Thursday, September 11, 2014

Two New Campsites on Lake One

The Forest Service has completed something that has been in the works for a while according to our Outfitting Manager, Drew Brockett.  They've added a couple of Boundary Waters Campsites.  Now at the Lake One Entry point, there's easy access when you paddle to your left, to the two new campsites.

The Lake One Area Map below shows the new campsites.  They have been circled. One is in the SW corner of Section 15, while the second one is just above the center of Section 22 near the rapids.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

BLOG 75. Four Things Worth Bringing on a Canoe Trip

 (EXPED or NEMO sleeping pad cover; NEMO Bugout tarp, Woolrich Bering wool shirt,
Fire Dragon)
Exped slip cover
Air-foam sleeping pads all have one thing in common--the plastic fabric that covers them is not breathable. If you sleep bare skin against the pad (and use your sleeping bag as a blanket), sweat will pool against your back. Lying on a breathable surface is much more comfortable.
NEMO Jersey sleeping pad cover
A porous pad cover will absorb insensible perspiration while you sleep, resist tears and punctures, and keep your pad from slipping on the slick tent floor. At home, it’s easier to wash the cover than the pad. Make your pad cover from a cotton or polyester sheet, or for decadent luxury, merino wool or light fleece. Or, if you have an EXPED or NEMO foam pad, you can buy a fitted cover from them.

Exped’s cover is waterproof on the bottom and porous ripstop polyester on top. It is very light, compact and comfortable. Two-way zippers provide access to the mat valves. Nemo offers two different covers—one made from luxurious  polyester microsuede (“Pillowtop”) and one made from ultralight, stretchy, jersey polyester. The ultralight jersey fabric is the clear choice when ounces count. It’s very light and it looks cool. But for decadent luxury, the “Pillowtop” rules. 


NEMO Bugout tarp--pitched as recommended
NEMO Bugout tarp: Lean-to pitch (to defy wind)
This new bug tarp from NEMO is very well made. Stitching and details are first rate. Here are the most important features:
1.  It sets up fast using lines off two opposing corners. Tie ‘em to a tree or use two poles.
2. The black-colored netting is cause for applause. In the early part of this century, Horace Kephart rallied for black netting, emphasizing that it’s the only “color” that doesn’t reflect light into your eyes.  Black absorbs the light and you see clearly through the netting. The tight-mesh noseeum-proof netting used on this tarp cuts visibility and air flow. But, it’s the right choice for a bug tent that may be used where tiny noseeums’s are common (south coast/Florida Everglades, etc.). 
3. The tarp is large enough to rig a hammock inside the tarp. A zipper allows rigging cords to pass through.
4. The tent comes complete with cords, stakes and even a repair patch.
5 The center roof is well reinforced for use with a pole. The pole patch is heavy-duty and has a loop to which you can attach a cord to secure the pole in high winds. This set-up works but it’s not as elegant as the butterfly arrangement, described in my book, “Camping’s Top Secrets”, or the double-loop used by Cooke Custom Sewing.
1. The roof is heavier than it needs to be: silicon-coated nylon would be lighter, more compact and absorb less water.
2. The tent bag is too small.  When this baby gets wet, you’ll need a gorilla to stuff it inside.
3. There should be a zipper at each of the four corners. In high winds you may want to pitch this shelter with one side staked to the ground, leanto fashion. A “leanto” pitch will eliminate one entry.
4. Zippers are the first thing to fail over the long haul and the smaller they are the faster they fail. I’ve never had long term good luck with zippers as small as the ones used on this tent.  
5 .The rigging cords are black (reflective). They show up well in shining light but they blend into a shady forest. Better to use something brighter that can be seen in dim light. Yellow glow-in-the-dark cord is my favorite.
6. The six-inch long “U pound ‘em” aluminum tent stakes that are supplied with this tent are very high quality but you’ll need a hammer or rock to pound them in. Aluminum pins which can be pushed in by hand on most types of ground would be a better choice.   
7. The green color of this tarp is soothing and beckoning. I love the color! The tent is very pleasant to be inside.
8. This 9’x9’ model supposedly fits four people. It easily accommodates six. It’s rare when a manufacturer underestimates crew size.

Bottom line? Darn nice bug shelter. Goes up fast and easy, lots of space. Can be pitched in a variety of ways.  Acceptably compact, high quality materials, reasonably priced.

Trail weight……..4.75 pounds
Floor size……108 x 108 inches
Floor Area…..81 square feet.
Number of doors………2
Fly fabric……Polyester Ripstop
Canopy fabric….Polyester Ripstop
Interior Height…….6 feet

In more than 40 years of canoeing and camping, I’ve never wavered from my love of wool. Except for wind and rain gear, long pants and sun hat, the clothes I wear on my canoe trips—even in the heat of July—are wool. My last longsleeve wool shirt wore out two years ago and I’ve been looking for a reasonably priced replacement ever since. I don’t like wool blends because the synthetic threads (which add shape and durability) allow rain to wick through. A pure wool shirt will ward off a shower for some time without soaking through.

Recently, I discovered the Bering shirt from Woolrich. It’s pure wool—there are no synthetic threads to wick water in rain—and it’s just the right weight for field wear. The fit is generous and the shirt looks and feels good.  I wore it every day on a rainy June, 2014  Kopka River (Ontario) canoe trip—and I was never wet or cold. Wool shirts have largely disappeared from the camping scene—there wasn’t a single one for sale at Canoecopia this year. Thank you, Woolrich, for sharing my belief that “wool works best”.

Home made "fire blower" (from "Camping's Top Secrets" by Cliff Jacobson
Fire Dragon
When I was a boy scout in the 1950’s, I built a home made “fire blower”. It was just a short copper tube with a length of rubber tubing attached. To get a stubborn fire going, I just blew into the rubber tube. The forced air created a bright blaze. It provided an edge when the air was still (no draft) and the wood was damp. This illustration from my book “Camping’s Top Secrets” shows how to make one. You can use copper or aluminum tubing or the barrel from an old metal ballpoint pen. If you don’t want to make your own fire-blower, there’s the “Fire Dragon”, available from Piragis Northwoods Compay. Its large wooden mouthpiece provides more air and therefore, more power than the homemade one I used as a kid.  It’s not a “must” product, but it sure is a fun one. Onlookers will be mightily impressed when a single dragon breath turns glowing coals into fire!


Thursday, August 21, 2014

BLOG 74. Canoeing the BWCA with Steve Johnson and Cliff Jacobson

BLOG 74. Canoeing the BWCA with Steve Johnson and Cliff Jacobson
Cliff Jacobson
Steve Johnson (blue T shirt, front); Cliff: blue T shirt, baggy pants
In 2009, after three decades of outfitting and guiding canoe trips in northern Canada, I threw in the towel, had a huge garage sale and sold off most of my tripping gear. My plan was to start a “new life” of just “canoeing and camping with friends. I’d seen my share of grizzlies and polar bears, musk ox and caribou, wolves, whales, wolverines and seals.  I was 69 and figured it was time to climb a new mountain.
Cliff prepares supper
Steve teaches 13 year old Jordan how to fillet fish
So when Steve Piragis asked if I would lead a canoe trip into the Boundary Waters for him, I said “no”! Then, he baited me with: “What if Steve Johnson guides the trip and you go along for laughs?” I perked right up when he said “Johnson”—for Steve Johnson is Piragis’s top guide. Years earlier he joined me and a Piragis crew on a trip down the Steel River in Ontario. It was unique because there were real rapids and we all paddled solo canoes. I’d done the Steel several times beforet, but now, with Steve along, it would be much easier. Two guides to share the work of one—how wonderful! During that trip I grew to really like and respect Steve and hoped our paddles would cross again on future trips. Johnson is a bull in the woods: he will carry a canoe and the heaviest pack with seemingly no effort at all. He can make a one match fire in the rain; catch lunker fish while others keep casting, and do it all with a great big smile. I’ve known a lot of guides over the years, but I think Johnson is the best.
Pictographs along the U.S. Canadian border
To date, I’ve done five canoe trips with Steve—one on Ontario’s Steel River, and four in the Boundary Waters. Each year, we do a different route in the BWCA. Most recently (our August 9-15, 2014), we began at Moose Lake (with a motor tow to Sucker Lake—thank goodness!) then paddled northeast along the American side of the border to the South arm of Knife Lake. For a different view coming back, we canoed the Canadian side of the border. There were four days of leisurely but determined paddling and relatively easy portages, and one layover day on a picturesque campsite. There were no bugs (not one!) and near constant sun all week. It rained heavily one night but courteously stopped just before dawn. I never took my rain gear out of my pack!
Cliff with CCS tarp, rigged for rain
Steve and I each hang a GPS from the stern thwart of our canoe.  Mine records the route and campsites. Steve’s, I think, notes EVERYTHING, including the position of every school of edible-size fish and dry sticks of wood. Soon as we’re camped, Johnson mysteriously disappears for an hour or so. When he returns, his canoe is filled with fish and tinder dry wood. Fried fish and blazing fires are always part of the daily routine.
Cliff, enjoying the view
At my age (I turn 74 next month), I no longer relish the heavy work of hauling back-killing packs and heavy canoes (fortunately, the Piragis boats are very light!). I can still carry reasonable loads, but my days of slogging 80 pounds on a tumpline are gone.  Fortunately, there’s Johnson! He humps the heavy stuff, fuels fires, fries fish and pontificates on nature. I make gourmet meals, model wilderness skills—rig rain tarps, demystify GPS navigation, teach knots, tell stories and smile a lot.   
Have it your way is the rule on our trips. This participant preferred his hammock to a tent
Steve and I consider our trip together “special”.  Accordingly, we provide the finest food and treats for our crew. There are fresh vegetables from Johnson’s garden, my own scratch-made Italian spaghetti with dried hamburger (tastes just like fresh!), fresh garlic, olives, celery, basil and oregano and two kinds of mushrooms; a popular hamburger/raman/shittake mushroom vegetable stew, and my signature dish-- steam-fried pizza with fresh onions, garlic, pepperoni, zucchini and fresh mozzarella. And when the campfire and stars shine brightly, I pop Orville’s finest corn with organic butter and sea salt—and there’s not a burned kernel in the lot!
One of many picturesque campsites
If you want to learn a lot and have fun a lot, join us on a future Johnson-Jacobson canoe trip.  It happens just once a year, in August. 

The equipment Piragis provides is the finest obtainable.  And it’s all spanking new (each year, Piragis replaces used gear with new). Canoes are ultralight Kevlar We-no-nahs and Bells; tents are high end NEMO’s and Sierra Designs; paddles are $200 carbon-fiber bent-shafts; tarps are Cooke Custom Sewing, ultralight sil-nylon; CCS and Granite Gear packs have waterproof vinyl-coated liner bags. Everyone gets a comfy pillow, Nalgene liter water bottle and an insulated mug, plus a full size folding chair with backrest so you can sit while eating fish and solving the world’s problems. Participants also get a copy of my book, Boundary Waters Canoe Camping, autographed by Steve and I.  
The tarp goes up every night--rain or shine
When we were sorting out stuff at the end of our trip, Drew Brockett asked how much longer I plan to continue these trips with Steve. “As long as I’m alive and can put one leg in front of the other, “ I replied. “And when I can’t I’ll ride in the middle and you guys can paddle me around”.


Monday, August 4, 2014

BLOG 73. How to Get a Good Deal on a Good Used Canoe

Cliff Jacobson
Canoes depreciate about ten percent when they leave the store, another ten percent when they get their first scratch.  The downward spiral continues as dings pile up.  Age of the craft means nothing.  Condition is everything!

In time, even the best kept canoe will incur some nicks that will drive its value down.  You’ll save big if you buy a good used canoe and let someone else take the initial hits.  Be aware that here’s an inverse relationship between high performance (paddling pleasure!) and durability.  Lightweight, fine-lined Kevlar composite canoes are more easily damaged than Royalex or polyethylene craft.  But they are easier to repair.  Indeed, a badly damaged composite canoe can—in a few hours--usually be repaired to cosmetic new. Royalex and aluminum canoes mend solid but the patch is a glaring reminder of the rock you hit.  A badly damaged polyethylene canoe is best destroyed.  You’ll find detailed repair procedures for all types of canoes in my book, EXPEDITION CANOEING (A completely revised, full-color, 20th Anniversary edition will be released in April 2015).

The best canoes are not advertised in newspapers.  They’re sold by word-of-mouth and listed in canoe club publications, and on canoeing web-sites. Is it safe to buy a used canoe on the strength of an ad? Usually, yes. Selling a good canoe is like parting with a vintage Porsche that you’ve driven for years.  Accomplished paddlers love their boats, even those they are about to part with. With rare exceptions, they’ll tell you the truth.
Suppose you buy a canoe in Minnesota, and live in Pennsylvania.  Isn’t it frightfully expensive to ship a canoe from Viking land to the Keystone state?
Yes and no. Some small transfer companies will carry canoes on a “space available” basis.  But to keep the cost down, you must be willing to accept delivery at a place that’s convenient to the trucker.  I’ve had two canoes shipped to me by truck: in each case the charge was under 150 dollars. I once bought a canoe in Maine and had it shipped to my Minnesota home by rail. Transit time was 27 days and the shipping cost was 75 dollars. 

Option #2 : Contact your local canoe dealer and ask if any of his suppliers also deliver canoes to the state where your used canoe is located.  Companies that have their own delivery trucks may drop ten canoes in Harrisburg, PA, fifteen in Chicago, twelve in Madison, Wisconsin, then finish out in Minneapolis.  It’s unprofitable to dead-head back to the factory so they often haul a competitor’s boats to retailers which are en-route to their point of origin.  If there’s space on their trailer--and they’re going your way--you may be able to work a deal. 

Option 3. Buy a used BWCA rental canoe from Piragis Northwoods Company, in Ely, MN, then sit tight. Piragis has a unique plan that pays fellow paddlers (who are going your way) to deliver your canoe.  Call the store for availability and pricing.
A good, used canoe is the smart way to go if you’re on a budget. Thirteen hundred dollars will buy an exquisite Kevlar cruiser that will turn heads. Six hundred is a fair price for well-maintained Royalex, $400 for polyethylene. Add $100-$200 for wood trim. If these prices seem high, consider that someone else has absorbed all the depreciation.  Do a little fix up work and five years down the road you may be able to sell your canoe for more than you paid for it! 


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Seven take-aways from Cliff Jacobson

I remember meeting Cliff way back when… He was an integral piece of the puzzle we used to call Sunsplash.  That was a weekend event that Piragis Northwoods Company conceived to get in touch with our customers, to get gear into their hands and give them three days to test paddle canoes and kayaks… all for free.  It was a weekend full of customer service and customer connections.  It was fun, it was informative, it was special.  One of the highlights of the weekend were the many mini-seminars that Cliff put together. In the darkness lit only by the slide show or overhead projector he seamlessly spun tales that wove the magic of ingenuity and invention together with the practical.

That hands-on stuff that unfolded like the newness of a butterfly’s first wings outside… into knowledge and application, that was the true magic.  Inevitably, it would be, or much of the weekend would be, storm blown with winds, rain and yes, in early May or even late May, snow.  We always had one bright sunny portion of the weekend, and that was reserved for when we were packing up everything and the show was over.  So… into the rain we’d go and gather round while Cliff showed us HOW TO “Light a one match fire in the rain.”  And from the rain soaked wood, the flames would shine forth, reflecting on our awed faces that peeked out from water-logged hoods even as the rain pounded down on our heads and we smelled the sweet fragrance of North woods smoke.

The key to this exercise and so many others is the thought and preparation that goes into application of the skill.  Keep some dry tinder, keep some dry wood set apart, make some shavings, have a sharp knife or belt hatchet at the ready.  Think about the next steps, where’s the rest of your wood at, what size is it, are you ready for the hungry flames or are you instead prepared only to starve them through your lack of preparation.  What does the forest provide that lights a fire better than liquid fuel?  Birchbark.  Do you have some?  Can you get more?  Are you prepared for the next step?  Do you have firewood at the ready?  Did you bring a good saw that will minimize your energy output?

I’ve seen a lot of campers over the years take brand new gear still in the packaging off into the wilderness.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we sell great stuff here at Piragis and we field test it to make sure it will stand up to the rigors of the Boundary Waters, but if you’re going to use it, you should at least familiarize yourself with it before you hit the trail.  Cliff taught us all that knowing your gear is key to knowing how it can meet your needs in the wild.

For example, your knife needs to be sharp, but it also need to be strong.  Ideally it needs to be tough enough to handle some abuse.  The woods are tough, fallen branches have knots, the ground is full of rocks, in fact, most of the ground out there is rock with a little dirt on top.  You want a knife that can slice through tomatoes and fillet fish if necessary, but you need to have a blade that will survive tough knots of an old cedar branch or a beaver chew and that won’t snap if it slides off your cutting board and hits the granite hard.  If the spine of the blade is thick enough and strong enough you can use another piece of wood to hit your blade and split wood if you need to.  If it is not, you’ll bend your blade and probably hurt yourself in the process.  You need a headlamp that is bright, but also adjustable and adaptable to read with a red light in the tent or outside if your trying to read a map in the dark.  Your rain gear has to maintain your dryness and keep you from getting hypothermia but… it also has to breathe.  You know where the end of the road leads!

You’ve got extra pockets on packs or thwart bags to hold things like a super lightweight wind shirt.  Along with snacks and a camera and compass and your map and an extra pair of reading glasses (if you need them) it should be close and easy to get at.  The weather on the lake when paddling can turn 180 degrees in an instant and if you’ve built up a good sweat, that wind shirt could save your bacon.

I said “seven” takeaways just to get your attention.  I could have said, “twenty-five points” or “50 secrets from a wilderness guide” — all would fit Cliff and there would be no shortage of tips and tricks.  He’s got them, I know, and each one of them is unique and useful.  The point I’m making is that Cliff’s advice is good advice.  It is trustworthy because before he passes it on to you and me, he formulates it, works on it, tries it out, tweaks it and most importantly, Cliff decides if the application of the practical lives up to the magic of invention. Or the other way around.

Good teachers like Cliff make you think.  They inspire you to customize and tweak your own gear.  They demand that you don’t settle for mediocre.  Perhaps most importantly, they show you how much fun it is to get outdoors and learn from your own mistakes.

I remember watching cereal commercials as a kid and begging my Mom to get me a box of the latest greatest sugar coated wonder flavor back when there were prizes inside the boxes.  My Mom was a health-food guru for much of my youth and these pleas usually met with a firm “no.”  Once though, I remember, she got us a box of something new.  The marshmallows were hard little rocks and the whole spoonful tasted like cough medicine.  The kids on the commercial must have strange taste buds… they were not to be trusted in the future.

There was a prize in the box.  Not one I could touch, though I dumped the whole box out looking for one in the end.  The prize was a lesson.  A lesson that Cliff Jacobson would remind me of years later.  Trust plays a huge part in advertising, marketing and most of all advice taken.  Trust is earned through example and application.

#7 = Cliff has proven himself trustworthy.  Thanks Cliff for your reviews and input, without you we might find ourselves up a creek without a paddle. Or at least without a decent paddle.  Thanks for taking the time and having the inspiration to discover what works, what works better and what doesn’t make sense.

Thank you to our customers at Piragis Northwoods Company and the Boundary Waters Catalog.  Our goal is to provide you with quality lightweight gear that will make a difference in the wilderness.  As we continue to meet this goal for paddlers and campers we enjoy making new friends and we look forward to seeing you all around the bend!