Saturday, December 22, 2012

BLOG 35. Equipment Concerns

Cliff Jacobson

Along the Snake River, high in the Bonnet Plume Mountains

If you take wilderness canoeing seriously, you’ll want the best gear you can afford.  Sure, you can get by with shoddy stuff—a lot of canoeists do—but only if being wet, cold and bug-bitten is part of your good time.
In has classic book, Camping and Woodcraft (Macmillan Press, 1917), Horace Kephart writes: “I come (to the wilderness) not to rough it, but to smooth it!”  
Kepart valued his comfort in the wild outdoors and was always on the prowl for better gear and better ways.  He wrote:  
“To be sure, even though a man rigs up his own outfit, he never gets it quite to suit him.  Every season sees the downfall of some cherished scheme, the failure of some fond contrivance.  Every winter sees you again fussing over your kit, altering this, substituting that, and flogging your wits with the same old problem of how to save weight and bulk without sacrifice of utility.”
Like Kephart, I am always fussing with my stuff.  Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the years—and some things to consider when you buy stuff for the long haul.  Manufacturers please take note!  
Rain jackets and wind-shells should be sized full—like an Inuit winter parka—so they will fit over bulky clothes or your PFD (Technically, you should never wear anything over a PFD.  But sporadic rains demand a compromise).  Sleeves should be clown-like wide (3 or 4 times the diameter of your arm).  Zippers should close high on the neck and so tightly that cold air can’t slither through and chill your chest.  Most modern parkas are cut too wide in the throat.  You need a snap or Velcro tab to seal the throat.  The alternative is to snug the elastic hood cords tightly around your neck-- the hood becomes a tight collar.
Rain jackets and wind-shells should be sized full.  North Knife River, Manitoba
Arm-pit zippers are another peeve; I’ve never find one that doesn’t leak when canoeing in heavy rain!
I never tighten the waist and hem cords on my rain jacket—they restrict ventilation.
Rain pants should be simple: Avoid closures at the ankle—they restrict ventilation and encourage sweat.  Primitive man learned long ago that water doesn’t flow uphill! 
Zippered pant legs are problematic: the zippers clog with debris and, if you’re short (like me), the legs bunch up in clown-like folds.  Pant legs should hang stove-pipe straight (no taper) and be hemmed well above the ankle so they won’t catch on vegitation when you walk.  Wear rain pants outside your boots.
Bibbed rain pants are awkward in sporadic rains—you have to remove your PFD and rain coat to put the pants on or off.  Bibless pants are best for paddlers.
A bonded fabric liner will reduce the condensation of your rain gear.  But an un-bonded liner (especially in rain pants) will tend to droop when damp and absorb the rain.  I hate unbonded liners!
Most rain pants have  a parachute cord belt with a cord-lock closure.  This system is light and compact but it’s not secure enough to hold the pants up when they absorb water (gain weight) from a heavy rain.  A second cord-lock usually provides enough friction to keep the waist cord tight.  But a webbed belt with a nylon buckle is more secure and comfortable.  Manufacturers please take note!
Rain pants for men should have a waterproof zippered fly. Women’s rain pants should have a waterproof zipper that winds around the crotch.  Holler, if you know of any company that makes pants like these.
Long johns are essential in any weather.  Wool has a greater temperature comfort range than synthetics; it’s more breathable and it doesn’t develop obnoxious odors over the long haul.  If you think you’re allergic to wool, you haven’t tried ultra soft Merino wool (from New Zealand).  
I bring five hats: A broad-brimmed Tilley for sun, a wool stocking cap for cold, a Gore-Tex “souwester” for rain, an ultralight nylon ball cap, and a thin wool balaclava.  

Think "diversity" and you'll be in good hands!
If you need a helmet and dry-suit, you should probably portage.
A super-sharp, thin-bladed sheath knife that will cleanly slice salami and cheese and split thick kindling, is more useful than a chunky rescue knife.  Wear your knife in a secure sheath on your hip, not on the front of your PFD, which you won’t wear in camp and when you portage.
Over-heating is as serious as hypothermia. Choose a lightweight PFD that allows your body to breathe.  Be sure it will adjust to fit over bulky clothes.

The bottom line is that single-mindedness can spell trouble on a wilderness river.  Think “diversity” and you’ll be in good hands.   It’s better to be a well-rounded mid-level paddler than a polished professional in one discipline.   Not everyone shares the wilderness dream,  but everyone can contribute to it.

Cliff Jacobson


Monday, December 10, 2012

BLOG 32. USFS/Leave No Trace Video

BLOG 32. USFS/Leave No Trace Video
Cliff Jacobson
The Forest Service video, “Leave No Trace” is required viewing for everyone who goes to the Boundary Waters.  The film contains a lot of good information, but it also has some advice that is silly or dead wrong. Heading the “silly” list is the admonition to leave your axe at home.  The message is that a Swiss Army knife and jack-knife pruning saw are all you need to make a cheery blaze on a rainy day.  If you’ve spent much time in the Boundary Waters you know that on most campsites, all the good wood has been picked over.  Making fire often means splitting a chunk of log to get at the dry heartwood in the center.  For this, you need a full frame saw and a splititng tool (an axe of some sort).

Here are three more “silly points” from the video:

1.  “Don’t trench your tent (I agree); it causes needless soil erosion; besides, modern tents with built-in floors will keep out flowing ground water.” That alone is worth a chuckle.  Wouldn’t it be better to just ask everyone to use a plastic groundcloth inside their tent? (rationale: see blog #2, Old ideas die hard). 

2. Avoid brightly colored gear—it takes the “wild” out of wilderness.  Yeah, and it also complicates emergency rescue and makes your photos not worth viewing.
Choose brightly colored gear for safety.  Noatak River, Alaska

3. Tree your food packs every night. Ok, enough; we’ve run this one to death in previous blogs and writings.

Completely wrong, is the recommendation to throw rocks at a bear (“and try to hit him!”) that comes into your camp.  We did this once on a canoe trip down the Fond du Lac River in Saskatchewan and that bear nearly had us for dinner.  She chased everyone out of camp and forced one man into the lake(!). Then, after we’d put to sea and had rounded a point, we saw her perched on a rock, chest-deep in water, clacking her teeth and woofing at us.  I believe this bear would have killed us had we stayed around.  Yes, there IS a time to throw rocks at a bear, and that is when the bear is attacking someone—i.e., human life is in danger.  Otherwise, don’t do it!  The personality of bears, like humans, runs the gauntlet from “gentle and nice” to “extremely mean!” Antagonize  a mean-spirited bear and he may come after you!
Noatak River, Alaska.  Note the ugly steel "bear barrels" in the background
If you canoe the Noatak River, which flows through ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), you’ll be treated to the Alaskan version of the “Leave No Trace” video. The film begins by telling you to camp on “durable ground”—that is, ground that won’t be flooded by heavy rain.  But the camp that’s pictured in the video is pitched on a gravel bar which is definitely not a “durable” surface.  Indeed, durable sites on the Noatak are a long ways from the river. Unless you are willing to haul your gear 100 plus yards up a high hill, you’ll camp on non-durable gravel close to the river.  

Here’s the recommended procedure for campfires, as given in the video:
1.    Make your campfire on gravel, close to the river.
2.    First, place a large square of plastic on top of the gravel then pile a thick layer of gravel on top of the plastic.  Build your fire on top of the gravel.
3.    Allow your campfire to burn out completely then lift the plastic and toss the ashes into the river so as to leave no trace.  Pack the plastic and keep it handy for future fires.

Okay, picture yourself doing this for every campfire you build. And who’s the lucky one who gets to pack the sooty plastic sheet that may be wet and sloppy from rain or a water-doused fire?  I doubt that any feds who canoe the Noatak do this!  Wouldn’t it be better to simply say: “Burn your fire down as much as possible, then before you leave, toss the burned remains into the river.”  Given the small amount of traffic on the Noatak, and the fact that spring rains will completely flood the gravel bars, there is little basis for this recommendation.
Camp on "durable surfaces".  This gravel bar isn't one of them.  Notice that it's nearly a quarter of a mile hike to a government-approved "durable surface".  No, the fire is not built atop a plastic sheet!

Then there’s the heavy steel food barrels that paddlers are required to carry. These “bear barrels” are not waterproof and they don’t have carrying handles or grab loops. They are awkward, slippery, cold to the touch and they roll around. There is no way to portage them, save for throwing them up on your shoulder, pirate style. Two barrels at most, will fit in a 17-foot canoe and each barrel will nearly fill the space between the yoke and closest thwart. I admire those who will tote these heavy, food-filled metal barrels 100+ yards up a hill to a “durable surface” campsite.
Another example of camping on a "non-durable" surface

Federal authorities mean well and they try to do the right thing.  Indeed, most wilderness regs make sense and should be taken seriously.  But silly “feel good” rules are quite another matter. 

Cliff Jacobson

The lakes are calling and I must go!

I always dreamed of living somewhere close to water.  Close to lakes, to be precise because I grew up near the Rock River in Oregon, Illinois.  Back home I would ride my bike over to the Honey Creek on gravel roads that meandered into town the long way; the back way.  I could sit there, when I got the chance, for hours watching a bobber or flipping a Mepps spinner over and over again.  Occasionally Dad and I would park our car near the dam in town, walk down the bank and stand on the rocks to cast for walleye in the rushing water.

We swam in the town pool with enough chlorine to turn your hair green on long summer days.  Those days only made me long for a country of lakes even more.  Just to be able to sit by one.  To cast a line when I wanted, to jump in when it got too hot.  To listen to its songs after the darkness fell.

My dream wasn't huge… I didn't have to own property on a lake or a second home/cabin with my own beach.  I just wanted to be nearer to water than I was.  Preferably water that didn't have its own perfume of "river".  

For many people, Ely, Minnesota is the personification of that dream.  When they think of such a place as I did during my childhood, they ultimately see a green sign with only three letters: "ELY".

As I grew older I thought about how great it would be to leave work at the end of the day and go fishing somewhere.  To grab a canoe and just go.  In my mind I saw only water and endless possibilities.  That was my Ely.  More lakes than I knew what to do with.

Somehow I made it here and began life all over again as a husband and then a new father and life itself got busier and busier.  The dream stayed alive, but now that I was living it, it changed to encompass Little League and ballet and church and friends and family and a career and traveling and art and new books and more art and antiques and hobbies and…

The lakes are calling and I must go.  Yes, it is a take off from a John Muir quote, but it is a fact.  A fact of life.  They call.  Loudly.  So now, I answer the call.

One of the most exciting things is to go to work with the knowledge that when your work day is over a canoe trip awaits.  Portage packs full, family ready, dog ready, canoes on the van, Zups Polish in the cooler, fishing rods and hammocks -- check, check.  I can hardly wait.

When I am loaded up and the afternoon sun is tattooing its mark on the back of my neck as I stretch my paddle to the campsite up ahead, then I relax and think, how lucky I am to be living my dream.

Do the Lakes call you?  We're going to make this design into a t-shirt for next year.  Look for it in a catalog coming to you in March!  Answer the call!

Friday, November 30, 2012

BLOG 31. Camping Quiz

BLOG 31. How Much Do You Know About Camping?
Cliff Jacobson
Little Missouri River, North Dakota. Jim Mandle (L); Cliff (R)
Can you rig a tent so it will withstand an all night storm? Do you know what to do if a bear visits your camp?  Are there ways to keep mosquitoes and black flies from honing in on you?  Can you make accurate weather predictions without the aid of tools or TV?  Take this tough little quiz and see how much you really know about the wild outdoors. 
Hint: Some questions have more than one right answer, and some answers are “open to interpretation”.

1.  You are camping at a popular site.  Your freeze-dried and canned foods have no odors to attract bears.  Still, you are concerned that a hungry bruin might find your camp.  Best plan is to:

            a)  attach a rope to your food pack and hoist the pack into a tree.  The pack should be at least 15 feet off the ground.  Rope marks on a large limb suggest that other campers have “treed their packs” here.
            b)  Set your food pack inside your tent or car.
            c)  Place your food pack under an overturned canoe or fishing boat.  Set metal pots on top of the canoe or boat to function as an “alarm system” if a  bear comes while you’re sleeping.
            d) Take your food pack out of the campsite and hide it in the bushes, well away from animal trails.

            1. ANSWER:  d) is the best plan.   Habituated bears know that food comes in cans, packs and boxes. They quickly learn that food grows on certain trees!  Why? Because there are usually just a few trees in a typical campsite with limbs that are high enough to discourage a bear.  Campers all put their food in these trees.  Bears are excellent climbers!  Indeed, they are so adept at getting treed food packs, that campers in western parks call the treed packs “bear piƱata’s”.
Black bears are excellent climbers.  This bear is high in a tree, in an eagle's nest.  It's after the eaglets or tasty eggs.
2.  The best way to keep water out of your tent when it rains is to:

            a) Dig a trench around the perimeter of your tent and slope the trench so rain water drains away.
            b) Place a plastic ground cloth under the floor of your tent.           
            c) Place a plastic ground cloth inside your tent.
            d) Pitch your tent on a slight incline so that flowing ground water will drain away from your tent.

            2.  ANSWER: “C” is correct.  Groundwater commonly enters a tent through ground level seams or worn fabric.   An interior ground cloth keeps accumulated water away from your sleeping gear.  NOTE: It is unethical and illegal to “ditch” a tent!    
Note interior plastic groundcloth.  Tent is a NEMO 2P
3.  Which is the best way to sharpen a knife?  Raise the blade about 15 degrees to the stone and:

            a) cut firmly into the stone with a long sweeping motion.
            b) draw the edge away from the stone with a long sweeping motion;
            c) hold the stone steady and rotate the blade in small circles.
            d) hold the knife steady and rotate the stone in small circles.

            3.  ANSWER: (a) will best provide a uniform sharp edge.  Use “C” if you have a very small whetstone: however, this procedure will not produce a uniform sharp edge. “d” is ineffective and possibly dangerous.
Cut INTO the stone, like you're taking a slice out of it
4.  True or False:  Modern polyester-filled sleeping bags should be drycleaned or washed by hand: they should never be washed in a washing machine.

            4.  ANSWER: False!  Never dryclean synthetic sleeping bags or fleece garments.  The drycleaning solution may dissolve the fibers!  Machine washing with gentle detergents is the best plan. 
5.  Which of these would make the best tinder for starting a campfire on a rainy day?
            a) newspaper, b) finely split cedar wood, c) dry splittings taken from the stump of a dead pine tree, d) dead leaves
            5.  ANSWER: conifers concentrate highly flammable resin (pitch) in their roots.  Splittings taken from this “fat wood” (c) burn brightly for many minutes, even in rain.  Finely split cedar wood (b) also makes great tinder.  Dead leaves work only when bone dry and when not in the advanced stages of decomposition.  Newspaper is “hydrophilic”--it absorbs moisture from the air--and the poorest tinder of all. Count your answer correct if you said “b” or “c”.
6.  Your tent is pitched on an incline.  Best plan is to pitch the tent with the:
            a) head end facing uphill, b) head end facing downhill.
            c) head end perpendicular to the incline (one side of the tent is higher than the other);
            d) it doesn’t matter.           

            6. ANSWER:  Pitch your tent across the incline (c) and level your bed by placing spare clothes under the down hill side of your sleeping pad. This will produce a level sleeping platform.   

7.  You’ll be the master of any camping and boating situation if you know these three important knots:
            a) bowline, square knot, tautline hitch;
            b) bowline, crown knot, fisherman’s knot; 
            c) diamond hitch, square knot, two half hitches;
            d) two half hitches, sheetbend, power-cinch (trucker’s knot).

            7.  ANSWER: (D) will “do it all
8.  Whenever you pitch a tent or rain tarp, or rig a clothes line in camp, you should always end your knots with:
            a) a double half-hitch around the bite;
            b) a slippery or quick-release loop; c) a bow;
            d) a monkey fist or crown.

            8.  ANSWER: End your knots with a “slippery” loop (b) and  they’ll come apart instantly when you pull the bitter end of the rope. 

9.  You are boating on a large lake and are “mightily confused”.  Fortunately, you have a simple map and a battery operated GPS (global positioning system). The map in your GPS is very basic, with little detail. Your paper map is better; it shows the structure of the shoreline and the major islands, but there are no contour lines or latitude/longitude marks.  The direction of true north is given, but the magnetic declination for the area, is not.  You planned to stay near shore so you didn’t  program the GPS with your starting position.  
            To find your way “home”:
            a) turn on the GPS and obtain a coordinate fix.  Follow the bearing provided by your GPS to your starting point..
            b) Your paper map does not have a coordinate system so the numbers provided by your GPS are useless.  Use your compass and try to backtrack.
            c) You must know the area magnetic declination to program your GPS.
            d) Your map does not have contour lines so both your GPS and compass are useless!
            9.  ANSWER: Your GPS is useless (b)!  You must program your starting position to  get a  “bread crumb trail” home. 
You must program your starting point if you plan to return to it.

10.  Your map shows a small fishing pond deep in the woods, about two miles due south (true bearing equals 180 degrees) of your location.   The magnetic compass declination (as given on the map) is 10 degrees west.  What magnetic compass heading must you follow to reach the lake?

            10.  ANSWER: a) 190 degrees
11.  A storm is brewing as you are setting up your tent.  You should pitch your tent:
            a) with the entry-way facing the wind;
            b) back-end facing the wind;
            c) on a quartering angle to the wind;
            d) the direction makes no difference.
            11.  ANSWER: Back-end (b) or quartering (c) to the wind is usually  best.  This keeps door zippers and seams in the lee of wind-driven rain.   This is more important with A-frame style tents than with domes.  Some A-frame tents have one end higher than the other.  It’s best to pitch them with the low end facing the wind.

12.  You cook your meals on a gasoline trail stove.  Which of these is a bad practice?
            a) Dump out the gas after each trip and burn the stove dry.  Fuel up with fresh gas just before each trip;
            b) Never refuel a hot stove;
            c) Don’t set over-size pots on the burner of a small trail stove.  
            d) Use unleaded automotive gasoline in “multifuel” stoves.
            12.  ANSWER:   (d) Automotive fuels are much dirtier--and may be more volatile--than refined naphtha (Coleman and Blazo fuels).  Regular use of auto gas will clog valves and put your stove out of commission.  Best to burn naphtha (white gas) in your multifuel stove. Gasoline left in stoves for long periods turns to varnish.  If you must keep fuel in approved cans or bottles over the winter, keep the containers nearly full to reduce oxidation. 
13.  Which of these clothing combinations would be bad to wear in cold, rainy weather where hypothermia is a concern?  Clothing layers are listed from the skin out.
            a) wool long underwear, wool shirt, rain coat;
            b) polypropylene long underwear, polyester fleece sweater, rain coat;
            c) polyester long underwear, wool shirt, rain coat;
            d) cotton long underwear, polyester fleece sweater, rain coat;
            e) wool long underwear, cotton shirt, rain coat.

            13.  ANSWER:  “d” is unacceptable, “e” is a poor choice.  Cotton wicks moisture and heat from the skin and should never be worn in cold, rainy weather.  If you must wear cotton, wear it over wool or synthetics.  Polypropylene, polyesters and wool can be worn with confidence in cold rains. 
14.  You have spotted a black bear around your campsite.  Fortunately, you have a can of cayenne pepper spray which will deter bears about 75 percent of the time.  Which of the following should you never do?
            a) spray your food pack and tent entrance with pepper to keep the bear away;
            b) spray the bear when it comes into camp;
            c) spray the bear only if it attacks you.
            14.  ANSWER:  (a) will get you into real trouble!  Bears don’t like to be sprayed in the face with pepper, but they do like the taste of it.  When rafters in Alaska sprayed their rubber rafts with pepper to keep bears away, the bears ate the rafts. Don’t test-fire a can of pepper spray around camp.  The residual pepper (on the can) might bring a bear to you!  Spraying after the bear attacks you may be too late!
Spray aggressive bears with pepper.  DON'T spray "things"!
15.  You’re pulling away from the dock for a day’s fishing on the big lake.  The sky is deep blue, but overhead, there are wispy cirrus clouds which resemble mare’s tails. 

            a) You’d better cancel your trip--a bad storm is brewing;
            b) A gentle rain will begin in an hour or so.  The rain won’t last long;
            c) Don’t worry; it won’t rain today, but it will tomorrow.
            d) These are fair weather clouds--you can count on at least two days of good weather.
            15.  ANSWER:  (c) is correct.  Cirrus clouds are composed of ice crystals, thrown skyward by an approaching warm front.  Nimbostratus clouds (dark gray rain clouds that cover the entire sky) are 24-48 hours behind.  It will rain tomorrow, or the next day--probably a slow, long rain. 

14-15:   Expert camper:  Your friends shouldn’t go camping without you.
12-13:   Guide in training:  You are the envy of your friends.
10-11:   Faithful follower:  Keep learning--you’ll be a pro in a few years.
Below 11: Wishful thinker: You may want to read some good camping books before your next outing!


Free Shipping at the Boundary Waters Catalog

Use Code FREEX12 for Free Standard Shipping through Christmas Eve. Oversized item charges still apply. Lower 48 states only. Can be used multiple times with no purchase limit or minimum.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Guided Boundary Waters Trip for 2013

Stargazing in the BWCA Canoe Trip

Trip Dates: September 7 – 13

Call Drew Brockett or Adam Macht 1-800-223-6565

Trip Cost: $1195 + tax

6 days paddling, 5 nights camping
First and last night hotel room in Ely

Please Note: Final payment for our guided group trips is due 30 days before the trip begins.

No where else can you see the stars and Northern Lights so clear at night than the wide open wild spaces of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Our backyard is void of man-made lights and it is far from the plumes of industry that cloud and obscure the natural beauty of night's canvas. There is something ethereal, surreal about the constellations when you view them in solitude. Join us for a magical time as we track the power of the great bear and map the path of Orion's belt accompanied by the haunting backdrops of the calls of the common loon and howls of the elusive timber wolf. Imagine lying on your back on a comfortable therm-a-rest gazing at the limitless vaulted inky black ceilings brimming with stars.

Discover Cassiopeia, the Twins, Andomeda, Orion, Taurus and more. Learn how to mark Alpha Stars such as Betelgeuse and Polaris to find their different mythological shapes in the sky.

Would you like to…
- View the night sky uninhibited by light pollution?
- Learn about constellations, both where they are located in the sky and the stories behind them?
- View the Milky Way in all of its splendor?
- Have a chance to see the Northern Lights?
- Explore and fish the BWCA?
- Learn canoe camping techniques from our expert guide?
- Relax and unwind in a beautiful wilderness setting?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, our Stargazing in the BWCA trip is right for you.

Since the beginning of time, humans have been drawn to the night sky. The vastness of the universe holds instinctive intrigue. Join our 6 day 5 night Boundary Waters canoe trip to gaze upon the heavens like never before.

Our trip will take you far away from the sights and sounds of the city, into the heart of the wilderness, where our stargazing will be undisturbed by light pollution. We will leave Ely one day after a New Moon for optimum darkness. The constellations and Milky Way will pop out of the night sky like many have never seen.

Enjoy the night sky like you never have before in the quiet solitude of the BWCA. Bring the kids. This trip is sure to create memories that will last a lifetime and inspire wonder.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Boundary Waters Catalog Tee Shirt Ideas

We're working on some new Tee Shirt Ideas here for next Spring's Boundary Waters Catalog.  We've done some posting on Facebook and gotten some feedback, and we wanted to do the same here.

You can click on the pictures to get a bigger view.  Let us know what you think.

Tell your friends and family to get involved here and follow our Blog,

Thank you, the staff at Piragis

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

BLOG 30. Lines

 BLOG 30. Lines
Cliff Jacobson

One way to tell a novice paddler from an experienced one is to check his or her canoe for the presence of “lines”.  “Canoeists” will usually have a line (rope) attached to each end of their canoe; “canoers” never do. The ready lines come in handy when you have to work your canoe around rocks in shallow water (and possibly avoid a portage) or track the boat upstream in a current or around a downed tree.  Lines are a “must have” when the canoe sleeps overnight on land—experienced paddlers always tie up their boats before they retire for the night.  This, more than anything separates knowledgeable paddlers from those who have no clue.

Lines coiled and stuffed under a loop of shock-cord on deck.  Important: leave a few inches of the bitter end exposed so you can just grab it and pull to release the coil.
You seldom see lines on canoes in the Boundary Waters and Quetico. Evidently, lake country paddlers must think that a beached canoe is safe from high winds that may push it aloft and out to sea.  I can recall two occasions when I’ve chased canoes that had blown into the water. One was when my friend Al Todnem and I were camped together on Miles Island on Saganaga Lake.  Around 2am, in the black of night, we heard a swish and splash.  Al’s eighteen foot lightweight Grumman, which was well up on shore but not tied up, blew out into the lake.  Wearing only undershorts, Al leaped out of his tent and dove in after the rapidly disappearing canoe.  He caught it just in time, towed it “home” and tied it securely to a tree.  Afterwards he nursed a sprained toe and scraped knee.  I won’t mince words: lines are essential whether you’re going to the Boundary Waters or well beyond.

What kind of ropes and how long should they be?  I prefer brightly colored woven (not braided) polyester or polyethylene rope (that floats)—three-eights inch diameter for tandem canoes and quarter-inch for lightweight solos.  My ropes are about eight feet longer than the length of the canoe.  Thus, 25 foot lines for a 17-footer, 22 foot lines for a 14-footer, etc.  A longer than the canoe length” allows you to spin the boat completely around while standing on land. When not in use, ropes are coiled and secured under a loop of shockcord on deck. They release instantly by pulling on the end.

Lines are essential on a canoe that will be paddled in currents and rapids, but—except for tying the boat up at night—you can probably get along without them in lake country like the BWCA. After all, most (nearly all!) people do. But even here, there’s subtle value in that the lines enable you to more easily descend routes that will get you away from the crowd or possibly, eliminate a portage.  For example, my favorite BWCA route is the Frost River (details are in my book, Boundary Waters Canoe Camping, 3rd ed.). 
The Time Lake cut-off bypasses the 100 rod portage into Mora Lake
In the route description I suggest that if you want solitude, take the “Time Lake” cut-off out of Whipped Lake (heading towards Little Saganaga) rather than the routine 100 rod portage into Mora Lake which bypasses this section.  Hardly anyone goes this way.  Why? Because there are a number of small canoeable rapids and several sections where you must either line your canoe around rocks in the current or bushwhack a portage.  You can canoe the Time Lake cut-off without lines, of course, but having them makes things much easier. In a nutshell, lines on a canoe increase your security and safety and allow you to more easily access treasured places in the backcountry.
Cliff lines his 14-foot solo canoe (Pakboat®) around a dicey rapid in Norway


Monday, November 12, 2012

BLOG 29. Thanks for The Cards and Letters!

BLOG 29. Thanks For the Cards and Letters!
Cliff Jacobson

Cliff: BWCA. Bell Yellowstone Solo Canoe
 Dear Friends:

On November 8, I suffered a heart attack, which doctors said rated about a 5 out of 10.  Fortunately, my wife Susie got me to the River Falls, WI hospital within 30 minutes of the event and that is what saved my life.  From River Falls, I was taken by ambulance to United hospital in St. Paul.  There, they discovered that one of my arteries was 95 percent clogged; another, 85 percent.  They put in two stents , plied me with pills and IV’s and kept me hospitalized for three days.  I was released on Saturday and am back home now, a bit bewildered but smiling. On a side note, I must say that I was very impressed with United.  Their care and treatment rates A+.
Cliff and Susie
 I am told that there may be some light heart muscle damage but not enough to slow me down.  My doctor said that, in a few weeks, I should have quite a bit more energy than before the attack.  More energy?  Susie already thinks I’m the “Energizer Bunny” so this may not be a good thing.

Segway tour, Minneapolis.  It's not a canoe but it sure is fun!
A nurse at the hospital was surprised to discover that there was nothing on my medical chart.  “When were you last in the hospital?” She asked.  “When I was 8,” said I. For 72 years I’ve been super-healthy so this set-back came as quite a shock. But there’s no fighting genetics—the men in my family have all died young from heart disease.

Tomorrow, I begin a re-hab program, which I will take very seriously.  My hope is to attain my once youthful high-school weight of 128. Ah…if I could just get back the good looks!  As I look back over the summer, and especially the late August BWCA Piragis canoe trip with Steve Johnson, I realize how lucky I am to have had this problem now, not then.
Cliff: age 22 and 128 pounds. U.S. Army Gold Rifle Team, National champions, Camp Perry, Ohio 1964.
Yes, this is an M14!
My plans are to canoe across the Everglades (about 130 miles) in January with my friends Larry Rice, Darrell Foss and Rob Kesselring.  I should be in good shape by then, better, afterwards.

In closing, a HUGE thank you to all of you who wished me well through emails cards and calls.  It has meant a lot. And my apologizes for missing some planned presentations during the week I was hospitalized. 

I’ve always stressed that “skills are more important than things”.  Now I’d like to add that good friends like you are much more important than either!

Best to you all and thank you again for your support and smiles.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

BLOG 28. New From Frost River

Cliff Jacobson
Cliff: Along the Frost River. Bell Yellowstone Solo canoe

Cliff: Frost River

Those who have read my book, “Boundary Waters Canoe Camping’ know that my favorite route in the Boundary Waters is the Frost River.  The river has a smattering of everything—large and small lakes, beautiful falls, winding beaver streams and high beaver dams, tough, poorly-maintained portages, canoeable rapids and adventurous options.  If you want solitude and challenge, the Frost is the route to do.  Be aware though, that you must canoe the river early in the year, mid-June at the latest.  After that, the you’ll deal with miles of shallows and matted nets of lily pads.  You’ll best enjoy the trip if you pack light and paddle a canoe (solo or tandem) that turns easily.  Equip your canoe with 20 foot lines at each end so you can line around little rapids that are too tight and shallow to paddle.
Darrell Foss: Frost River.  Bell Wildfire canoe

Beaver dams are common along the Frost River
Now, there’s new product from Frost River that combines a cribbage board with the magic of canoeing the Frost  River. The 7” x 13” cribbage board is laser-engraved with the Frost River route—from Frost Lake to Afton Lake.  The workmanship is first class; the board is beautiful and the laser-engraved map is pretty accurate—I think one could actually canoe from Frost to Afton Lake using it alone. The board comes with four stained wooden pegs (contained in a sealed compartment in back) and a toothed slot for hanging.  You’ll love how it looks on your wall when you’re not playing cribbage.  
The Frost River cribbage board is as beautiful as it is practical
This is the prettiest cribbage board I’ve ever seen. When my wife Susie unwrapped it, her first words were “Wow, it’s beautiful!”  Indeed it is.   Just looking at it will make you smile.

Cliff Jacobson

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

BLOG 27. Best Woodburning Trail Stove on the Planet

BLOG 27. Best Wood-burning Trail Stove on the Planet!
by Cliff Jacobson
Littlbug Senior stove: BWCA (yes, it's legal when placed next to the fire grate)

One of the perks of being a writer is that I get to try new products. I’ve spent enough time in the woods that I can often assess field performance without exhaustive testing. To some, this may sound egotistical, but those who’ve spent serious time in the bush pretty well know what works and what doesn’t.  For example, small zippers are the first to fail on a garment; plastic knobs on cookware and stoves break or burn; tents that don’t have enough stake points blow down in high winds, etc.

Thus, I was not impressed when I received a Littlbug® ( wood-burning stove for review.  It was simple (too simple)—just four stainless-steel parts that snap together. I viewed it as nothing more than a “take-apart” charcoal burner. I set the stove aside with the intent of testing it later. Much later.
Stainless steel parts snap together in seconds!

Ultimately, I got a call from the manufacturer asking if I had tried his stove.  I made up some excuse, promising I’d get to it soon. I didn’t. A week later, another call and another excuse.  This pattern continued for a month, after which, I’d had enough, so I reluctantly went outside and fired up the stove.
Parts snap together easily and nest for travel

Minutes later, I was hooked. The stove burned hot and clean, with very little fuel. I heaped on more wood and watched the base turn cherry red. I filled my tea kettle with water and set it on the pot supports—eight cups of water came to a rolling boil in just under seven minutes. Impressive!  Unlike other small wood-burning trail stoves, the Littlbug will accept big wood. Logs up to about three inches in diameter---and as long as you like—can be loaded through the top slots—just stack ‘em in like inverted tipi poles. The Littlbug doubles as a campfire, but it uses far less wood. Want a bonfire? Build a pole tipi around the stove or stack wood “log-cabin” style on top of the burner and you’ll feel the heat a dozen yards away. 
Littlbug burns hot with very little fuel

The stainless steel parts consume almost no space in a pack.  No other wood-burning trail stove is as compact.

My friends and I have come to love the Littlbug stove. When used with a deep-sided steel oil-drain pan or pizza pan, it qualifies as a government-approved “fire within a fire-pan” (the pan must measure 12” x 12” with a 1.5” lip). If you’ve hiked or boated out west where fire-pans are required, you’ll love the Littlbug stove. Unlike the heavy, bulky pans most boaters carry, the stove and pizza pan will fit easily into a solo canoe or kayak.
Rio Grande River, Texas: Littlbug stove and pizza pan

There are two models (Littlbug Senior and Junior):
•    Senior: Weight: 19 oz / Junior: 5 oz
•    Senior: 9” x 8” diameter / Junior: 6” x 5.5”
•    Assembly time: about 15 seconds
•    Senior 1 quart water boil time:  3-5 minutes / Junior 4-6 minutes
•    Vent holes in the base can be turned towards or away from wind.
•    The stove can be fired with an alcohol burner like the one that comes with the popular Trangia stove.

Littlbug Senior with hanging chains and FireBowl

Accessories (extra cost): 
•    Pot sling: allows the burning stove to be hung (by chains) from a limb or hook—ideal for snow camping or where a ground fire might be dangerous. Sounds unstable but it isn’t.
•    FireBowl: a compact, ultralight, three piece stainless steel fire-bowl. The parts snap together to create a fire-pan that contains ash and embers. Unfortunately, the FireBowl does not meet federal government specifications for fire-pan size. But it is very effective—the feds should make an exception here. Note: there are two FireBowl sizes—Senior and Junior.
•    Nylon tote bag (envelope).

Optional Use: The sides of the assembled stove (sans the two pot supports) can be used as a wind-screen for a gasoline or butane trail stove.
Cliff and Littlbug stove: BWCA

In summary: The Littlbug stove ( provides an edge on rainy days and where wood is scarce or where a closely contained fire is essential. When canoeing above the tree line we fuel the stove with dead willow twigs—provides cheery heat and a way to burn trash. The stove burns hot with very little wood; it doubles as a cook-stove and campfire. It’s simplicity belies its effectiveness. In a word, it is “awesome”!

Cliff Jacobson

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BLOG 26. Wilderness Wisdom, by Cliff Jacobson

by Cliff Jacobson
Fond du Lac River, Saskatchewan

Most mechanics rely on systematical trial and error to solve problems. They figure that if they replace enough parts, they'll eventually find the difficulty.  At the other extreme, are a small number of experts who, like my friend, Chic Sheridan, have the uncanny ability to correctly diagnose  problems on complex machines they've never seen before. For example, I once purchased an old Ford Pinto at an auction for next to nothing.  The car had a horrible clanging sound which was diagnosed as stuck valves. Repairs would cost hundreds of dollars!

I drove the beast over to Chic's house, hopeful he could provide a less costly solution.  "Add a quart of tranny fluid to the crankcase every time you change oil," he pronounced.  "Old mechanics trick--should free those valves in minutes: works much better than anything you can buy."

Chic's advice was sound:  I  drove the old Ford for two more years then traded it for another beater. On another occasion, a friend asked me to ask Chic about a clutch problem my wife Susie was having with her 1980 Saab.  The clutch wouldn't engage properly and the car wouldn't shift right.  A local foreign car repair shop told us the throw-out bearing and clutch plate were bad. "About 600 bucks," grinned the youthful mechanic.

Chic never owned or drove a foreign car.  A strong union man all his life, he supported "buy American", and a belief that domestic cars were, as he put it, "better than the trash that comes across the sea".  So it came as quite a surprise when he agreed to look at the old Saab.

The engine compartment of the Saab was a nightmare of wires, boxes and hoses. I was certain it would take a trained Saab mechanic to find the clutch, let alone fix it.  Chic peered wistfully under the hood, then asked if the clutch was mechanical or hydraulic.

 "Hydraulic," I said.

"I see someone just put a new master cylinder in here," he drawled. "Yeah, two weeks ago," I affirmed. Then there was a long silence, followed by..."Well I'll be damned, the idiot never hooked up the hydraulic line!" Chic shook his head in disgust, grabbed some tools, and a few minutes later the car shifted fine.  Cost of repair?  Two beers and a "thanks, good buddy!".

Chic was also an inventor and master welder.  He made me a stainless steel grill which I use on canoe trips, and a quarter inch thick aluminum griddle that fits on my trail stove. He also designed the best canoe trailer I ever owned. For Christmas one year, he gave all his canoeing friends collapsible, wood frame bucksaws which he built in his own shop.

Chic earned his living as a maintenance chief at the St. Paul, Ammonia plant in Minnesota.  He hated the work, often saying that he wished he could have gone to college and become a forester or wildlife professional.  Chic's heart and soul were in the forests of northern Minnesota and Ontario.  He fished, camped and canoed with his friends every chance he got.

Socially, Chic lived in two worlds--the strong blue collar environment of his work place and the stressful white collar atmosphere of his college educated canoeing friends. Chic valued education and was envious of our advanced degrees, even though we never mentioned them. On every trip he would remind us that he had been a poor student in high school, then question why we included him in our lofty group.  At this, we'd go into our routine, and like little kids, reinforce the obvious:

"Because we love you and respect you and think you're wonderful," we chorused.  Then we'd pass around our guarded store of Peppermint Schnapps and toast the most important person on any backwoods trip --the one who could keep the truck running, fix the trail stove, mend broken equipment, and keep us entertained with bad jokes for hours!  "To Chic," I would call!  At this, everyone would shout, "Here, here," and the bottle would go around again.

Chic didn't cuss very much.  Except for an occasional "dammit," or "sonufabitch", he was clean lipped. This was in stark contrast to two members of our fraternity who swore constantly. Chic never said anything about the foul language--that is, until the day he gave us "the shower bag".
Fond du Lac River, Inukshuk

We were about to canoe the Fond du Lac River in northern Saskatchewan when a family emergency developed which caused Chic to drop out. There was time enough to find a replacement, but it wouldn't be the same.  Besides, we knew how much Chic looked forward to these annual canoe trips. So we took up a collection and  bought him a new Stearn's life jacket--a brilliant gold "Deliverance" model which, in 1979 was state-of-the-art for paddling whitewater.

Chic was touched by the gift, and a week later, he presented us with one of his own.  "It's a solar camping shower," he grinned. "Now you guys can finally 'clean up your act!' "

The apparatus consisted of a black plastic bag, a long delivery tube and shower head.  You could fill the bag directly with hot water or set it in the sun for a few hours.  The shower seemed like a good idea, so we agreed to take it  along.
Fond du Lac campsite
The unit worked as advertised, that is, when we could find a solid support for it. Five liters of water weighs over ten pounds--an uneasy, slippery load that had to be raised above our heads each night.  First, we'd look for a high rock ledge that was wide enough to hold the bag. Failing that, we'd search for a strong tree limb. Tall pines and birches were abundant on the eskers, but otherwise were nonexistent.

What to do?  In desperation, we lashed together a tripod of canoe paddles, then carefully balanced the bloated water bag on top. Since the bag was barely three feet off the ground we had to stoop low, or lie down to get enough water pressure to produce a steady flow.  The procedure worked okay when the bag was full of water, but not when the the supply was half exhausted.  Once the shower bag lost its shape, it came splashing down.

After several frustrating trials we decided that the only way to ensure adequate water pressure--and our own safety--was to have one person hold the water bag on top of the tripod while another took a shower.  This method  proved reliable so we adopted it as policy.  After a week of this silliness, we gave up on the shower, agreeing never to let Chic know how much we hated it.
Manitou Falls, Fond du Lac River
A few weeks after the trip, we gathered at Chic's house for a party and  slide show.  As we flipped through the pictures, we paused extra long on those which showed the shower.  Finally, we came to our tripod, and proudly asked Chic what he thought of it.

Chic knocked the ashes out of his corncob pipe and took a long deep draw on his Michelob. Then, with dead pan expression he asked: "Why didn't you guys just put the bag on the ground and step on it?  Then, you wouldn't have to build that silly thing every night!"

Addendum:  Shortly after we returned from our Fond du Lac River trip, we learned that Chic had contracted ALS.  He died six weeks later. 

Cliff Jacobson