Friday, June 24, 2011

Survival Anyone?

I like knives and I like survival kits.  I grew up hiking and tromping through the woods all around my home.  I always took a few things with me in case I needed them.  I never got lost, because I had a good sense of direction, even when every valley and every hill and every tree began to look just like the last.  It is not always that way, though.

Even the most savvy woodsman or woodswoman can find themselves in trouble in the woods.  If you're on a day hike somewhere that is unfamiliar or if you leave your group on a canoe trip to explore it is a great idea to have a whistle with you.  Extra water and an energy bar are two things that nobody should venture off alone without.  What about a way to make fire or headlamp in case you get in a good nap and wake up to stars overhead?

Rope?  Something to assist in the making of a shelter?  Nuff said.  As my boss says, "I'm not asking."  With a smile of course!  Here at Piragis we have some cool necessities.  (You've got to try the ultimate stormproof matches).  We know that some of you like to tinker and to make your own kits.  We also know that some of you like knives as well, so...

I found a nice little video on YouTube about how to turn a Neck Knife (knife worn in a sheath around your neck as a necklace) into a PSK or Personal Survival Kit.  Lots of these projects require stuff you find around the house and pieces of gear you might already have.  When you're finished personalizing yours, you'll have a functional backup that you won't want to leave home or camp without.

Hey, safety first, right.  If you're into Outdoor Survival, you'll want to check out the excellent selection of books we have online as well.  Happy Friday Canoe Campers!


Here's the list of what is in the PSK from the video:

The rubber is bicycle inner tube cut to length. This rubber also serves as emergency tinder if need be.

SHELTER - Seven strand Paracord & handle wrap, Needle and waxed line for clothing repair. This kit is light on shelter resources, but it is a small kit.

FIRE - BSA Hotspark, Cotton treated with Vaseline, 2 birthday candles, inner tube rubber.

WATER - Two 10 oz milk bags, 20 mg Potassium Permanganate. This would only allow one to treat 20 oz of water at a time and it takes a half hour to treat water with KMnO4. At a water source that would translate into 40 oz an hour.

SIGNALS - Day/Night Mirror, LED Light, Fire/Smoke, Whistle

NAVIGATION - 20 mm Button Compass

FOOD - #4 waxed line for snares, traps, or fishing.

You can make a similar kit around many different neck knives and their sheaths.

If you find a favorite neck knife or do this project, let us know.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Boundary Waters Bear Watch Update

From time to time, black bears visit campsites in the Boundary Waters.  Hey, after all, we're canoeing through their backyard, right.  The Forest Service keeps us updated, just like they do about fires and portage conditions or campsite closings, soooo....

We'll keep you updated!

Here's what to watch for and where:

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

BWCAW FIRE UPDATE Lake Three Area Boundary Waters Horseshoe Island

Horseshoe Island (Lake Three) Fire
Update – June 20, 2011

DATE OF DETECTION:  June 13, 2011

CAUSE:  Lightning

CURRENT SIZE:  31 acres

LOCATION:   T62N, R9W, Sec. 2 NWNW; Horseshoe Island in Lake Three within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)

AGENCY:  Superior National Forest, Kawishiwi Ranger District

STATUS:  First sighted by visitors on June 12, 2011 and reported on June 13, 2011

SMOKE CONDITIONS:  Some smoke may be visible in the general area of Lake Three.

RESOURCES:  The fire is being monitored as needed based on weather and fire behavior.

RE-OPENED:  All campsites in the southern end of Lake Three have been re-opened.

FIRE INFORMATION:     (218) 365-2093 Becca Manlove
                                                (218) 365-7619 Tracy Richards

Today’s Messages:  Visitors approaching burned areas should use caution due to the danger of falling trees. In the narrow channel next to the burned island paddlers should stay as close to the green shore as possible. The fire activity is low due to damp weather. Visitors are continuing to travel throughout Lake Three.  All portages are open, including the portage into Horseshoe Lake.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Piragis Canoe BOAT TAPE Saves Trip

We love hearing from you guys.  Notes and pictures from your trips rock!  Ever wonder why we recommend you have boat tape along on your trip?  Oh and by the way, it isn't just regular old run of the mill duct tape or something recommended by a primate.  It's our special secret BOAT TAPE.

This from an outfitting client:

Hi Drew and Bert,

Just wanted to send you a shot of two happy campers.  Love the kevlar canoes, and the rest of the gear was also top notch, as usual.  Every year it seems like it gets easier, and at our age, how many things can we say that about?  The advice about campsites was also much appreciated.   The spring trip was new for us, but we decided we'll be doing our usual fall trip as well.  Be calling you soon to arrange that.  Have a great summer!

Steve and Cindy Broste
Champlin, MN

PS:  Also wanted to show you that the boat tape came in handy when we snapped a fishing rod in half.  A green dogwood stick shoved into both broken ends, then two grooved wooden splints to bridge the break, all secured with gobs of boat tape did the trick.  Wanted to have a picture of it with a big laker it had caught, but that was not to be.

Hey, our advice is pack it along next time and you can repair anything!  It might not be pretty when you're done, but it'll work.  For $6.99 a thirty foot roll, you can't purchase a cheaper more effective insurance policy.

Thanks for reading.  STAY TUNED FOR MORE STUFF THAT WORKS from Your Friends in the Great Northwoods, Piragis Northwoods Company.

Friday, June 17, 2011

BWCAW Fire Update

Today’s Messages: Visitors should stay clear of the two islands that are burning. All portages are open, including the portage into Horseshoe Lake. Visitors may see or hear aircraft and fire crews. A public safety crew may be in the area as well. Visitors are continuing to travel through the Lake Three area. The fire activity is low. Fire is still confined to two islands and continues to creep.

Horseshoe Island (Lake Three) Fire

Update – June 16, 2011

DATE OF DETECTION: June 13, 2011

CAUSE: unknown, likely lightning

CURRENT SIZE: approximately 31 acres

LOCATION: T62N, R9W, Sec. 2 NWNW; Horseshoe Island in Lake Three within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)

AGENCY: Superior National Forest, Kawishiwi Ranger District

STATUS: First sighted by visitors on June 12, 2011 and reported on June 13, 2011

SMOKE CONDITIONS: Smoke is visible in the general area of Lake Three. The smell of smoke is more widespread along the Fernberg Road area.

RESOURCES: This fire is being monitored and actions will be taken as needed.

Closures: Three campsites in the southern end of Lake 3 are closed. Each campsite that is closed is posted. Information regarding the campsite closures will be posted at the Lake One and Snowbank Lake entry points.

FIRE INFORMATION: (218) 365-2093 Becca Manlove

(218) 365-7619 Tracy Richards

Today’s Messages: Visitors should stay clear of the two islands that are burning. All portages are open, including the portage into Horseshoe Lake. Visitors may see or hear aircraft and fire crews. A public safety crew may be in the area as well. Visitors are continuing to travel through the Lake Three area. The fire activity is low. Fire is still confined to two islands and continues to creep.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Future of Fly-In Trips: PakCanoes!

When our buddy, master canoeist and guide, Cliff Jacobson scoops news that we haven't heard before, we generally give him a good listen.  With both ears.  He has long been a proponent of folding canoes, especially those made by our friend Alv at PAKBOATS.  For that matter, so have we.  They perform great on northern rivers and, need we say more, Boundary Waters lakes.  Oh, how many other canoes can you pack up and put in a duffel bag?  Put it back together in less than 30 minutes?  Yeah, we didn't think so.  PakCanoes rule!

Well, now for the news.  Regulations are always changing in the aviation world.  Here's what Cliff found out:


I recently spoke with Bob O'Hara and Alex Hall.  Things are changing fast in the north.  Air Tindi, a big float plane operation based in Yellowknife, will no longer take passengers and canoes together on their twin otter. Alex said this is a trend.  What this means, of course, is that the days of rigid boats are coming to an end.  Folks who want to paddle Canadian rivers will have to use folding canoes.  This has been the case in Alaska for some time.  All this bodes well for Alv Elvestad and his pakboats.  Cliff

Well, we could blog it up until we're blue in the face about how much we like Alv's folding and packable canoes, but we thought you'd much rather hear from someone who owns one.  Someone who wondered just how well they would hold up and decided to put them to the test.

"I admit I was skeptical about this folding canoe's durability, especially on longer trips where you shouldn't need to baby your boat. I was also skeptical about performance. Finally, I doubted my ability to deal with the "easy" assembly. But you can't argue with the advantage of a transportable, expedition-worthy canoe for remote locations. I took the 160 for two weeks on the Yukon River, followed by a month in northern Saskatchewan, then six weeks in Nunavut.

The initial assembly, under insect duress, took less than 30 minutes (kudos to the instructions). I found that despite the inherent vulnerability of fabric hulls and exposed aluminum tubing, the 160 is nearly maintenance-free (I patched the hull once in all those weeks of hard paddling), and it performs on par with hardshell canoes. Pakboats is committed to tweaking design features, from improving seat comfort, abrasion resistance at wear points, and fabric stiffness in the gunwales, to beefing up the foam layer. Inflated tubes line the sides of the hull under the aluminum ribs, adding buoyancy and cushioning at wear points where the skin and frame contact. And there are some advantages to a slightly flexible hull - gliding through waves rather than slamming into them. The hull bends over rocks, and by shifting the load you can adjust its rocker. The 160 defines versatility - it can carry the load for weeks on the trail, tuck into a tight eddy, and downsize for the weekend outing."

Canoe & Kayak Magazine, July 2010, PakCanoe 160 Review, Alan Kesselheim

Just in case you need another endorsement.  Who can better attest to the need for reliable transportation than the Jolly Fat Man himself!

Call Steve Schon or Steve Piragis to get more information about PakCanoes and inflatable kayaks today.  1-800-223-6565.  Check out our selection online here:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spring Boundary Waters Canoe Camping

One of our outfitting clients sent us these great pictures along with a note about their trip.  We love to get this kind of feedback and report.  Please think of us as you download your trip pictures.  You can always hit the "webmaster" link at the bottom of our webpages and send me pictures and a note.  If you kept a trip diary or journal day to day, other trippers like to read those as well.

"Here are some great shots from our recent Memorial Day weekend. Thanks for the great products and a very knowledgeable staff!"

"We did a loop starting at the South Kawishiwi north to clear lake and North Kawishiwi. My wife Kim caught the lunker of a bluegill on a leech and hook, some of the other fish were picked up on size four mepps like spinners including a nice walleye in clear lake. Found some moose bones on a island camp site on north end of the river. Great paddling weather with a little refreshing rain mixed in!  Very fun to see otters and baby turtles near a fresh nesting site. Thanks Tim!"

Adam Anderson

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Our roots of Tradition.

There are two pictures that hang in the store at Piragis Northwoods Company. Century old pictures. They are shots taken in 1905 of what was then the Bloomenson Store.

The first is an exterior shot that shows vintage awnings and the purveyor outdoors in front of the building with guess what? hanging outside. Coats. Not our staple of windblocker fleece, but two staples of the time, wool and beaver. Nature's answer to synthetic technology. The sidewalk in front of the store isn't a sidewalk, it is a boardwalk. The other falsefront buildings across the street can be seen reflected in the window.

Original Ely. With a look of determination on its face. Promise of a bright future. Open for business and proud to stock what is needed and wanted by the people.

The second picture is an interior shot complete with gas lights and the original tin ceilings and walls. There are wool pants stacked high on sturdy oak tables. Suspenders hanging from circular displays from the ceilings. The stovepipe rises to the decorative tin covered chimney from the essential woodstove in the back. The long glass displays showcase quality men's shirts while the shelves behind are complete with rows and rows of hat boxes stacked up to the tall ceilings. Men's wool driving caps stretch out in a long row across the hat boxes, displayed just at arms reach. There are cases that hold ties, gloves and shoes.

Pride and promise are evident. You can find them both in our store today. Residual benefits of a long history of service commitment to customers. The tin walls are still in place today. The looks on the three clerks faces are recognizable too. You can see the same looks of determination and commitment on the faces of our staff today.

Piragis Northwoods Company still believes that the advantages of high quality goods and services far outweigh the short term value of "a great deal." You can tell the old Ely store owners felt the same way. They are sharply dressed and waiting to help you.

At Piragis Northwoods Company we want you to be at home, to feel comfortable and at ease while you shop. We trust that you can find most things you need here, and hope that you know that you can ask us any question you like about our canoes, kayaks, camping gear, accessories, men's and women's clothing, books and gifts. No question will be considered too small, too odd or too silly. Our staff is on hand to serve your needs, to help you in any way possible.

Our merchandise speaks for itself, our reputation stands on our ability to serve the customer above and beyond the norm. We stay open to serve the local population year round with clothing, equipment and a full service bookstore that rivals any other in Minnesota. In the summer our doors open at 6 a.m and don't close until 10 p.m. Giving you time and opportunity to shop on your schedule. We go the extra mile because many people travel far and wide to reach Ely and all of you deserve our best. Each and every one who comes through our door deserves old fashioned, honest to goodness service with a smile. If you have a destination in Ely besides the Boundary Waters we hope that it is Piragis Northwoods Company, Your Friends in the Great Northwoods.

We know that many of you will never get the opportunity to visit us here in Ely, and that is one of the reasons that we uphold the same commitment to customer service and great items in our online catalog. Please call us with questions or customer service concerns at 1-800-223-6565.

Thanks for helping us forge new memories in Ely!

Tim Stouffer

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sunrise in Ely

What follows is a pictorial essay of a very beautiful morning.  The light was fantastic -- capturing the first colors of the day as dawn crept out of darkness.  A rainbow graced the sky with the promise of a new day with new challenges and new adventures.  A glorious golden hue descended on Tuesday.  At 5:22 a.m. Steve Piragis began taking these shots.  The only thing more spectacular would be viewing this light from the shore of a favorite campsite just as your slip bobber went under...

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Northwoods

Frosted Whiteface (Leucorrhinia frigida) a skimmer... BACK VIEW

Frosted Whiteface (Leucorrhinia frigida) a skimmer... Front VIEW

One of my favorites of all the local wildlife unique to this area is the dragonfly.  In that sentence most of you would instantly get a mental picture in your head and identify a group of insects.  You might group some who look nearly alike, but may be a bit smaller in with them.

These would be the damselflies.  And, no, they are not female dragonflies as the name might suggest, and as I have incorrectly deduced for a long time.  Notice I did not say assumed.  It pays to read.  It pays to discover all you can about the wildlife around you.

Here are some differences I discovered by reading our guidebooks available from Piragis online.

Dragonflies Have/are:
Eyes in Contact with each other
Bulbous-headed, nearly as long as wide
Stout Build
Strong, sustained flight
Wings held flat and perpendicular to body when perched
Ovipositor non-functional (except in darners)

Damselflies Have/are:
Eyes separated by at least own width
Hammer-headed, much wider than long
Lond, slender build
Weak, fluttery flight
Wings held over back when perched (or at 45 degree angle)
Ovipositor present and functional

One of the most fun things you can do is learn how to utilize a couple of tools that have a low-skill level and are inexpensive.  One of these tools is a digital camera.  It happens to be a tool that now, thanks to cell phones, almost everyone has with them at all times.  Many of us have a reliable point and shoot no-nonsense digital camera with high pixel capability as well.  Some of us are lucky enough to consider ourselves professional enough to own something nicer like an SRL...  The point is, you've probably already got one of the tools you need.  A camera.

The second tool is a guide book.  Mushrooms, trees, birds, spiders, butterflies, lichens, wolves, beavers, hey, even rocks and earthworms.  If you can spot it, someone has probably written a guidebook for it.  Two of the best are Dragonflies of the Northwoods and that's right, you guessed it, Damselflies of the Northwoods (currently out of print as of 03/2016).  Not only do these guide books have great pictures they are full of interesting and helpful information.  It is one thing to have great pictures of your Boundary Waters trips, it is another thing entirely to know the flora and fauna intimately.

Holding the identification of the plants, animals and insects around you in the recesses of your mind opens up the wilderness in a whole new way.  Just ask the folks who have been fortunate enough to take a guided trip with Steve Johnson or Steve and Nancy Piragis.  When your guide can speak intelligently and with hands on experience about the rocks you walk on, the trees overhead, the fish and wildlife in the water and the woods and the bugs, well -- then you're getting your money's worth and then some.

We fill our heads with so much minutia that it is good to step it up a notch above the latest greatest hottest new search on yahoo or google.  To sit down with a guidebook before a trip, or pull it out of your pack while on a trip.  To research your guidebooks and photos after a trip.  These are the kinds of mental calisthenics that build brainpower.  And, besides that, IDing things is fun and rewarding.

Moose sighting in Ely. Yeah, right IN ELY.

The other night on the way back from Virginia, MN my headlights lit up some glowing eyes that were taller than the large number of whitetail deer I'd already spotted in the darkness.  It was getting a little hairy out there, and I was on full alert.

When I spotted this pair of eyes on the edge of the woods about 12 feet from the woods, I sat up straight, slowed down and gripped the wheel a little tighter.  Getting closer I saw the huge form of a dark colored adult male moose.  He seemed to be browsing in the ditch.

This is how we most often see them, on the edge of our roads up here or many times, jogging it down the middle of our gravel roads out in the surrounding landscapes of Ely.  I've seen them doing this near Ely over by White Iron Lake and up towards the old Chainsaw Sisters.

HOWEVER, there's a picture circulating around Ely that proves we are America's Coolest Smalltown.  The picture is of a moose right in town here.  Hanging out amidst the lilac trees and taking in the view as it looks down the hill towards Britton's Cafe as if it were going to saunter down and order today's lunch special.  Only in Ely, that's all we've got to say...

Photo by Ely's Amy Kireta.  Moose doesn't answer to "Bullwinkle".

Come up and hang out this summer!  Maybe you'll spy a moose of your own.