Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base
June 20-28, 2021
Two crews from Troop 1128 traveled to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness 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. This region is associated with a rich history of fur trading which spanned the late 1600s through the late 1800s. Several fur trading companies hired French-Canadian Voyageurs, a hardy group of adventurers, to paddle birch bark canoes and haul trade goods and furs thousands of miles each summer by water and portage trail.
Our trip began with an early flight from Baltimore to Minneapolis on Sunday, July 20. Upon arriving in Minnesota, we drove 250 miles north to spend the night in Ely, Minnesota –half an hour from base camp. Along the way we stopped in Duluth to visit the shores of Lake Superior and skip stones in the rain. The next day we arrived at base camp where we underwent temperature checks, were assigned our cabins, completed pack checks, selected our routes and purchased our maps. We completed our gear outfitting the next morning which included three canoes per crew. We packed our dry bags containing our personal gear and tents into waterproof liners and then into large packs called whales: 2 for personal gear and tents, 1 for the cooking kit, and 1 for food. The whales ranged in weight from over 60 lbs to over 90 lbs. We set out that morning for 6 days of wilderness canoeing.
Both crews paddled long distances (65 + miles of travel), carried heavy loads of gear and completed over 40 portages per crew. Portaging is carrying canoes and gear over land, either around an obstacle in a river, or between two bodies of water. Portages are measured in rods with 320 rods equaling 1 mile. Many portages were quite steep and included rocks, roots and other obstacles. Crews tackled portages ranging from as short as 5 rods to as long as 120 rods. Throughout the trip, crews enjoyed pristine wilderness including waterfalls, crystal clear waters, a full moon and native Ojibwe pictographs dating back 9,000 years. Crews were treated with sightings of bald eagles, fisher weasels, a mother moose with two calves, loons with their chicks and a river merganser with at least ten chicks.
We returned to base camp from our adventures on June 27, just before thunderstorms rolled into camp. After temperature checks at base camp, we cleaned and returned our gear before we enjoyed our first showers of the week and enjoyed a special dinner with our interpreters. We departed the next morning and enjoyed a huge breakfast at Britton’s before visiting the International Wolf Center in Ely. The Wolf Center is a research and educational organization that advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands, and the human role in their future. We enjoyed a presentation about wolves and were able to observe ambassador wolves Grayson and Axel and six week old wolf pup, Rieka. After our tour, we drove to Minneapolis where we began our journey home.
Scouts mastered canoeing, portaging, cooking, camp set up and clean up, navigation, canoe repair, catching crawfish and loon calls. They showed tremendous determination and great teamwork. Most importantly, they proved to themselves that they could complete a physically demanding week in the wilderness and still have lots of fun!