Sunday, December 15, 2013

BLOG 60. Easy way to repair gel-coat damage on your canoe

BLOG 60.  Easy Gel-Coat Repair
by Cliff Jacobson

If you own a fiberglass or Kevlar canoe, one thing is certain: one day you’ll hit a rock and chip some gel-coat off your canoe.  If you’ve tried to repair damaged gel-coat “cosmetically perfect”, you know it isn’t easy. The recommended procedure calls for filling the break with color-matched liquid gel coat, then sanding and polishing to blend the repair. This is difficult and frustrating. largely because: catalyzed liquid gel coat is runny and hard to contain.

            Instead, try this 30 minute method:


  •       Epoxy or polyester putty. The rule is to use the same kind of resin for repair that was used to build the boat.  If you don’t know, choose boat-building epoxy which sticks to nearly everything.  Do not use hardware store instant epoxy or any resin that won’t cure rock hard.  If you use epoxy or polyester resin in place of putty you’ll have to thicken it to make a putty that won’t run. The simplest way is to just cut some fiberglass cloth into tiny pieces. Keep adding the chopped glass into the resin until a thick putty consistency results. Better  yet, buy a powdered fiberglass thickener--it's very inexpensive.  I've had good luck with Ad-Tech, West System and Rapid-Cure epoxies.  There are slow and fast-cure formulations.  Fast cure works best for general and gel-coat repairs. Check out the options on line.

This broken seat was repaired with Rapid-Cure epoxy. Noatak River, Alaska

  •       MEKP hardener for polyester resin.  Two-part resin and hardener for epoxy.

  •       popsicle stick for spreading the putty

  •       120  and 400 grit sandpaper

  •       Matching acrylic auto paint (brush or spray)

  •       If you can’t obtain either epoxy or polyester resin, plain old “bondo” will usually work. Bondo is thick and won't run so there's no need to prop the canoe or build a tape well.  Note: gel-coat is purely cosmetic—it provides no structural strength so it probably doesn’t matter much which resin you use, as long as it sticks solidly to your canoe and has reasonable resistance to abrasion.


1.  Use the tip of a knife to remove the shards of damaged gel coat.

2.  Mask the work area, then catalyze the resin and work it into the break to overflowing. If you’re using polyester, add extra MEKP hardener to produce a “hot” mix.  And do wear safety goggles! You don’t want to get resin or hardener in your eyes!. 

3. When the putty is firm (about five minutes), slice off the excess with a knife.  Allow the remainder to cure for another hour then sand it level with progressive grits of sandpaper.  Finish to silky smoothness with wet 400 grit sandpaper.

4.  Spray paint the patch with matching auto acrylic.  When the paint has dried, buff it out with paste wax and pumice.  Or, use a commercial fiberglass boat wax (it contains pumice) which you can get at any marina.  Your repair will be unnoticeable; down time on the canoe is less than two hours.

The stems of these two canoes have been repaired dozens of times. The paint (flat and gloss black) hides the repair and makes it look like a factory option.
Use this procedure if your canoe has a clear (no color) gel coat or a color that is hard to match.

1.  Make the gel-coat repair as suggested then mask a line at approximately 45o to the stem of the boat.

2.  Spray paint the enclosure any color you like.   Observers will think your handiwork is a custom water line. 

Cliff Jacobson

Friday, November 29, 2013

BLOG 59. How to Winterize Your Canoe or Kayak

by Cliff Jacobson

I live on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border where winter stops boating cold.  Snow arrives in late October and hangs around till May or when insanity sets in, whichever comes first.  By Thanksgiving, even die-hard paddlers have garaged their canoes and waxed their skis!
Spring often comes suddenly to Vikingland, and serious paddlers want to be prepared for the first nice day.  So, they repair and winterize their boats before they store them away.   Everyone has an annual ritual.  Here's mine:

Wash the hull inside and out.  Flush under the decks of canoes, and deep into the ends of kayaks.  You won't believe how much debris accumulates there.  Gummy tree sap and ground-in dirt can be safely removed with a wet sponge and "Soft-Scrub®" kitchen cleaner. I use Star-brite®. a commercial hull cleaner for serious stains and scum lines.

It's easier to repair chips on fiberglass/Kevlar canoes if you don't follow the canoe maker's instructions.  Gel-coat is runny and difficult to get a good color match.  Here's my method:

            Materials:  White polyester putty (available at marinas) or auto body bondo.  For the strongest repair, mix colloidal silica or strands of chopped fiberglass with epoxy.  Important: use boat-building epoxy, not quick-cure hardware store stuff. Sixty and 100 grit sandpaper, and 200 grit wet-dry finishing paper; color-matched auto acrylic spray paint, paste wax and pumice. Note: gel-coat is purely cosmetic—it adds no strength to the laminate, so it probably doesn’t matter what you use—that is, as long as the resin sticks to your canoe. I recommend epoxy because it is compatible with epoxy, vinylester and polyester hulls.

Tears and gouges in Royalex are easily repaired with epoxy.  You’ll get a stronger, longer lasting repair if you sand off the thin vinyl layer that covers the ABS substrate before you begin.  Then, just fill in the damaged area with epoxy resin thickened with micro-baloons or other thickener.  When the resin is rock-hard, sand it smooth then spray paint to match the hull.  Use fiberglass and/or Kevlar cloth to repair major damage. Epoxy degrades in ultra violet light so apply 303 Protectant to your finished work.

            1. Pick out the shards of damaged gel coat with the blade of a knife.
            2.  Catalyze polyester putty (use extra MEKP to produce a hot mix) and work the peanut-butter-thick mix into the break to over-flowing.  Thicken epoxy resin with colloidal silica.  Caution: be sure to wear a mask when mixing colloidal silica.  The fine particles go deep into the lungs!
            3.  When the putty is firm, slice off the excess with a knife.  Allow the remainder to cure completely then sand it level with progressive grits of sandpaper.  Finish to silky smoothness with 400 grit wet sandpaper.
            4.  Spray paint the patch with matching auto acrylic.  When the paint has dried, use paste wax and pumice to blend the paint to match the hull.  If you have a natural gold Kevlar canoe (or one whose color you can't match), mask a short artificial water-line along the stem (photo) and paint the masked area an attractive color.
Note flat-black artificial waterline on this solo canoe.  Damage to the stem is easily repaired by filling the gouge with thickened epoxy, then spray-painting.  Don't like black? Choose any color you like.
It’s wise to apply an ultra-violet inhibitor (I recommend 303 Protectant®) to the hull at the start of the season and again before you store it away. 303 hides light scratches--gives a slick new look!--and prevents sun damage.  To hide deep scratches, apply Penetrol® (available at hardware stores) and buff with a cotton rag. Afterwards, apply a finish coat of 303 Protectant.

Canoes flex as you paddle; screws work loose and thwarts and seats crack.  The vibrations of car-topping also have an effect.  Nuts and bolts should be tightened at least once a season, and again before winter storage.  
Tip: owners of wood-trimmed Royalex canoes are advised to remove the gunnels (near the decks) of canoes that will be stored in sub-freezing weather—uneven rates of material expansion cause Royalex to crack.
Here’s a better plan: Unscrew the wood the rails about two feet back from each end, then slightly enlarge the screw holes in the Royalex (just the Royalex!).  Then, screw the rails back in place. The Royalex will shrink when it gets cold but it won’t crack because the enlarged screw holes won’t pressure the screws. Another option is to horizontally slot the screw holes in the Royalex.  You need only enlarge or slot the holes near the ends; no need to do the whole boat.  Note: By the end of 2014, Royalex will be no longer available (the sole maker went out-of-business).  Take good care of your Royalex canoe--it is sure to increase in value during the coming years!

Ultraviolet light is a killer (aluminum canoes are the exception), so store your boat in a weather-protected area out of the sun.  If you use a garage, be wary of windows that project a focused beam of light on to the hull.  If you must store your boat in a light path, apply an ultraviolet protectant to the hull or cover the sun-exposed areas with a cotton sheet.  Do not place black plastic against the hull;  It will encourage condensation and cause the gel-coat to discolor.
Winterizing a canoe or kayak is mostly common sense: clean out debris, wash and polish the hull, repair damage, apply an ultraviolet protectant to plastics, oil or varnish the woodwork, tighten bolts and store your treasure in a weather-protected, well-ventilated area, out of reach of small animals.  Get your boat ready before the snow flies and you'll be ready to climb aboard when the rivers run again.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

BLOG 58. Best Little Boating Stream in Wisconsin

BLOG 58.  Best little boating stream in Wisconsin  
by Cliff Jacobson
Kinnikinnic River 
Between the fury of big rapids and the hushed quiet of backwaters, there’s a gentle mix of bubbling waters that challenge but do not intimidate—where pristine beauty, violet-sweet aromas and absolute solitude ravish the soul.

The Kinnikinnic River, in River Falls, Wisconsin is such a place.

The Kinni is hardly an undiscovered river.  A 20 minute drive from St. Paul brings you to the dam and old grist mill that marks its beginning—a reminder of when this was a “working” river.  The eroded spillway remains, creating a small impoundment where those who don’t understand the ways of running water may enjoy a flat-water float.
"Put in" on the Kinni--just below the dam in River Falls
Three miles below the dam there is another sign of flourishing times—a once proud brick kiln.  A tattered trail runs from the dam to the kiln—an easy hour’s walk.

A nationally revered trout stream, the Kinni is generally canoeable from March through November. Even during a summer drought there’s usually enough water to float a canoe.  But a week of rain really brings the river to life. The first rapid—a gentle Class I drop, begins just below the put-in by the dam. From here, the water grades from riffles to Class II when the water is high.  Nearly all of the approximate eight mile run contains riffles or small rapids, all of which are easily canoeable by those who have basic river paddling skills.  Rocks, brush piles and sweepers dot the stream at every turn, requiring constant maneuvering. Every inch of the route is entertaining. Expect to drag some shallows when the water is low; when it is high, the route can be challenging.

The river moves fast, but not dangerously so. Occasional pools encourage a full paddle stroke but the channel is seldom more than two feet deep.  Scratches and gouges are routine—the most polished paddlers won’t get downriver without scraping.
Typical scenery along the Kinni
So what is the attraction of this shallow, narrow boat-eating stream? It’s not the lure of big rapids, for there are none. Nor is it the joy of family togetherness; the Kinni is too shallow to encourage the weight of coolers, kids and dogs. Slick, fast canoes that don’t turn quickly are a handful on this stream. And the wicked little drops, sharp rocks and usually cold water discourage swimmers and tubers.  This leaves the river to trout fishermen and paddlers in small, short canoes and river kayaks. The Kinni is selective!

Except for the dam at its headwaters and the weed-choked brickyard there is no development of any sort along the way.  Limestone bluffs with natural springs bolt skyward along the route and create the impression of mystical canyons.  Often, it’s mid-day before the penetrating mist burns away and reveals the full light of the sun. Paddling the Kinni at first light is a magical experience.
The "put-in" on the Kinni--just below the dam
The put-in is Glen Park in River Falls, Wisconsin.  A 200 yard walk down a well-used trail brings you to the base of the dam and start of the trip. Take-out is at Kinnikinnic State Park (you’ll need a Wisconsin state park sticker) at the junction of hwy F and FF.  Or, continue on to the St. Croix River and take out at Prescott, Wisconsin. Bring your own boats or rent them from Kinni Creek Lodge in River Falls ( The lodge offers shuttle service to Kinnikinnic State Park and Prescott beach.

You don’t need a dry suit or float bag to float the Kinni. You do need a light responsive canoe or kayak and at least three hours time. There’s so much to see along the Kinni that it’s best to plan a full day.

Cliff Jacobson


Important Dates: 2014 BWCA Permit Reservation Process

For the best chance to get the permit of your choice, it is important to start planning early.  Now is a great time to grab your BWCA overview map and start dreaming of your 2014 trip.  If you don't have an overview map, contact us and we will send you one.  Follow this link to request Trip Planning Information.

Important Dates to Remember:
Permits for Fall Lake and Moose Lake can be obtained through a lottery. The lottery is open from 9:00am Central Time on December 17, 2013 to 9:00pm Central Time on January 14, 2014. After the lottery has run, all remaining Moose Lake and Fall Lake permits will be available on a first-come-first-served basis starting at 9:00am Central Time on January 29, 2014.

All other permits can obtained on a first-come-first-served basis beginning 9:00am Central Time on January 29, 2014.

Call us at 800-223-6565 and we will walk you through the permitting process and help you choose the route that best fits your group.

Happy Planning!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

#27 to #30 Loop: 32-38 Miles (4-7 days)

Difficulty: Moderate

Points of Interest: Pagami Creek Fire, Lake Trout, Fishdance Lake Pictograph, Disappointment Mountain

Description: This route begins on Snowbank Lake.  There are a couple of different ways to get off of Snowbank, but since it is such a large body of water, I often recommend making the shortest possible crossing and heading directly into Parent Lake.  From Parent, you will continue to Disappointment Lake, a great spot for basecamping if you don't feel like doing the whole loop.  Travelling north, you will continue through a number of small lakes with nice views of Disappointment Mountain to the south (really more of a large hill than a mountain).  Jordan Lake is typically a favorite in this area and has some really nice campsites.  Continuing on, you will pass Ima Lake, on to Hatchet Lake, then to Thomas.  Thomas is a great spot for a layover day if you have the time built in.  

Take a day trip north to Fraser Lake.  The narrows between Thomas and Fraser are really neat, and they both have Lake Trout in them.  Moving on, if you want to extend the route head over to Alice, and if you get a chance head a little farther south and check out the pictograph on Fishdance Lake.  Otherwise, head straight south into Kiana Lake.  Continue on to Insula Lake, and stay on one of its many nice campsites--some even have beaches.  The Pagami Creek fire will start to become noticeable about half way down Insula.  It is interesting to see how different the forest looks after a wildfire, and how quickly it regenerates.  Moving out of Insula and into Hudson Lake, continue heading west on the Kawishiwi River (the water flows west).  Keep traveling through Lake Four, Three, Two, and eventually exiting at the Lake One access point.

**Note:  This is also a very nice route in reverse order, starting at Lake One.**

Choose this route if you are looking for a moderately difficult travelling trip, great fishing, a variety of rivers and lakes, and if you would like to explore part of the Pagami Creek fire.

We want your feedback!
We would love to hear what you think about this route. Have you been in this area before? What is your favorite part of this route? What is your favorite lake? Do you have a trip story you would like to share? Do you have any questions? Is this something you think you might try? Please comment below and join the conversation.

Call Drew and Adam at 800-223-6565 for all of your routing needs. 

#14 P Loop: 40-45 Miles (5-8 days)

Difficulty: Challenging

Points of Interest: Devil's Cascade, Solitude, Rocky Lake pictographs, Loon Bay beaches

Description: This route begins on the Little Indian Sioux River and takes you past Devil's Cascade, a beautiful cascade flowing north out of Lower Pauness Lake. From here you continue past a few sandy beaches in Loon Bay to the small interior lakes south of Lac La Croix. These lakes are separated by some difficult portages with steep hills, but the solitude gained can be worth the effort--most lakes only have one or two campsites, and you often find yourself with a lake all to yourself. Continuing on, you will pass through a number of gorgeous lakes (Pocket Lake often being a favorite). At Rocky Lake, take your time and look for the set of pictographs on the west side of the lake. You will turn west once you hit Oyster Lake. On the portage from Oyster to Hustler, you will have to traverse a beaver pond (often best to paddle it). Enjoy the scenic beauty as you continue back to your point of entry, and look for the pair of swans that have been hanging out on Lower Pauness for the past couple of seasons.

Choose this route if you are looking for great wildlife habitat; a variety of paddling rivers, creeks, and lakes; a challenge; and solitude.

We want your feedback!
We would love to hear what you think about this route.  Have you been in this area before?  What is your favorite part of this route?  What is your favorite lake?  Do you have a trip story you would like to share?  Do you have any questions?   Is this something you think you might try?  Please comment below and join the conversation.

Call Drew or Adam at 800-223-6565 for all of your routing needs.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

BLOG 57. Gransfors Mini-belt Hatchet Review


by Cliff Jacobson

It's small and light and perfectly balanced. It can sharpen a pencil to a piercing point, slice a tomato paper thin, and shave the print right off this page.  It will frizz fuzz sticks for tinder, cut fine kindling and split small logs. It will fillet a fish, skin a moose, hack through bone, tenderize a steak, turn pancakes, spread jam and peanut butter, pound tent stakes and chop vegetables.  And it will ride as lightly on your hip as the average hunting knife. No, it's not a secret Air Force survival tool; it's the Gransfors mini belt hatchet!
Top to bottom: Gransfors "Small Forest Axe", "Wildlife Hatchet", "Mini Belt Hatchet"
My first impression of this miniature axe was "It’s cute, but is it practical? “Now, after years of use, I can can say,  "Wow—it performs better—yes better!--than most hatchets twice its size!

The Mini belt axe is the brain child of Swedish black smith, Lennart Petterson who, like his father before him, has worked for Gransfors Bruks his whole life.  Lennart lives in a small house within walking distance of the Axe forge.  He loves the outdoors and is passionate about fly-fishing and ice-fishing.  He also enjoys making knives, some of which have won awards in Sweden.
Three fine Gransfors axes.  Mini Belt-Hatchet (closest)
For years, Lennart dreamed of one compact tool that would function as both knife and axe. It should be light and small and ride safely on the belt, secured by a sturdy leather sheath and safety strap.  It took Lennart two years to perfect and build his dream.  He even desgined the specially shaped handle.The Swedish name for this little axe is Gransfors Lilla Yxa, which means Gransfors Little Hatchet.  But Lennart Petterson calls it my "Instead of my knife hatchet" which, I think is a more descriptive name.

Check the specs below and you'll see that the mini belt hatchet is almost small enough to qualify as a true miniature.  But use it for serious work and you'll discover it's no toy.  Nearly everyone who has seen this little axe reacts the same: first they smile, then they turn it over in their hands, marveling at the rugged whisker-sharp edge and ergonomic (artistic) oiled hickory handle. They nod approval at the hammer-forged marks on the head and the brightly polished poll which functions as a meat tenderizor and "priest" for administering the coup de gras to fresh caught fish.  One hunter observed that the handle appeared to be molded to the head.  "Fits like a custom gun- stock," he said.  Indeed it does!

Here's how the mini belt axe compares to the standard sized ”Wildlife” hatchet: 

Weight: 11.3 oz
Length: 10.25 inches
Cutting edge (length): 2.5 inches
Length of head: 4.25 inches
Poll width: 0.625 inches
Poll length: 1.2 inches

Weight: 1lb. 8 oz.
Length: 14.5 inches
Cutting edge (length): 3.0 inches
Poll width: 0.75 inches
Poll length: 1.5 inches

The mini-belt ax is built like every other Gransfors model—solid!  The high carbon Swedish steel blade is hardened to 57Rc, which is nearly as hard as a good knife, and much harder than most U.S. axes.  It  comes from the factory shaving sharp, and with a good-looking, full-grain (one-eighth inch thick!) riveted leather sheath. These hatchets are extremely difficult to make. Forging the huge hole in the small head requires great skill—akin to forging (not laser-cutting) a knife with a giant cut-out in the center.

The  head is secured to the handle in a unique way:  It is driven in tightly (form fit) until it protrudes about one-eighth inch beyond the head.  Then, a wooden wedge is driven in.  The wedge expands the handle and the part that protrudes, in effect, producing a reverse taper (similar to the handle on a tomahawk).  Then, the two wide metal "cheeks" (lugs) on the head are pounded tightly to the wood.  The result is a metal-to-wood bond that should never come loose.  There's no need for epoxy or metal wedges to make up for sloppy workmanship. 
Grasp it lightly just behind the head and you have an Eskimo ulu—one that will chop chicken salad and slice meat and vegetables into wispy strips. It will even cut cheese into reasonably thin slices! 

Choke the handle as above but reverse the blade and you have a powerful draw knife that wisks through kindling.  Hack away in the usual manner and it splits wood better than many axes that are twice its weight and size.  The secret is the fine, knife-like edge that tapers progressively to the fairly beefy (0.625") poll—this ain't no simple "wedge grind"!  Note that the end of the  handle is cut at a 45 degree angle ("chopped tail") to facilitate a two-hand hold.  The little axe will slash through large logs fast if you power with both your arms.

It is also a surprisingly effective wood splitter:  I can easily split foot long, six inch diameter rounds by setting the axe head lightly into the end grain, then pounding the head on through with a chunk of log.  Try that with a typical thin-bladed hunter's hatchet!

For go light trips where you don’t need to produce a shedful of firewood each night, the little mini belt ax can’t be beat.

NOTE: Check out the complete line of Gransfors Bruks INC axes in stock at the Boundary Waters Catalog.

Gransfors also makes a number of museum-quality, ancient axes, based upon ax heads found during excavations.  Each axe is hand hammer-forged and duplicated as accurately as possible. I am proud to own the four lugged, 7th Century Chopping ax  pictured below.
Seventh Century 4-lugged Chopping ax (museum quality reproduction). Among the first designs to be useful for both fighting and chopping.  Beautiful, isn't it?

A brochure of museum-quality offerings is available from Gransfors. All are custom-order items.
Cliff Jacobson


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

BLOG 56. Spyderco Military model knife review

Cliff Jacobson

Spyderco Military knife (left-handed model shown here)
Spyderco folding knives have long been popular with law enforcement, military and rescue personnel.  And for good reasons: They have superb edge geometry; they are constructed from superior steels and are among the toughest, most intelligently designed and best built folding knives available. There’s a model for every purpose—from skinning game to cutting through airplane doors. 

Generally, I prefer a fixed blade knife when camping. But when I do carry a folder, my favorite is a “left-handed” Spyderco military model. Naturally, this knife is available in a right-handed version too!

About 90 percent of the population are right-handed. I belong to the ten percent that aren’t.  Most power tools and nearly all firearms are decidedly right-handed: bolts, safeties and loading ports are on the right; autoloaders eject hot empties past my face. It’s a tough life, but we lefties learn to cope.

Open a “one-handed” folding knife with your off hand and you’ll likely find that the thumb cut-out on the handle is too shallow to positively grab your thumb. If there’s a liner-lock, you’ll need to push it with your forefinger or pull it with your thumb. Clumsy, isn’t it?

Thanks to Spyderco, lefties have a dedicated folder to call their own. The C36GLE Military Model Left-Hand is identical to its right-handed brother, the C36G, except for the thumb cut-out and Michael Walker liner lock which have been re-located to work with the left hand. For me, a life-long lefty,  working this blade was a revelation. I wondered, do righties always have things this easy?

The flat-ground, double-tapered blade is four inches long and one-eighth inch thick at the back of the spine. Jimping on the spine and choil add control. The blade steel is Cruicible CPM-530V, a high carbon, chromium alloy known for its toughness. The knife is shipped shaving sharp! The checkered G10 handles provide a firm grip. The knife weighs 4.25 ounces and is three-eights of an inch wide. I clipped it to a pocket and went for a brisk walk. I didn’t notice it at all. I might add that this knife looks formidable when opened—I wouldn’t want to meet one in a dark alley!
It slices tomatoes like a dedicated kitchen knife
So how does it cut?  Split kindling, slice a tomato, chop vegetables, skin a deer, cut cord or bore through a car door—this knife does it all, powerfully and gracefully. The long sweeping belly of the blade, not the tip, does the work on a cutting board. This encourages efficient slicing. Though I generally prefer a fixed blade knife for wilderness use, I wouldn’t hesitate to rely on this Spyderco folder on a bush trip where help is an airplane ride away. It is an awesome knife!

Cliff Jacobson

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

BLOG 55. Tent Stakes and Lines Make a Difference

BLOG 55. Tent Stakes and Lines Make a Difference
by Cliff Jacobson
Chasing a dome tent that "blew away". English River, Ontario 
When we canoed the Hood River (Nunavut, Canada) in 1984, an Arctic storm with winds of 60 mph (so said our wind-gauge), kept us confined to our tents for three days.  I remember trying to walk in that wind.  I couldn’t.  There was no way I could fall down if I leaned into the wind.

When, the wind finally subsided we emerged from our tents (Cannondale Aroostooks) and surveyed the damage.  Surprisingly, all three tents were still standing.  Not one had pulled a stake, ripped a stitch or broke a zipper.  Much of the credit of course, goes to the brilliant design of the Aroostook tent, but other factors that saved the day were:

1.   At home, before the trip, we added extra storm lines and stake points to our tents.  My books, “Expedition Canoeing and “Camping’s Top Secrets, 25th Anniversary Ed. provide details.

2.  There's no time to cut storm cords when wind looms large, so I carry a dozen pre-cut 15-20 foot long cords.  Each cord is carefully wound and secured with a quick-release loop. A pull on the quick-release end instantly releases the cord.

3.   Tents were set head-end or quartering into the wind.

4.   Windward storm lines and stake points were double-staked as illustrated below.
See more storm-proofing tips in my book, "Camping's Top Secrets, 25th Anniversary ed.

I carry a variety of tent stakes so I'll have options for different types of ground. L to R: 12-inch long arrow-shaft stake,  10-inch staple, 9-inch skewer,  "rock stake", U-pound 'em stake

Note the "bag of cords"--one pull and they're ready to go. The long 12-inch arrow-shaft stakes are my favorite.  Pound these in and they'll never let go!  Available from Cooke Custom Sewing ( Stakes should be at least 8 inches long to provide ample holding power in storms.
The tent stakes you use DO make a difference.  Those short wire “rock stakes” that are popular in the Boundary Waters, are out-of-place on the tundra, in sand and swamp.  The best stakes for soft ground are 12-inch long, hard-tempered aluminum “arrow-shaft” stakes (available from Cooke Custom
Sewing/  They are expensive and worth it!

Twelve inch aluminum staples (if you can find them) also work well in tundra, sand and soft ground. I bring a variety of stakes on my canoe trips so I’ll have the best one for every type of ground.  My rule is to bring twice as many stakes as my tent needs for routine set-up.  That way, I’ll have extras for storm-proofing, and enough to double-stake windward lines—two stakes per loop, each set at a different angle, doubles the holding power.
A mini-tornado, along the Noatak River, Alaska. The big fly flattened instantly; our storm-proofed tents held securely.
When it comes to camping gear, I have pretty much all I want or need.  But I’m always on the lookout for new and better tent stakes.  The tent stakes you use do make a difference!

Cliff Jacobson  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Boundary Waters Birding

Last week we had a surprise visitor across the street from Piragis Northwoods Company.  A Merlin.  It is of the Falcon family of birds of prey and sometimes seen in town, so it wasn't a huge surprise, but an unexpected one.  Perhaps most appropriately its colloquial name of Pigeon Hawk describes it well, but not accurately as it is not a hawk.  This one stood over the pigeon it had caught and alternated between keeping an eye on me and a lookout for escape.  The dilemma was clear, he wasn't finished with his lunch and I seemed intent on walking past him down the sidewalk.

He resembles the American Kestrel and that seemed appropriate as well since we have a few of those sleek Kestrel kayaks for sale in the canoe barn opposite his picnic site.  He hunts by flying very fast and low, utilizing speed and agility, typically less than a meter above the ground using trees and shrubs as cover.  You may see Merlins "tail chasing" other confused birds like a jet.  They actually capture most of their prey in the air.

Merlins are one of the most agile and able aerial predators and in North America they are well known for fiercely attacking other birds of prey that they encounter (reportedly even adult eagles).  Breeding pairs of Merlins will frequently hunt together, with one bird flushing prey (not unlike a good bird dog is trained to do) towards its mate.

It was a cool way to end my week and I thought you might enjoy hearing the story and seeing the pictures.  After calling Nancy and Steve Schon over, I accidentally spooked him and he flew off, leaving lunch behind.  Schoney drug the pigeon over into the protected brush where the Merlin could return to it later in a more protected setting.

Fall has come to the Northland with some amazing weather.  The reds are popping out of the landscape, but only in rare appearances.  The cool nights should take care of that soon, though, and the horizon will be painted with reds, oranges, yellows, browns and greens soon enough.  Please accept our invitation to come up and visit and bring your cameras.  The paddling, we promise, will be great!

Have a great day from Your Friends in the Great Northwoods,
At the End of the Road,

Tim Stouffer, Marketing Director and
The Staff at Piragis Northwoods Company

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BLOG 54. One Shoe Fits all in the BWCA

by Cliff Jacobson

Cliff: solo/BWCA
I recently returned from my annual fall solo canoe trip into the Boundary Waters.  My experience began at the Tofte ranger station* where for the nth time, I was asked to watch the seven minute ethics video that is required of all visitors.  I politely told the ranger that I had seen the video at least 100 times, and when I taught school, I owned a copy and showed it to all my classes when I taught the unit on wilderness ethics. No matter; I’d have to watch it again.  Besides, said the clerk, “It will take me seven minutes to process your permit.”  Really?

On a positive note, I see the feds have abandoned the dangerous advice to  “throw rocks at a bear that comes into your camp—and try to hit it!”  We did that once on a canoe trip in northern Saskatchewan and the bear nearly had us for lunch!  I would throw rocks only as a last resort, when human life is in danger!

More goofy things: Firewood should be thumb-thick sticks, breakable by hand, not sawn and split logs. Really? I’ve never seen anyone rely solely on twig fires in the BWCA. Indeed, there’s plenty of good sized, dead, down wood (well away from campsites). The major cause of  wildfires in the Boundary Waters is that decomposition can’t keep pace with annual litter fall, so dead wood builds over time and creates a fire hazard. A big roaring fire in every campsite every night would not measurably reduce the amount of dead, downed wood in the forest, so why this silly rule? Because the government wants one shoe to fit all—what applies to Zion national park must apply to the Boundary Waters, deserts, mountains and swamps—no matter that there ARE important ecological differences.  I once paddled by a campsite occupied by Forest Service workers.  They had a BIG roaring fire going—there wasn’t a twig in sight!
Yes, the Littlbug ( stove is legal in the BWCA.  You must place it next to the fire grate. The split wood here will burn for many hours
Surprisingly, safety on the water is not discussed. There is no stern warning to “wear your life jacket while canoeing”!  Less than half the paddlers I saw on my trip wore life jackets, this despite the fact that almost every year someone drowns in the Boundary Waters.  Shouldn’t the film address this concern?  Capsize in running waves and the wind may quickly blow your canoe out of reach (more so with today’s ultralight Kevlar boats), leaving you with a long swim to shore.  I saw an example of this on my trip. Three people in a Kevlar canoe were paddling directly across Ham Lake. The waves were about 18 inches high and running strong. No one wore life jackets.  The paddlers didn’t have a clue that a capsize could be serious. Why? Because if you’ve never tipped over in waves while wearing field clothes and boots, you can’t appreciate the danger. The saying: “Canoeists always wear their life vests; ‘canoers’ never wear them! Tells all.

Instead of life-saving or practical advice, visitors are told to filter their dish water through a mesh towel. Really? This makes sense for eco-delicate alpine areas but it’s over-kill for the northern coniferous forest where decomposition occurs more rapidly.  Really now, does anyone really strain their dish water in the BW?

You are also told to “carry out your trash—all of it”.  This is idealistically correct.  However, plastic food bags and aluminum foil comprise most trash, and food wastes that cling to the bags WILL attract animals—mice, squirrels and yes, bears!  Best to burn the trash in a good hot fire THEN carry out what didn’t burn.

Wouldn’t our beloved Boundary Waters be better served with common sense regulations and a view towards reality?

*All permit information is now on line so you no longer need to specify where to pick up your permit.  Any ranger station can access the information.

Cliff Jacobson

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

BLOG 53. You Saved Us!

BLOG 53. You Saved Us

This is from Caitlin Looney, a wilderness therapist in Colorado. Caitlin was guiding a group of teenagers and turned a “lost experience” into a confidence-building, inspirational event.  Caitlin did everything exactly right. Follow along on the map as you read her story. Note that her choices reflect an in-depth understanding of backcountry navigation.
Hello Cliff:

I am a wilderness therapist in the Rockies of Colorado. The majority of my work happens front country with kayaking, challenge courses, hiking, and fishing as my modalities. However, once a year I co-lead a trip with 10 eighteen year olds into the backcountry of the Rocky Mountain National Park. The majority of the trip is on trail with the exception of one day when we complete a peak ascent. This year was my fifth year leading this trip and peak ascent (Mt. Orton) in the same region. I always give the students a short orienteering lesson along with maps and compasses before we head up. On the way back down from the peak, I offer them the opportunity to lead for a while (after all, they just have to go downhill, right?!).

Well, this year things didn't quite go as planned! One of the students in the back was having a hard time, so my co-leader and I focused our attention on him. I was subtly aware that we had cleared a ridge and the downhill had begun to take us south when we should have been traveling east, but I wasn't too worried because we had some room for error since our campsite was next to a fairly large lake, Sandbeach Lake. By the time I decided to take back the reins, so to speak, three of the students had picked up their pace to a steady trot and split off in two directions. I matched their pace and got the whole crew back together, all the while becoming aware that in my hustle, I had lost my bearings. But, I saw an opening through the trees that looked like a lake, so we headed for that... Well, it was a lake. But it wasn't OUR lake!

I had never been lost before, let alone while in charge of ten other people! Honestly, what I did next was very stupid. I panicked and focused on hiding our "lost" status from the students. I didn't want to worry them... So instead of opening the whole topo map, I glanced at an area on the folded up map where a nearby lake was and rapidly pointed northeast and began walking. I came to my senses about a quarter mile later and stopped to open the map and discuss with my co leader. Near the "unknown lake" we had found, we had also crossed a southernly flowing stream. There was a north-south river on the map, but I wasn't certain that it was the stream we had crossed. The stream we had crossed was small and the river on the 1:40,000 map appeared to be quite a bit bigger. So now I was in the terrifying position of not knowing if we were southwest or southeast of our campsite. In that moment I experienced fear like I had never known. My mouth went totally dry and I could barely speak to the students. However, I did manage a smile and some reassuring words. It had begun raining and we had two hours of daylight left. My co leader and I began to take inventory of our emergency supplies (we only had daypacks) and make plans for creating a temporary shelter and camping in the forest for the night. Then it hit me! I had read your book, "The Basic Essentials of Map & Compass" (1988), the previous summer. I was on a bus tour vacation and thought it was a good time to learn more than how to read contour lines. I had attempted reading other orienteering books in the past, but they were always too abstract, and honestly a bit arrogant, for me. But your book was so clear, concise, and humble in the way you wrote it. You really normalized the experience of getting disoriented in the wilderness. The line drawings and map examples were so applicable to my experience that I decided to read it twice!

So, I halted our emergency plans and went back to the map. The forest was so thick around us that we couldn't  see anything to triangulate our position. My co leader and I scrambled up to a rock outcropping, but all we could see were ponderosa pines in every direction and a silhouette of the continental divide in the west. So, I knew what Cliff would tell me to do! The only thing I was certain of was north. I looked far north on the map. If we were on the east side of the lake and walked directly north, we would have to pass the lake, but would hit an east-west trail that led into our campsite. If we were on the west side of the lake and used a north bearing, we would bypass the lake by a bit of a distance, but hit a SE flowing river that would also lead us to the same trail. This meant a lot of extra walking for a group of cranky teenagers, but it also meant getting found before dark! So north we went and about an hour later walked directly into an east-west trail. I almost cried! But I didn't because I was still attempting to look competent and certain. I just nodded in a knowing way and turned left onto the trail. After heading west for 20 minutes, we walked right into camp as if it had been there waiting for us all along!

I know you probably get long-winded stories like this all of the time, but I really needed you to hear our tale. Mostly, I wanted to tell you that you saved us because you wrote a humble and accessible book about map and compass. Thank you, Cliff. I will never forget the lessons that you and the Wild Basin taught me that day.

Be well,
Caitlin Looney

Posted by Cliff Jacobson

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Best Night's Sleep I've Ever Had Camping in the Boundary Waters

When I find something comfortable I tend to stick with it.  I've used different sleeping pads over the years and I tend to go with the thicker the better because I have a bad back.  Scoliosis doesn't play nice with flat on the hard ground, so I go big, because if I have to splurge on space in the pack, I'm o.k. with doing it for the sake of a great night's sleep.

So… inflate assist or not, by the time you're finished blowing up a 3 inch thick pad, you are red in the face and you feel like you might just pass out.  Especially if you've waited until you're too tired to think straight anyway.  Then you do it for the rest of the crew, because your a good dad and pretty soon everyone wants to know if they should call in the lifeline helicopter.

You know what I mean.  Even after all of that and even if you've got a bag that fits the pad perfectly and won't slide off your neck never seems to be at the right angle when you shut out the last headlamp and call it a night.  Come on, I know how particular most of you all are about your pillow, your preferred position, your eight or nine hours.  Most nights I average 5 or 6 hours and I need them all.  Coffee to follow.

My solution?  Well, first don't be afraid to try new things.  And number two?  Try new things from NEMO.  Nemo is a fantastic company.

Their Cosmo series of sleeping pads blow everything else away.  Did you get the pun there?  Three generous inches thick with an integrated foot pump that -- wait, what?  Stop, you had me at integrated foot pump!!!  That's right.  Super easy to use.  A dozen or so steps on the pump with my foot while standing and eating a Peanut Toffee Buzz® CLIF Bar and my new sleeping pad was nearly effortlessly ready to crash on.  The opposite end of the pump area is elevated and serves as nice pillow rise pad like a second pillow under your favorite pillow at home.  It also has a fine tune valve right at your fingertips.  I'm never and I mean never going camping again without a Cosmo pad.  Nemo even makes them with a Pillowtop Combo that is so soft you'll think you're laying on a mattress collection in your local furniture store.

This is the product description of the Nemo Cosmo Air Pad:
No more blowing until you're blue! Ultra-comfy sleeping pad with internal foot pump.  The Cosmo™ series of pads take inflatable comfort to another level. Cosmo Air™ is a lightweight sleeping pad with an integrated, super-easy to use foot pump. Dual air intakes on the integrated foot pump make inflation fast! This pad has generous 3" thickness. Horizontal I-beam baffles eliminate any bouncy feel and also tend to support body contours better than vertical baffles. Cosmo™ Air offers a lot of comfort in a small package!

SPEAKING OF YOUR FAVORITE PILLOW… Nemo's Fillo Luxury Pillow insures that I don't wake up with a stiff neck.  You gotta get one of these!
For $205 you'll sleep like a baby in the woods from now on!

p.s. One of my least favorite things to do is try to roll up a sleeping pad tight enough to fit it back into its original stuff sack.  It seems to take almost as much effort as it does to blow it up.  These are the kinds of activities that I don't relish repeating 5 times when it is time to go home.  The Cosmo pad deflates even easier that it inflates, just pull the dump valve at the head of the pad and fold the sides in and roll up nice and compact.  All the air is gone.  No fuss, no muss.

The COSMO Air Pad: