Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Clients Perspective: First Boundary Waters Trip

Hi Drew and Adam!

I want to thank you and your entire team for helping make our trip to the Boundary Waters an awesome and relaxing adventure. I can't speak highly enough about how accommodating and helpful you guys were. We planned our trip from Nashville, and you made sure we had everything in order, including rentals, shuttles, switching my permit pick-up spot, and a handful of other things I just wouldn't have thought about. You guys even had sweet and salty snacks for us after we pulled out of Snowbank (seriously a great touch). I appreciate it very much!

This was my first trip into the BWCA, and honestly, I had no idea what to expect. To put it mildly, I was absolutely blown away by one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. We ended up camping on Disappointment, Ima, and Boot Lakes over a 7 day period. For future reference, the coolest campsite in the world is on an island of Ima Lake. There's a perfect hammock spot that overlooks a cliff that doubles as a jumping rock for swimming, and the site has the best of view of the sunset and stars at night! I've included a few pictures that don't begin to do it justice!

Thanks again for everything! If we return to Ely, you will certainly be our outfitter.

Sincerely,  Jessica Shutt

Monday, September 14, 2015

Camp Notes 2015

Took along a Rite in the Rain pocket journal and scratched down some notes from our last camping trip this Summer.

I would call these things old friends. Simple observations that arrive in bursts and bubbles that float briefly above my head in camp like those from comic books.  With exclamation marks.

They are not earth shattering. Some may not even scratch the surface of your experiences.  That’s o.k. They are, in part reasons, why I go camping.  They are together, with many other daily experiences under the tall pines and on top of solid granite, profound in their simplicity. I dare say if I had experienced them even on an irregular basis as a child they would have been enough to change my life.

Because I could imagine them and tasted them at different times, even if not together — all on one epic trip - they waited for me and greeted me as an adult with kids of my own. Returning to the woods each year, they continue to welcome me like living memories.

Coffee tastes better in a French Press at camp than at the priciest, most stylish coffee shop - even the ones with the leather couches that threaten to swallow you with comfort. Balancing on an old log and savoring each sip, my morning is complete before the sun has even crested the treeline.

At home my dog is inseparable from me.  At camp he explores and lies down by himself. He’ll ask to be let into the tent for a nap. He does however want to be included in canoe rides, fishing expeditions and hammock naps.

The crappie I pulled up from the deep bottom with the moon rising sharply overhead.  It felt like a walleye and I treated it as such, fighting it in, surprised at the end that its fragile paper mouth held the larger hook.  Black and white, it was reflected as a copy of itself off the water that had turned flat as glass.

Dragonflies flew all around me as I fished in the dark.

The flickering flames of the fire through the tree branches calling me back to my family on shore and the fragrant smell of smoke drifting across the lake.

The imagined and real movement of a hammock underneath you as you sleep suspended between two huge trees.

Minnows schooling in the morning water. Sand underneath lit with the day’s first light. In the afternoon tiny rollers left bright light patterns across the surface of the lake.  More minnows in the growing warmth.

Lily pad stems grabbing you while you swim.  Did you know that if you burn your finger while cooking or get a sunburn, the underneath of a lily pad when rubbed on your burn mimics the cooling and healing properties of aloe?

The cold rush of the first swim of the day is one of the most refreshing things on Earth.

Everything. Everything tastes better.  Even mistakes.

The black from the cooking pots that gets on your fingers.

The feeling of togetherness and on-the-same-pageness that is present from the time we land at camp. This is accompanied by a pervading sense of calm and relaxation.

How much better a good book is when read in a tent or with your back against a tree in the sun.

The tantalizing smell of bacon over a flames that pulls everyone to the campfire like a magnet.


Flaky white fish fried to perfection and breaded golden brown with eggs over easy and camp potatoes.

A walk in the dark under the light of the stars without your headlamps.

The ripples that forever change the complexion of the lake right before your bobber disappears under the surface. Those two to three seconds you wait before setting the hook.

Riding back towards Ely and home, silent in the car, before you are pulled back into the unreality of busy everyday life.

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 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.


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.


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

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.

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.  

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.

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


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.
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

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
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"!

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.