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Science Desk: Interactive Tour of Wilderness at Risk

Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Posted by
Rachel Garwin

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a breathtaking wild landscape of lakes, streams and woods that covers 1.1 million acres along the Canadian border. International mining companies have proposed building sulfide-ore copper mines right on the edge of the Wilderness, threatening to contaminate its pristine waters and disrupt its quiet wilderness character.

Through the Science Desk series, we try to describe the importance of the Boundary Waters, its watershed and the different ways sulfide-ore copper mining would fundamentally change the landscape. Instead of a written account this month, we invite you to take a virtual tour and see what’s at stake.

This tour uses the Google Earth platform to guide you through the beautiful Boundary Waters in a geographically grounded context. You can see pictures of the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake, as well as check out the locations of the sulfide-ore copper mining facilities proposed by Twin Metals Minnesota. 

Check out this one-minute preview:

View the Google Earth tour here.

Technical Suggestions:

  • The tour works best using Firefox or Safari with the Google Earth Plugin installed.
  • You can still view the tour using Chrome, however it will be in 2D rather than 3D.
  • If you prefer to see the tour in the Google Earth program itself, you can download this KMZ file and open it using Google Earth. 
    • Click “Play Tour” in the My Places window,
    • Use the play/pause button in the bottom left hand corner of the map window to start and stop the tour after reading the information windows and scrolling through pictures.

 

Rachel Garwin is the Campaign's policy director. She holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Every month, Science Desk will include our latest scientific support and share a deeper understanding of the potential environmental impact from sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.

Resupply Report: Winter Is My Season

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Posted by
Joseph Goldstein

Every season has its appeal, but something about the cold and the snow appeals to me, and seems to calm the chaos of everyday life. I wait for winter the same way that most kids wait for their summer vacation.

Winter makes no apologies – you’re either prepared to take it on, or you’re going to suffer until spring. Six years ago, when I was 8, I first learned to really LOVE it when my parents took me dogsledding with Wintergreen in the BWCA. Since then (except for last winter when chemo kept me on lockdown), I’ve travelled and camped in the dead of winter in the BWCA, Svalbard (Norway) and Greenland.

If you want to spend your winter outside, in the wilderness, you better be prepared to work for it. There’s no easy way to do it: No easy way to camp, cook, travel, get or stay warm. You have to plan, think, be prepared and earn the right to be there. 

What is the best thing about Winter camping in the Wilderness? Not many people can go do it, and the ones who can are the ones that you want to go spend time with. A few days ago, I took a dogsled into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to resupply my friends, Dave and Amy, during their Year In The Wilderness. I got to spend time with my dad and brother and our good friend Jason. I also got the chance to share my favorite place with awesome guys and hosts of the TV show Rock The Park, Jack and Colton!

This trip was amazing.  The first night was truly cold.  We got to hear the sap freezing and cracking the trees, saw huge icicles hanging from cliffs where small drizzles of water run in the summer, rolled around and played with the sled dogs and sat around the fire telling stories.

I’ve learned a lot about the world that grown-ups inhabit during the past year.  I know that at my age, I’m supposed to be itching to be an adult. Based on what I’ve seen, it is a pretty constrained place. So many needs compete with simply doing what’s right: political agendas, financial needs, protection of status. It gets complicated and messy, but it make makes me appreciate the simplicity of being a 14-year-old kid whose parents and friends and community support my simple Wish: to protect and preserve the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for everyone, forever.

So sign the petition, write your representatives, donate to the campaign and lend your voice to the thousands of us fighting to save the BWCA. This is how we stand up together and say, “Not here. Not now. Not ever.” to the mining that will destroy it.

[photos by Jason Zabokrtsky]


Joseph Goldstein (age 14) took his first trip to the Boundary Waters when he was around 8 years old. Joseph was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in October 2014. Since then, he committed to helping protect the Boundary Waters. Joseph traveled to Washington, D.C., last March to meet with federal decision makers and deliver 60,000 petition signatures in support of permanently protecting the Boundary Waters from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining. Joseph plans to to help Explorers Dave and Amy Freeman during each season of A Year In The Wilderness by resupplying the Freemans with supplies and food. Learn more about Joseph’s story in his own words.

From the Freemans: Winter's Bite is Slowly Fading

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

It is the heart of the winter in the Wilderness. I just finished wading through thigh-deep snow while gathering firewood from a spruce bog near our campsite. Last week the temperature barely rose over freezing during the heat of the day and plunged to -15 to -25 at night. Some of the questions we hear most often revolve around how we "survive" out in the Wilderness in the winter. I would say we are not just surviving out here, we are thriving. I would like to share some of the things that allow us to live and travel comfortably in the winter woods.

This isn't our first rodeo. Amy and I have more than 20 years of combined experience leading winter camping and dogsledding trips in the Boundary Waters. We have worked for Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge for many seasons and over the years we have learned many tips and tricks for staying happy and healthy in the winter Wilderness.

Good clothing is extremely important and we layer our clothing so that we can add a layer if we get cold, or remove a layer if we get too hot. Believe it or not, our biggest challenge is overheating. When we are skiing with the dogs we do not need to wear very many clothes because we are working hard. When we stop, we put on a down jacket or our anorak to help trap in our body heat. In the winter, we wear clothing that is breathable so that any moisture that our body produces can pass through our clothing. We wear Merino Air long underwear that was donated by Patagonia, and on top of that we usually wear one or two fleece layers to help trap our body heat. Our outer layer consists of pants and an anorak made by Wintergreen Northern Wear. When it is cold, and we stop for lunch or stop moving for a while, we can throw our Outdoor Research down parkas over the rest of our clothing to help us stay warm.

Another way we stay warm is by gathering and burning a lot of firewood. There is an old saying that firewood warms you twice, once when you cut it and then again when you burn it. Each day, Amy and I spend about an hour gathering, cutting and splitting firewood. We gather dead wood that is well back from the lake and away from summer campsites. It is hard work carrying the logs through deep snow back to our campsite, cutting it into 14-inch pieces, and splitting it with our axe. The benefit is that we can relax in our Seek Outside tipi tent and soak in the heat from the wood stove. The wood stove is in the center of our tipi tent. We have a drying line that runs around the top of the tent, from which we hang socks, mittens and other clothing to dry. We also hang our ski boots and other heavy items off of the center pole. With good wood burning in the stove, it is easy to keep the tent 50 or 60 degrees at head level and 80 or 90 degrees at the top of the tent where the drying lines are. The ability to dry out our clothing using the heat of the wood stove makes it much easier to stay warm and comfortable out here in the winter.

Good food, and plenty of it, also helps us stay warm and comfortable. In the winter we eat about 3,500 to 4,000 calories each day. Our diet contains a lot of butter, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, cheese and other foods that are high in fat. I know it's pretty rough adding an extra dollop of butter to our pasta, a big spoonful of peanut butter to our oatmeal or an extra helping of chocolate after dinner, but we will manage. In reality, being able to eat as much as I want without thinking twice is one of my favorite parts about extended cold weather trips. On some of our winter trips, we have eaten as many as 5,500 calories each day! We are thankful for the steady stream of volunteers who trek into the Wilderness every week or two with supplies for us. They often bring brownies, chocolate, cookies, fresh fruit and other special treats. Thanks to the cold and our active lifestyle, we can polish off a batch of cookies in one sitting without thinking twice!

Luckily we have about six weeks of winter left, so there is still plenty of time for us to eat as many treats as we want. February and March are some of my favorite months in the Boundary Waters. The days are getting longer and the sun is getting higher in the sky each day. Winter's bite is slowly fading and spring will be here before we know it. We are approaching the halfway mark of A Year in the Wilderness. We are so thankful for all of the support we are receiving from the staff, volunteers and Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters supporters. Thank you for helping us bear witness to this national treasure and be a constant reminder of what is at risk.

Sportsmen's "Fish Out of Water" Wins the Spirit of Film Award

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Posted by
Piper Hawkins-Donlin

We are pleased to announce that Sportsmen for the Boundary Water's film, Fish Out of Water, won the Spirit of Film Award at the Frozen Film Festival on February 7. The Spirit of Film award embodies the spirit of independent filmmaking while advocating for a cause.

The Frozen Film Festival was a 2016 addition to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and the winter version of the St. Paul Film Festival. It showcased over 30 independent films from around the world; from documentary shorts, to feature length films.  

Accepting the award were Mark Norquist, owner of Green Head Productions and executive producer of the Fish Out of Water, and Phil Aarrestad, story developer and second camera operator for the film. “We are proud that the film was recognized by the Frozen Film Festival. We hope the film will help raise awareness of the risky sulfide-ore copper mines proposed near the edge of this beautiful wilderness,” Norquist said during the acceptance speech. 

The three-part film series brings you into the Boundary Waters with three Minnesota chefs;  Lachelle Cunningham of Breaking Bread Café, Amanda Cowette of Wise Acre Eatery, and experienced sportsman Lukas Leaf, executive chef at Al Vento, for an expedition into the wilderness to fish, cook and showcase the beauty of this fishing and hunting destination threatened by Twin Metals and other companies’ proposed sulfide-ore copper mines.

The film, which was shown in the documentary shorts category, was attended by the several members of the crew, along with the film's stars, Amanda Cowette and Lukas Leaf.

Watch all three episodes of Fish Out of Water today and relive the excitement as Sportsmen's three chefs venture into the wilderness to fish and cook. 

From the Freemans: Challenges Make Lasting Impressions

Thursday, February 4, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

Often we describe the tranquil times, silence, sunset and countless beautiful moments that one encounters when they are immersed in Wilderness. Wilderness has many moods: blizzards that chill you to the bone and drenching rains that fill the canoe and leave you soggy, wondering if you will ever see the sun again. Then there are bugs, blisters and giant portage packs that send you wobbling down the portage trail. These uncontrollable factors are often the fuel for our most memorable and transformational Wilderness experiences.

Several days ago we packed up camp on Gun Lake, expecting an easy day traveling on a packed trail to Sandpit Lake where we would meet a resupply team. We took our time packing up camp. The temperature had dropped to -12 overnight and a stiff south wind was blowing, so we were in no hurry. We leisurely packed the toboggans and harnessed the dogs. As expected, we rocketed along on a hard-packed trail with the dogs pulling me and and our toboggans.

After 5 minutes a 50-yard-wide pocket of deep slush appeared where our hard packed trail had been the night before. We took off our skis and searched to the right and left, looking for a way around the slush. The dogs barked and lunged, unhappy about our sudden stop. Diverting to the right seemed better so we turned the team and headed toward the right-hand shore through the deep untracked snow. After 10 minutes we had negotiated the slush pocket. Despite our best attempts to avoid the slush, our skis and toboggans were coated in ice. We pulled out our scrapers and spent 10 minutes removing the ice cemented to our gear. A few minutes later we encountered another large pocket of slush and repeated the process. While we were scraping after the second slush pocket, a Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge advanced camping group passed us. We followed their trail through and around the slush for the rest of the day. The slush made traveling slow and hard.

As it was getting dark, we caught up to the Wintergreen group near the end of a mile-and-a-half long winter portage into Tin Can Mike Lake. Two men had fallen in up to their waists while crossing an unfrozen patch of bog. They were obviously exhausted and way past their comfort zone. Their young guide, Peter Schurke, has been tromping through the Wilderness in every season with his family since he took his first steps and cheerfully encouraged them to keep moving. They would camp “just around the corner.” This was just another day in the Wilderness for Peter; a day full of challenges, but nothing he hadn't seen before. If fact, I am sure Peter came into the Wilderness looking for these challenges because he knew they would leave a lasting impression on his companions in ways that go beyond the sunsets and silence that Wilderness affords.

Amy and I were looking forward to setting up our own camp soon as well. We scraped ice off our skis and toboggans for what we hoped would be the last time as Peter and his campers slowly trudged around the corner. At that moment I doubt that they noticed the raw beauty of a raven flying overhead or the emerging stars creeping across the sky as the sun's final glow disappeared beyond the rugged pine-studded ridge across the lake. I also doubt they came to the Wilderness in search of slush, partially frozen bogs, and setting up camp in the dark. But after a warm shower and a hot meal, those challenges become the glue that adheres the Wilderness to your soul, allows you to take a part of the Wilderness with you, and changes you in a way that only those difficult moments can.

Those experiences are one of Wilderness's greatest (but often overlooked) assets, and are an important reason to protect Wilderness for future generations.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the Wilderness? How did it affect you? It is important to share those moments with others. Tell your elected officials about how those challenges have shaped you. The changes Wilderness imparts on us ripple through our lives and our communities long after we leave the Wilderness, which is one important reason we need to save the Boundary Waters.

[PHOTOS: Top, Peter Schurke and Bottom, Marc Sadeghi (2)]


Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.

Minnesotans are accustomed to difficult winters, and so are its animals. While a person might don an extra coat or retreat to a heated house, animals rely on adaptations and changes in behavior to survive cold temperatures, deep snows and frozen lakes found in the Northwoods, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Though these animals have evolved to survive these harsh conditions, winter is demanding and puts extra stress on wildlife that are constantly trying to survive. Placing massive industrial facilities associated with sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters would heighten the existing stressors and end badly for these year-round residents.

In some ways, animal's winter adaptations parallel humans’ responses to winter. In 2014, Doug Smith of the Star Tribune shared a nice roundup of how animals survive Minnesota’s brutal winters. Whitetail deer, for instance, grow a winter coat with hollow hairs that has more insulating power than their summer coat. Likewise, a person might choose to wear a fleece or down coat that traps more warm air near her body, creating better insulation between her and the cold surroundings. Smith goes on to describe chickadees and other birds pulling a similar move by “puff[ing] out their feathers to increase insulation.” Chickadees can also “pull one foot up into their feathers,” much like a skier pulling cold fingers out of a glove to warm them in his palm.

Unlike humans, many animals, especially birds that don’t migrate, must constantly consume calories to survive winter conditions. Deep snow and ice can make it difficult for birds to forage because their normal foods are covered. Waterfowl can collect around open water, creating a high concentration of prey for predators to attack. Grouse also stick around during the winter, and expose themselves to predator attack while digging through deep snow for food. Rabbits and snowshoe hares must also frequently forage for food, relying on woody plant stems, balsam fir twigs and other hardy vegetation that lasts throughout the winter.

Moose, which are extremely well adapted to winter with their long legs and heavy winter coats, appear to be increasingly stressed during winter for counterintuitive reasons. The decline is likely spurred by a variety of factors acting together, and recent information from the Minnesota moose study suggests that winter warming plays an important role in moose mortality. Moose are prone to heat stress in winter if temperatures rise since they can’t cool down in ponds and their dark fur acts as a heat sink in the midst of a snow-covered landscape. Warmer winters also allow the explosion of winter ticks, which attach to moose in the late fall and terrorize the animals well into the winter. Moose in New Hampshire and Maine scrape themselves raw to rid themselves of the blood-sucking parasites, which exposes them to cold temperatures when they finally come. These stresses reduces the ability of many moose to forage and exposes them to higher levels of predation or other diseases.

We’ve discussed on this blog how sulfide-ore copper mining proposed in the Boundary Waters watershed would affect moose specifically, and the impacts would likely be worse in winter since it is an already stressful time. This is true for other animals, as well. We discussed the interference noise and traffic would cause in birds and other animals’ ability to look for food while also watching for predators when we investigated the above-ground footprint of an underground mine. All day, year-round noise, light and traffic from the proposed mine would keep waterfowl, deer, grouse, snowshoe hare and other hardy winter creatures from hearing predators approaching from the sky or through the woods.

The more time put into listening for and hiding from predators, the less food they can collect. If they prioritize foraging, the animals are more exposed to being eaten. The more time spent foraging, wading through deep snow, or keeping warm in adverse conditions, the more food is necessary. Industrializing the landscape around the Boundary Waters will accentuate these winter tradeoffs, with potentially dire results for animals that have otherwise figured out how to survive in harsh conditions.


Rachel Garwin is the Campaign's policy director. She holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Every month, Science Desk will include our latest scientific support and share a deeper understanding of the potential environmental impact from sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters.

American Angler: Risk vs. Reward

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

The American Angler article "Risk vs. Reward," written by Morgan Lyle, originally ran in the January/February 2016 issue of American Angler and is reprinted here with permission. The following is an excerpt. You can read the full article as a PDF.

More than one million acres of water and woods, one hundred fifty miles long with thousands of lakes, and streams full of smallmouth bass and northern pike. Protected since 1926, made part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964, and today the nation's most-visited wilderness area.

And now, possibly, a next-door neighbor to huge copper and nickel mines which, opponents say, are all but guaranteed to wreak environmental havoc.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) in northeastern Minnesota sits adjacent to a massive deposit of precious minerals of the kind Americans consume voraciously. Four mining companies, including a Chilean mining company called Twin Metals, owned by Antofogasta, want to dig large mines there that will produce 50,000 tons of mineralized ore per day for 30 years. This type of mining has never been done before in Minnesota.

Compounding the issue is the fact sulfide-bearing ore produces sulfuric acid when in contact with water or snow, and leaches toxic heavy metals and sulfates. In the history of mining, there's never been an open-pit or underground mine that hasn't generated this catastrophic brew, and there's no new technology, nor has there ever been technology, to make the mixture safe.

The quality of material from the proposed mines is also considered "low grade;” with less than one-percent of the ore containing copper. The remainder is simply waste Twin Metals says it plans to either pipe out or stock in tailings (with no lining).

Neither are benign treatments. The tailings will leach for centuries into the ground water that eventually reaches the Boundary Waters watershed. There's nothing a mining company can do to control that.

But some mining jobs pay more than $80,000 per year, and mined elements produce materials vital to everything from cell phones to catalytic converters to wind turbines.

"People try to justify all this by saying, 'Well, we need the jobs,' and yeah, it will bring jobs-well paying jobs; but only for engineers and the like, not for local kids. There aren't many positions, they don't last for very long, and they can actually displace many more jobs," Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Campaign Chair Rebecca Rom said. "Communities that turn to mining because of jobs actually suffer from persistent poverty because of the environmental degradation and the undesirability of the place. Is this all worth risking our wilderness and national forests? Remember, the ramifications aren't just affecting those in northern Minnesota. As U.S. residents, we all have an ownership stake in these areas.”


"If you want the mine, you have to say 'I accept the risks of leaks and seeps. I accept the loss of our forest land where we hunt, fish, and hike.' I can't do that," Rom says. "We're asking the forest service and the BLM to withdraw the federally-owned minerals from the leasing program. The Secretary of the Interior has the authority to decide which lands are 'in' and 'out' of the program. It's an accepted practice, and it can happen."


“The BWCA has some of the highest water quality anywhere,” said Jason Zabokrtsky [owner of Ely Outfitting Company, a canoe trip outfitter]. “It’s the very top of a watershed flowing north to Hudson Bay. These are pristine drinking water lakes, where you can dip your cup right over the side of the boat and take a sit. They also are extremely good fishing waters. If you like a world-class fishery and you like clean water, you don’t want these types of mines to be there. It’s just a really risky place to put this type of mining.”

Read the full article

Resupply Report: Dave and Amy's Youngest Visitors Yet

Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Posted by
Alex Falconer

One of the benefits of working for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is a lot more access to the Boundary Waters we’re all working so hard to protect. Last weekend, I was up in Ely on a work trip (poor me, I know) and I took the opportunity to bring my family up for an extended weekend. Dave and Amy Freeman were on Fall Lake, relatively close to the border of the Wilderness, in order to get a resupply for A Year in the Wilderness from another volunteer. So we were excited to head out and see them for the first time in 115 days! 

It was the coldest day of the year (at -24F) when we woke up, but thankfully it had warmed to a balmy -20 by the time we got to the Fall Lake entry point. Once we were all bundled up (a big shout-out to our Ely and Duluth business supporters for their mittens, hats, and mukluks we’ve purchased over the years to keep us warm), we headed out. Elsie (age 8) walked most of the mile out there (with some assistance from her mommy) and I pulled Donnie (6) and Eddie (2) in our stroller with ski attachments. 

The moment we stepped on the ice, we felt the familiar thrill and pull our hearts feel every time we step foot/dip our paddle in the Boundary Waters. There really is nothing like it. The quiet, the undisturbed forest, the only sign of humans were actually dog sled tracks.

As a family, we’ve been following Dave and Amy through their Wilderness Classroom website, blogs, and their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts. The kiddos love the pictures of the steam rising off a lake, wolves, holiday lights on their tent, pictures of them dancing on the ice, videos of the dog sleds in action and more. For Elsie in particular, heading out meant meeting up with her first celebrities! She even had a question prepared she really wanted to ask when we met up (we’ll cover that later).

About half way out, Dave and Amy came skijoring out with Tina, Tank and Acorn to meet us!! We greeted one another, met the dogs and then continued on our way. The dogs’ excitement and untapped energy could be felt, and it was exciting to watch them pull Dave and Amy back to camp. 

Upon reaching their campsite, we got the grand tour of their temporary home for the next few days. The dog's sleep on their pads and outside the tent (in case you were wondering, they’re used to the cold and overheat in the tent), the dog sled and toboggans for hauling their stuff are stashed in one spot, and their tent is set up out of the wind in another area. Our boys were especially excited to get out of the stroller/ski/sled, so the kiddos all ran off, dug through the snow to find the ice, jumped and played and got to do what kids do best in the Wilderness -- explore.   

 

Of course, being as cold as it was, we headed into the tent after a bit. Dave and Amy cooked up some hotdogs and we warmed up and chatted about their trip.

Elsie whispered to mommy “they’re making us food?” in a silent awe. After a bit, Elsie wanted to ask her question, but she was a bit too star-struck to say it, so we asked on her behalf (she really wanted to know this): “How do you go to the bathroom without freezing your butt?!” A very practical thing an 8-year-old would be concerned about! I don’t know if I should divulge the personal habits of Dave and Amy, but suffice it to say, Elsie learned a thing or two about the everyday needs of people living in the Wilderness year round and she was satisfied with the answers.

We did have to eventually get going, so we said our goodbyes, gave hugs and shared well wishes for the rest of winter and into spring.

The trip out for my family really touched on something we talk a lot about on the Campaign: Accessibility. It’s one thing to have a remote, untouched area full of wildlife, pristine water and a healthy forest. But it’s another to have one so readily accessible to people of all walks of life. In the Midwest especially where wilderness areas are relatively few and far between, to have 1.1 million acres within a day’s drive of major metropolitan regions is one of the reasons this is America’s most visited wilderness.

Take that into account with the fact that literally anyone can make the trip. When sharing our story on the Hill in D.C. or talking with concerned citizens at the Minnesota State Fair, I like to say “You don’t have to be able to climb 12,000-foot peaks, or carry 5 gallons of water into a dessert, or be able to afford a chartered plane to northern Alaska to experience the wilderness. All you need is a canoe for a day trip. Add to that a tent, sleeping bag and some cooking gear and you’re set for a week.”

And by “anyone” I also mean the young and the old (how many of us were introduced to the Boundary Waters by our grandparents and dream of carrying that forward to future generations?!). The physically disabled and the top physically fit people on Earth can each have their experience. Disadvantaged youth from Minneapolis or Chicago go through camps to learn life skills and come out better people, Veterans recovering from PTSD can find peace and solace and a place to heal, students from Madison and families from St. Louis … and so many more examples.

More and more as our lives get inundated by technology, busy schedules and the ongoing burden of every day life, we need special places where we can relax, feel ourselves restore, be one with nature and hear literally nothing but wind in the trees. This is one of the reasons why I am fighting to save the Boundary Waters, and it was reinforced by how easy it was for my kids, including Eddie the two–year-old, to make a day trip on the coldest day of the year.

There are, however, casualties of every trip:

"Daddy, why don’t we have a winter tent?"

"Daddy, why don’t we have sled dogs?"

"Daddy, when are we going to be in Ely again?"

At least the last question was easy to answer: "Soon, kiddos. Very soon."


Alex Falconer is state director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Water. Alex has been in the outdoors, northwoods, northshore, Boundary Waters and beyond since before he could walk.

From the Freemans: Coping With (and Enjoying) the Cold Weather

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

A hint of dread is probably the normal reaction for a weather forecast that calls for a week where the temperature hardly ever climbs above zero and brisk -20 F sunrises are the norm. However, Amy and I had been hoping for a blast of Arctic air for more than a month and last week we finally received some of the subzero temperatures that we hoped for and desperately needed.

Why, oh why, would anyone "need" cold weather you might ask. Well, with the help of Acorn, Tina and Tank we have been planning to spend December, January, February, March and hopefully a good chunk of April exploring a Wilderness blanketed in snow and ice. Winter didn't really materialize around Thanksgiving when it normally does; it waited until Christmas to arrive and didn't bring the crisp, clear polar nights that make the ice sing and the bogs freeze until last week.

Amy and I have been enjoying a slower pace for the last two months, traveling less, but often seeing more. It has been a wonderful chance to slow down, soak in the silence, and appreciate details that often go unnoticed even at the relatively slow pace that typical Wilderness travel affords. With last week's blast of cold behind us, Amy and I are headed west to explore a beautiful and wild region between Basswood Lake and Lac La Croix.

I think people often wonder how we cope with the cold. The short answer is lots of practice. Amy and I have about 25 years of combined experience leading dogsledding and winter camping trips in the Boundary Waters. Plus, we have completed a variety of extended dogsled treks where the temperatures were often colder than are typical in the Boundary Waters. For many years, our job has been to help people have safe and rewarding experiences in the winter woods. We are using the strategies, tips and tricks that we have picked up over the years working at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge to keep ourselves and our dogs happy and healthy.

Getting a good night's sleep is important no matter the season. In the winter, proper insulation and plenty of food are the keys to staying warm. Amy and I each have two sleeping pads to insulate us from the cold. First we place a Ridgerest closed cell foam pad on the snow. Then we inflate our Exped down-filled mats, which have an R value of 8 and place that on top of the Ridgerest. Then we climb into our double sleeping bags. We both use our 15-degree Sea to Summit Talus II down sleeping bags as an inner bag. Amy uses her old North Face Darkstar as her outer bag. I use an outer bag rated to about 30 degrees made by Wiggy's. Most of the time we don't zip the outer bag all the way closed, but on colder nights we have the option of zipping and cinching up tight. We have found this system to work really well, and it helps us stay comfortable on both warm and cold winter nights.

Keeping the dogs warm at night is also important. Like most sled dogs, Acorn, Tina, and Tank have lived outside all their lives. They have thick winter coats, which help keep them warm. At home they have a dog house, but these dogs typically don't actually sleep in their house, they curl up in the snow in front of their house. They are comfortable outside in the winter. However, for added comfort and to help them stay warm on below-zero nights, we have several pieces of equipment to help them have a good night's sleep. Each dog has a thick rectangle of closed cell foam, which we lay on the snow. The foam insulates them from the ground. Outside of the wilderness, mushers use straw, or cut balsam bows to make beds for the dogs. This is not allowed in the Wilderness, so we use foam mats, which I think provide more insulation. We also have special jackets and blankets for the dogs to provide extra warmth. Typically, when we stop for the day we set up a stakeout line on the ice along shore, out of the wind, and in a sunny spot if we can. There is a spot for each dog along the line and we place their foam pad down on the snow. They usually curl up on their foam pad and go to sleep. If it is cold, we put their jackets on them and use a blanket for extra insulation. They have shown no signs of being cold or uncomfortable. We have room in our tent for them if they get cold on a -40 night, but typically they are warm and happy just like we are.

We all eat more food when it is cold to help us stay warm. Our diets are high in fat. Fat burns slowly, so it helps us stay warm all night while we sleep.

Clothing is also very important. We have learned over the years that it is important to try and stay comfortably cool when on the move. We dress in layers, avoiding cotton. We wear a wool/synthetic long-underwear blend on the bottom and then additional layers on top of that. When we are skiing, gathering firewood, hauling the toboggans over portages, and staying active, which represents most of the time we are outside our tent, staying warm is not a problem and we do not need to wear a lot of clothing. When we stop for lunch, or if it is really cold and windy, we add additional layers like our Outdoor Research down jackets, and Wintergreen Northern Wear Anoraks. The key is to keep from sweating, because if we sweat we will get cold when we stop moving.

The only clothing the dogs need when running are booties on their feet. When it is cold, the snow is more abrasive. To help protect the dogs's feet on cold days, we put booties on them before they run. We also have a salve called Patch-N-Go, which we can put on their feet in place of booties under certain conditions. We can also use this salve on their feet if they get a minor abrasion or sore.

People often ask us how we go to the bathroom, as well. Usually we get this question from kids when we do school assemblies, or by email through the Wilderness Classroom, but I am pretty sure there are plenty of adults wondering the same thing. Going to the bathroom in the winter can be a bit of a challenge, but once you have done it a few times, it's not a big deal (except when its -20 or colder your hands get cold while fumbling with the TP).

It is important to go to the bathroom well away from the water, so when we set up camp we pack a trail back into the woods at least 150 feet from the water. That way, when we have to go, we have a trail already made and a good spot picked out. When it is time to go, we carry our TP and hand sanitizer back to our spot, dig a hole in the snow, go to the bathroom, cover it up with snow, mark it with a stick, and then burn the TP in our wood stove.

Another key to comfort when it is cold is using a pee bottle. We each have a 1 liter bottle which we pee in a night without having to leave the tent. Then in the morning we can empty it back in the woods. Each morning we use a shovel to scoop up the dogs frozen poop so that we can dispose of it back in the woods as well.

I hope this blog post helps you understand how we stay warm and comfortable out in the winter woods. It's not all fun; there are moments of cold fingers and toes. Everything is a little harder in the cold, but in many ways this is our favorite time to experience the Wilderness, in part because we love working with the dogs.


Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.

 

From the Freemans: Welcoming Acorn, Tina and Tank

Thursday, January 7, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

It feels like so much has happened since our last blog post. Our friends Jason and Sarah walked into the Wilderness on New Year’s Eve with a sled full of goodies. For about six weeks during freeze-up we were totally isolated and had to ration our food so that our supplies would last until more supplies could be brought in. Now, it is like the floodgates have opened and visitors have been stuffing us full of treats for the past several weeks. Jason and Sarah packed in a whole roasted chicken, baked potatoes, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and fudge, cookies, and other homemade holiday treats. Along with a feast, they brought silly hats and games which made for a festive New Year’s Eve in the Wilderness.

Then on Saturday, January 2, Frank Moe pulled up to our campsite with eight of his sled dogs. Last summer, when Frank and Sherri Moe found out that we were looking for a few sled dogs to join us for the winter, they decided they had a few dogs that would be perfect team members

Frank dropped of Tank, Tina and Acorn, the newest members of our team on Saturday. We had been looking forward to their arrival for a long time and finally there was enough snow and ice to starting using sled dogs. Tank, Tina and Acorn are seasoned Alaskan huskies with many dogsled races, including the Bear Grease, under their harnesses

Acorn has been Frank's lead dog for many years. She was in lead when Frank dogsledded up to the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul with a sled full of petitions signed by thousands of people who were concerned about the proposed sulfide-ore copper mines in northern Minnesota in 2012 (which he wrote about in Sled Dogs to Saint Paul). It seems fitting that Acorn, Tina and Tank are joining us now as we work to educate people about the Wilderness and protect the Boundary Waters watershed from sulfide-ore copper mines that are being proposed along the southern edge of the Wilderness

After Frank left our campsite on Newfound Lake, we were excited to take the dogs out for a run. We quickly put on our ski boots, harnessed up Tank, Tina and Acorn, and headed out skijoring. Amy was hooked up to Tank and I was hooked up to Tina and Acorn. It was a little tricky getting our skis on with the dogs barking and lunging in their harnesses, but as soon as my boots were clipped into the bindings, Acorn and Tina shot off down the lake. The lake was covered in just a couple inches of snow and the dogs easily pulled me along at seven or eight miles an hour. It was faster than we had gone in a long time and it really felt like we were flying across the lake. Tank was right on my heels pulling Amy with his ears and tongue flopping as he trotted along. It was obvious the dogs were having as much fun as we were and we were excited be working with dogs again. They require extra care and attention, but they each have their own personality and are a real joy to work with.

We had been following Frank's dogsled track back towards the Wilderness boundary and the Moose Lake landing. As we approached the boundary, I wondered if it was going to be hard to get the dogs to turn around. However, when I said "Acorn gee, Acorn gee," she left the trail and turned to the right. A few more "gees” and we had looped around and were headed back to our campsite.

Acron and Tina are both lead dogs and respond to "gee," which means right, and "haw," which means left. Yesterday we packed up our campsite and moved about six miles to a new site on Basswood Lake. Today, we headed out skijoring again and for much of the day there was no trail for the dogs to follow. In the beginning, Tina and Acorn were hesitant to leave the trail and lead across the unbroken expanse, but slowly they grew more comfortable and by the end of the day they led us across the untracked bay to our campsite without a hitch.

We are looking forward to getting to know the dogs better over the coming weeks and I am sure there will be many more stories about them in future blog posts and on social media.

We are so happy that snow and ice are now covering the Wilderness and we are enjoying traveling and working with sled dogs again. We look forward to sharing more of our adventures with you soon. We are also very thankful to be joined by three furry Wilderness ambassadors who will help us explore the Boundary Waters all winter long.


Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.

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