Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Special Used Gear Item

Hey Fellow Canoe Campers,

As many of you know, we do our best to sell as much of our used gear after each season. That's why we are always able to give you the best and newest gear year after year. But, sometimes we have something special that has fallen through the cracks. Today is your lucky day to find out what it is.

The outfitting department has one 15x15 ultralight 1.1 oz tarp left. It's in great condition except for a small hole. I have attached a picture with the hole next to a sticky note. So, it should be a very easy fix with a Hippo Patch or a piece of boat tape....both are available from us. The little hole is near the center of the tarp.

Now, the deal of the day!! It is a $395 tarp. You can own it for only $260 plus shipping (plus tax if you are in MN)!!! It's a fantastic deal. Remember, there is only one left so call soon. Ask for Drew or Bert at 800-223-6565 and one of us can take your order. Again, it's in great condition overall. You will not be disappointed at all. Just a quick fix is needed and it is ready to go.

Keep on checking back to the Piragis Blog as we may continue to put some more outfitting items on here. You don't want to miss out!!

The paddling season is getting closer!!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Rhythms of Life

Our lives take on a pattern of rhythms and cycles that are comforting and give us a sense of being grounded. We navigate our lives by various waypoints along the way… holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, the change of seasons, vacations, retirement, and so on. We anticipate these times; we mark them down on our calendars, and our lives have a sense of direction with these “cairns” that mark our journey through a given year or a lifetime. There is a particular cairn on my journey that I come to every year about this same time. It is like a canoe paddle sticking out of a snow bank and if it could speak, it would say “Get ready…it’s almost time to paddle.”

The winter is just about over. Yes, there will be those late season snowstorms, and single digit temps that mildly depress us after a few unexpected warm days make us think that spring just might come early this year. But, there is no doubt about it…the time for paddling a canoe is not far away. I look at that “paddle in the snow” and would love to grab it and head out today. Someday, when I am retired, Diane and I will be able to put the canoe on our truck and head south to open water, but in the meantime, I dream about it.

The anticipation is pretty intense. Often I will wake up very early in the morning and not be able to go back to sleep. As I lay there my mind flits from one thing to the next, but this time of year it lingers on one topic. Canoeing. I think of past trips, picture memorable campsites, relive portages that stick in my memory, remember fish that were caught, and think about where we should to go on our next trip. It is hard to go back to sleep when I let my mind wander in this way.

It is probably best that we can’t speed up the clock because life is too fleeting as it is; but it’s difficult to be patient in February. I look out my window and see drifts of snow and feel the warmth of the woodstove and think to myself…relax. The time to paddle will be here before you know it. Enjoy today. So, I go outside and there in the snow bank next to my snowshoes, is that paddle, and it whispers to me…Get Ready. I grab my snowshoes and the paddle disappears. But….I am getting ready.

See you on the water…
Bert Heep

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rental MN3's on Sale!

We have three rental MN3's that have been in our fleet for two seasons. We usually sell them after one season for $1900. These three have been reduced to $1600. They have lots of hull scratches but are structurally sound with many years of life left in them. They come equipped with yoke pads and internal skid plates. The hulls have all been reconditioned with resin where needed. Give me a call and get yours before they're gone. 1-800-223-6565

Steve Schon

Winter Camping

The world of ice in the Ely area took a turn for the best last week with the mid week melt down. The good news is we missed the big snow that Minneapolis got on Sunday but we did get strong wind and cold. The slush is gone! Yeah! It all froze up after the snow melted on top and it lost it's insulation.

Good news for winter campers, ice fisher persons and winter hikers. You don't need snow shoes on the lakes and skiing is a bit treacherous due to bare ice patches and bumpy conditions but with some Yak Tracks on your boots you can hike the lakes. Pulling a sled will be fun now. The portages will still be deep snow with a crust on top and will require snow shoes for sure unless they trail was packed before the melt down. Come on up before we get another big snow. The winter going is great right now.


By way of an ad; we rent canvas tents with woodstoves, pulk sleds, winter sleeping bags and snowshoes. Reserve with a phone call.

Steve P. 1-800-223-6565

Piragis Axes Featured on GIZMODO

The world's most respected and well-read online guide to innovative new things, GIZMODO, the Gadget Guide, recently featured not one, but three of our axes.  In the realm of "what's cool" we find that extremely cool.  Gransfors Bruks axes rule the axe world and for less than the price of a really nice pocket knife, you can get your hands on a big, sharp tool.  Look to our catalog coming out soon and online in March for more new offerings from them.  We've only got 25 of the Marble's safety axe that they featured in this article left, and when they are gone, they're gone.  Even though it is not a hand-forged piece, it is a quality tool and the safety feature still rocks, just like it did all those years ago.  Ahhh, it is good to be gizmodoed!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Saw-whet Owl Hanging Out in Ely

Last Friday a friend from Ely called us and said she had a Saw-whet Owl in her backyard. Drew Brockett and I of course went right over there to check it out. When we got there it was perched on her back fence in some shrubs, alert and hunting. There was a bird feeder in the yard and a garage, both of which apparently had some mice and/or voles as visitors. The Saw-whet is Minnesota's smallest and undoubtedly cutest owl. They usually arrive in Ely starting in late February/early March, set up a territory, raise their young and leave in the late fall. A few overwinter in northern Minnesota so this one could be a winter resident or an early migrant. Another friend told us she has had a Saw-whet singing in her neighborhood so maybe spring is on the way!

Who knows? Is this the same Saw-whet owl that we saw perched on a chair of the Northern Ground's deck late last fall? He was taking refuge from the wind and perhaps he opted to head across town instead of taking a longer trip South?

After we posted this on our email newsletter a reader sent us in two great follow-up photos. It is really fun to be connected like this with things that interest us. Of note, yesterday there were some birders in town who had taken a road trip to see what they could see. Thanks for reading and as always, we welcome your comments.

"Our family spent a night this past fall near Stevens Point, WI, banding Saw Whet Owls." M. Kohlman

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Takucmich Lake Canoe Trip

Drew’s 2010 Fall Trip
Throughout the years, I have written about my annual trip with my uncle from Santa Fe, Kerth, the inventor of Atomic Hashbrowns, and now is the time to take you on another journey. It’s a perfect time for this story since many people are thinking about their summer trip to the BWCA and also need to think about something other than snow and ice. So, trade in your shovel for a bent shaft paddle and away we go……

September 24, 2010
Entry Point #14 Little Indian Sioux River North – Upper Pauness – Lower Pauness – Loon – Little Loon – Slim
What a day!! It rained all day and it was a strong north wind. We are soaked and tired when we see the site on Slim that we were hoping to get. Not even the best raingear will keep you dry in a soaker like we had. The paddling from Devil’s Cascade to Slim was some of the toughest we’ve faced. It was the kind of into-your-face wind that when you were along the shoreline, it seemed like you were hardly making any progress. The full-day rain turned many portages into rivers, especially the one between Little Loon and Slim. But, we made it to a wonderful site and set up the tarp and tent; then changed clothes and took a little nap. No matter what the day is like, it’s so good to get out there again, plus the autumn colors are brilliant.

September 25, 2010
Slim – Section 3 Pond – North/South – Steep – Eugene – Gun – Tesaker – Takucmich
The weather was completely different from yesterday. We can paddle easily and actually look around a bit more instead of just digging and digging with each stroke of the paddle. The woods are “on fire” with color. It was so nice to have a simple morning overlooking Slim before we headed north. As we were packing up camp, we heard wolves to the north. One can never get tired of that!
Slim Lake morning after the big rain
Soon we were headed toward the portage/creek into Section 3 Pond. As we got close to the portage, the wolves started howling again….close and loud. We started drifting and listening to the keepers of the woods. After they stopped, we did the portage and came back for the second load and they started up again. Of course we stopped and listened. Too bad we had to move on to the next campsite, but what an incredible start to the day.

Eventually, we arrived at Takucmich. We saw a few trippers on a previous portage and that would be the last people for days. After checking a few sites, we chose the best one. We settled in and enjoyed a completely clear sky. After a little relaxation time by the lake, we went out and tried a little fishing. No luck, but we got our lines in the water. The day was good. The night would be, too, as we didn’t put the rainfly on the tent. Stars filled the sky and a full moon was out. Sleeping in a Sierra Designs Lightning XT 3P tent with that kind of night is the best. Full screen walls and ceiling make you a part of the wilderness.

September 26, 2010
Layover on Takucmich
It was a beautiful sunny fall day, but breezy. Today’s little journey was to check out the small isolated lake named Trillium. We took our time getting there as we planned to eat lunch at that lake. Trillium is a neat little lake that is not used much. The campsite looked as though nobody had been there all summer. That is where we sat down for a quiet lunch looking at incredible colors in the trees.

We eventually headed back to our basecamp and fished along the way. We both caught some nice smallmouth. Hanging out in camp was the plan for the afternoon.

Tukucmich Lake Camp Site
Atomic Hashbrowns were prepared for dinner and they were delicious. They are best eaten on a canoe trip. As we sat and watched the evening go by, three otters swam by. It’s always a thrill to see them out in the wilderness! As it got to be dusk, we sat on the rocks right next to shore and watch a few bats skim the water. The skies remained clear so the fly is not going on the tent again. We’ll sleep under the full moon.

September 27, 2010
Layover on Tukucmich
This layover was not in the plans. It was 3:30am and we both got up and took a short walk to the rocks near shore. The full moon lit the way. We loved the site and all we had going for us at this spot that we decided right then and there, that we were staying put. This is one of the best things about BWCA trips; you can create your own itinerary even while out there.

It became a bit windy after that which brought in cloudy skies and rain by mid-morning. We had breakfast and lunch under the tarp. After that, it was nap time as we waited for the weather to clear.
Lightening XT Tent on Takucmich
 The rain didn’t last too long. The skies cleared to a mostly cloudy afternoon with less wind. That was our sign to get into the canoe. We took the portage to Lac La Croix and did some fishing. Not too much action, but Kerth did catch a good-size northern pike!

Dinner was near shore again. It was a very pleasant evening….calm with the temperature at a warm 60 degrees. The only thing about this sudden warmth is that a few black flies and mosquitoes popped out today and they like me much more than my uncle. Perhaps he has way more “repellent” in his blood from eating all that spicy food down in Santa Fe. :-)

September 28, 2010
Layover on Tukucmich
We decided to stay yet another day. This campsite and lake are just too special.

Drew and Kerth
The day was great, starting out gray and calm with the sun coming out in the afternoon. After a late breakfast, we decided to troll for a lake trout. No luck, but we were happy to just be paddling.

Lunch was next and another short nap in the tent. After that, back to the lake for more fishing. Almost right away I caught a nice “laker”. Excellent!! We like to have at least one fish meal on a trip and now we knew what the dinner plans were……fresh lake trout with Atomic Hashbrowns!! What a perfect dinner on Tukucmich Lake.
Fresh Lake Trout and Atomic Hash Browns
Thinking back on the day, we thought that to paddle slowly so we can troll, with the bright fall colors all around us and the rugged beauty of this remote lake is certainly an experience to remember. It was a pleasant day in the wilderness of Minnesota.

September 29, 2010
Takucmich – Tesaker – Gun – Little Beartrack – Eugene – Steep
It was sad to leave our basecamp, but it was time to move on. We decided to take three easy days to get back. Today turned out to be another wet travel day. There was a good wind and it was cloudy. It rained the entire time we paddled/portaged to Steep Lake. Once we arrived at the site, it stopped raining….it figures. It was now only noon so the day was young.

View from Steep Lake Campsite

But instead of doing too much, we just lounged around the site today. This site is in the southwest area of the lake in the narrows and the view is great. More dense forest is right in front of us. It’s different than just looking out over a lake. We like it and it feels remote and rugged. The site sits high on the rocks and isn’t too easy to find, but it is right where it should be according to the map. It’s got a very nice tent pad, but the site doesn’t seem to be used too often (nothing like the one on Trillium, though).

Before the trip, we heard that Saturn was going to be very bright and this evening we had a perfect view of it over the pines on the other side of the narrows. It was a fine evening on the rocks as the evening passed by. Still no canoeists since day two! Nice!

September 30, 2010
Steep – North/South – Section 3 Pond – Slim
Beautiful fall day! Great day to paddle!
Creek at Southern end of Section 3 Pond
Turned out to be an easy day and we got back to that great site on Slim that we wanted. It was well before noon when we arrived. We set-up camp and ate lunch. After that, we took some time to relax and then wanted to at least try to see how the fishing was in this lake. No luck again, but that’s ok, so it was back to camp to take it easy the rest of the afternoon at this truly great piece of granite.

Independent Ecosystem growing on tip of downed tree
That little creek area between Section 3 Pond and Slim is one of the lovelier places in the BWCA. It’s a fine place to paddle. We love little creeks like that and this one did not disappoint at all.
Dinner was the third serving of Atomic Hashbrowns. You can’t have too much of a good thing.
Fall Colors on North/South Lake
The night was clear so we didn’t put the rainfly on the tent again. We hoped that the wolves would howl again, but that didn’t happen. However, we did hear a few owls.

October 1, 2010
Slim – Little Loon – East Loon Bay – Heritage Creek – Heritage
The morning was quite nice…..wind from the north and just a few sprinkles here and there. It was one of those “mixed-bag of weather” kinds of days. There were sunny times, clouds, scattered rain, and some wind, but overall a good day to travel.

We landed on the beach in East Loon Bay to find the portage to Heritage Creek. There were a lot of animal tracks in the sand which were fun to see. Soon after a quick break, we portaged everything over to Heritage Creek. Another wonderful creek to paddle and it certainly has that “out there” feel to it.

The northern site on Heritage was our planned spot and it was open so we were happy. It’s a very nice site. Arrival time was 1:30pm so we ate lunch and set up camp. After that, we fished a bit and then spent the evening looking at the surroundings from under the tarp. A muskrat swam by so that was the animal sighting of the day.

October 2, 2010
Heritage – Shell – Lower Pauness – Upper Pauness – Little Indian Sioux River
It was a bit chilly last night and we had frost in the morning. There was also a thick fog that created a sort of Monet-type picture opportunity. It was beautiful. We did hear wolves howling in the distance to the east last night. That’s a nice thing to hear on the final night.

Morning fog on Heritage Lake

It was a perfect day to travel with a light north wind. When we got to Shell, we saw our first canoeists since day two and a few more after that as we paddled along. Eventually, we got back to the final portage and headed back to Ely. Another great trip is in the books! Thanks for coming up to Ely, MN again, Uncle Kerth!!

  • It had been a few years since Kerth and I were in this area so I decided that this would be the place for our journey. There is no question it’s probably my favorite area of the Boundary Waters. There are a lot of cliffs and rugged shoreline. The “feel” of this area is one of remoteness and that’s something we look for when paddling.
  • Another fall trip is done and this one had the best autumn colors. If you can ever take a late September journey in the Boundary Waters, it’s well worth it.
  • Let me know if you are interested in my uncle’s write-up of the Atomic Hashbrowns. We can get it on the blog again. It’s on there now from a few years ago, but I can stick it on the next e-newsletter so it’s easier to find.
  • Remember that you have to take a trip into the Boundary Waters to be able to experience what it’s all about. I’m more than happy to help plan your journey up here.
  • Do any of you have a favorite lake in this area? Let us know.
  • No moose sightings on this trip, but we did see fresh dropping on a portage coming back that we didn’t see on the way in on the Slim to Little Loon portage. It’s nice to know there was one walking the portage while we were up in the northern area.

Thanks for reading this and for “taking” the trip with me again. I love thinking about each trip and sharing with you the possibilities that are out there in the Boundary Waters and Quetico wilderness areas.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Fireplaces in Quetico

I'm curious to know what others who love Quetico Park think about the issue of fireplaces at campsites. I for one really do not like the cast iron grates that the Forest Service has at all sites in the BWCAW. They take too much fire to heat up and waste wood. A small fire of sticks over a smaller grate will boil water in no time if the pot is near the peak of the fires heat. In Quetico you have to bring your own grate.

An old refridgerator wire shelf will work or a good commercially made grate that can be tiny for a couple or huge for a big group. So you find the fireplace that is at every camp site in Quetico and begin figuring it out for your grate.

Some of these fireplaces look like a pile of smoke stained rocks set in a matrix of ash, dead blackened wood and the ubiquitous aluminum foil. It's an ugly mess especially if its wet. When I see this I just can't help myself and I start pulling it apart and cleaning it up.

Is anyone else out there offended by that mess we have to call a fireplace at Quetico campsites? What do you do about it? It's possible to just figure it out with minimal effort or you can get aggressive and pull it apart. I've done both but I must have been a mason in another life cause I love building or rebuilding a really cool fireplace for ourselves and those who come after us to the site. What if we all rebuilt the fireplaces to be functional and even beautiful?

Maybe other campers would have enough respect for the firesite to pull out the damn aluminum foil and repair the rocks that fall in and leave a fire site with a good supply of nice dry wood. I have even built in a wood storeage box that keeps wood dry under a big flat rock.

I guess if you cook with gas you can totally ignore the fire. To me the hearth is the center of the camp and a place where all the food is cooked and people gather just like a kitchen. With our two family Quetico trips I love to cook around an efficient and neat fire. I'm curious is any of this bothers any of you. Maybe I'm being too anal about the whole thing. God help us if the Canadians have to start putting in cast iron grates and latrines because so many campers are piggish about camp maintenance. Sorry but I had to get it off my chest.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Guided Group Canoe Trips in the BWCAW

How our Guided Group Trips Work

Each paddling season we offer several Guided Group Canoe Trips. They each have a different theme, but they all run pretty much the same way.

Arrival Day

Arrival day is always on a Saturday. We do this to allow you time to get into Ely and get settled before we head out on the canoe trip. Most folks arrive mid to late afternoon. Come right to our store and check in at the Outfitting Barn; and we will greet you with a hearty welcome and go over a few details. You will then head down to the Canoe On Inn, a block west of our store, where lodging is provided for you that first night as well as the night after you conclude your trip. After you check in, you can browse through our store and pick up any last minute items you might need or even find something that makes you wonder how you ever got along without it. You can also take a quick spin around town and check out some of the other shops and galleries.

After a great dinner at the Chocolate Moose (not included in your package) you will have the opportunity to meet your Guide and your fellow paddlers. During this time your guide will go over some details about the trip and allow you to ask any questions you may have. You will be given a pack to take back to your room so you can repack your personal gear. Turn in for a good nights rest and anticipate the the adventure that awaits.

The Canoe Trip Described

Head down to the Chocolate Moose again for a terrific breakfast and then gather at the Outfitting Barn around 8AM. Here we will fit you for a paddle and life vest, double check our packs and gear, and load up for the shuttle to your entry point. Now the excitement begins.

Most of our trips are 6 days in length, Sunday to Friday. Two of our trips are 5 days in length because we spend a day at the International Wolf Center for our Howl with the Wolves trip; and a day at the Bear Center for our Black Bear Trip.

We have a somewhat laid back approach on our group trips. We are not out to run a race or marathon; we want the trip to be relaxing. We know you are on vacation and our goal is to help you enjoy the wilderness and come away refreshed and renewed, not exhausted and stressed out. So we will not travel everyday, but will factor in some lay-over days so you can do whatever suits your fancy. You can paddle and explore surrounding lakes, fish for that trophy smallmouth or northern pike, swim, hike some portages, or just find a nice rock and read a book or take a nap.

Our guides are willing to help you with paddling skills if you need them. Teach you camp skills, share their vast knowledge of flora, fauna, and history or just paddle quietly with you if you like.

On the days that we do travel, we try to be on the water at a decent hour ( 8 to 9 am) so we can get our miles in. You will get the chance to hone your navigation skills as we paddle and portage to our next campsite. We will stop for lunch and breaks along the way. We try to make camp by mid-afternoon, so with a 6 hour paddle day we will cover about 10 miles or so, depending on the number of portages.

When we get to our campsite for the night the first order of business is setting up the tarp and tents just in case it rains. Camp chores are shared equally…gathering firewood, helping the guide with the cooking, doing dishes and so on. This approach allows plenty of time for personal activity.

Evening campfires are one of the highlights of the trip. A chance to sit around a fire and share stories, and get to know one another is something that will stay with your for years to come. After a full day of activity and all of that fresh Minnesota air your sleeping bag will beckon and you will be asleep before you know it.

The cool thing is that we get to do this for 6 days! All too soon it will be Friday and this is going home day. Most folks cannot believe how quickly the week has gone. We normally will get back to Ely by mid to late afternoon. Everyone seems anxious to head for the motel to take a shower…I can’t imagine why. That evening, most groups will plan to meet for dinner and a chance to relive highlights of the trip and brag about how easy the portages really were. Email addresses are exchanged with promises to keep in touch and share photos. After an evening in Ely you can head for home on Saturday, hopefully, with some good memories and a desire to come back again.

Who Comes on Guided Group Trips?

We literally get people from all over the country to come on these trips. We get married couples and singles, from all age groups. There always seems to be a broad spectrum of ages and relationships which makes for an interesting mix and dynamic.

What Kind of Paddling Experience is Needed?

You do not need to have canoeing experience to come on one of these trips. If you love the outdoors and want a special wilderness experience and want to meet friendly, interesting people, one of our group trips might be right for you. There is no white water on these trips…just flat water. If you are fit enough to walk a portage and carry a pack you can do it. Our guides are pros at teaching people how to handle a canoe in no time at all.

What is Provided and What do I Need to Bring?

All you need to bring is your personal stuff…clothing, toiletries, rain gear, camera, and fishing gear. We will provide a detailed list of clothing and personal items for you to bring. We do the rest…all of your food, camping gear, sleeping bags, pads, packs, everything right down to the toilet paper.

How do I Sign Up and What is Required?

We ask for a $300 deposit to hold a spot for you on one of our trips. The balance is not due until you arrive in Ely for the trip. We will send you a brief medical history form and a waiver of liability for you to sign and you are good to go. Call us at 800-223-6565 or email us, or to reserve your spot right now.

Special Discount

You may have some needs for clothing or personal gear. We will offer you a 10% discount on anything you buy in our store. We have everything you could possibly need for your trip. Check our our website at or call 800-223-6565 to place an order.