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The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Outdoor Adventure Series: Whitewater Paddling with Sam Cook

January 18, 2012
Join Sam Cook as he share three whitewater rivers

Join Sam Cook as he shares three whitewater rivers

Join Duluth News Tribune outdoors writer Sam Cook as he shares photos and stories from his travels on three “close to home” whitewater paddling destinations — the Bloodvein, Steel and White rivers of Ontario and Manitoba.

Sam has been covering hunting, fishing, camping and all things outdoors for 31 years. He has paddled twice to Hudson Bay as well as numerous other adventures on the whitewater of Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, and Alaska.

Sam has also traveled by dog team on Canada’s Great Slave Lake and Baffin Island.

He is the author of six books and has won numerous journalism awards.

You can follow him on Twitter at: samcookoutdoors.

7:00 PM • Tuesday, January 24th • FREE • Duluth Pack Store • 365 Canal Park Drive

The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Wilderness Adventure Series: Sparky Stensaas and “Owls to Orchids”

January 10, 2012
Great Grey Owl in the Sax-Zim Bog

Great Gray Owl in the Sax-Zim Bog

Everyone in America knows the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, but few people are aware of the other great wilderness areas within a stone’s throw of Lake Superior. This winter’s Wilderness Adventure Series will highlight “Wilderness Adventure Areas within a Day’s Drive of Duluth. Through these free seminars the guest speakers and the experts at the Duluth Pack store will introduce you to wildlife, whitewater, and more.

Kicking off the Wilderness Adventure Series on January 17th will be Mark “Sparky” Stensaas with his presentation Owls to Orchids: Magic in the Sax-Zim Bog. Maybe you heard the mention of the Sax-Zim Bog in the recent Steve Martin/Owen Wilson movie, “The Big Year”  Well guess what, this amazing bog is right in our backyard, only 45 minutes from Duluth. Long known to birders and photographers from around the world and across the country as THE place to find some of our most secretive boreal birds including the mythic Great Gray Owl.

Through Sparky’s HD video and still images we’ll explore these Black Spruce and Tamarack Bogs…without getting our feet wet or frozen! Meet the bird that grows snowshoes, the devious orchid that outsmarts bumblebees, and the death-defying frog. And of course, the stars’ of the show will be some cooperative Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk Owl families caught on HD video.

Sparky Stensaas is an author, naturalist, photographer, publisher, and writer (i.e. ‘no full-time real job’) based in Wrenshall, Minnesota (over by Jay Cooke State Park). He is a former “Duluth Packer” and the inspiration behind the Sparky Bag. Sparky’s latest venture is Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, a non-profit aimed at educating the public about the natural history of bogs and dedicated to creating a Sax-Zim Birder/Photographer Welcome Center. When not chasing after his two young sons, he may be out taking photos, blogging at ThePhotoNaturalist.com or watching All My Children (not in that order!).

Please come to the Duluth Pack store at 365 Canal Park Drive on Tuesday, January 17th at 7:00 PM to enjoy this wonderful story of a wilderness area right in our own backyard. Also add to your calendars Sam Cook’s whitewater adventures on January 24th, and “Hiking the Sioux Hustler Trail” with Martin Kubik on January 31st.

See you then!

The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis

November 14, 2011
OAE-News

Midwest Mountaineering will be hosting their 53rd bi-annual Outdoor Adventure Expo this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 18th through the 20th . Come to the west bank and wander the giant expo tent. Here you will get the chance to meet and speak with more than 60 exhibitors, including two learned experts from Duluth Pack, all dedicated to helping create the next great outdoor adventure.

In an effort to help adventurers learn more about the opportunities this great big world has to offer, there will be presentations from experts throughout the weekend. Dozens of presentations are scheduled with subjects as close to home as Minnesota State Parks, and as far flung as the summit of Everest. Head on over to Hanson Hall on Sunday afternoon and listen to yours truly ramble on and on about adventure blogging.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival held in Alberta, Canada accepts over 300 outdoor adventure films from around the world. During the festival the top 50 were chosen and screened from October 29, to November 6th, 2011. The films range in theme and style and  include climbing, skiing, kayaking, biking and more. When the festival is over they take it on the road to hold mini film festivals in North American cities. This year’s tour includes the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo. Check out screenings on Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Or check out both nights because a different line up of films will be seen each night.

There’s a lot going on during the Outdoor Adventure Expo November 18th to the 20th. Exhibitors, presentations, a film festival, and special events are all worth a trip to the west bank. As always the admission is free. Oops, the film festival will be $15.00, but the entertainment value is worth twice that. And don’t forget to visit us in the Duluth Pack booth or take advantage of your chance to pepper me with questions and/or rotten tomatoes on Sunday afternoon in Hanson Hall.

The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Fishing the Bois Brule River

October 27, 2011
Brule River Steelhead


The Bois Brule River in northern Wisconsin, just east of Duluth, MN, is one of the premier fly fishing rivers in the upper midwest.
Known for resident brook, brown, and rainbow trout the river will also see runs of lake brown trout and steelhead as well as coho and chinook salmon. I was lucky enough to wrangle an invitation to fish the Brule last week, and what a beautiful river to fish.

In search of steelhead running up the river we donned our waders, grabbed our packs and rods, and fished several different spots throughout the day. Our starting point was well upstream away from the big lake, we were just south of Box Car Hole and had the river to ourselves as we worked it hard for a couple of hours.  At the present time the water is low and crystal clear, making it tough to fool a fish with even the most alluring fly.

Next it was on to Big Tree Hole and then downstream to what we call Big Rock Hole, where just weeks earlier we spotted a big fish heading upstream. Here we ran into quite a few other fisherman, and one young angler who managed to hook into a 26-inch brown trout. Further on down the river we ran into a fly fisherman who spent a good amount of time trying to convince my fishing partner to ditch his spinning rig for a fly fishing rig like his. Unfortunately, neither set up brought in anything to capture in a photo.

The afternoon took us to the mouth of the river and a beautiful sand beach on the south shore of Lake Superior. For the next few hours we were casting, wading and moving upstream looking for fish. Along the way we encountered very few fisherman and some really spectacular scenery. The setting sun forced us to put the fishing rods away and quench our thirst, but I have taken the pledge to return and chase the steelhead in the very near future.

Many thanks to my guide who owns a cabin on the river. We will get them again next time. Maybe by canoe?

Get out on the water! There is a lot of great fishing to be had before winter arrives.


The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Northern Minnesota Bike Trails

August 23, 2011
Railroad bridge over the St. Louis River

While summer might be winding down, and you could be thinking: “hang up the canoe packs,” there is still some great bicycling weather yet to come. Riding the bike through the Minnesota woods in fall is one of my favorite activities, and a very scenic time to enjoy our state. Let me share with you five trails that I think are worth rolling over.

The Willard Munger State Trail goes from Hinckley to Duluth for a total of 63 miles. If you just like downhill let me recommend starting in Carlton just behind the Wells Fargo Bank. Take the trail through Jay Cooke State Park and then downhill all the way to Duluth.  You will peddle right through the State Forest and when you pop out of the woods a very scenic vista of the St. Louis River and Lake Superior will lie before you. Park a second car in Canal Park, hit the Duluth Pack store, grab something to eat and drink, and shuttle back to the top.

The Heartland State trail runs from Park Rapids east to Walker, 29 miles, and then north to Cass Lake for another 20 miles. The prettiest part of this trail is cut through the trees on an old railroad grade from Akeley to Walker. As you ride the Heartland check out Long Lake, Lake May, and big, old Leech Lake at the end of the trail. A stop at the Historic Chase Hotel in Walker might suit a thirsty rider as well.

The Paul Bunyan State Trail runs from Brainerd to Bemidji for a distance of 110 miles. The portion of the trail I recommend is from Backus to north of Portage Lake, for a nice ride of about 15 miles one way. The linking “C” trail to the Heartland is something to see.

The “C” Trail links the Paul Bunyan State Trail and the Heartland State Trail. The first thing you will notice about this trail is that is doesn’t follow an old railroad grade. The trail is up and down from just north of Portage Lake to just north east of Akeley, but paved for the entire 12-mile length. In my opinion this is the most scenic trail in Minnesota and really should be experienced in late September with leaves in full color.

The North Shore State Trail, also known as the C.J. Ramstad Trail runs from Duluth along the north shore of Lake Superior to Finland for a total of 146 miles. Along this trail you are going to see some of the most beautifully rugged scenery Minnesota has to offer. This ride will have you passing by or through multiple state parks including Gooseberry, Tettegouche, and Cascade River. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what has to be the most iconic landmark in the state; Splitrock Lighthouse.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list so for more information and more trails check out the link here; Minnesota Bike Trails, and enjoy.

Strap on your panniers, sling the messenger bag over your shoulder, and revel in those fall colors, which are sure to be brilliant this season.

 

The Lowdown, Trip Planning

BWCAW Bears and Canoe Packs

August 19, 2011
Black Bear in Woods

It has just been one of those summers in which the black bears of Minnesota have visited a lot of campsites in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Visitors to the wilderness must continue to be ever vigilant and keep the campsite clean to remove any and all temptations for curious and hungry bears.

Here is the latest I have on our furry friends in the north woods:

There is a bear or bears making the rounds on Bonnie Lake and most likely venturing into the Knife Lake area as well. Reports tell us that a large, persistent bear has been coming into camp on Bonnie Lake during daylight hours looking for a snack. This bear was so unnerving to a group that they moved camp up to Knife.

Another report from Knife Lake, involving possibly the same bear, states that a food pack was damaged and another one was taken. Advice is to keep those campsites clean, and hang those packs when possible.

Back to the west on Basswood Lake there are several reports of a bear or bears with their hungry eyes on food packs. Bears on and around Pipestone Bay have made themselves known through visible activity and raids on some campsites.

On Basswood’s Washington Island a bear tore a screen tent and stole a food pack while the group was out fishing. The report doesn’t state whether the pack was in the screen tent at the time of the pilfering. Doesn’t matter anyway because my advice is always the same: keep any and all food out of the tents. A thin layer of nylon will not stop a hungry bear.

The above report also reminds me to offer this advice: please take your food barrel or pack with you when you leave camp on a day trip. We all love our ursine friends, but let’s remove as much temptation as possible when traveling in areas known for bears with a penchant for thievery.

Still lots of summer left out there, get on the water and enjoy it!

Boundary Waters bear report for July 1, 2011

Dear Bears, keep your paws off my canoe packs

 

Techniques & Advice, The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Dear Bears, keep your paws off my canoe packs

July 29, 2011
This large black bear would love to peek in your canoe packs

It’s Blueberry Festival weekend in Ely, Minnesota! And, being that blueberries are one of the favorite treats of our big, black friends it is time for another bear report from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Two weeks ago a bear on Disappointment Lake tore into a food pack that was hanging from a tree. Bears are determined and don’t care that Cinco de Mayo has passed; therefore they love to play piñata with a hanging canvas backpack.

Please make sure your hanging pack is well off the ground, as much as 12 feet or more. Also, keep the pack away from the tree trunk. A hungry bear will climb the tree and reach out or climb out to get your pack.

Better yet…throw your food pack in the canoe when you leave for the day.

Yogi and Boo-boo are much smarter than you think. A bear on Basswood Lake came into camp and was able to crack open a bear-resistant container. According to the North American Bear Center in Ely, a bear will make 40 attempts at a food source before giving up. More proof that there is no such thing as a “bear-proof” container.

Like humans, bears are creatures of habit, when they find a campsite, or a series of campsites that have food they will make regular rounds. One such bear is on Malberg Lake, he just keeps coming around looking for a handout. And while he may not find or take anything, he visits camp multiple times.

Many bears have just simply lost their apprehensiveness around humans. There is a bear in the Upper Basswood Falls area that has been trying to get invited to a campsite breakfast. Last week, one group of campers didn’t feel like guests early in the morning, so they left without telling the bear.

Keep your camp clean. Hang your food pack. And NEVER take food into the tent.

Have a great time on the water, and send me some photos!

Paddle me back to DuluthPack.com

 

The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Forest Fires and the Sunset

July 25, 2011
A Bombardier fire plane lifts off the surface of the lake.

Imagine this: your boat is full of canoe packs and pushing hard westward into the setting sun. Both the fishing rod and the camera are out as you try and grab a few walleyes and some great shots of the amazing sunset. It is almost time to find a campsite, but you just aren’t ready to leave the water yet. The sun dipping below

the horizon has captivated you and your bowman, both.

The sky is full of reds, oranges, and pinks as if it is ablaze tonight. And in some ways it is on fire tonight, or at the very least fires are contributing to the brilliant sunset. What is creating these vivid sunsets are the fires burning in Canada, specifically Ontario. As the smoke fills the air and drifts into the U.S. it creates the crimson and other colors you see as the sun goes down in the evening.

As of July 24, 2011 there were 118 fires burning in Ontario, with new ones reported each day. At the present time there are fire restrictions in the northwest portion of the province. Currently, those restrictions do not include Quetico Provincial Park, but the Ministry of Natural Resources is asking everyone to be vigilant about fire prevention.

In terms of the “Made in America” fires, not so many are burning at the present time. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) saw two small fires burning on Kekekabic Lake, but those are now winding down and should be no threat to paddlers.

Remember to keep your campfires within the fire ring, and under control. Please put your fire out completely before going to bed, or leaving the campsite for the day. And while the BWCAW has been wet this season, it doesn’t take much for a fire to get out of control and cause a lot of damage.

Enjoy those colorful sunrises and sunsets, and get out on the water!

Help me get back to the DuluthPack.com homepage.

The Lowdown, Trip Planning

Minnesota state parks set to reopen

July 22, 2011
SplitRock

The long national nightmare is over.

Ok, not so much, but the Minnesota government is back up and running which means the state parks will be opening for visitors again this weekend. It will take some time for all the parks to come back to full strength, so we will have to be patient in the days to come.

In the meantime, ready your Wanderer and Ramble pack for the parks that are open. Here is just a sampling of state parks near Duluth, which are beginning to reopen again.

Cascade River is open

Gooseberry Falls is partially open

Grand Portage is open

Hill Annex Mine is open

Jay Cooke is partially open

Judge C.R. Magney is open

Savanna Portage is open

Split Rock is open

Temperance River is open

Tettegouche is open

Please realize you may experience partial services and other deficiencies in areas that are not fully open just yet. If you have questions about any other state parks or campgrounds please refer to the link below for information straight from the DNR.

http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/reopen/index.html

Good news is: all the state trails are open or partially open for business. Get out there and enjoy those. Also remember, the Superior Hiking Trail never shut down, and you never need a permit, so keep using that trail up and down the north shore.

Additionally, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness never shut down. Permits to the BWCAW are continuing to be issued, including at the Duluth Pack store in Canal Park. I took just a quick peek at permit availability, and while some popular entries are booked up, you can still find other good entry points through August.

Get those canoe packs loaded into the boats and get on the water, plenty of summer left. You can never see too many sunsets while in the Boundary Waters or Quetico.