Join Erik and his dog Kitigan for an engaging presentation and slideshow of their 2009 Arrowhead Journey canoe trip.  The birch bark canoe used on the voyage will also be on display.

The program is free and open to the public, and is just one of many presentations offered in conjunction with the North House Folk School Wooden Boat Show and Summer Solstice Festival, June 18-20, 2010.

Posted by: esimula | June 5, 2010

Canoeroots Magazine


Grand Portage Carry


“Birch Bark Man” Erik Simula and “Dog” Kitigan featured on cover of Canoeroots Magazine, early summer 2010 issue.

Photography by Layne Kennedy

Whitefish Netting in BWCA Wilderness




By Conor Mihell  –  Canoeroots Magazine contributing writer

Erik Simula’s 1,600-kilometre expedition last summer in Minnesota was really just an extension of his lifestyle.  Simula, 45, lives in a small cabin in northeastern Minnesota, without electricity or running water.  He makes a living as a dogsled guide, birchbark canoe builder and park ranger; he hunts and gathers natural foods-fish, wild game, wild rice and berries.

With his daughter Anna set to graduate from high school last spring in Grand Rapids, Minnesota-a town on the Mississippi River-it seemed only natural that Simula would journey by canoe to get there.

In April, he and his dog launched his 14-foot birchbark canoe on Lake Superior, followed the coastline south to Duluth, and connected to the Mississippi River, reaching Grand Rapids for Anna’s graduation.  Then Simula traced ancient water routes linking Voyageurs National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park, returning in August.  “This voyage was a celebration of my love of this glorious region,” he says.

Although Simula’s current project is building a new log cabin, don’t expect it to come with many amenities.  “This lifestyle fulfills my dream of sustainable, traditional, cultural living,” says Simula, “and it keeps me happy and healthy, and nourishes my soul.”

Posted by: esimula | June 5, 2010

Article in June 2010 issue of NORTH SHORE HWY 61


Erik Simula has built birch bark canoes for 15 years and uses them for wilderness travel. His work is on display at the Wooden Boat Show June 18-20 in Grand Marais.


JUNE 18-20, 2010
By Ada Igoe
Erik Simula has spent every summer for the last 15 years building traditional birch bark canoes.  It’s a practice that allows him to continue a Native craft that was nearly lost in modern times.  It also keeps him immersed in the woods he loves.  
Simula’s interest in birch bark canoes began as a young man.  He’d had a lifelong passion for the woods of northern Minnesota and over the years he’d developed snowshoe building skills.  As he learned more about Ojibwe culture, he found himself wanting to build birch bark canoes.
“It’s the most meaningful way to travel in the wilderness,” hed said of the birch bark canoe.
Simula said there was a slow transition between learning the craft of building birch bark canoes and actually building one of his own.  Because Simula is not Native, he said he feels a deep responsibility to honor the traditional builders when he builds birch bark canoes.  To develop as complete an understanding of the craft as possible, he examined old birch bark canoes, visited builders and elders he knew, and studied at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario. 
“It took me about five years to make my first birch bark canoe,” he said.
Simula mainly builds canoes from Lake Superior Anishinaabe designs.  The canoes are built completely from renewable resources found in the boreal forest.  Simula uses permits from local foresters to gather his building materials and he says he often looks at 10,000 or more birch trees to find the perfect sheet of bark for the bottom of the canoe.  Cedar planks, hard wood pegs, and spruce roots are also used.  Spruce resin mixed with charcoal and bear grease forms canoe sealant.
“There’s no finish, oil or varnish used.  There’s a natural beauty to these canoes,” he said.  “It’s all from the forest, all gathered by hand.”
Simula uses traditional tools such as a crooked knife, ax, and froe.  From start to finish, each canoe takes him approximately 1,000 hours to build.  While Simula said he’s sure he could build canoes faster, he said that doesn’t appeal to him.
“The focus with my way of building is to take however much time it takes to do it right and well,” he said.
Simula builds birch bark canoes every summer at the Grand Portage National Monument.  There he not only demonstrates the art of canoe building to Monument visitors, he also takes on an apprentice through the Grand Portage mentorship program where he helps Grand Portage Band members learn the craft of birch bark canoe building.
“I feel it’s important to carry on the tradition and pass on the skills to the future generation,” he said.
One of Simula’s birch bark canoes, the one which he used on a 1,000-mile journey through Minnesota’s Arrowhead region last summer, will be on display at North House Folk School during this year’s Wooden Boat Show and Summer Solstice Festival on June 18-20.  He will also be teaching three classes at North House, including an overview on birch bark canoe building, in conjunction with the Boat Show.

A slideshow presentation of the Arrowhead Journey will be shown at the 2009 Fall Midwest Mountaineering Expo in Minneapolis, MN, at the Humphrey Center – Cowles Auditorium, on Saturday, November 21, 2009, from 12:45 – 1:45 p.m.  Free to the public.

Posted by: esimula | November 7, 2009

A 1,000-mile Birch Bark Canoe Voyage

Over the past summer Erik Simula and his dog Kitigan paddled a 1,000-mile route from Grand Portage to Duluth, to the Mississippi River and the US-Canadian Border, then back to Lake Superior in a handmade birch bark canoe.

Over the past summer Erik Simula and his dog Kitigan paddled a 1,000-mile route from Grand Portage to Duluth, to the Mississippi River and the US-Canadian Border, then back to Lake Superior in a handmade birch bark canoe.

By Erik Simula

Native Americans and Canadian Voyageurs mastered birch bark canoe building and wilderness travel throughout northern North America. Although largely forgotten, a few of us keep the ancient traditions alive.

From April 22 – August 7, 2009, my dog, Kitigan, and I paddled a 1,000-mile route from Grand Portage to Duluth, the Mississippi River, the US-Canadian Border, and back to Lake Superior, encircling the Arrowhead Region of Northeast Minnesota. The 45-pound, 14-foot birch bark canoe I used, I hand-built in the high-end Ojibwe-Anishinaabe old tribal form using local white cedar wood for framing, split black spruce roots for lashings, white birch bark for the hull, and pine resin mixed with charcoal and bear grease for sealant. The canoe performed well, with occasional pitching needed on the seams to keep seepage to a minimum.

My outfit consisted of a food pack of dried trail food for 30 days, with three pre-cached food resupply points; a camp pack with tent, bedding and clothing; a kettle pack with cookware and repair supplies; a day pack which doubled as a seat; a fishing pole; and two paddles, which when tied into the canoe made a portage yoke. My main diet consisted of oatmeal, coffee, dried fruit, nuts, wild rice, fish and tea. Kitigan carried her own dog food, water bowl, blanket and harness in a dog pack.

Kitigan is a 40-pound, two-year-old female sled dog of Alaskan Husky and German Pointer breeding. She is a great companion, a guard dog, and good in the canoe. One of her main jobs was holding the canoe in the water by leash while I loaded or unloaded packs. She carried 20 pounds each portage and helped me “line” rapids by pulling the canoe upriver from shore in harness.

Departing on Earth Day, April 22nd, with a heavily laden canoe from Grand Portage National Monument, the warm send-off from family and friends soon turned into an incredible adventure. Lake Superior challenged me with snowstorms, shelf ice, swells, waves, winds, fog and currents, but revealed a multitude of wildlife and landscapes. I travelled in rhythm with nature, making distance when calm and resting safely on shore when seas were rough. Loons and eagles came close to observe, often leading the canoe for long distances. I camped each night under the canoe or in my tent, with Kitigan by my side. The 150-miles from Grand Portage to Duluth took 20 days, although windbound eight days, and was the most dangerous leg of the Arrowhead Journey.

The Savanna Portage route from Lake Superior to the Mississippi River, known as the Northwest Trail, was the most difficult section of the trip. Although rugged, it was once a common route prior to 1870, when railroads replaced it. A tremendous wetland full of wildlife and waterfowl, it is now protected in Savanna Portage State Park. I crossed hundreds of beaver dams and deadfall trees, navigated overgrown portages by compass, narrowly escaped an encounter with a mountain lion and an enormous black bear by night-paddling in starlight, and crossed the continental divide with an 18-mile, double-pack, double-carry, encountering thousands of wood and deer ticks, black flies and mosquitoes.

The highlight of the trip was on the Mississippi River, where I stopped in Grand Rapids to see my daughter, Anna, graduate from high school.  My lowest point was on the upper Bigfork River, where I became lonely and scared of the dangerous rapids and powerful downriver currents.

My favorite scenery was the canoe country from Rainy Lake to Grand Portage, known as the Voyageurs Highway. I hiked to rocky ridgetop vistas, overlooking beautiful boreal forests and waterways as far as the eye could see. On Basswood Lake, a huge fish knocked loudly on the bottom of the canoe! Fishing was very good, the weather stimulating and Natureʼs essence in the northern wilderness nourished my soul.

The Arrowhead Journey was more than a canoe trip of a lifetime. The ancient traditions of building the birch bark canoe and wilderness living are a passage through history and a reminder that nature and wildlife are fragile yet important aspects of human culture.

Published in NORTHERN WILDS   October – November 2009 issue.

Posted by: esimula | September 9, 2009

Reflections from Arrowhead Journey

The Timeless North: South Fowl Lake

The Timeless North: South Fowl Lake.

Reflecting back on this voyage, important themes surface, such as awareness, compassion, respect, pursuit of knowledge and meaning, self integrity (contribution and contentment) and vision, which I believe encompass a large part of the human experience as we know it today, and are integral to a healthy family, society, world, and future.  We need to stay grounded by interconnection with the natural world around us.  How?  By absorbing and resounding Creation in its natural state and observing how the animals behave and interact (in their natural state), as an example of how we are to live, and in so doing remain healthy and strong as a species, and not overly oppressive or out of balance. 

The Arrowhead Journey, for me, is a metaphor in which a canoe trip becomes a symbolic life journey, a reminder and celebration of a time past, a time of deep contemplation and future vision.  It required me to plan, prepare and focus all my abilities for the single goal of safely returning, yet its implications are broad and revealing.  Its duration, route and old-time outfit touch on historical travel routes, traditions, and life ways which, although obsolete to most, remain effective and life-sustaining through to the modern era of the 21st century.  I searched for and found symbolic clues hidden within bedrock and birdsong.  Certain landforms concentrated energies and created portals which awakened my senses upon passage through.  I came to know my self and my dog very well. We were very happy.

I lived fully: chilled by the night’s coolness and darkness; warmed by sunlight; nourished by hand-harvested wild rice, fish and berries; delighted by scenic beauty; empowered by wildlife behavior; challenged by wind, waves, rain, insects, hunger, pain, and my own physical limitations; confronted as prey by a hungry mountain lion and bears, in which I had to dig deep within myself to find the courage and bravery to defend myself in an appropriate and non-threatening way (as defined by the predator); and interacted with people along the route, most of whom were very welcoming, sincere and encouraging.  At times I became fearful or lonely, and slowly worked through these feelings by remaining constant in my resolve.   

Time held little meaning.  Most critical were the necessities of adequate safety, daylight, shelter, clothing, water, and food.  Beyond these basics is the reward of time for rest, reflection, visiting, and helping others.  I believe these virtues will hold true throughout time.  When broken down to simplicities, it becomes clear what is important in life and what is not.

These reflections are insights into my canoe journey experience of the adventure, hardship, people, wildlife, landscape, history, rich Native American cultural traditions and magnificent natural beauty of the Arrowhead, along with my personal philosophy. I’m glad I sketched and recorded these thoughts daily in a journal.  To fully process and detail my observations of this journey will take a while and I plan to produce a book, which I am now starting to write.  I hope my effort in sharing these experiences with you, the reader, has been worthwhile and honorable in scope.


Erik Simula

Day 105     8/4/2009     Partridge Falls       60-70 o F     Sunny      W Winds 5-15 mph

Filmed with CackleTV’s Justine Curgenven, professional canoe filmmaker, and Bearskin Lodge’s Quinn McCloughan, wilderness guide and canoe engine.  We started paddling and filming on Lake Superior at Artist Point – Grand Marais.  We hiked in and toured my Arrowhead Trail cabin, birch bark canoe building shop and sled dog kennel (10 Dogs, Alaskan Huskies).  Then we resumed the Arrowhead Journey at Partridge Falls of the Pigeon River, where we made camp at the head of the spectacular 20-ft. waterfall.  Pitched canoe.  Beautiful Full Moon.


Day 106     8/5/2009     Fort Charlotte     50-65 o F      W Winds 5-15 mph     Sunny/Thunderstorm

Portaged around Partridge Falls (120 rods) and paddled two miles down the Pigeon River to the site of Fort Charlotte, the western terminus of the 8.5-mile Grand Portage (2,720 rods), and made camp under beautiful old-growth white pines by the class I rapids.


Day 107     8/6/2009     Dog-Freight-Pines     50-70 o F     NW Winds 5-15 mph     Sunny     

Rained most of night at remote Fort Charlotte camp.  Cleaned and dried canoe and gear and prepared outfit for final portage.  Warm humid morning with mosquitoes bad.  Filtered four quarts of water.  Left camp at 2:30 p.m. in a single carry, with a 50-pound canoe, a 50-pound pack, and Kitigan pulling in harness and carrying a 20-pound pack.   Carried for 10-15 minutes, rested for 5-10 minutes at each pose.  Met professional photographer and friend Layne Kennedy and his daughter Austin on the Grand Portage Trail.  Stopped and rested at Junction Pose (Old Cascade Trail), High Pose (Highest Elevation of the Grand Portage), Beaver Pond Pose, The Cedars Pose, The Fountain Pose, Poplar Creek Pose, and Dog Freight Pose.  Portaged six miles along good trail in respectable time with no injury.  Made bivouac camp at 9 p.m.  


Day 108     8/7/2009     Grand Portage Rendezvous – End of Arrowhead Journey!      Sunny/Calm

Mulligan (very small) cook fire for coffee and breakfast.  Outfit, Canoe, Man and Dog all ready to finish strong.  Portaged three miles to Lake Superior, arriving at the mouth of the Grand Portage Creek at 4 p.m.  To welcome me in and help me down the last mile of the Grand Portage Trail were Dawn Simula, Vern Simula, Layne Kennedy, Austin Kennedy, Voyageur LaFreniere (John Powers) and a promising engage (young laborer).  Paddled Lake Superior around creek to land at the Historic Encampment to a very warm welcome.  Upon landing, was greeted by many friends, including Grand Portage National Monument Superintendent Tim Cochrane and Chief of Interpretation Pam Neil.  After Talk of the Trail and friendly re-aquaintences, we made camp in Grand Portage for the last night of the Arrowhead Journey.


Arrowhead Journey (April 22 – August 7, 2009) – 2010 and Beyond!

It’s been an incredible canoe voyage through the Arrowhead’s most pristine north country.  I am grateful for a safe return and thank all of you who have supported me.  I have a greater appreciation for wilderness, wildlife, traditional Native American lifeways, the tenacity of the Voyageurs, early settlers, and the region’s current inhabitants.  I plan to write a book about the trip and continue my work as a birch bark canoe builder, outdoor skills instructor, park ranger, and wilderness guide.  

I’ll update this website periodically with information for ordering Arrowhead Journey photographs, maps, original artwork, and for book publication news.  Happy Trails!  

Erik Simula & Kitigan

Posted by: Bearskin | August 7, 2009

Cackle TV films last leg of Erik’s journey

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week (8/5-6/09) filmmaker Justine Curgenven, of Cackle TV, filmed the last leg of Erik’s journey. Eventually this will appear as a segment in her next DVD.

She blogged about it at:

Erik on the PIgeon River this week, while being filmed

Erik on the Pigeon River this week, while being filmed

Posted by: esimula | August 4, 2009

Partridge Falls – Pigeon River 8/4/2009

Day 105    8/4/2009    Partridge Falls Departure    50-70 o F   NW Winds 5-10 mph  Sunny

Resuming canoe travel for final 12 miles of journey!  Kitigan and I are in fine spirits and top shape for the last leg.  The canoe has been repaired and pitched tight.  

We plan to arrive at the Grand Portage Rendezvous on Friday, August 7, 2009, at the Historic Encampment in “The Pines” (Grand Portage National Monument Picnic Grounds) on Lake Superior.  I hope to complete the Grand Portage Trail by 4 p.m., and visit from 4 – 5 p.m.  The public is welcome.  I look forward to seeing my family and friends!

As always, we will travel safely, quietly, and with respect for the land, wildlife and the people who call this beautiful area home.  Migwetch!  Kiitos!  (Thank you!)


Back Home to Lake Superior

Back Home to Lake Superior


Day 94 – 7/24/2009      The Meadow    12-miles     45-65 o F     Thunderstorms  

Up at 3 a.m. to rain sprinkles, high gusty winds and low pressure feel.  On water by 5 a.m. with clouds of mosquitoes.  Crossed North Fowl Lake two miles in heavy rains on calm water as thunder rumbled behind me to the west.  Saw six otters swim across the sandbar narrows crossing into South Fowl Lake.  I nervously paddled as hard as I could to cross South Fowl Lake two more miles in downpour rains,  as lightening and thunder chased me.  At 6:30 a.m., an abrupt, stiff, south-southeast wind  picked up, kicking up whitecaps and driving (wind-ferrying) me the last 1/4-mile southeast to arrive at Goose Rock, the head of Fowl Portage (320 rods), just as severe (hair-raising) lightening and thunder overtook me.  After carrying to the first pose and the thunderstorm passed, Kitigan and I hiked to the top of Goose Rock, where I saw a bald eagle and two peregrine falcons.  Completed Fowl Portage double-carry in four hours.  At the foot of Fowl Portage, I watched a frog try to cross the Pigeon River (which here is only 10-feet wide and 18-inches deep) in three hops, with a northern(fish) lunging at the frog on each hop, finally snatching the frog in mid-air!

Paddled three miles of beautiful flat water along the Pigeon River with many ducks and wild rice still in floating stage.  Saw a big cow moose at the mouth of Stump River.  Watched a downpour rain on the water surface approach, but stopped within 10 feet of the canoe!   At the head of the two-mile section of shallow rapids, I started the Caribou Portage (100 rods), with hopes of carrying around this entire bad stretch of river (including English and Big Rock Portages, both now completely overgrown).  However, only the moose have kept this trail packed, and only for the first 20 rods, where it then turned south and merged into an overgrown logging trail.  I attempted locating, even re-establishing (scouting and flagging), the original portage trail, only to backtrack after two futile, exhausting hours of floundering in near impassable deadfall and overgrowth.  I lined the canoe down two miles of rapids, with Kitigan and I walking in shallow water, dragging and pushing the delicate birch bark canoe over hundreds of aluminum and kevlar-coated rocks.  The canoe leaked so bad I bailed continually, approximately 50 gallons every three minutes.  I cringed at the thought of shredded hull bark.  At 7 p.m.,  exhausted and drenched, we stopped at the Meadow, the flat riverbank below all the rapids, where the Voyageurs routinely camped.  To my surprise, the bottom of the canoe held up quite well, with minimal bark damage, although all the pitch was gone and a few lenticels had split open.  I was never so happy to make camp.  Today was the most intense and one of the hardest days of the journey!


Day 95 – 7/25/2009      Partridge Falls &  Lake Superior!      60-65 o F      Rain

Dried gear and canoe in morning sun, covering with tarps every 20 minutes from rain.  Repaired canoe for five hours using all my available pitch.  Departed at 2 p.m.  Canoe leaked minimally, but did not have to bail water at all.  Arrived at Partridge Falls at 4 p.m. and cached canoe and outfit in woods.  Kitigan and I hiked six miles down Partridge Falls Road and Old Highway 61.  Saw a small black bear cub near section 33 clearing under old white pines.  Caught a ride from Amber Porter and Jeanne Spry the last six miles from Mineral Center to Grand Portage.  Kitigan and I sat together on the shore of Lake Superior, elated like never before! What a Feeling!  We did it!  We had returned home to Lake Superior!  


Days 96 – 104         Layover at Partridge Falls – Arrowhead Trail Cabin     

Days 105 – 108      Grand Portage Rendezvous – Finish of Arrowhead Journey

What an adventure it has been!  But, it’s not over yet.  I’ll rest up for ten days, reunite with my sled dogs, and repair the canoe at my cabin home on the Arrowhead Trail.  Then, on August 4th, I’ll resume travel for the final 12 miles from Partridge Falls Portage (120 rods), paddle three miles down Pigeon River to Fort Charlotte, and complete the Grand Portage (2,720 rods) with my canoe and outfit (and Kitigan), planning to arrive at the Grand Portage Rendezvous on the afternoon of Friday, August 7th, 2009, to officially finish the Arrowhead Journey.

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