Traversing canoe country without a boat

"The mystery lies beyond the trees where nobody goes." -- outfitter and guide Jason Zabokrtsky.

If you aren't on a portage or a frozen lake, traveling the Quetico and Boundary Waters wilderness on foot is odd. But that is exactly what Jason Zabokrtsky of Ely, Minn., is doing.

Jason Zabokrtsky breaking trail.

Zabokrtsky set off this morning from Atikokan, Ontario. He's on a solo bushwhacking trip to Ely.

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At his fastest, he will move a mile per hour while bushwhacking. He will see things in Quetico Provincial Park and in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that human eyes have never or rarely seen.

"I spend a lot of time like this up here, but have never done anything on this scale by any means," said Zabokrtsky, an Ely-based guide and outfitter.

“When I sit here at the shop and look at the map wall and I look at all the water up there and I've seen a lot of the views from the lakes and rivers, but I haven’t seen the views from the land. I want to get to know this region more completely on a bushwhack like this. The mystery lies beyond the trees where nobody goes."


The trip's Facebook page reports:

The approximate route is shown in green and red on the above map. The red designates the bushwhack route within the BWCAW and Quetico. The green designates the route outside of these wilderness areas. The yellow line is the international border.

The total trip distance is difficult to predict because the bushwhack route doesn't follow established trails, and the route will need to change based upon the best options found in the woods. With that said, Jason estimates the total trip distance will be around 80 miles. The total horizontal distance of the anticipated route shown in the satellite map from the northern edge of Quetico to the southern edge of the BWCA is about 50 miles. The route shown outside of the Wilderness is about 25 miles.

Zabokrtsky is prepared for the trip to take 14 days.

The weather is a big question. He could see snow. He hopes he won't see anything like the freak storm that hit South Dakota last week with 4 feet of snow in some areas. His job doesn't afford him the opportunity to go any other time of the year.

“There is a reality in my life, in my working life that makes this the time to go," Zabokrtsky said.

"I'm way too busy in summer and spring as an outfitter and guide. But the fall is also a good time to do it because there aren't many bugs and the leaves are falling off the trees, so you get a better sense of the terrain," he added. "The ferns and aster are falling down, so your footing is better. Also, I am not going to have to risk ice in the water. It is predictably cold this time of year, but ice is rare."

When he started planning the trip a year ago, he didn't intend to go solo. Three other wilderness adventurers we also going to do the trip. "We talked through packing, travel and training plans,” he said. But when it came to pack up and commit to the 14 days all of the others dropped out.

Zabokrtsky, though, said he couldn't imagine not doing the trip. "I realized I was psychologically committed to doing this trip, so, while knowing it would be a much riskier way to do the trip, I decided to plow ahead.”

Since he won't have a boat, he is planning on putting on his wet suit and stuffing his possessions in a dry bag that will float with him when he encounters the "dozen significant swims" along the way. His bag weighs 48 pounds fully loaded.


Zabokrtsky will share his images and observations from his trip with the MPR News audience after he emerges from the wilderness.

You can ask questions and get an email notification of chat date and time when it is available here.