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, December 6, 2014

Love for the Boundary Waters - Guest Entry by Lucy Soderstrom

Lucy Soderstrom addressed a youth gathering in Washington DC this week as part of a youth event celebrating wilderness.  The BWCA can have a profound effect on young people.  Here is her talk:

I’m a 17 year old who has come to love the Boundary Waters wilderness. For the past 5 years I’ve been taking trips into the BWCA and Quetico through YMCA Camp Widjiwagan. My Dad signed me up for my first trip when I was 12. It was an 11 day trip where I’d be camping with kids I had never met with no modern comforts and no contact with my friends and family. I actually really didn’t want to go. But as it turns out, those eleven days were among the best days I had ever spent in my life. My trips have gotten progressively longer and more challenging and this past summer, I took a 31 day trip. The Boundary Waters have been so impactful on my life, helping me gain strength, respect, and I think most importantly, self-confidence.

I have a favorite campsite. I stayed there two summers ago. This campsite sits on an island on Russell Lake. What first caught our eye was the big rock in the sun, perfect for our early-afternoon snack--dried apples. While eating, we took a look around and realized, even though we had been planning to paddle further, we couldn’t pass this campsite up. So, we stayed. That night, we fell asleep to the sound of nearby waterfalls and were woken in the middle of the night by wolves howling just across the lake. We ended up staying another day and swam, we explored, and we made an extravagant breakfast of pancakes and then calzones for supper. Not that all days are pancakes and calzones. Most of my favorite days are ones where we put on lots of miles, accomplish tough portages, and get into camp late and exhausted, but also confident in yourself and your team.

Experiences like this are part of the reason I love this wilderness area so much. There are no guidebooks, signs, or people telling you where to go or when you have to be where. You plan your own route, making adjustments as you go. I think it’s really valuable to make connections with places, for me in this example, not only with the broader BWCA, but also, specific places, like the campsite on Russell.

In the Boundary Waters, there aren’t phones, there isn’t social media or other daily stressors. We need times when we get to unplug, times where we can ignore the clock and instead focus on how we feel, what we want to do. Where we can’t only rely on Google Maps and can learn again how to use an old-fashioned compass or the sun to find our way. And in the Boundary Waters, without these things, I get my best thinking done. It’s so important to me that this wilderness exists, and I take solace in remembering my experiences there and looking forward to many more to come. That I have a place where I can get lost in the wilderness.

The time I spend in the Boundary Waters is precious. It fills me with a peace and serenity that I’ve never felt anywhere else. I hope I will be able to take my kids out to the campsite on Russell Lake.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Save the Boundary Waters

The Boundary Waters is a special place. If you've been here, you appreciate that. It seems a land frozen in time - both primordial and immortal. Its grandeur seems so strong, its granite ridges so permanent, its waters so immense and pure - it seems the hands of man could hardly impair such a powerful place. 

But, our Boundary Waters is more fragile than it may seem. And it is threatened. A Chilean mining giant wants to put America's most polluting industry on the very edge of the BWCA.  They want to extract copper and nickel in trace amounts from ultra-hazardous sulfide ores. 

The sulfide ores are bad news for clean water. Once exposed to air, they create sulfuric acid that leaches out dangerous heavy metals and kills watersheds. And this mine would produce mountainous volumes of this ultra-hazardous waste rock - right on the very edge of the BWCA.

To put it lightly, this is risky business. The track record of these mining companies is horrible, and the legacy of these unique mines is one of broken promises and watershed pollution - every time.  

We must not risk the heart of the BWCA - its clean water.  We owe it to those who established this Wilderness to carry forward a legacy of preservation. And we owe it to the good of our society to protect the BWCA as an irreplaceable national treasure.  

Know that we will do our best to protect the Boundary Waters from this threat. And, fortunately, a good team of smart and passionate people with strong connections to the Wilderness are spearheading a national effort to save the Boundary Waters from this threat.  Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness is spearheading the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.  The campaign includes a growing coalition of national and state organizations, and it needs your help.

Today is "Give to the Max" day in Minnesota - an annual fundraising day for MN nonprofits. Your donation today as part of this special event will be doubled with matching funds.  Click here and donate at https://www.givemn.org/organization/Northeastern-Minnesotans-For-Wilderness

After today, you can still donate at www.SaveTheBoundaryWaters.org.

Thanks for supporting this important cause.  


Monday, October 20, 2014

The Winter Camping Symposium is Oct. 23-26 in Sturgeon Lake, MN.

The Winter Camping Symposium is Oct. 23-26 in Sturgeon Lake, MN.  There are a bunch of interesting presentations and workshops.  If you camp in the winter - or have an interest in learning more about the unique experience - this is the place to connect with great info and people who share your interest.  Also, Jason Zabokrtsky of Ely Outfitting Co. is the keynote speaker on Friday evening.  His presentation is titled, "32 Above: Tips for Winter Camping in Warmer Weather."  Expect some fun photos and videos mixed in with the informative talk.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"River of Doubt" Centennial Canoe Expedition Completed

You may recognize Dave Freeman or Paul Schurke from around the shop. They just completed a major canoe expedition down the Rio Roosevelt (formerly known as the River of Doubt). Read on for the scoop on their grand adventure.

Pimenta Bueno, Brazil – July 3 – Minnesota adventurers Dave Freeman and Paul Schurke, who have been in Brazil since late May canoeing the Amazon's mythical "River of Doubt," successfully completed their 400-mile expedition today. During this centennial year, they have retraced President Theodore Roosevelt's epic 1914 first descent of the river that nearly cost him his life and now bears his name, the Rio Roosevelt.

Despite the challenges that plagued the 1914 trek, Roosevelt commented repeatedly in his diary about the stunning beauty of the jungle. Dave and Paul were pleased to find that although some areas near the river have been cleared for pasture, most of the Rio Roosevelt remains as pristine as it was in 1914. "We saw the same wildlife Roosevelt did – monkeys, caiman alligators, electric eels, cobras, peccaries, tapirs, capybaras, giant otters and even a jaguar. And the jungle supplemented our trail rations as it did his with piranha, catfish, heart of palm and Brazil nuts." said Dave.

"Roosevelt was our greatest conservation president," said Paul. "During his terms in office, nearly 250 national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and national monuments were established. It's a tribute to his incredible public lands legacy that the Rio Roosevelt remains a realm of natural beauty.

Dave and Paul arrived in the south central Amazon one month ago with 6 Brazilian teammates and plans to begin their journey near the river's headwaters just as Roosevelt did. But their arrival coincided with a violent outbreak of tensions between the Cinta Larga (the native people who control access to the upper Rio Roosevelt) and the Brazilian government. Therefore the team opted to paddle the lower section first. They launched from a downstream access point on May 30.

On the initial 18-day, 300-mile segment they ran many long stretches of rapids and endured a 2-mile portage through the jungle around dangerous water. But they avoided the numerous illnesses and mishaps in the rapids that befell Roosevelt's team and nearly cost our 26th president his life.

The expedition team camped at four of the same sites that the president did and they found that life along the river among native homesteaders, who tap the wild rubber trees and gather Brazil nuts from the forests, remains almost exactly as described in Roosevelt's journal. This lower stretch of the river took Dave' and Paul's team through the domain of the Zorro native people and they saw signs of their thatched-hut settlements along the shore. They actually paddled through a new reserve now being established on the lower Roosevelt to protect a primitive tribe that has only recently been sighted by aircraft but has had no contact with the outside world.

On Monday, June 16, the team reached the mouth of the Rio Roosevelt and the place where Roosevelt with his Brazilian colleague Colonel Rondon and their team completed their canoe journey 100 years before. Dave and Paul then renewed their contact with Cinta Larga and were granted access approval by a tribal chief. Dave and Paul paddled an additional 100 miles, beginning at the river's headwaters near the approximate place where Roosevelt began his journey 100 years ago. After negotiating several challenging portages, including one in which this sizable river is funneled through a 5'-wide rock chasm, they recently arrived at the main Cinta Larga village, completing their journey.

Dave and his wife Amy are 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year. School children from around the world followed this expedition via Dave and Amy’s website, http://www.WildernessClassroom.org. Paul, who is known for Arctic exploration including the 1986 North Pole expedition with Will Steger, operates Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, MN with his wife Susan.

Dave and Paul are available for phone interviews and can provide images from the expedition.

Contact: Amy Freeman, 312-505-9973, amy@wildernessclassroom.org

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Great Northern Radio Show is Coming to Ely for a Live Performance on Sat., June 14

ELY, Minnesota — The Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org) brings its unique blend of music, storytelling and comedy for the first time to Ely Saturday, June 14th at the Vermillion Community College Theater.

The Great Northern Radio Show is written, produced and hosted by Iron Range author Aaron Brown, of Balsam Township in Itasca County. Brown grew up near Zim and Forbes and teaches at Hibbing Community College. He founded the show in 2011 to showcase the talent, creativity and unique stories of northern Minnesota for a broader radio audience.

“You’ll recognize the format from popular variety shows like the Grand Ol’ Opry, Lawrence Welk, Wits and Prairie Home Companion” said Brown. “But we bring something different. We are a big show that brings high quality, contemporary entertainment to the mid-sized cities and small towns of northern Minnesota. These places become part of the show; every episode is a love letter, an album for the place where we broadcast.”

The “first couple” of the Iron Range music scene, Germaine Gemberling and Rich Mattson, will be among the featured performers in the June 14 Great Northern Radio Show live in Ely, Minnesota. Also in the show: The Surf Monkeys and Whirled Music, who are holding a CD Release Party in Ely after the show.

The show airs live from 5-7 p.m. on June 14th. Free tickets are available for those attending the live broadcast. You must be seated by 4:30 p.m. and reservations are recommended by calling KAXE at 800-662-5799.

Northern Community Radio is excited to bring Great Northern Radio show to the vibrant town of Ely. It will feature musicians Germaine Gemberling and Rich Mattson plus The Surf Monkeys, Whirled Muse and Nickolai Koivunen is back on keyboards. The Great Northern Radio Show players include Jason Scorich of Duluth, Sara Breeze of Bemidji, Erika Kooda of Grand Rapids, Britt Aamodt of Elk River, Lynn O’Hara of Ely, and Matt Nelson of Washington D.C. originally from Hibbing.

Guests for the Ely Great Northern Radio Show include Mike Hillman, Amy Freeman, Jason Zabokrtsky, Brian and Andrea Strom of Ely and Cory and Doris Kolodji from Hibbing.

The 5 p.m. June 14th show will air live on 91.7 FM KAXE on the Iron Range, 103.9 FM in Ely, and on 90.5 FM KBXE in Bemidji and Bagley and 89.9 FM Brainerd. The show is also rebroadcast on independent public radio stations throughout Minnesota and distributed as a podcast at www.kaxe.org.

The Great Northern Radio Show After Show Dance Party will be at the Ely Community Center immediately following the show featuring a CD release party for Whirled Muse featuring Eli Bissonett, Joey Kenig and Robin Anders. For tickets call Music Outfitters in Ely or online at www.musicoutfitters.com.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


On heels of local reality show production, Ely develops an entire network

Ely, Minn. — April 1, 2014 — Many have heard that Ely, Minn. — gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area — has been selected as the location for a living off-the-grid-themed reality show. Buoyed by the attention, the city today is announcing it will go big on the small screen — and launch a 24/7 all-Ely, all-the-time network — The Ely Channel.

“The Ely story has legs — as well as fins, antlers and just about everything else,” says newly named Ely Channel network executive Jeremy Williams. Williams, along with several other former locals, is convinced that a televised trip to the town at the end of the road — Ely — might be just what this country needs.

Cable carriers in Kansas City, Kan. and Claremont, Calif. have already signed up. In a several rural markets, The Ely Channel has replaced bigger players such as al Jazeera, and in one case, CNN.

The Ely Channel will unveil a full schedule of programming at the New York City TV upfronts later in April. But the network has already begun production on several shows, including Iron Range Chef, Sauna Wars (heavily pixilated to comply with FCC standards) and a singalong, call-in show, Campfire!

“There is a webcam up on Sheridan (Street) for a few years, and that’s become pretty popular. A lot of folks tune in from all over just to see what’s going on in town. I guess this (station) will be sort of like that, only with sound,” says Linda Fryer, Ely Tourism. “And of course, there’s our Ely cable station that’s already airing local news and happenings, including the popular Snorkeling with Mikey. We’ll be able to bring programs like that to a much wider audience.”

“In Ely, we’ve got the corner on nature — with summer and winter activities galore,” says Williams. “In fact, research shows there’s strong interest in rural and nature-based programming in general, and in Ely and the Boundary Waters specifically.” Special materials are also being developed to help bring The Ely Channel into the classroom for schools throughout the country.

The Ely Chamber has diverted dollars to seed fund the channel, and is asking for the public’s help in making this effort a success. “We need folks who love this area to contact their cable companies to request The Ely Channel,” says Fryer. “Whether they’ve been to Ely before or not, we know that people will travel to experience the magic of Ely in person once they get a dose of our million acres of unspoiled wilderness on their flat screens. If not, we’ve got a whole lot of fancy TV equipment that’ll end up on Craigslist!” The city is considering launching an angel investment round of financing to grow programming on the channel as well.
For more on The Ely Channel, or to book a trip to town to see first-hand America’s Coolest Small Town, visit http://www.ely.org.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do I need an even number of people for a Boundary Waters canoe trip?


If you have an odd number of people in your group, then you may choose a three-seat canoe.  Our favorite three-seat canoe is the Seneca made by Wenonah.  Made out of Kevlar, it is 19'4" and weighs only 55 pounds.  It includes three "real" seats.  That makes for a comfortable spot for the middle person who is able to paddle as part of the team, or sit back and relax. 

 We also use the Seneca canoe for families with small kids.  It works well to sit two children next to each other in the middle seat.  The boys above are trolling for lunkers.

The Seneca is big enough for three grown men and a week's supply of gear.  When two of my high school buddies visited, the three of us paddled a Seneca.  Also, last summer we had three men with an ivy league crewing background take one of these for a week, and they loved it.

I once paddled this canoe carrying myself, two other large guys, three kids, and two large dogs on a day trip in the BWCA.  We were quite a sight, but it worked really well.

Our guides love this boat.  The guide can carefully position the canoe while two guests fish.

The Seneca is a fun, sociable, efficient, and stable canoe that makes for a great fishing platform and load-hauler.

We rent the Wenonah Seneca Kevlar ultra-light three-person canoe.

Another option for an odd number of people is to use a solo canoe.  A solo canoe is best for an experienced paddler.  It can be tricky and sometimes frustrating to maneuver a solo canoe in windy conditions, and the pace of the solo canoe may be different from the tandem canoes in the party.  We rent the Wenonah Kevlar ultra-light Encounter solo canoe.  It is 17' long and weighs 38 pounds.  You can use either a single or double bladed paddle.