, Jason tells canoe trip guests that the way people get lost on trips up here is when they walk off-trail into the woods.  Canoeists may get turned around on the lakes, but they don't get lost when in a canoe.  People do get lost on foot in these dense woods.  Jason will stay on course with the help of the old reliable paper map and a navigation compass.  He's also using an iphone gps app (MotionX), satellite imagery (particularly helpful for determining stream widths), and electronic topo maps (good for avoiding particularly rugged topography).

A satellite phone will allow Jason to make occasional updates from the trail.  You'll find those updates at www.facebook.com/ElyOutfittingCompany

Jason thanks those providing planning and logistical support for this attempt, including Max Pittman, Kate Sinner, Paul Schurke, Dave Gossage, Dave Freeman, Amy Freeman, Jerritt Johnston, Chris Hartmann, and Joe Mattson.  Also, he particularly thanks Jerritt Johnston for staffing the outfitting business and communications during the trip, and providing social media updates.

Jason owns Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service (www.ElyOutfittingCompany.com) in Ely, MN. 



Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29 BWCAW Fires Update and New Campfire Restrictions for Some Areas

CONTACT:  Becca Manlove, Information Officer, West Zone, Superior National Forest, 218-365-2093; 218-343-3026.

Campfire restrictions for the Gunflint and portions of the Tofte Districts will go into effect after midnight tonight. Fires will be allowed only between 7 p.m. and midnight in the restricted area. The restrictions apply only to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and only to the eastern portions listed in the forest order.  Click the link below to access the order and a map.

Current Fire Activity:

Knife Lake Fire: 188 acres.  Fire is north of the South Arm of Knife and south of  Amoeber Lake: Township 65, Range 6 West, Section 18. Fire managers have successfully suppressed a fire that was in an unsafe and inaccessible location by bringing it out to natural barriers. Suppression was implemented in an efficient and effective manner using limited aerial and hand ignition along with other holding resources on the ground. A weather front passed through last night but did not produce any rain. Gusty winds tested control lines and they held well. At 1:00 p.m. today rain was beginning to fall on the fire. Containment is at 60% and rising steadily. The South Arm of Knife closures of campsites, waterways, and portages are still in place.

Fires now out:

• Disappointment Lake Fire: quarter acre, discovered Saturday evening, August 24, 2013. Declared out on  8/27/13.

• Sedative Lake Fire, north of Ima: Township 64, Range 7 West, Section 17. Reported at three tenths of an acre in size. Called out this morning.

Resources: Sixteen fire fighters and four public safety staff on the Knife Lake Fire; two deHavilland Beaver floatplanes at the Ely Seaplane Base; ___staff on initial attack.

For a location map of the three fires, the South Arm of Knife Lake closure order, a closure map, fire restrictions order and map, and daily fire updates please see our website: www.fs.usda.gov/superior.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Boundary Waters Trip Video

A group of Boundary Waters canoe trip guests canoed, portaged and fished July 22 - 26 and they've already put together this great time lapse video of their trip.  Awesome!

Monday, July 8, 2013

BWCA Chronology

Did you know that in 1969 the maximum group size in the Boundary Waters was 15 people?  Today the maximum group size is nine people with a maximum of four watercraft. 

Learn more fun BWCA facts in the very best online chronology of the history of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at  http://www.wilbers.com/BoundaryWatersCanoeAreaWildernessChronologyLong.htm.  The chronology is by Stephen Wilbers, the author of several books about the Boundary Waters.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Perfect Boundary Waters experience

There's a chance for some beautiful weather in the Boundary Waters, and this last week was just right. We enjoyed several perfectly still days on a five-day trip recently. This wild rice sunning itself on the surface of the water didn't have the slightest breeze to push all the blades in the same diretion.

This is how our guides celebrate July 4th on the water!

The fishing was worthwhile -- our group got a few walleyes - enough to enjoy a fish fry dinner. This little walleye lived to see another day, but it was a lively subject for a portrait!


We finished the last twenty minutes of our trip while portaging in a bit of rain (well, downpour!), which seemed a fair trade-off for five days of beautiful weather! 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Moose Resting - Drive Carefully

You never know what you may see on the drive Up North.  Nace Hagemann (www.nacehagemann.com) photographed this cow moose and her two calves on the Gunflint Trail just outside of the BWCA recently.  Thanks to Nace for allowing us to share his incredible photo.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Latrine

Behold the throne of the Boundary Waters! 

All BWCA designated campsites have open-air pit latrine toilets like this one.  They provide for a nicely hygienic campsite.  Toilet paper can go in the latrine, but it is important to remember that the latrines are not for trash.

It is a little known fact that BWCA campsites are assigned administrative numbers by the U.S. Forest Service.  Each campsite is identified by lake name and campsite number.  You'll find the number written on the latrine.  The latrine shown here is at Eskwagama Lake Campsite #1. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Amy and Dave Freeman Complete 11,700-Mile Human-Powered North American Odyssey

Amy and Dave Freeman.  Photo by Bryan Hansel, www.bryanhansel.com.

Our friends Amy and Dave Freeman landed their kayaks in Key West on Thursday, April 4, 2013, completing a 3-year, 11,700-mile expedition across North America by kayak, dogsled and canoe.
Over 80,000 elementary and middle school students from around the world have participated in the expedition virtually.

The Freemans began their human (and dog) powered North American Odyssey in Bellingham, WA on Earth Day (April 22) of 2010. The purpose of their expedition is to highlight North America’s waterways
and wild places while engaging students, teachers and armchair adventurers in their journey via www.WildernessClassroom.com.

Close encounters with humpback whales, grizzly bears, caribou, crocodiles and sharks are a few of the highlights of their expedition shared with students. In northern Canada the couple traveled for over
40 days at a time without encountering a road or town and survived -50 F temperatures on a regular basis while dogsledding. They witnessed a range of natural phenomena, from a forest fire in the Northwest Territories to the eerie stillness when the eye of Superstorm Sandy passed over them along the New Jersey coast. The Freemans also met directly with over 25,000 students at presentations they conducted along their route.

According to the Outdoor Foundation's 2012 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, the biggest reason that children ages 6 to 17 don't participate in outdoor activities is simply a lack of interest in the outdoors. The mission of Wilderness Classroom, 501c3 nonprofit organization, is to increase students' appreciation for the environment while improving core academic skills by introducing students to the wonders of exploration and wilderness travel through live, web-based expeditions and school assemblies. The North American Odyssey has been made possible by generous support from the following sponsors: Current Designs Kayaks, Wenonah Canoe, MTI Adventurewear, North Water Paddle Sports Equipment, Petzl, Go Macro, Mitchell Paddles, ExOfficio, Clif Bar, Wild Gift and many other companies.

We are looking forward to seeing Amy and Dave back in Northeastern Minnesota.  We're happy that they'll be back on trail guiding and sharing the Boundary Waters with guests this summer. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ely Outfitting Company's Response to Ely, Minn.'s Social Media Ban

In light of Ely, Minnesota's recent ban on all forms of social media, Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service has changed our network hosting provider, and will be updating our Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and Pinterest accounts remotely from the Canadian side of Basswood Lake.  We will be camped at a five-star wilderness campsite until Ely rescinds the social media ban.

While local law enforcement officials have indicated a collaboration with Canadian Mounties, we believe this will place our social media technology in a safe jurisdiction, and will allow us to continue providing the social media updates our guests and those who love Ely expect and cherish.

If you agree with our continuing efforts to share photos and information about this beloved place, please like us at www.facebook.com/ElyOutfittingCompany.


Measure aims to get people outdoors, where the air is clean — and only the birds tweet

ELY, MINN. — April 1, 2013 — Today, the Northern Minnesota town at the end of the road, Ely, Minnesota, has cut off access to social media within its borders. Ely city officials made the decision to ban social media in all its forms — including Friendster, MySpace and Google+ — to encourage visitors to look up from their handheld screens and enjoy the real outdoors.

Unnamed local officials hint the ban may be extended to all electronic devices in and around Ely — the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The area boasts pristine wilderness, crystal clear lakes and small-town charms that one must see to believe, and not just in a YouTube video.

“The only thing online here is a fish. And why would anyone need Pinterest?” says Ross Petersen, Ely’s mayor. “We have a big bulletin board over at the grocery store for that sort of thing. Or the Twitter?  We have at least a hundred forty characters right here, living in Ely. And don’t even get me started on the kids listening to their Zunes.”

Tweeters, posters, pinners, fans and hashtaggers have responded to the news swiftly, posting their reactions to the measure on the internet. However, no one in Ely is countering  — or frankly, even cares. “We’ve got a million acres of exclusive content, and hundreds of sites you can visit — in person,” adds Petersen.

Sales of ink pens and real paper tablets have reportedly spiked in area stores.

There’s plenty of non-electronic fun in and around the water this summer when you travel to Ely to visit in person. For more information on Ely, named “Coolest Small Town in America” by Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel; and to book a vacation that’s less than four hours from the Twin Cities, please drop by the city, write away for brochures from the Ely Chamber Offices, or call (on your landline) 1-800-777-7281.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Beavers at Work

One of the most industrious critters we see in the Boundary Waters is the beaver. I'm amazed at how quickly they can build a dam. I've paddled into the wilderness where the was no beaver dam, and then paddled out the same stream five days later to find a new large one. We typically see beavers when they are swimming around camp. This video, in contrast, shows rare footage of them walking around out of the water and building a lodge.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Float Planes For Our Fly-in Boundary Waters Canoe Trips are Being Readied for Summer

This time lapse video from Quetico Air Service shows them moving float planes this month as they prepare for the summer fly-in season. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Excellent Economy Rain Gear for a Boundary Waters Canoe Trip

I pulled my first pair of DriDucks rain gear from the trash bin.

A guest had decided to "decommission" his rain suit after several Boundary Waters canoe trips, but it looked to have a lot of life left, so I fished it out.

That "recycled" rain suit got a lot of use and a lot of love around the shop for a long time.  And it's what sold me on the line of rain gear sold by FroggToggs.  

You can spend $300 on rain gear tops and bottoms, but they may not work as well as the DriDucks Dura-lite3 model by the FroggToggs company - and for a bargain price of $40.  That's the model in this photo, and here's a link to the company website.

Here's what's to like:
  • Reliably waterpoof.
  • Lightweight and compact storage in your canoe pack. 
  • Full cut to allow air circulation, reduce moisture vapor buildup, and allow a comfortable seated position in a canoe. The free range of movement is excellent for portaging canoes and packs. 
  • Durable.  They don't snag and shred on an overgrown portage or bushwhack to gather firewood.  They are not prone to splitting out in the crotch. 
  • They don't seem to get soaked through and soggy like some more expensive rain gear.
  • They zip all the way up to your chin, shielding rain and wind from your neck.  
  • The bottom of the jacket is cut full and does not have an elastic bottom, so water flows away better when seated in a canoe.
  • Elastic wrist cuffs to keep water from running down your arm while paddling.
  • A draw chord waist you can synch tight so the pants don't sag.
  • A full cut and effective hood that doesn't sag over your eyes, moves nicely as you turn your head, and allows decent peripheral vision.
  • The legs fit over knee-high rubber boots and are generous in length.
  • They double as a basic wind layer or mosquito layer.
  • An unbeatable price point.  These are an awesome inexpensive investment in safety and comfort.
For the price, they are definitely the best rain gear we've found for an adventure paddling the Boundary Waters.  They are far better than the vinyl "plastic bag" type of rain suits.

It may be down-pouring, but if you stay dry, then you'll stay warm and comfortable, and you'll keep the fun meter pointed in the right direction.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Video of an Unusually Overgrown Portage in the BWCA

Recently we posted a video of a typical BWCA portage. This new video shows a more remote portage that is on a designated travel route, but is more overgrown than typical BWCA portages.  It is the portage going southeast out of Beaver Lake, in a lightly used area of the BWCA.  The location is about two days of travel from the nearest entry point.  Even though the portage is somewhat overgrown with brush, there is still an obvious footpath underneath.  Most BWCA portages are not as overgrown as this one.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Video of a Typical BWCA Portage

This video shows a typical Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness portage. It is the portage going west out of Jordan Lake in the BWCAW. Portages are trails connecting bodies of water.  They are the efficient route for carrying your canoes and gear between lakes on a wilderness canoe trip.

I tell people if you think you've found the portage and it looks like a wild animal trail, then it is probably a wild animal trail and not the portage.  There are no signs posted indicating the location of a portage, but portages are accurately shown on our large scale navigation maps.