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Canoeing, Techniques & Advice

How to Lift Your Canoe

June 17, 2013

Our Sales Representative, Ryan, was on a trip up the Gunflint Trail and stumbled upon this banner at a local shop.

We thought it was a great tutorial on proper canoe lifting technique.

Proper Canoe Lifting Technique

Canoeing, Rivers, The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Decling Moose Population Worries Researchers

April 5, 2013

The moose population in northeastern Minnesota has dropped almost 35 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, leading to concern for the future of the iconic animal. The drop is so severe, and with the cause remaining uncertain, the DNR has cancelled the moose hunt for this coming fall.

The estimate for 2013 is around 2,760 moose in the northeastern part of the state, down considerably from the 2006 estimate of 8,840. In an attempt to learn more about the cause of moose decline, researchers are hoping to collar a total of 110 animals and track their whereabouts through the coming months, according to the DNR’s website.

Here at Duluth Pack, the moose in our logo has come to represent much of what makes our little neck of the woods in northern Minnesota so special. We consider ourselves to be outdoors advocates. Whether it’s camping, hiking, fishing, or hunting, we love to be outdoors. To continue enjoying the amazing sites, sounds and images that we cherish, we think it’s useful to know what’s happening up in our little slice of heaven.

Canoeing, Techniques & Advice, Trip Planning

Solo Canoe Trip Across the BWCA – All the essentials

May 13, 2010

 

solopaddle

Boundary Waters Crossing

Before moving to Duluth, I spent minimal time in a canoe, preferring to be hiking in the mountains.  My wife and I quickly embraced trips on the water and were hooked after our first canoe trip to Voyagers NP.  As Duluth Pack’s Marketing Director, every trip with friends ended up including a photo shoot for the Duluth Pack catalog.  We had plenty of weekend trips in the Boundary Waters, but whenever the opportunity for a longer trip came up, we headed out west. When I felt my time in Duluth nearing an end, I started dreaming up a Boundary Waters crossing.

I enjoy leisurely trips in the outdoors: taking naps or reading in the canoe, cooking great food and playing games with friends by the campfire, but I always plan one trip a year where I push myself to my limits. I’m curious what I can do, how fast and far I can go. I had never gone further than 9 or 10 miles in a day on a canoe trip, but knew if I went by myself and went light, I could go much further. I had 9 days of vacation, so I knew to cover the almost 200 miles I would have to paddle over 20 miles per day. View the route here.

vermilion-riverSolbergs on the Vermilion River

I dropped Molly Solberg (Duluth Pack customer service and social networking guru) and her husband off on the Vermilion River. They were going to paddle out to the boat launch where I was starting at Crane Lake. I told my wife that I didn’t know how, but somehow I would find a way to contact her to let her know when and where to pick me up. By some miracle, she was game.

My 10’ish essentials.

Here are some highlights of what I brought: (or you can read the whole list here)

Clothing – Crocs (these were perfect for the longest portages, odd I know), Buzz Off shirt and hat (very glad for these and yes they work), Icebreaker top for warmth,  Filson hat for the rain (every canoeist needs one of these)

Gear - Bell Magic canoe (this boat is incredible for high miles), #4 Deluxe Duluth Pack in Waxed Canvas, Bending Branches expedition paddle, map case to keep one of the ten maps I took dry

Food - I’m a whole foods kind of guy and needed all the energy I could get, so I took a lot of bulk grains and made sauces to go with them. My favorite was protein laden Gado Gado quinoa.  Quinoa, peanut butter, soy sauce, oil and dehydrated veggies.  You can read my menu here.

Below are notes from my daily journal.  You can view all my photos from the trip here.

 

Day 1 – Crane Lake to Loon River

I didn’t get on the water till 7 PM.  I rushed off without checking the map and got confused as to where I was.  This was not a good start, and I set my mind not to let this happen again.

loon.loonriverLoon before Loon River

I took a break on a small island on Little Vermilion Lake to watch the sun go down and watch a loon swim around.

After the sun set, I paddled into the night down the Loon River. Both sides of the river were lined with fireflies. The sounds of loons, frogs and beaver tails slapping the water filled the air. It is quite an experience to have a beaver slap its tail on the water right next to your canoe in complete darkness.  I would have thought after the first ten slaps I would have gotten used to it, but each time I filled with adrenaline.  I ran into a beaver dam which clued me in that I was off course.  I was going with the “current,” but the river on the other side of the dam was higher than me.  I pulled over and set camp, surprisingly bug free.  I went to sleep thinking “maybe the bugs aren’t so bad in June.”

Day 2 – Loon River to Crooked Lake

mirroredloonriverMirrored Loon River

After an early wake up at 6 AM, I quickly got on the water figuring out where I got off course.  If you don’t get up early to enjoy paddling through a glassy lake early in the morning, you are missing the best part of paddling.  Trust me, it will make a nap in the afternoon all the better.

PICT7228.JPGYou are here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pictographsPictographs at Warrior Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

curtainfallsCurtain Falls

Weaving through the hundreds of islands on Lac La Croix demonstrated how important it was to always know where I was at all times. It would be very easy to get lost out there among the myriad of islands without topography. I passed by pictographs of hands and moose on Warrior Hill and portaged around Curtain Falls.

After I paddled as far as I could (this was the longest distance day, 40+ miles), I headed towards a campsite.  I heard the sound of motors in the distance, but knew no motors were allowed in the area.  I turned on my headlamp and saw a cloud of bugs, the thickest and loudest cloud of bugs I had ever seen. I went to shore and quickly started a fire with some cedar.  The bugs dissipated and I quickly went to sleep after a sip or two of whiskey. Whiskey is key for solo trips.  You don’t need much to take off the edge that makes you think every mouse running around is a bear coming to maul you.

 

Day 3 -Crooked Lake to Basswood Lake

crookedlakeMmmmm….. glass on Crooked

I mostly paddled with a kayak paddle for mindless speed, but whenever the water was calm I switched to the canoe paddle.  There is nothing like silently and effortlessly gliding over mirrored water.

 

Turtles on Crooked Laketurtle

I watched an otter scurry along the edge of a cliff, saw turtles basking in the sun, heard more beaver tails slapping the water, watched an owl take off, eagles soar, fish swim under the canoe, and a deer coming to the water for a drink.  They supplied me with grateful breaks to just sit and watch.

Longer portages slowed me down and I saw many people around Basswood Falls.  A loud and strong thunderstorm whipped up and supplied a nice change.  I enjoy canoeing in the rain. As a photographer, I love the saturated color and diffused light.

 

basswoodstormstormy waters on Basswood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

campsite on Basswood LakePICT7285.JPG

I lazily paddled across Basswood Lake with a rare tail wind.  I rounded American Point and found an almost tropical looking sandy campsite.  I had to call it quits early thanks to a migraine.  Took a long nap and cooked up some Gado Gado.  I love the way you view food on a trip – fuel.  When you need a refill, you eat.  There is no eating according to the clock.

 

 

Day 4 – Basswood Lake to Saganaga Lake

eaglekniferiverEagle over Knife River

The lakes I paddled through on day 4 are my favorite of the lakes I have seen in the Boundary Waters – loved the little duck through at the end of Ottertrack.  I started really zoning out, humming a cadence to the kayak paddle strokes.

 

Campsite on Sag
sagcampsite

I navigated through the maze and finally made it into Saganaga Lake.  Dove into my tent exhausted after another long day.

Day 5 – Saganaga Lake to Gunflint Lake

Saganaga ended up being my least favorite lake.  I’m generally not a fan of the big lakes and prefer the coziness of the smaller lakes. Thanks to the blow down, Saganaga looks like a bomb hit it.  Toothpick remnants of trees silhouette the horizon.

 

graniteriverBlowdown on Granite River

I walked the canoe up several rapids.  It would have been great fun going the other way. All the portages were designed for those headed west.

 

Wild strawberry
PICT7318.JPG

I gorged myself on wild berries, but every time I stopped to glean, mosquitoes feasted on me.

I figured out how to paddle up smaller rapids. I would have never guessed it was possible.

I didn’t get one section of the map, relying on a map from a guide book. Bad idea, it is amazing how many options nature provides when you aren’t confident in exactly where you need to head.

I found my way out and paddled out to the Gunflint Lodge.  A Guinness and a burger did wonders.  I’m always surprised at the change in my social temperament after coming out of a long trip.  I’m always much slower, much quieter and say much less.  Too bad this fades so quickly after re-entry.

I was able to figure out my exit point and day, so I contacted my wife. I paddled down the monotonous length of Gunflint Lake and felt my batteries fading, so I pulled over to camp.

Day 6 – Gunflint Lake to Mountain Lake

By day six, I felt like I was wearing down.  I’m glad I’ve navigated out of the east end of Gunflint Lake before.  The map shows a very large opening coming out of the lake, but in reality there is only a very small opening.

I am a backpacker, and a 2 mile hike sounds like nothing, but when carrying a canoe and pack, two miles feels like 20.  I jogged down the trail, zoning out, when I almost ran someone over.  I hadn’t seen many people on the trip and did not expect to run into anyone on the ‘Long Portage.  The guy mentioned it was going to be rough up ahead due to beaver activity.  The trail was flooded in several sections which made for welcome breaks of paddling and pulling the canoe along the trail and over dams.

ladyslipper

 

Lady slipper orchid

At the end of the portage I spotted a wilted lady slipper orchid that looked like I felt. Exhausted, I didn’t make it much farther before making camp.

 

 

 

Day 7- Mountain Lake to Pine Lake

Mergandser taking off on Royal River
royalriver

I reached the eastern edge of the Boundary Waters at North Fowl Lake and looped back to make it a shorter driver for my wife to pick me up. I was cheered on by a family as I paddled up some rapids under a bridge at the end of the Arrowhead Trail.  An elderly man motored beside me for a ways on McFarland Lake, measuring my speed – 3.4 mph.  I headed back into the wilderness and down most of Pine Lake.

I really enjoyed the variety of scenery in the Boundary Waters.  In the western end, there is little to no topography, lots of swamps, islands everywhere and amazingly huge white pines.  In the eastern end are towering bluffs and long narrow lakes bordered by large hills.

pinelakeEscaping the bugs on Pine Lake

I spent a lot of time out in the canoe that evening, escaping the bugs that engulfed the shore.

 

Day 8 – Pine Lake to East Bearskin Lake

I awoke earlier than normal to wind, lightning and heavy rain.  I headed into a strong headwind for most of the day.

 

 

 

johnson fallsJohnson Falls

Found the unmarked trail up to Johnson Falls.  I’m surprised you don’t see that on the map.

Went past an amazing campsite on Little Caribou that I’d come back to for a catalog shoot.

Portage out of Caribou Lake portage

Caribou and Little Caribou lakes reminded me of New Zealand, thick carpets of green everywhere.

Amazingly, I arrived at the boat landing at East Bearskin Lake at the exact same time my wife was pulling up.  I told her noon. I finished four minutes late at 12:04.

Nick Kelly is the Communications Director for Christ Community Church in Omaha, NE where he, his wife and 2 boys drive endless miles to enjoy the outdoors.

Canoeing, Techniques & Advice

How To Measure Your Canoe Paddle

July 23, 2009

Does your canoe paddle fit properly? Are you in the market for a new paddle and unsure what size to buy? Well we hope this will help you find that perfect paddle!  There seems to be an ongoing debate with our staff on how to properly fit one for a paddle, so in the interest of staff unity, (and my sanity), I am including both methods!

#1

The first method, “the chair method”, involves sitting in a chair and measuring the distance between the seat of the chair and eye levelTake that measurement from the seat of the chair to eye level and add 18 for a bent shaft and 24 for a straight shaft. Take that measurement and use that to measure the proper length for your shaft and grip of your paddle only, not the blade.

This method works best for the straight shaft paddle.  Straight shafts work best for rivers (easy maneuvering) and for windy days on lakes.

#2

The second method, “the kneeling/canoe seat method”, involves kneeling on the floor with your “rear end” 6″ off the floor.  Hold the paddle upside down with the handle on the floor.  When the paddle is in this position, the blade of the paddle should begin around nose and eye level.

* If you are measuring for a bent shaft paddle (best used on lakes) deduct 2″-4″ from this length.

If you have another method we would love to hear about it (and debate it’s merits)!  We hope this helps you find that perfect paddle for years of paddling enjoyment!

Canoeing, Techniques & Advice

Paddling with Kids! Fun, Easy Tips!

June 25, 2009

We have concluded our river-a-week series for the year. There are an infinite number of rivers,  too many to discuss, so we may have to venture back to rivers next spring.  For now, it’s time to move on!

This is a favorite subject for me! Paddling with my family is one of my favorite pastimes. With a few helpful tips, I have learned it can be an enjoyable experience for all.  First off, you have to make sure your child has ample water and food. I pack a waterproof bag with items just for him that I carabiner to the side of the canoe for easy access.

In the bag, I put a few small toys he can play with in the canoe when bored. I also place some snacks and candies just for him.  He loves looking in the bag to pull out his next surprise. We also play a lot of “I Spy” games, 20 Questions, and other fun games to pass the time.  Another important factor is to pack enough clothes that they are comfortable in all situations. Pack long underwear, swimsuit, rain gear, and a change of dry clothes. One fun thing to pack has been an umbrella! The smaller the better. He has used the umbrella as a fort, sun shelter, rain shelter and the most fun, a sail! Binocularsare also a hit. Kids love to spy all kinds of wildlife.

We also bought a kids sized paddle so they can feel like they are helping out and to train them to take over some day. Make sure you stop a few times a day on your journey so your child can run around, burn off some energy, and stretch their legs.

One other tip to keep them interested, is to provide them with there OWN set of maps in a waterproof case. They love to follow along and feel like they are important and in control of navigating. I have found by following these few simple tips we have all enjoyed our paddling trips and can’t wait to plan the next! Please leave comments about tips you have used for an enjoyable family paddle!

Canoeing, Rivers

River #5 – Namekagon River, WI

June 18, 2009

After writing and paddling a “river a week” for a bit now, one river keeps coming back to mind, The Namekagon River in Wisconsin. This river has it all, especially for an overnight/several day trip. Few rivers have such accessible campsites that are even equipped with picnic tables!

We started the river 33 miles upstream from Hayward, not many paddling books cover this stretch since it is mostly doable only in early Spring.  Over two seasons we have done down to where the river meets up with the St. Croix. This wild and scenic river has very limited development,great campsites, and plenty of wildlife including one of my favorite photos of an eagle (thanks J).  There are plenty of Class I rapids and riffles to keep everyone satisfied. The higher up you go on the river the less people you
will see. We have done this trip each year in mid May. It is a great family trip and also a good trip for beginning paddlers. The Namekagon River Visitor Center has always been extrememly helpful to us. Please give them a call before you head out at 715-635-8346.

River paddling is a great way to connect with your friends and family! A captive audience!

 

Have any of you done this river? We would love to read your story and see your photos!

Canoeing, Rivers, Trip Planning

River #4 – Little Indian Sioux River, MN

June 11, 2009

The Little Indian Sioux River is mainly located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  The most popular route on the river is traveling North off the Echo Trail.  For this trip we headed South, upstream (entry point #9). This was also a special trip because it was our first ever Father – Daughter trip.

The river is lazy and winding and there is minimal flow, so allow enough time in the day if you are going into Bootleg Lake. A few spots on the river were shallow, I would recommend doing the trip earlier in the Spring or after ample rains. The trip is
doable anytime of year, it just may take a little more effort. There are  two rapids to portage around in the first section, the first being a short 8 rod portage but an impressive “falls”. The second portage is longer, around a rocky stretch of rapids. You will probably encounter a beaver dam or two on this section.  After several miles we veered off onto the Little Pony River, a smaller, narrower river that leads into Bootleg Lake.

Bootleg is a quiet lake with 2/3 campsites. After one night on Bootleg, it was a portage back to the Little Indian Sioux River. We had heard stories about this portage being tough to find. We hugged the shoreline until we made out a path, I jumped out to scout it out, we were in luck, it was recently cleared by the US Forest Service (thank you)!  Double portaging allowed my Dad and I some bonding time (on the non-pack carrying leg).  The MVP from this trip was my Rambler Pack, which we used as our food pack. We hung it from a tree where it was rained on for 10 hours, the next morning it was dry!

Once back on the Little Indian Sioux we wound back and forth so many times I started to get dizzy!  On this section, I spotted my first muskrat, that followed us (or dodged us) several times. After several miles, we exited off the river, onto a long portage that brought us into windy Little Trout Lake.  After a brief respite on Little Trout Lake, we headed into Trout Lake and soon there after exited onto the small, serpentine Pine Creek that leads into Pine Lake.  There are a few long portages off this creek that lead to other less explored lakes but this creek is frequently used by fisherman from Trout Lake. Off of Trout Lake you have a small portage around some picturesque rapids. Pine Lake was the first time we didn’t have a lake or river completely to ourselves. We did enjoy our last night out with a late afternoon paddle around the lake.  At the far end of Pine Lake you can still see evidence of the timber industry, with abandoned railroad posts, from a former bridge, jutting out from the lake in an eerie pattern.

The last morning after another portage, we arrived at Trout Lake and our ride home. The trip was peaceful, with such unique landscape, I will definitely add this to my list to do again. Also, this river trip meant a great deal more to be able to share it with my Father. Thank you Dad for the company, and Happy Father’s Day!

Signed, the Cribbage Champ

Canoeing, Rivers, Trip Planning

River #3 – The Little Fork, Northern MN

May 28, 2009

The great thing about paddling rivers is not just seeking out the grand majestic Mississippi or St. Croix Rivers, but to explore smaller rivers near your home or off the beaten path.

That’s what we did this week. The Little Fork River is a smaller river that is located from the Minnesota and Canadian border and continues for about 100 or so miles. Smaller rivers often have little development which was the case with the Little Fork. We spent the day watching the various landscape of pine trees, farmland, and wooded banks. We followed a river otter for a half mile and watched several eagles and an owl!

The one “challenge” about paddling rivers is the shuttling. When you get out you need a way to get back to the beginning. We took two cars to the drop off, dropped off our canoe and locked it to a tree. Next we both drove to the take out and left a vehicle, then drove back to the put in with our gear, unlocked the canoe and took off.  Often, more popular rivers, will offer a shuttle service. In the past we have even locked a bicycle at the take out and someone biked back to the put in vehicle.

The sections we did had it all, slow quiet water, a few Class I rapids, two Class II rapids and a Class IV-VI Hannine Falls (which yes, we did portage). We lingered long enough to snap photos and a video.

 

Another important thing about rivers that I have mentioned before is, ALWAYS SCOUT RAPIDS.

Even if you have done the rapids a hundred times before, a downed tree, log, or other obstacle could have recently wedged its way into your path.  Remember, Get Out and Scout!

Canoeing, Rivers, Trip Planning

River #2 – A Trip Down the St. Croix

May 19, 2009

 

This weekend 7 of us (3 canoe teams) are heading down the St. Croix in WI & MN.
We had planned to start at the beginning of the river at the Gordon Dam, but low waters deemed this section “challenging”.

At the last minute we opted for a lower section, always check water levels before heading out. We put in at the C.C.C Bridge (a few miles north of Riverside Landing) and we took out at the St. Croix State Park Main Landing.This section is wild and scenic. It can get low so check water levels.  There are easy riffles and rapids and a steady flow. Campsites were very nice (watch out for ticks!)

Despite rain on the first night, snowflakes on the second morning, and 35 mph wind gusts, we all had a great time! Without portages you can bring along a cooler and treat yourself to great meals.  Each canoe team was responsible for their own breakfast, lunch and snacks. For two nights on the river, 2 teams each took a dinner, and the 3rd team provided dessert and an appetizer for each of the two dinner meals. We ate well!

The MVP’s of the weekend went to our tarps, with the rain and wind it made
camp-life bearable.  Runner-up went to our knee-high wader boots. It was so nice to have dry feet all weekend and to be able to get in and out of the canoe without having to be next to shore. Also, in low spots, it’s easy to jump out, pull the canoe along, and jump back in. Dry feet!

We saw a lot of eagles, herons, osprey, deer, owls and turtles! We only saw one other boat until the take out, we had the whole river to ourselves. The earlier you can plan a river trip the better. I would recommend the St. Croix as an easy beginner trip.