Blueberry picking time on the Gunflint Trail

You learn something every day so they say. Today I learned where the phrase, “Jumped the gun” came from. According to the world wide web, “This idiom refers to an athlete in a race who starts running before the starter has fired the gun.” In my opinion a few anxious blueberry pickers have jumped the gun but does it matter? Of course not.

There are some ripe blueberries on the Gunflint Trail ready to be picked. Does this mean I have been out picking? Nope. Not yet. When you live on the Gunflint Trail you tend to wait until the picking is a little better, just like I usually don’t start a canoe trip in the rain. When you are only on the Gunflint Trail for a day or a week then you must take advantage of the opportunity.

Just remember, other people are waiting(patiently or impatiently) to pick blueberries so be careful not to stomp on the bushes or strip them of all of the green ones waiting to ripen.


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Keeping Clean in the Boundary Waters

What I love about paddling and camping in the Boundary Waters is the ability to keep somewhat clean. The lakes provide all of the water you need to bathe unlike some hiking trips that never pass by a good water source.  Does that mean you can lather up with biodegradable soap and jump in the lake to rinse off? Not at all.

Biodegradable soap is only biodegradable in soil and not in water.  Soaps are usually deemed biodegradable if bacteria can break them down to at least 90-percent water, CO2, and organic material within six months.   Soap still contaminates and contains chemicals that are not natural to the environment and it will take time for soil to break it down. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t want to drink it then don’t put it in the water. Bug spray, sunscreen, lotion and soap should be washed off on shore a minimum of 200 feet from the water source.

How clean do you need to be when camping in the BWCA? I never bring shampoo or conditioner on my Boundary Waters trips and I use soap very sparingly. The exception to this rule is after using the latrine I use anti-bacterial hand soap. I try to use the least amount of bug spray and sunscreen so this means wearing clothes that cover my body to protect me from the sun and spraying bug spray on the clothing and not on my body.

Some people love to use wet wipes and while they are convenient they cause excess waste and need to be packed out of the wilderness.  Some people throw them into the latrine but I feel it’s putting too much extra paper into the latrine. I don’t think wet wipes biodegrade as quickly as single ply toilet paper, but I could be wrong.

If you care about being clean then bring along a washcloth, camp towel and/or bandanna. Scrubbing yourself with a wet washcloth can do wonders to get you clean. You can boil water to use and even put warm water into a camp shower if you want to feel like you’re really getting clean. Soap is really not needed in order to get clean especially if you use a hand sanitizer after using the toilet.

I don’t get uptight about keeping clean while in the Boundary Waters. There is dirt, mud, pine needles, sap and more just waiting to stick to you and it’s really not a big deal if it does. It’s more important to me the water in the wilderness stays clean, I can clean up when I get back to civilization.

A few helpful things to remember…

  • Only use biodegradable soap when absolutely necessary and a minimum of 200 feet from the water
  • Keep all soaps, lotions, sunscreens & bug spray 200 feet from the water
  • Just like rinsing off before jumping into a pool, rinse your body off 200 feet from the water prior to getting into the lake. This will remove soaps, lotions, sunscreen & bug spray.
  • Use a washcloth to scrub dirt off of you.
  • Embrace the dirt, it won’t hurt you.
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How to poop in the woods or the Quetico Park

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has fancy latrines at every campsite. This makes pooping in the woods very easy. The Quetico Park and many other wilderness areas do not have latrines. Some places make you pack your poop and paper out of the woods and although it doesn’t sound like much fun I’ve heard it isn’t that bad. In the Quetico Provincial Park you don’t have to pack your poop out but you should do a great job at disposing of it.

Campsites in the Quetico Park do not have latrines and some of the campsites are used frequently. At some campsites you’ll come across toilet paper and other people’s shit which is not a pleasant experience. In order to make everyone’s wilderness experience more pleasurable and leave no trace, extra care and thought should be given to the important topic of how to go poop in the woods.

While most guide books recommend going at least 100 or 200 feet away from a water source to do your deed there is no rule against going even farther away. If you’re worried about getting lost then make a trail with ribbons in the trees and just be sure to remove them before you leave. When there’s more than one person camping it’s nice to dig a latrine that everyone can use. I know, it sounds gross but it isn’t, read on.

The perfect location for a latrine is well away from water, camp and/or any trails. Ideally this is a private and protected spot that receives ample sunshine which will speed up decomposition. Find a high place where water would not normally run(in the event of rain) and an area with deep soil or forest material so you can easily dig a hole and cover the hole back up.

The Quetico Park is rocky country so you may not be able to dig a very deep hole. Six inches is suggested by most “experts” but again, you can always did deeper.  Use a small shovel to dig a 4-6 inch wide trench about 12 inches or longer depending upon the number of people in your group and how many nights you are staying.  Everyone in the group will use the latrine and after placing their deposit will carefully cover it up using a trowel. Before vacating your campsite be sure to fill in the entire latrine whether or not it was used.

There are different views about packing out toilet paper but I have never done it. What I suggest is to use as little paper as possible and then use a stick to stir the paper in with the poop, a little bit of dirt and some leaves to aid in decomposition and prevent animals or nature from exposing long ribbons of dirty toilet paper.  Once finished place the stick in the hole and cover the hole completely. Do your best to keep your trowel poop free.

When we’re camping we place the toilet bag in the middle of the path to the latrine. It contains toilet paper(in a ziplock bag), a trowel(in a separate bag) and hand sanitizer for use after. That way we know if the bag is gone someone is using the latrine and we won’t interrupt them in the middle of their duty.

Hopefully these tips will help you and other campers leave no trace while pooping in the Quetico Park or woods somewhere else.



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Grouse attack on the Gunflint Trail

Have you ever been threatened by a grouse? They are small but fierce creatures who are very protective of their young. I have never been attacked by a grouse but I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t kept on my merry way I most certainly would have been.

On Tuesday I went for a walk and in the distance I saw a grouse standing in the middle of the road. This is actually quite common as they like to sun themselves on trails and roads.  As I approached the grouse she fluffed her feathers up and began to walk around in circles dragging one wing on the ground. If I hadn’t just seen her standing upright and completely unharmed I would have thought she had been hit by a car. Her theatrics continued with dust from the road billowing up behind her until I got closer. Then she changed her helpless routine to one of dominance and aggression.  With feathers fluffed and chest held high she approached me hissing. I told her I wasn’t going to harm her or her chicks but she wouldn’t back down. I sidestepped her and continued on my way. She pursued me until she was sure I was not coming back and then she quickly waddled into the ditch where I’m sure her brood was waiting patiently for her return.

Image result for grouse with chicks

On Wednesday I went on another walk and encountered another grouse in a totally different place. This time I saw the mom and a few of her chicks on the road and I knew that I was in for another grouse attack. Her fake broken wing act was not as convincing as the grouse from the day before but a newbie to grouse tactics may have fell for it. I continued walking and sure enough her wing heeled miraculously and she hotly pursued me hissing loudly with feathers fluffed. I didn’t change direction and for a second I thought maybe she will actually take flight and peck my eyeballs out. But as soon as she felt I was far enough away she turned back to her chicks and huddled them together leading them down into the ditch.

Grouse mommas are quite similar to human mommas. They care deeply about their young and will protect them at any cost. Hopefully my acting is better than a grouse.

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Muddy portage paths in the Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters portage path

BWCA portage

The Leave No Trace principle of not hiking on a muddy trail doesn’t work well if you’re on a portage in the Boundary Waters or on a thru-hike on some extensive hiking trail. In the BWCA you will encounter wet portages and there usually isn’t an option to turn around unless you want to alter your route. What should you do when you encounter mud on a trail?

If you’re in the BWCA you have hopefully already given yourself permission to get your feet wet so a little bit of mud shouldn’t be a big deal. When you encounter a portage with mud on it then proceed with caution down the middle of the trail. Do not go around it because you’ll end up damaging plants and making the trail wider and more prone to erosion. You don’t want to create new trails that could possibly confuse other trekkers either. If there’s a down tree in the way then consider taking the time to move it or use your saw to cut it up if you can. If you can’t move the tree or cut it up then when you’re back in civilization let the USFS know about it. They may have crews in the area that can take care of it.

portaging the BWCA

Boundary Waters portage

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Isle Royale to welcome healthy wolves, researchers happy, moose not so much

This might be a better headline than the one Popular Science used to describe what is happening on Isle Royale with wolves. Their headline claims,  “A pack of wolves is about to save this national park.” A little bit dramatic for my liking and not very accurate.

A decision has been made to bring wolves to the island because the two remaining wolves are father and daughter/sister. Inbreeding in the wolf pack and the lack of an ice bridge for more wolves to make their way out to the island has left researchers who have studied the wolf/moose population on Isle Royale scratching their heads. “How can we continue our over 60 years of research without wolves on the island? Rather than let nature take its course as the National Park Service most often does, they have decided to intervene and bring wolves to Isle Royale so the moose don’t “kill” the island.

You may be sensing sarcasm and you would be right. I am being sarcastic. Do I think wolves should be brought to Isle Royale?  It doesn’t really matter but what matters to me is the explanations as to why they are being brought there. I understand. There are researchers and colleges all over that depend upon the moose/wolf relationship on Isle Royale as part of their livelihood or curriculum. I think that balance is weighing far more heavily than the number of moose on the island. If there are too many moose on the island then what? They are afraid of the moose dying of starvation. There might be a big increase in the moose numbers but if the island can’t sustain it then they will die. Wouldn’t it be just as interesting to see what happens naturally if left alone?

What I would like to see is some of the moose on Isle Royale brought to the Gunflint Trail. Maybe introducing some different moose would help our dwindling moose population? And if they must bring wolves out to Isle Royale I hope they will feel free to take some of those from the Gunflint Trail.



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Did you smell smoke?

There’s nothing like the smell of a campfire to evoke memories of s’mores and starlit nights in the wilderness. If you’ve ever been around a wildfire the scent of smoke could bring on thoughts of other not so pleasant memories. And if you were on the Gunflint Trail last week you might have smelled or even seen smoke due to a fire that had started north of Ottertrack Lake. According to the Ontario fire website the cause of the fire started on June 14th on the north side of McLaren Lake and was human caused. The website lists the fire size as 10ha which is around 24 acres in size and says it is being watched. After rainfall over the weekend the conditions in the Quetico region range from low to moderate fire hazard and in Minnesota low.

Our local radio station printed some news about the fire as well.

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Summer Solstice on the Gunflint Trail

If you could spend the longest day of the year anywhere you wanted then where would it be? How about the Gunflint Trail? Imagine all of the things you could do with that many hours of daylight.  You could take quite the day trip into the BWCA with 16 hours of daylight whether by foot or by canoe but why limit yourself to just one pleasure?

A day trip on the Gunflint Trail sounds like the perfect thing to do on the longest day of the year. Sunrise on the shore of a lake, breakfast at Trail Center and a paddle into the BWCA would be a great morning adventure. Follow that with a visit to Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center for some fun and a couple of hikes on their trails and a dip in a nearby lake to cool off.  For dinner you could choose from a number of places to eat but you would have to return to Trail Center for dessert, peanut butter maple malt for me please! Then a hike up to Honeymoon Bluff, Northern Light trail, Lima Mountain or somewhere else to watch the sun as it begins to disappear on the longest day of the year.

Make the most of the solstice wherever you are.


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Lightning flashes in the sky

1, 2, 3, 4 BOOM! Thunder rattles in the distance. Is the lightning four miles away? That’s what we used to say. Here’s what Becky Bolinger has to say on Earth Sky’s website.

How far away was that lightning?

You probably do it. It might be ingrained from when you were a kid, and now it’s almost automatic. You see the flash of lightning – and you immediately start counting the seconds till it thunders.

But does counting really get you a good estimate for how far away the lightning is? Is this one of those old wives’ tales, or is it actually based on science? In this case, we have physics to thank for this quick and easy – and pretty accurate – calculation.

 So what happens when a big storm rolls in?

The lightning you see is the discharge of electricity that travels between clouds or to the ground. The thunder you hear is the rapid expansion of the air in response to the lightning’s intense heat.

If you’re really close to the lightning, you will see it and hear the thunder simultaneously. But when it’s far away, you see and hear the event at different times. That’s because light travels much faster than sound. Think of sitting in the nosebleed seats at a baseball game. You see the batter hit the ball a second before you hear the crack of the bat.

The visual part is instantaneous. Image via Pete Gregoire/Flickr.

When observing an event on Earth, you see things almost the instant they happen – the speed of light is so fast you can’t even detect the travel time. The speed of sound is much slower, which gives us time to do our calculation.

Let’s simplify the speed equation: Sound travels a little over 700 miles per hour, or 700 miles in 3,600 seconds. That means 7 miles traveled every 36 seconds. Make this even easier and round down to 7 miles every 35 seconds … or 1 mile every 5 seconds! Count to 5: If you hear thunder, the lightning occurred within 1 mile.

Now that you know how far away that lightning strike was, is it far enough to be a safe distance from the storm? That’s actually a trick question. Thunder can be heard up to 25 miles away, and lightning strikes have been documented to occur as far as 25 miles from thunderstorms – known as a “bolt from the blue.” So if you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to be hit by lightning, and sheltering indoors or in an enclosed car is your safest bet.

The ConversationAnd don’t count on the folk wisdom that lightning never strikes the same place twice to protect you. That one is just plain wrong. For example, lightning strikes the top of the Empire State Building an average of 23 times per year.

Becky Bolinger, Assistant State Climatologist and Research Scientist in Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bottom line: An atmospheric scientist on using lightning to determine a thunderstorm’s distance.

Posted in environment

Life Vests only work if you wear them

News Release


On Sunday, June 10, 2018 at 3:41PM, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a possible drowning on Perent Lake, which is in northeast Lake County within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.   

The reporting party stated the 31 year old victim had been missing since 11:00PM on June 9.  The victim had been in a canoe that capsized with 2 occupants, neither of which were wearing life jackets.  It was reported that the victim never made it to shore.  The other occupant was able to swim to a rock where he was rescued by another camper who had heard someone yelling for help.

One Monday, June 11 at approximately 3:34PM, the body of Joseph Bennett Fedick, of Coon Rapids, MN, was recovered from the water within a couple hundred yards of their campsite.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County and St. Louis County Search and Rescue teams, Forest Service Law Enforcement and sea plane pilot, and Border Patrol all responded to assist in the search.


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