Monday, January 27, 2014

BWCA Permit Reservations Open January 29th

Permit Reservations Open Soon!

With the wind chill nearing -50 on my walk to work this morning, it seems difficult to imagine open water.  That said, the paddling season will be here before you know it.  Today, I just want to remind you that on Wednesday, January 29th, permit reservations will open for the BWCA.

If you have questions about picking a route or with the permitting process, Drew and I are here to help.  Call us at 800-223-6565.

Happy Planning

Friday, January 24, 2014

#16 to #19 through Iron Lake

#16 to #19 – 26 Miles (3-6 days)

Difficulty: Challenging

Points of Interest: View both river and lake systems, Rebecca Falls, Curtain Falls, Lac La Croix, Iron Lake, pictographs, Warrior Hill

Description: Enter at either #16 or #19.  This is a great route, but you have to be comfortable with longer portages.  Traveling the Stuart River is not easy.  You either start or finish, depending which entry you begin at, with a one and a half mile long portage.  It is a beautiful walk, but it is long.  If you are up for the challenge, this route is highly recommended.  You will travel through Stuart Lake, a great walleye lake.  For seclusion, you can stay at the only campsite on Rush Lake.  There is nothing quite like having the whole lake to yourself.  You will pass through Iron Lake, a great fishing lake.  Here, you can also check out both Curtain and Rebecca Falls.  To the west of Iron Lake, you will pass through Lac La Croix where you can see pictographs and Warrior Hill.  The Boulder Bay area is often a favorite place for people to camp.  The route will take you through Agnes Lake and through the Nina-Moose River, a great place to see wildlife.  Choose this route, if you don’t mind portages, enjoy paddling both rivers and lakes, are interested in fishing, and want to see some incredible waterfalls.

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.

For more routing information, call us at 800-223-6565 

Monday, January 20, 2014

#16 to #23 through Friday Bay

#16 to #23 through Friday Bay – 40 Miles (5-8 days)

Difficulty: Moderate to challenging

Points of Interest: Rebecca Falls, Curtain Falls, Crooked Lake, excellent fishing on Crooked Lake and Iron Lake, wildlife, Lac La Croix pictographs, Warrior Hill

Description: Starting at either entry #16 or #23, this route passes through two of the most well-liked entries in our area.  On the #16 side, traveling along the narrow river you get a close-up view of the BWCA flora and fauna.  There is typically a good deal of animal sign along the river.  Moose and deer tracks are common, along with lots of beaver architecture.  This is a great place to see wildlife.  The Boulder Bay area has many great campsites and its location close to the Lac La Croix pictograph and Warrior Hill make it a nice spot to stop on a layover day.  The northern most stretch on this route takes you through some incredible fishing.  Both Iron and Crooked Lakes are renowned for their walleye, smallmouth bass, and pike fishing.  On Iron Lake be sure to check out both Rebecca and Curtain Falls.  South of Friday Bay, you will go through a number of small lakes.  This is a modestly challenging stretch, but usually very quiet and peaceful.  The path between Gun and Mudro Lakes is beautiful and well-traveled.  The fishing is pretty good as well, with Gun, Fourtown, and Horse Lakes being favorite spots.
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.

For more routing information, call us at 800-223-6565 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What do we do for Fun in Ely when it is 30 to 40 below zero?

A  couple of days after Christmas 2013 we went spearing.  It was a warm day and when we had cut our holes and Simon finished sawing through the ice Lucy pulled the block out with the tongs.  It was about 6 inches thick and had separated from a piece underneath that was about 11 inches thick.  The slush/snow in between had formed an air barrier of sorts that turned into a pocket I guess.  It was weird.

It was fun pulling the sled across the lake, drilling the holes, cutting the block and setting up the black pop up.  It was great to be outdoors with my two oldest.  The way they took charge and knew how to handle the equipment, the way they worked together with smiles on their faces.

We sat together in the darkness, swimming some of our favorite decoys, our spear lines tied around our legs and peered over the edge of the ice down into the stained water.  Those 90 minutes before it became dark outside were some of the best moments of my year.

We didn't see a fish, but it didn't matter.  Perhaps you'll see a little of what I mean with the pictures.  After losing my Father just before Thanksgiving, I treasure simple things and times spent with family even more.  It was a good day, even if short.  The "catch" of the day was priceless for me.

One of Last Year's Fish

The Yoke Was on Us

The Yoke Was on Us

The year was 1975.  So, not that long ago.  It was only the best of times. 

We started our job at EPA’s Shagawa Lake Project on Memorial Day Weekend.   It was our first experience taking on a project of our own and being responsible.   Nancy was the technical partner; trained by the master of zooplankton feeding rates, Dr. Jim Haney.   I was supposed to be the theoretician; trying to make some sense of the data and design a good study.   As lowly contractors we got some meager lab space tightly guarded over by our new friends, the full time employees.   The study progressed well with only a couple minor mishaps involving a little radioactive P32 finding a hole in my rubber glove.  I slept a few nights with my arm over the side of the bed.  Can’t be too careful with one’s gametes.  We found Ely night life enticing, spending more than one evening on crawls up Sheridan Street lavishing in our new found freedom.  Hoping our boss doesn’t read this but we missed a couple of sample times in our diel study on the night of July 4th after a visit to the then famous Legion Club later to be known as the Red Garter.  

So Ely was the oasis at the end of a long road from New Hampshire for me and my research partner.   We gained a best friend who worked at Canadian Waters that summer.  She was a blond Swede from St. Paul named Margot (but pronounced Margit) with so much Minnesotan accent we thought she was a recent immigrant.  After a week or two of hearing all the stories about the wilderness out our back door ( we lived in the basement of Shagawa Inn) we set off with Margot’s advice to explore the wilderness.  She was flabbergasted at our suggestion that we might camp on one of the wild islands of Shagawa.  After all, we had spent many hours in white lab coats in our Boston Whaler sampling the waters of Shag and kinda liked it.   After proper admonition, we found the portage to Hegman and off we went on our first wilderness trip.

My dad was a boat dealer in Massachusetts so when he heard that I was spending  a summer in Ely, Minnesota he told me about the ads he’d seen in Outdoor Life for years about the Canoe Country.   After loading up a ton of science gear in my Volvo I strapped on a Grumman to the roof and took off for the cross Canada highway to Grand Portage and the wilds of Minnesota.  The canoe turned out to be essential that summer as slowly the summer progressed and paddling wild lakes became almost as important as catching wild Daphnia and rotifers.   It was that first outing though that Nancy and I made a major discovery.   The trail to Hegman is wide and sloping and outfitted with steps for the uninitiated.   We hoisted the canoe on our shoulders, one in the front and one in the rear upside down and off we went.  On the somewhat jerky hike to the lake we met a fellow traveler climbing back up the parking lot carrying his canoe by himself from the middle of the canoe.  What was that?  A few more canoes at the put in had something like pads hanging off the center thwart.  That’s how Minnesotans carry a canoe?   Unheard of in New England where portages are just for the wimps who don’t run the white water.   It looked intriguing however and I called my dad as soon as we got back to the lab that Sunday.  As a long time Grumman dealer (since 1955) he said it was what is called a yoke and it just tightens down to the center thwart.  Dad had one on the shelves in Athol, Mass collecting dust for the past 20 years.   What a revelation!  In a week we had a yoke of our own and ever since the yoke has been on us.


Lake Travel Improving

                                                               Lake Travel Improving

As many of you may have heard, most of the lakes in the Ely area, including the BWCAW, have been slushy this early winter.  We received lots of snow before the lakes had thick ice.  When this happens the snow weighs down the ice forcing up water which forms a slushy layer under the snow.  The ice can still be safe to travel on but the slush on top can freeze up on skis and snowshoes and even bog down dog sleds and snow machines.

With the several cold snaps we've experienced over the past month or so (including some -40 degrees Fahrenheit evenings prompting old timers to reminisce about the good  old days) a lot of the slush has frozen or drained back thru the ice making travel much more easy and enjoyable. Skiers and other winter travelers are now venturing back out on the lakes enjoying easier going plus the return of more normal winter temperatures.   Of course veteran cross country skiers always carry a scraper with them knowing that every year there is some slush on the lakes and eventually they will find it.

If you've never traveled on a beautiful northern lake with a fresh layer of snow and a shoreline of snow frosted evergreens you should try it.  One of my favorite things about this activity is the animal sign you can encounter.  It isn't unusual to see wolf tracks, maybe even the remains of a deer kill,  moose tracks and my personal favorite, the unique meandering record of river otters! Think snow!     

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Blog 62: How to Sharpen a Knife

By Cliff Jacobson

It’s easy to sharpen a knife.  All you need is a whet-stone, some honing oil and practice.  You can use a diamond stone or a natural stone.  No matter: any good sharpening stone will work if you do your part. Indeed, South American natives sharpen their machetes on the side-walk and they obtain a very sharp edge! This method works with any non-serrated blade:

1.  Electric and mechanical sharpeners will provide a good working edge but not a wickedly sharp one.  If you want a razor-sharp edge, use a whet-stone!  
2.  Don't ever use a grindstone on a good knife!  You’ll destroy the edge and the temper.Those handy "pull-through" sharpeners designed for kitchen knives will produce a quick working edge, but not a super-sharp, polished edge you can be proud of.
3.  To obtain a fast "working" edge on a dull knife, begin sharpening with a coarse diamond stone or coarse Carborundum or aluminum oxide stone (available at hardware stores).  A fine-toothed file can be used to remove deep nicks in an abused blade or, to re-form a blade that has a broken tip.
4.  Once the edge takes shape, change to a medium grit "soft Arkansas" or "Wachita" stone.  Keep the stone well-lubricated with cutting oil, WD-40, or kerosene.  Do not  use automotive or gun oils! 

5. Diamond stones come in coarse, medium and fine. A coarse stone will take off metal real fast--ideal to set the edge of a new knife.  But once the edge is "set" you'll probably never again use the coarse stone.  Sharpness will be easy to maintain with a "fine" stone.  The point is that you will get far more use out of a medium and fine abrasive stone than a coarse one.  If you want to save money, buy a coarse carborundum stone (hardware store) and use it for tough sharpening jobs. When the nicks are gone, go to a medium grit diamond stone. Finish on a fine Arkansas oil stone. A fine oil stone will produce a highly polished, razor edge.
6.  Sharpening will go easier if you dip the cold blade into boiling water for a few seconds before you begin to hone.
From: Camping's Top Secrets, by Cliff Jacobson. For most camp chores--cooking, whittling, etc., a 15 degree angle is best. Twenty degrees is better for knives that will be used hard (cutting into bone, heavy gristle, etc.)

Maintain a film of light oil (natural stones) or water (diamond/carborundum, and aluminum oxide stones) to float away the steel particles that clog the pores of the stone and reduce its cutting efficiency.  Every few dozen strokes, dry the stone and blade and apply new oil. Yes, you will go through a lot of oil this way, but you won't dull the edge by grinding metal shavings into it.  Frequent cleaning is essential if you want a super-sharp edge! You don’t need to use a special cutting oil—WD-40 works fine.
The "penny angle" trick works only with a narrow blade like that on a Swiss Army Knife.
Keep the back of the blade raised 10-20 degrees and cut into  the stone as you sharpen. If you have a Swiss Army knife, you can approximate the correct angle if you rest the back of the blade on two stacked pennies (photo 1).  Another trick is to set the blade flat on the stone and adjust a bright light directly overhead. Slowly raise the back of the blade until you can just see a shadow.  If you want a whisker-sharp edge for slicing food, use a shallow (about 10 degrees) angle. For more rugged work, 15-20 degrees is best. You MUST maintain the precise angle as you sharpen. Most people need about 30 minutes of hands-on sharpening practice to build the muscle memory needed to hold a consistent angle. You MUST maintain a consistent angle or your knife will never get sharp!

You can buy special tools that maintain the recommended angle as you sharpen.  These tools clamp to the knife blade.  They work well on the body of the blade but not on a sharply curved tip.  If you learn to hold a consistent angle by hand (it just takes practice) you'll never use a clamp.
This is a medium grit Arkansas stone. Generally, carbon steel blades like this old Case knife, will take a faster and keener edge than stainless.  
Take about six strokes per side on the stone. Keep the stone flooded with lubricant.  If you want a razor’s edge, switch to a fine-grained stone (natural or diamond), then finish by stropping the blade on a leather belt. Strop the edge away from the leather, not towards it as  when using a hone.

            There are many ways to check blade sharpness.  Here are a few:
  1. A razor sharp knife will shave hair from the back of your hand.
  2. Shine a bright light on the sharpened edge. A dull edge will reflect light.
  3. Drag your thumb nail lightly across the blade.  The blade should scrape the nail cleanly, without chattering.
  4. A razor-sharp knife will cleanly slice typing paper.
Note:  A sharpening (butcher's) steel will not sharpen a knife. A steel is simply a coarse version of a leather strop. It’s for touching up a well-used blade but it won’t take the place of a whetstone.

Cliff Jacobson


Sunday, January 5, 2014

BLOG 61. How To Pick a Good Camping Knife

By Cliff Jacobson
Clockwise from the top: Grohman #1 flat-ground carbon "Camper"; Gerber Shorty/carbon steel (no longer made);
Victorinox "Forester"; Forschner (Victorinox) #40614; Mora carbon; Old Hickory carbon paring knife; Idaho Knife Works "Cliff Knife" (carbon).  
What do you think is the most important tool to have along on a canoe camping trip? If you said a good sharp knife, you’re in agreement with the experts. But few of today’s knives are sharp, let alone ideal for camping. The best-sellers have thick blades that are better for cutting through car doors than slicing salami and pine!  

A camp knife should be thin-bladed, lightweight and compact. Edge retention is a factor only if you seldom sharpen your knife.  A folding knife is fine, but a fixed blade is more rugged. You can flex the blade or hammer it with a wooden mallet to split kindling and you won’t damage a thing.  And, there’s no folding mechanism that can be gummed up by jam or peanut butter.  But sheath knives can be dangerous, not because their blades don’t close, but because the sheath’s that generally come with them are too thin and flimsy.  If you choose a fixed-blade knife, make your own heavy-duty riveted sheath (my book, “Camping’s Top Secrets”/25th Anniversary Edition, shows how).
Make your own knife sheath.  This project took about an hour. Cost of materials, about $15

  1.       Four to four and-one-half inches is an ideal blade length.  Shorter won’t reach to the bottom of the peanut butter jar; longer is necessary only for filleting fish.
  2.       Maximum blade thickness is one-eighth inch, and thinner is better, much better! Try cutting paper-thin slices from a tomato with a thick-bladed knife and you’ll see why! 
  3.       Knives with serrated edges are good only for cutting seat belts and rope.  And you need a special hone to sharpen them. 
  4.       Carbon steel is easier to sharpen than stainless steel and it tends to take a keener edge.  High-end (expensive!) stainless alloys are excellent. Cheap stainless is awful!
  5.       A narrow, straight blade with a central point is best for peeling spuds, slicing vegetables and general camp work.
  6.       A flat-ground blade provides truer slicing and is best for all-round use.  A Scandinavian (Scandi) grind, like those found on Mora knives works well for whittling and splitting. Hollow-ground blades are easier to sharpen to a razor's edge than flat-ground or Scandi blades but they aren't as strong. 
  7.       Avoid knives that have a long unsharpened area near the handle; a dull spot here shortens the cutting edge and reduces cutting leverage near your hand.
  8.       A beefy, hand-filling handle provides more control and better leverage than a short, thin handle.
  9.       If you want a rugged fixed-blade knife, one that will withstand frequent flexing, choose a model whose blade runs the full length of the handle.
You can buy a good knife for under 25 dollars. American made pocket knives (with one or two blades), genuine Swiss Army knives (Victorinox and Wenger), and the Official Boy Scout pocket knife are best buys. If you want an inexpensive sheath knife, Canadian survival expert, Mors Kochanski recommends the carbon steel Swedish Mora knife (shown above).  It comes with a rugged Scandinavian style sheath and costs under 15 dollars.  It's not pretty, but it is efficient and it comes from the factory sharper than many custom knives.

Next time: How to sharpen your knife to a razor’s edge.

Cliff Jacobson