Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Spring Trip Report from Drew Brockett

Spring Trip Report from Drew Brockett:
  
2015 Spring Solo Canoe Trip - One Night/Two Days

Day One - April 30, 2015

Today's journey: Mudro - Fourtown - Boot - Fairy - Gun - Wagosh - Niki - Chippewa - Papoose - Friday Bay of Crooked Lake

Paddling miles: 12.5

Portage miles: 7 (eleven portages, 750 rods x 3 because of double portaging)

Weather: mostly sunny and warm, slight breeze from the south, almost perfect

It was a beautiful morning as I left my home at about 5:30am.  I got to the #23 Mudro Lake entry point a little after 6am and started paddling by 7am.  My vehicle was the only one in the parking lot.  It was a wonderful site early in the season since this is one of the most popular BWCA starting points throughout the paddling season. 

  

The day was long as I had a goal to get to Friday Bay.  I just kept paddling and portaging.  It was good to see this area again as it had been a few years since I traveled these lakes.  The highlights for the day included a pine marten that was walking along the bank of a lake, seeing nobody, the many birds either seen or heard (bald eagles, kingfisher, winter wren, loons, and more), and the fact that I was back in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Once I found my campsite on an island in the northeast part of Friday Bay, it was late afternoon.  I had earned an evening of relaxing, that's for sure.  It was a big day for my first trip of the year. 

  

The quiet evening was spent eating dinner and enjoying the view from the rocks.  Tent-time came early.  I needed to get some sleep as I made the decision to try to paddle out and complete the entire loop in one night.  Usually, we tell our clients to do the loop in about 5 days.  My buddy at work, Adam, is notorious for doing big trips and piling on the miles when he solo trips all summer.  It was my turn to try to do that.

Sleep came easy.  The forest went to bed.

Day Two - May 1, 2015

Today's journey: Crooked Lake (Friday Bay area) - Basswood River - Lower Basswood Falls - Horse River - Horse - Tin Can Mike - Sand Pit - Mudro

Paddling miles: 19.3

Portage miles: 4.8 (10 portages, 513 rods x 3)

Weather: Mostly cloudy, wind picked up a bit in the afternoon from the SW, warm

I knew it was going to be a big day so I got up before 5am, took care of taking down camp and getting some food into me, and was paddling by 6am.  It was a perfect morning to be on the water. 

  
 
Crooked Lake is a large lake with many bays and fingers.  I had many miles to go before my first portage around Lower Basswood Falls.  As I paddled, it was amazing knowing I was the only one anywhere near this area.  One man's wilderness, so to speak.  As the canoe glided over the water, I paid attention to the beautiful, rugged shoreline.  When I passed by campsites, I made a mental note about it for future reference.

Sometimes one must get out of the canoe to stretch the legs and reset your body.  I took advantage of the flat rocks at historic Table Rock.  It's an easy place to get in/out of a canoe, plus to know that it's a place of history with the voyageurs and natives, makes it a neat area. 

  
  
After a quick break and walk around Table Rock, my next stop would be the first portage of the day.  But, before I got there, I caught a glimpse of the elusive fisher.



Continuing south, there is a set of pictographs and then Lower Basswood Falls.  
      
  
     
  

Now the day was about more portages and a nice river paddle.  It was such a great day so far and I knew I could just keep going and eventually get to my vehicle.  It's not that I wanted to leave the BWCA, but there are a lot of things I needed to do at my home, plus I thought it would be a good challenge to do this loop in two days.

There are portages marked on the map and then there are little areas that are listed as rapids.  These rapid areas became interesting.  They are small rapids, but rocky.  I was able to paddle up the first one.  Another one, I had to portage around.  The last one I had to get into the water and pull (line) my canoe through the rapids.  I was in the water up to my thighs, but had the Chota Hippie Waders on so didn't get wet at all.  Actually, that was a lot of fun doing that.

Once I got to Horse Lake, I needed to refuel with some lunch.  I found a campsite and enjoyed the food, the view, and the break. 

  

Now the final push, knowing that there was a brutal portage coming up later in the day.  I got to the bottom of Horse Lake, passing a rock on the side that has a metal ring in it.  That's from the logging days of this area.

Eventually I was on the portage from Tin Can Mike to Sandpit.  The first part of it has a fine wooden walkway so canoeists don't have to walk in a wet area.  As I was walking along the portage, I heard something bigger in the woods and move away from the portage.  I stood still...listening and watching.  I heard it again and it moved a little deeper in the woods.  Then I saw something in a slightly different location from the most recent noise.  All of the sudden, I saw two cute little bear cubs climbing a tree.  Then I knew it was the mama bear that had run away.

Uh oh.  Now what?  I need to do this portage and come back and get my canoe and food pack.  I decided to just get going.  As I passed the tree with the cubs, I couldn't believe how cute they were as they climbed and wondered who I was.  Quickly a decision was made to snap a few shots and get to the end of the portage.  Coming back past that area, I had a stick, just in case, and I had my whistle.  When I passed the bears, I saw the mother at the base of the tree sort of in and out of a hole (could be the den?).  Now the mama was with them.  I kept walking.  They were all more afraid of me. 

  

My final time walking past them wasn't a big deal as I had a canoe on my shoulders and figured that was "scary" to them.  As I passed, the same thing happened, the cubs were on the tree and the mama was at the base of the tree.  No biggie at all.  What an incredible site!!  Two little cubs with their mother.  Luck was on my side.  Notice one of the pictures has both of the cubs in it. 



The last part of the trip was tough.  The portage with the bears is the easiest one I know.....flat....as it was an old road during the logging days.  Now, it was time for "Heart Attack Hill".  This is a steep uphill climb and it wears you out.  I just took my time, paced myself, and took small steps.  Once I brought my pack to the end, I knew I had to go and get the rest of the gear.  There is nothing like doing a portage like that twice...up that hill.

That portage ends at Mudro Lake where I hear my first voices since the radio in my vehicle.  It's a family coming in late in the day and staying at the one Mudro site.  I didn't want to see anyone, but what are you going to do.

Once back at the parking lot, there are four other vehicles now.  Wait until summertime, this lot will be packed.  For me, off season is the time to experience the busy areas.  I'm lucky I can do that.

The journey was fantastic.  Spring in the wilderness, before the bugs, the heat, and the crowds, is a special time.  Happiness comes from everywhere you look.  Peace is all around you.  Life is great.

Hope you enjoy this little write-up.  Find something good in each day.

Drew  

Monday, June 15, 2015

Discover the Trezona Trail

Ely’s Trezona trail has a lot to offer.  For some of us it is our regular exercise path during all four seasons.  You’ll see wildlife like whitetail deer and snowshoe hares and plenty of birds.  To walk, ski, run or bike the complete trail is a four mile love affair with nature.  Walking and talking at leisure takes about an hour and a half around, but at a faster pace, focused on the exercise, you’re much closer to 60 - 70 minutes of quick stepping.

On Saturday we walked together as a family and took time to admire the many colorful flowers and greenery along the path.  If you want a lesson in the forest around us, you can’t find a better choice right in town as the trail winds its way through red and white pines, spruce, paper birch, ash and cedar trees.  There are pin cherries, june berries, raspberries, honeysuckle, vetch and many other smaller ground cover type bushes and plants.

The terrain which encircles Ely’s Miners Lake (a former iron ore pit) elevates to granite outcroppings and dips down to the edge of the mine pit and into the cedar swamps lush with moss and wetland flora.  It has beautiful sections in the shade of the forest and bright sunlit sections that wind their way out of the woods and along the edge.  You’ll find yourself walking by Miners Dry, the building where our Miners used to wash and dry their clothes at on Saturdays.  These days the Miners Dry and Shaft House is home to the Ely Arts & Heritage Center.

It is a great walk and one you can have your car waiting for at the end in an easy to access parking lot just 3 blocks from Piragis Northwoods Company.  There are benches along to route if you feel you need to take a rest and at the parking lot there is a portable outhouse :)  Bring along a water bottle and an energy bar and your dog if you promise to keep them on a leash and clean up after them.

We started our walk by spotting some Forget-me-nots and discovering some beautiful and hearty wild roses just down the path.  In the first mile we saw many more flowers including Columbines and Dwarf Dogwood (Bunchberry).  Around the bend, bright and tall in the green grasses, we spotted Orange and Yellow Hawkweeds and in the shade by some additional Dwarf Dogwoods some small fragile Canada Mayflowers held court with their airy blooms.  Along the way we spotted a tree that we think looks like it has a face of its own and what Northwoods hike would be complete without the large fronds of Interrupted Ferns.

Forget-me-nots

Wild Roses

Columbines and Dwarf Dogwood

Can you see the old man's face in this tree?

A pale pink wild rose

Orange and Yellow Hawkweed

Yellow Hawkweed

Canada Mayflower (top) and Dwarf Dogwood (bottom)

Large Interrupted Ferns

Secret Creek ;)


As the path curves around the end of the lake and back towards town, keep your ears open for running water (i.e. a babbling brook).  Off to your right hand side there is a hidden path that leads to a small creek just a few steps off the trail.  It is a cool place but don't stay too long because the mosquitoes will find you quick :)

        There’s plenty to look at if you like walks on well established paths with good company.  There are also other paths and hiking trails around the Ely area, just ask us.  Thanks to Nancy Piragis and Jen Stouffer for helping me identify all the pictures that I snapped along the way.


See you around the bend!  Tim Stouffer

Monday, February 9, 2015

BLOG 83. A Practical Cook-set for the BWCA and Beyond



BLOG 83.  PRACTICAL COOK-SET FOR THE BOUNDARY WATERS AND BEYOND
by Cliff Jacobson


Commercial cook-sets are like drugstore first-aid kits; you get just enough to survive the day, but not enough to enjoy it.   So if your idea of canoe cookery is one pot boilinglop, read no further.  This advice is for those who like good food and are willing to take the time to prepare it. Don't misinterpret: you don't need to slave for hours over a hot  stove to produce tasty meals.  The right tools and 30 minutes will do it.

HARDWARE FOR FOUR
For a party of four, I carry:
         
Two nesting pots with covers, the largest of which should hold 16 cups so you can boil pasta without gluing it to the bottom.  Pots may be stainless steel, aluminum, or porcelain-lined carbon steel.   Some studies suggest that aluminum may be linked to Alzheimer's disease and lung damage. But given the light weight of aluminum, and the limited days most of us camp out, I hardly think it’s a problem.  

POT SIZE
As a rule, your largest pot should allow a three cup serving per person, plus “two cups for the pot" so you can stir without slopping over the sides. Since the bulk of your cook-set is determined by the size of your largest pot, you might as well fill the space inside with nesting pots and bowls that will fit. You’ll note that a coffee pot or tea kettle fouls up the packing system.  For this reason, I pack my tea kettle separately or, if space and weight are a concern, I leave it at home.

     POT HANDLES
Wire bail handles that lock upright and flip neatly out of the way when not in use are best if you cook on a fire. If you cook exclusively on a stove, a removeable spade handle works fine.
Tea kettle with warming cozy

TEA KETTLE

Coffee pots tip easily and you need two hands to pour.  A wide bottom tea kettle--which can be operated with one hand--is better.  My 16 cup, fire-blackened kettle is ideal for four, especially on rainy days when the "coffee pot is always on".
            Tip: carry fresh onions, green peppers, celery and other crushable vegetables inside your tea kettle.
SKILLETS
If there's such a thing as a good lightweight camp skillet, I haven't found it!  I buy a high quality 12-inch diameter Teflon-coated skillet, then I remove the fixed handle and install a removeable one.
Discount store skillet

OVENS
I like an oven that can double as an extra pot, corn popper, broiler, or food warmer.  For years, I carried a (no longer manufactured) Bendonn dutch oven, which consists of two nesting deep-sided aluminum skillets.  Since I do nearly all my cooking on a stove, I seldom use the Bendonn for baking.  Instead I use the two pans to rig a "triple-pan" oven.

Tripple pan oven
THE TRIPLE-PAN OVEN  
Procedure: You need two nesting skillets (or one skillet and a pie tin), a high cover, and a handful of stones. Scatter the stones onto the bottom of the large skillet and set the pie tin on top. Put your bake stuff in the pie tin and cover the oven. Turn your stove down low and relax; the air space which separates the two pans will prevent burning.
                 Note: To use the triple-pan oven on a fire, just set it on the hot coals.  For quicker baking, pile more hot coals on the cover.  Now you have a "Triple-pan Dutch oven"!

COVERS
You should have a tight-fitting cover for every  pot and pan you own.  A skillet that substitutes as a pot cover is adequate only when you don't need to fry and boil at the same time.  Each cover should have a metal D-ring or nylon loop so you can easily remove it.
                
A cover is especially important when you're cooking in frigid weather or for large parties.  Consider this scenario:
                 It's 34 degrees and the wind is howling bloody murder.  You place 18 cups of cold water into your largest pot, dump in the oatmeal, and turn your stove to high.  The intense localized heat of the flame suggests you'd best "stir constantly" to prevent burning.  Fifteen minutes pass and still the porridge hasn't boiled.  Even with a makeshift windscreen, enough cold air reaches the pot to rob it of needed calories.  What to do?
                 Place the water, sans oatmeal, into the pot.  Cover the pot and turn your stove to high.  When the water boils, add the oatmeal.  Quickly stir until the water is absorbed, then cover the pot and set it on a piece of closed cell foam. Snug a wool shirt and jacket or two over the pot.  Now, go watch the sun rise for 15 minutes while your "slow cooker" works. Your makeshift "cozy" saves stove fuel and the displeasure of cleaning caked carbon off the inside of your pot.  Note: For a more elegant approach, make fitted “cozies” for your pots. My books, Basic Illustrated: Cooking, and “Camping’s Top Secrets” shows how.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

BLOG 82: Review: New From Sealskinz & Accent Paddles

BLOG 82. Review: New From Sealskinz and Accent Paddles
by Cliff Jacobson

Here are some new items that have recently come across my desk. None are “must have”, but they are all pretty cool.
 
The Sealskinz™Beanie is waterproof and breathable
SEALSKINZ WATERPROOF BEANIE
When I canoed the Hood River in northern Canada many years ago, we paddled in the aftermath of a chilling storm that raged for four days.  The temperature hovered at 34 degrees, it rained off-and-on, and the wind speed (according to my wind-meter) was 20 miles per hour. It was cold. Very cold! The icy wind sliced through my thick wool stocking cap. If I put up the hood on my rain coat to keep my head warm I couldn’t see the rapid ahead; if I didn’t use the hood, my ears froze. I wished I had a warm, windproof hat.

Sealskinz’s™ new Waterproof Beanie takes the sting out of wind. Like all Sealskinz products, it’s waterproof and breathable. But what’s the point of a waterproof stocking cap? Well, it’s waterproof, of course, but more importantly, it’s windproof, which means it will keep your head “warm” in the fiercest wind. The outer layer of the hat is knitted Acrylic; the inner layer (next to your head) is soft micro-fleece, which provides warmth and moisture control and feels luxurious. I haven’t tried the Beanie in summer (it’s -10 degrees F here in River Falls, WI as I write this!), but I’ve worn it plenty this winter. It’s very warm; it defies the Viking wind and it’s lighter and more compact than most stocking caps.  The waterproof-breathable substrate naturally reduces air flow to some degree so the hat may be too warm for summer.  We’ll see. But for now—and future Arctic canoe trips—it’s great!
 
Sealskinz™ waterproof/breathable, knee-length socks
SEALSKINZ MID-WEIGHT KNEE-LENGTH WATERPROOF/BREATHABLE SOCKS
The waterproof-breathable substrate in most Gore-tex socks is contained between protective layers of fabric—usually, nylon or Polyester. Gore-tex socks are designed to be worn over conventional wool socks. Wearing a second pair of wool socks over the Gore-tex socks will reduce abrasion to the fabric shell.  

Sealskinz’s new mid-weight, knee-length socks are different. Here, the waterproof-breathable substrate is sandwiched between a luxurious layer of Merino wool (next to the skin) and an outer layer of Acrylic/Polyester. The result is a comfortably cushy sock that can be worn alone or with a light wool liner inside your boots. The socks won’t stretch or creep down as you walk. They are much more comfortable and more rugged than other Gore-tex socks I’ve used. 
 2-piece Mitchell Paddle

Accent Octane 2-piece canoe paddle--18 ounces

ACCENT OCTANE TWO-PIECE CANOE PADDLE
If you’ve ever used use commercial aircraft to access a remote river, you know the problems: There are baggage size and weight limitations and a fee for every checked bag. A 17-foot Pakboat (folding canoe) will weigh about 55 pounds with its duffel bag and yoke. Remove the yoke or some frames and pack them elsewhere and the boat will make the 50 pound limit. But what about your canoe paddles? They are too long to fit in the overhead compartment of the aircraft. Yes, you can bundle ‘em, roll ‘em in bubble wrap and assign them to baggage—but you’ll pay that ominous $50-$75 fee each way. A two-piece paddle that you can stow above your seat is a smarter way to go.

A few years ago, I was invited to canoe some wild rivers in Norway. We brought Pakboats, which were checked as baggage. Bringing paddles from home was an extra expense we didn’t want so we agreed to use the cheap plastic paddles with aluminum shafts that were available in Norway. Given the choice between paddling a good canoe with a bad paddle or a bad canoe with a good paddle, I might go with the latter. I hate having a bad paddle in my hands for hours on end.  For awhile I toyed with ordering a top end Norwegian whitewater paddle, and picking it up in Norway. But it would have been very pricey. And how would I get it home after the trip? So I asked Mitchell Paddles to make me a two piece whitewater paddle. The price was $300+, and the wait was six weeks.  Nice paddle, but at 33 ounces, it was heavier than I like.

Two-piece kayak paddles are widely available, but two-piece canoe paddles are not. Until now, if you wanted one, your choice was a custom built paddle like my Mitchell or a make-it-yourself project. Recently, Accent Paddles (Minneapolis, MN) has come forward to fill the void. Their new two-piece “Octane” canoe paddle is lightweight, stiff and acceptably balanced. It has a carbon-fiber reinforced shaft that is identical to the one on my Mitchell. The scooped, composite molded plastic blade is off-set eight degrees and has a thick reinforcing spline in back. The rolled-over carbon grip is nicely done, similar to that on Bending Branches carbon-fiber paddles. The two-piece disconnect button is smartly located low on the shaft--below where most people will place their lower hand. This was accomplished by reversing the usual connector locations—i.e., the male pin connector is on the upper shaft and the female receptor is on the lower shaft.  Most two piece paddles have it the other way around.

Admittedly, I’m not crazy about the scoop blade or the spline or the eight degree off-set—I’d much prefer either a dead straight blade (for rapids) or a 12-degree one for cruising. And anyway you cut it, splines don’t make for dead-quiet running.  Still, the blade works fine in moderate whitewater and flat. The scoop adds some catch and the spline discourages the molded plastic blade from fluttering. From a performance-racing standpoint, an eight degree bent shaft provides little if any advantage over a similar sized straight blade—and bracing off the backside of any bent blade is at best, awkward. Still, the “Octane” blade is straight enough to allow reasonably efficient off-face braces—essential for stability in rapids. But the real beauty of this paddle is its light weight, price and utility. The 56 inch paddle pictured here weighs 18 ounces (shorter sticks will weigh less). Retail price is $144.95. A one piece version (the “Max Carbon”) costs $129.95. There are two blade shapes—a conventional tear-drop with hard edges and a Zaveral-style lollipop racing model. Both are nice. The conventional blade has less surface area than the lollipop and is slightly lighter and quieter in the water. But the bigger blade has the advantage in aerated water.

Admittedly, this Accent paddle can’t compare in weight, balance or in-water smoothness to a top shelf 12-degree carbon, bent shaft racing paddle. But that’s not its purpose. Instead, it offers reasonable lightweight, acceptable stiffness and all-round utility in a handy two-piece package. Frankly, 18 ounces is pretty light for a canoe paddle, especially a solidly built one like this that can double for fast cruising and moderate whitewater. Even the best wooden paddles generally weigh more than one-and-one half pounds. And none of them come apart! If you want a reasonably light, acceptably-balanced, take-apart paddle at a reasonable price, look hard at this new stick from Accent.

XXX

 82 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Winter in the Northland

The coldest days of the year are upon us.  Yesterday morning as I walked to work and my beard rapidly froze solid, it felt a lot like 50 below zero with the wind.  It was a strong 26 degrees below.  The ice was popping all night outside as the hot water registers and wood stoves inside got hotter and hotter.  Just last Saturday we were graced with about 8 - 10 inches of the beautiful white stuff that makes winter work.

We needed snow, it was looking bare around here for skiers, snowshoers, and winter campers.  Now we've got a perfect amount for the trails.  The pike are biting on frozen ciscos and the occasional light northern sucker live minnow.  They are still visiting decoys in the darkhouses, too.  Until the cold front dropped by early Sunday morning, all the fishing reports were good.  Shagawa lake and many small lakes surrounding Ely had 16 inches plus of good solid ice.



Winter cold brings with it a delightful and dangerous beauty.  Being prepared physically and mentally for the low temps and windchill factors is essential.  That includes having the right gear, even if you're just going out for a hike or ski.  A day pack with lighters, waterproof matches, fire starter tinder, extra dry clothing, water, waterproof matches, quick energy food/snacks, cell phone, emergency survival blanket, something to signal for help with, you get the drift...  It is vital to go into the woods prepared no matter what time of year, but this time of year especially.  The safety ice pics that allow you to pull yourself out of the lake if you fall through the ice - those are essential as well.  If you're prepared, being outdoors during the deep freeze is awesome.

Ely's a special place, year round, and if you'd like to experience winter camping, we've got the winter rental gear you need from sleeping bags, to pulk sleds and canvas wall tents with ultralight wood burning stoves.  If a motel is more your speed, then come up and visit us and do some day tripping on a pair of our rental skis or snowshoes.  The annual Ely Winter Festival is coming up (February 5-15, 2015).

If you're holding out for the soft water then we'll still wish you a Happy New Year and be expecting you next summer.


Sincerely,
Tim Stouffer
Piragis Northwoods Company

p.s.


This is what I dream of when I walk to work and it is 20 plus degrees below zero with a windchill factor of -40. Boundary Waters summer days, by the lake in my hammock with my dog and a good book. Bobber floating, fire waiting.

Followers