Troop 1128 traveled to northern Minnesota this summer to participate in wilderness canoeing at the Northern Tier High Adventure Base. Northern Tier is Scouting BSA’s gateway to adventure in the Great Northwoods. We started our adventure from the flagship base of Northern Tier, the Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base which has hosted Boy Scout canoe expeditions on the shores of Moose Lake since 1941. It is located twenty miles outside of the town of Ely, MN. Our scouts were among the over 4,000 scouts outfitted each year on wilderness canoe trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in Minnesota.
Base Camp and Preparation: Our trip started with our departure out of Dulles Airport for Minneapolis on Sunday, July 21. Upon arriving in Minnesota, we drove 250 miles north to spend the night near Ely, Minnesota – 30 minutes away from base camp. Along the way we drove to the east to see Duluth, Minnesota and travel along a portion of the western shore of Lake Superior. The next day we arrived at base camp where we were assigned our two cabins, provided with initial instruction, and researched and chose our treks. On Tuesday, July 23 we completed our gear outfitting which included three canoes per crew. Our gear was packed into five large packs called “whales: 2 for personal gear, 1 for the cooking kit, 1 for food, and 1 for our tents. We set out that morning for 6 days of wilderness canoeing.
On the water: This high adventure has a historical theme based on the fur trade that occurred in this area during from the 1600s through the early 1800s. We experienced much of what the “Voyageurs” did during that time except for actual trapping of beaver. Both crews paddled long distances (60 + miles of travel), carried heavy loads of gear, did nearly 40 portages, canoed into 20 knot winds on white cap lakes, road out storms at night, and experienced pristine wilderness that included beautiful scenery: boundless waters, water falls, cliffs, wildlife (bald eagles, river otters, beavers, loons, and yes; mosquitos after dark), and native pictographs. Scouts mastered canoeing, cooking, camp set up and clean up, navigation, the art of feet-first 5-foot cliff jumping, the language of loons, and portaging. Most of all they had fun. The level of good cheer, laughing, and friendly teamwork was impressive.
Portaging. A unique aspect of this adventure is the requirement to carry canoes between lakes as we crossed the wilderness just like the fur trappers of old. Everyone had to carry a load during portaging. Weights varied from the 50-pound canoes to 100 pounds for the food pack. Normally we would have 9 members in each crew carrying 6 packs and 3 canoes. Since we had 8 members in each crew (5 scouts, two adult advisors, and one interpreter– guide), our packs were heavier than normal as we were short one scout per crew. We decided to increase the pack loads rather than having an extra pack which allowed us to make only one trip per portage.. Our portages varied in distance from ½ mile to only 80 feet. A few portages were over mild rapids that required us to walk through the water pulling our canoes. Some of our portages were along the Canadian border and technically we were in Canada as we straddled the border. Some of the scouts had 30 portages carrying the canoe. The advantage of the canoe was that it is the lightest load, but it required good balance and skill to carry. Everybody shared in the carrying the pack loads.
Homeward Bound. Arriving at base camp on Sunday, July 28, we cleaned our gear and returned everything in good shape except for an interpreter’s tent that was destroyed during a gale force storm on the next to last night on the water. Even the storm was fun. The first showers of the week were welcome at base camp – swimming is the way to clean up during the trek. After dinner at the Dairy Queen in Ely where we treated our interpreters and the return to base camp for the closing ceremony, we all had that satisfying feeling that comes with a truly unique experience. The next morning, we visited the Soudan Iron Mine in Vermilion, Minnesota about 30 minutes from Ely. The tour of this former iron mine provided through the Minnesota State Park system was very informative about mining in this part of the U.S. Iron mining has been important to the economy of the northern Great Lakes region since the mid-19th century and continues to a lesser extent today. We descended a half mile deep into the mine through an elevator and traveled on rail cars for a ¼ mile to our visit location. After the tour, we drove to Minneapolis where we visited the Mall of America for amusement park entertainment, dining, and relaxation. Our flight was delayed so we spent 4 hours at the mall. This delayed our arrival at Dulles to 1:00 AM.
This was the first time Troop 1128 had been to Northern Tier since 2012. This is the first iteration of a Troop 1128 high adventure program that will have a Northern Tier/Philmont rotation. The next Northern Tier trip will be the summer of 2021. The troop will travel to Philmont in 2020. This alternation will continue for the foreseeable future.
The annual May 2019 Scout Skills campout brought Troop 1128 back to where we have gone every year, Bears Den in Bluemont Virginia. The Scout Skills campout is the first campout that all of the scouts that are new to the troop go on in which they get numerous requirements checked off that are necessary for advancement in rank. Things such as the Totin’ Chip, the Firem’n chit, first aid, and knots are taught by the older scouts over the course of the campout. This gives an opportunity for not only the new scouts to get advancements signed off, but also older scouts to practice their leadership and teaching abilities in an environment that allows for mistakes.
The Scout Skills campout began with a 7:30 arrival at Andrew Chapel to take attendance and make sure everybody had a ride, then an 8 o’clock departure to Bears Den. After about a 45 minute ride, everybody had arrived at Bears Den. The first thing to be done was setting up tents which, with new scouts, can take a little while as they do not always know exactly how to go about putting a tent up. This time, however, nobody took longer than ten or fifteen minutes and we were quickly ready to begin the teaching.
In order to teach all of the new scouts in a reasonable amount of time, the older scouts split all of the new scouts in to 5 groups: Totin’ chip, Fire’m n chit, knots, lashings, and a first aid group. The goal was to have the new scouts rotate through each station in groups spending about 45 minutes at each station. This was going well until we took a break for lunch.
During lunch, some scouts were throwing around a football and, while trying to catch it, a scout hurt his knee on a tree stump. This prompted a real world example of some of the first aid that the new scouts were learning during the stations. However, after the small excursion, it took a while to get everybody back to the stations. Once we did, it took about an hour to finish up.
After the teaching was done, there was about an some time to fill before dinner, which most patrols used to choose a scout for the poker and caps tournaments that were to take place later that night. At around 5, scouts began to prepare dinner and their dessert. The desserts were important because they were going to be judges for Goshen points. The patrols made various kinds of desserts, from grilled banana marshmallows and chocolate to a peach cobbler in the dutch oven. The patrol that ended up winning was the Sharks with deep fried oreos followed by the Amazons and then the Bison.
After dinner, the poker and caps tournaments began. The caps tournament did not take long to finish, only about 30 minutes. The Zeus won caps followed by the Bison in second place. The poker tournament took much longer, about 2 hours. After lots of wagering and bluffing, the Bison emerged victorious with the Zeus coming in second. When the poker ended it was 10:30 and time for everyone to go to bed.
The next morning, the patrols got up bright and early to cook breakfast. Breakfast did not take long, it ended at around 8:30, giving the troop a lot of time to fill before our departure at 11. So, we decided to take the small hike to the viewing rock. The hike was about a mile long and we got some incredible views. We returned back to the campsite and 10:30 and began to load our gear back in to the cars. After all the gear had been loaded and attendance taken, we left back to Andrew Chapel. After the 45 minute drive, all the scouts arrived safely back home ready for the next campout.
Troop 1128’s April 2019 campout was a three-day climbing trip to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. Seneca Rocks used to be a place where the army trained in assault climbing as it has many different places to climb with much variation in difficulty. Now, however, Seneca Rocks is a popular place for beginner and expert rock climbers to test and improve their skills.
On Friday at 4:30 pm, we assembled in the Andrew Chapel parking lot. At five, we left to Seneca Rocks, bringing along 25 scouts and 8 adults assembled in to four patrols. Usually we would leave on Saturday, however we needed to be at the base camp at 7:30. This meant we would have needed to leave at four in morning on Saturday because the drive was three hours long. So, instead of waking up so early, we figured it would be better for everyone to just leave on Friday and spend an extra night at Seneca.
We arrived at around eight o’clock and set up camp at a campsite less than a mile away from the base camp at the rocks themselves. The site was luxury for many scouts as most of the trips that we go on have campsites with no running water, no showers, no bathrooms, and no gravel pads for tents; this site had all of those things. Since everyone had eaten dinner before we left, there was no cooking to be done. The only thing that needed to happen was setting up tents. We then promptly went to bed as we had an early wake up to prepare for the next day.
On Saturday we woke up around 6:30, an hour before we needed to be at the base camp. All four patrols made breakfast and finished in under an hour, so we were able to make it there on time. Once we arrived at the base, we separated into two groups of climbers; beginner and intermediate. The beginner group had most of the troop, around twenty people while the advanced group had only about twelve. Each scout then got their own gear from the base camp and carried it on the hike up to the cliff. The beginner and advanced groups hiked to separate locations, the intermediate grouping having a shorter but more difficult hike. Once we got there, we began to climb by getting in to groups of three. One person would be climbing, one person belaying, and one person backup belaying. At the intermediate side of the mountain, only a couple people were able to make it all the way to the top of all three climbs, and I am told it was about the same story at the beginning side. The beginner group combined climbing a repelling from the same general area. After a few hours of climbing and lunch at the bottom of the climbing cliff, it was time to head back.
The intermediate group had fun repelling down a couple cliffs and then hiking the rest of the way. The beginner group got back by hiking down the way they had come. Once back at the base camp, we thanked our guides and walked back to the camp. We then had some time to relax before making dinner. All four patrols cooked their dinner, and let me just give a shout-out to Charlie and Ethan for cooking me some of the best hamburgers I have ever had. After dinner, almost all of the scouts played cards until it was time for bed. Everyone was happy to get to bed after a long day of climbing.
The troop woke up at around 6:30 again and made breakfast. After everyone finished breakfast, we packed up and got ready to leave. We had to wait until nine to leave because we had to wait for another car to come and we could not be at the church until twelve, so some scouts started up another card game while we waited. Once it was nine, we all headed in to cars and drove home to Andrew Chapel. We arrived right at twelve, perfect timing, and headed home to relax for the rest of the weekend