Friday, January 21, 2011

Lily the Black Bear gives birth to two cubs today.

Check out the live cam when you get time.

Yeah!!!!!! LILY!  Take good care of those babies and last year's baby Hope!

Stay warm it'll be 40 below again tonight :)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An All Day Ski

On January 14th the "Friday Ski" group set out from Ely for our weekly cross-country ski outing. This week's group was one of our largest ever at eleven members (and three dogs), and meant that we would have plenty of folks to take turns leading the way as we did a lot of breaking trail throughout the day. We headed east on the Fernberg road and parked at the Wood Lake parking lot. With eleven skiers we were too large a group to enter the BWCA but luckily we had planned a route that remained outside the wilderness.

We crossed the Fernberg and started out in a southeasterly direction looking for a trail that we knew intersected the road to Madden Lake. We have had a lot of snow lately and the trees and shrubs are covered with a beautiful, thick, white frosting. The big trees can handle it fine but the smaller ones, as well as many shrubs, get bent every which way under their fluffy burden. This makes for a beautiful forest, but a challenge when trying to navigate a narrow forest trail. As a matter of fact, it can make it quite a challenge to even find a narrow forest trail. After a few false starts, we just started bushwhacking thru the brush in the general direction of the road. Bushwhacking is a good name for it because we basically whack the snow off of anything in our way trying to free up an easier route while following a path of least resistance. After about a half hour of slow going, some backtracking, and checking our compasses, we broke thru to the Madden Lake road. After that we had easy going all the way to the lake, mostly downhill. Occasionally we ducked down and skied thru a beautiful tunnel created by arched, snow covered branches.

Once on Madden we had frozen, snow covered, snow machine tracks to follow a short ways to the other side where we picked up the road to Greenstone Lake. We knew the lakes we planned on traveling this day had been snow machined and we planned on staying on their trails as much as possible. As many of you have probably heard, we have lots of slush on the Ely area lakes this year because of all the snow we received before the ice was thick enough to support it. For the most part the lakes are safe to travel on. The problem lies in the fact that that most of the larger lakes have a layer of water on top of the ice, covered with snow, which can make for an icy foot bath for cross-country skiers, ice fisherman, sled dogs, or anyone unfortunate enough to venture into these areas. If you happen upon an especially deep layer of slush, snow machines and dog sleds can even get bogged down and the icy water can reach over the top of ski boots! Usually what happens on skis and/or snowshoes is that the slush starts to build up on the bottoms and you have to get out of the immediate area as quickly as possible, remove your skis and scrape off the slush before it freezes solid and makes it even more difficult to remove. What we need is a cold, windy stretch of weather without any new snow buildup so that the ice thickens and the water on top can freeze or drain back into the lakes.

The road to Greenstone Lake was an easy ski and once we reached the lake we again followed snow machine trails, this time in a westerly direction, and had smooth sailing all the way to the outlet on the far end. We now picked up Greenstone creek and followed its drainage thru a beautiful, boggy lowland covered with stunted Black Spruce to Pickerel Lake.

When we reached Pickerel we continued following snow machine paths to the western end where we headed north out of the lake. Several times on Pickerel we passed what we called "sink holes". These are small holes (approx. 10" in circumference) in the ice surrounded with a somewhat larger area of open water. We have theorized over the years what causes these phenomenons and have come to the conclusion that they are places where slush water on top of the ice drains back into the lake. Even though the ice around these "sink holes" appears safe it sill can give one an eerie feeling to come across them in the middle of a lake and sometimes right next to our trail.

After leaving Pickerel we headed north to the Sundew cabin that Steve and Liz Lampman rent out to area visitors. After a quick visit and snack break we headed southeast thru a beautiful Northern White Cedar bog on our way to Kemptons Lake. Kemptons is a small lake that we planned to ski just a portion of, along the southern shore, before taking a portage back to Pickerel. We would then join our original trail and retrace our tracks back to the Fernberg Road.

We made it maybe half of the way across the lake when we started to hit slush. When you are in the back of the pack you know slush is ahead when you start to see wet spots appearing in the tracks of your fellow skiers. To make a long story longer, a few of us made it thru unscathed. Most had to stop and scrape some slush off their skis, and I not only had to stop and scrape but also had my new back country bindings freeze up on me making it difficult to secure my boots back into my bindings. I ended up needing the assistance of one of my fellow travelers who came back for me with some deicer to help me with my second ski after a frustrating fifteen minutes of wrestling with my skis, bindings, and boots! This is a good example of one of the advantages of traveling with a group of experienced skiers. There is always someone to lend a hand with assistance or extra gear when needed.

Back on the move we were glad to be on solid ground and started south on the portage to Pickerel Lake. Shortly we encountered a logged over area with many new temporary roads and we lost track of the portage. Once again we found ourselves making a few false starts and after checking and rechecking our compasses realized we were heading back west rather than south. After a few minutes we hooked up with our original trail out of Pickerel and took it back to the lake. Because we had circled back we added a mile or so to our trek, but were glad to be back on our original trail, ready to retrace it to our vehicles.

On the way back it snowed lightly creating a wonderful almost foggy like atmosphere. Now, after five hours or so, the group had became somewhat spread out, but someone always stopped to wait so that no one became too far behind. On our last leg we met a family heading into a cabin on Madden by snow machine and we told them of our trip as well as updated them on the ice conditions.

We chose to take the Madden Lake road all the way out to the Fernberg and walk the road back to the vehicles rather than retrace our route thru our bushwhacked trail from the morning. After seven plus hours and some fifteen miles it felt good to walk on even ground without having to use our arms for propulsion and/or bushwhacking. We started up the vehicles, loaded up our skis and poles, finished the snacks and agreed that after a few days we would contact each other to start planning our next trip.

Steve Schon

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quetico Trips with Dave Maynard

Hi Fellow Paddlers...

This year at Piragis Northwoods we have tried to create some new opportunities for our Guided Group Trips. In addition to our tried and true trips...Howl with the Wolves, Women in the Wilderness, Autumn Colors and the Smallmouth Fishing Trip, we have added some new trips.
A few days ago Drew (that Chicago Bears fan) told you about our Bear trip in conjunction with the North American Bear Center. I would like to tell you about a great opportunity to take a Kayak trip across the span of Basswood Lake with Dave Maynard,the former Assistant Park Superintendent for Quetico Provincial Park. Dave will also be guiding a canoe trip to the heart of Quetico.

We are very excited about being able to welcome Dave Maynard to the outfitting staff here at Piragis Northwoods Co. Dave will be joining our Guide Staff and will be leading trips into Quetico Provincial Park this summer. Not only will he be leading two of our Guided Group trips, but will be available for those who want to book a trip and employ his services as a Quetico Guide.

First some background on Dave. Dave is 57 but you would never guess that by looking at him. He is in great shape and stays active with all sorts of outdoor activity. He is a big game guide in Canada, and has paddled every lake in Quetico park that has a portage to it and even some that don’t. He even speaks

Dave started paddling when he was 4 years old and he got his first job with the park in 1973 as a member of a seasonal portage crew. That was the beginning of a long career with the park that culminated with him becoming the Assistant Park Superintendent in 1997. Dave just recently retired from service with the park and we are fortunate to be able to tap into his skill, knowledge, and love of Quetico Park.

For those of you who have paddled the lakes of the BWCAW and have longed to expand your experience to include paddling in the Quetico, here is your chance to take a trip with somebody who knows the park intimately and is anxious to share that knowledge with you. Like the BWCAW, the Quetico is over a million acres of wilderness waiting to be explored and enjoyed.

The permitting system for Quetico is different from that of the Boundary Waters and it allows far fewer permits for the same area. The most immediate result is that solitude is much more achievable in a shorter amount of time. Fishing is great and the scenery is unbeatable. You are allowed to camp anywhere you like in Quetico Park, so there are some wonderful spots waiting for you to enjoy.

Dave will be leading two Guided Group trips this summer.

He will be guiding a Kayak trip to Basswood Lake in Quetico Park. Quetico Park rules allow a group of 9 people to each have their own canoe or kayak. So…you will have the option of paddling your own kayak, but if you prefer to paddle tandem, we have tandem kayaks as well. Basswood Lake is a big lake and there is a lot of exploring to be done all the way from Basswood falls to Ranger Bay to Inlet Bay. Because this side of Basswood is Non-Motorized it never sees much activity. Kayaks will be perfect for exploring this wonderful body of water.

The Canoe trip will enter at Prairie Portage and head for the heart of the park, and you will get the chance to see some wild country and experience Quetico at its finest. Each group will be limited to 7 clients, so call us soon as these trips will fill up quickly. If you want to put your own group together and use Dave as a guide, we can do that as well.

Reflecting back on his years working for the Provincial Park Dave said that he believes that the Park doesn’t owe him anything; rather, he owes the Park because of the kind of man it has made him today. Join us and see what the Park can give you as well.

Here are some specifics about the trips:

Quetico Kayak Trip - June 18-24 Cost: $1495 plus tax
Quetico Canoe Trip - August 6-12 Cost: $1495 plus tax

Both of these trips are Fully Outfitted, which means all you have to bring is your clothing, personal toiletries, fishing rods, and we do the rest.

We provide lodging in Ely the night before and the last night of the trip

So...give me or Drew a call and we can go over more details and answer your questions. Make this the summer that you explore Quetico Provincial a kayak or a canoe!

Bert Heep

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NEW Guided Group Trip!!!

The Piragis Northwoods Outfitting department has added some new Guided Group Trips this summer and one we'd like to feature the In the Pawprints of Boundary Waters Bears adventure today. It takes place immediately after the Lilypad Picnic in at Whiteside Park in Ely. We are excited to offer this new journey for you!

Some of the trip details:

  • Complete Outfitting package
  • Canoe Trip dates are July 25-29
  • Motel rooms before and after the trip are included
  • 7 clients max
  • Experienced guides for the journey
  • $1500 plus tax per person
  • $500 per person donated to the North American Bear Center

Don't miss the chance to be a part of this adventure. Enjoy a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters with top-notch gear and canoes, meet new friends, and help out the North American Bear Center all at the same time!
See our webpage about the trip here:

So, if you plan on coming to Ely for the Lilypad Picnic, why not spend the entire week here with a BWCA canoe trip that helps out the Bear Center. Call 800-223-6565 to reserve your spot today!

And speaking of bears.......Go Chicago Bears!!!

Drew (originally from Chicago :-)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snowshoeing a Winter Wonderland

Hi Everyone!
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season with lots of special times with family and friends. After the holidays are over it feels like winter is really here and we hunker down for the long haul. There are some things that make this time of year very special; for me and Diane it is snowshoeing.

We live in a cabin about 11 miles north of Ely on the Echo trail. Certainly nothing fancy, but it sure is a special place to us. We have miles and miles of forest behind our cabin for snowshoeing. It is pretty cool to walk out the cabin door, put on the snowshoes and head out for a quick walk or take a backpack and head out for the day.

We have had a fair amount of snow lately and it has turned the woods into a winter wonderland. Snow clings to the trees and the white and red pines look more majestic than ever. The small birches and aspen are bent over with the weight and even though we know they will pop back up again in the spring, we wonder if they will ever stand straight again.

On the trails, the snow laden alder brush droops over and forces us to duck and in some cases almost crawl through a tunnel, that is guaranteed to deposit snow down your neck.

It is fun to look for tracks in the snow and identify what kind of animal have been here before us. We identify deer, snowshoe hare, red squirrels, mice, fox, pine marten. We always are hopeful to see wolf tracks and recently saw several sets of tracks that indicated that at least three or four wolves had passed by. A few years ago we saw some lynx tracks that were really cool.

As we make our way back to the cabin it is always a treat to see wood smoke curling out of the chimney and look forward to a cup of tea or hot chocolate as we savor the blessing of living in the north woods.

I took some photos on our last outing. It was an overcast day, so the lighting was not too good, but at least you can get a feel for the beauty of the woods. I hope you can get outside and enjoy winter wherever you are.
Bert Heep

Diane has some competition for being the most beautiful thing in this photo.

Here I am standing beneath what we like to call our "Grandfather Pine". This beauty is just a short distance from our cabin. Diane and I have stipulated that we want some of our ashes to be spread at the base of this old guy.

I made sure I didn't disturb the snow as I ducked under this branch.

Fresh deer tracks point the way.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year's Eve Ice Fishing near Ely, Minnesota

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were full of plenty to do.  My son, Simon had a Time Trial with the Ely Nordic Wolves Ski Team.  There was, of course, football on the tube.  Oh, and more football before and after that game.  There were parties to go to each day.  We were still enjoying the big snow and the quiet comfort of a warm living room with our Christmas Tree.

I could have easily got caught up in the non-drama of everything and taken a big long nap on the couch.  When you live in Ely, though, it is too beautiful outside to pass up adventure.  You can't just sit inside and watch it all go by your window.  You've got to get out and get in the mix.

We packed up the jeep and went fishing.

As the afternoon deepened we drowned some minnows, froze a few and ran around the lake to keep our feet warm.  We opted out of setting up our portable house and just wanted to stay outside and experience the winter day.

It was cold enough to freeze the water bottles shut after you took a few swallows and shut the cap.  It was cold enough to freeze a skim of ice over the holes in about 5 minutes.  I highly recommend the foam style slip bobbers that you see in the holes.  When they get iced up, all you do is pick them up and squeeze them and all the ice comes off.  They go right back to their normal shape.

There was quite a bit of slush under about 10 inches of snow and the lake we were on had about 8 - 10 inches of good ice.  The slush has gotten worse on nearly all the lakes since January 1st, and although it is a little better now after two very cold nights, it still bogs down skiers, dogsledders, snowshoers alike.  Vehicles outside the BWCAW are having difficulty if they get off the plowed roads.  (yes we plow roads on the lakes!)

Fishing usually drops off with January's weather changes, and it was our luck that we didn't have any walleyes to fillet.  We did however enjoy our favorite ice fishing snack, a staple:  Zup's polish sausages or polackers as we call them.  "Little Smokies" my kids like to say.  Boil them up in a coffee can until the skin cracks when you bite them and you've got a heavenly snack.  Add some Zup's Hot Mustard and a slice of wheat bread and you start to forget about the fish!

Here's some pics of our fun!

Tim Stouffer