Dear Voyageurs:

Close your eyes and dream about the adventure that awaits you at the Charles L. Sommers Wilderness Canoe Base in Ely, MN. Northern Tier is the oldest of the three BSA High Adventure bases and was established in 1923. It is a diamond in the Northwoods of Minnesota — a 1.2 million acre wilderness located in The Superior National Forest including the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.

Sam Cook in his book “Up North” describes the area that surrounds Northern Tier best… “Each of us has an ‘Up North’. It’s a time and place far from here and now. It’s a map on the wall, a dream in the making, a tugging at one’s soul. For those who feel the tug, who make the dream happen, who put the map in the packsack and go, the world is never quite the same again.”

Be a kid again, come Up North, and bring your Voyage eligible family members. It is guaranteed that a part of you will always be “Up North” after you have been delivered a wilderness adventure that will last a lifetime by the Northern Tier staff.

~Kevin Dowling, Northern Tier General Manager and 2009 Exchange Program Participant at Philmont.

Be a kid again…Discover your own “Up North”

In the first e-mail promoting the 2010 Canoe Voyage of the Exchange Program of the SAA, PSA and SBAFA, we got you started on your journey to being a kid again. In this e-mail we continue that journey by discussing unique participation requirements for the Northern Tier, enticing itinerary options for your voyage, and offering you a glimpse of the remoteness you will enjoy with your crew as you discover your own “Up North” paddling the Boundary Waters August 28 – September 4.

“Every Scout a swimmer…”

Many of you will remember that phrase from when you were a kid. At the Northern Tier you gotta’ be able to swim – the water is deep.

Each Voyageur will be required to present a certificate of swimming ability. The requirements are:

  • Jump feet first into water over the head in depth, level off, and begin swimming
  • Swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: Sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl
  • Swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke
  • The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn
  • After completing the swim, rest by floating

This swim classification test can be certified by one of the following people: Aquatics Instructor, BSA; Cub Scout Aquatics Supervisor; BSA Lifeguard; certified lifeguard; swimming instructor; or swim coach. This includes your SCUBA instructor.

In addition to being able to swim, you need to be in shape. Paddling is strenuous, and you must be able to portage loads ranging from a 60 pound Kevlar canoe to a food pack weighing 100 pounds. (The food pack gets lighter as the voyage progresses.)

Those blasted medical forms

The medical forms for the BSA’s High Adventure Bases are similar, but each is also uniquely different. The only form accepted by the Northern Tier is the Northern Tier Class 3 Medical Form.

Just like when you were a kid getting ready for the Northern Tier, Philmont or the Sea Base, you must see the doctor first. One thing that is very different for the Northern Tier is that your physician is asked to evaluate you in light of the fact that, if you are injured or become sick, direct assessment and evacuation could take up to 12 hours. We don’t mean to frighten you, but when you are on the Voyage, you are really “out there”. Please evaluate your physical condition realistically and honestly.

Canoeing experience is not required…

…but it certainly is good to know fore from aft, port from starboard, a sweep from a j-stroke, and how to get into and out of a canoe without swamping.

If you do not have canoeing experience, at least pick up a copy of the Canoeing Merit Badge Book and read it several times. And if you get the opportunity to try out some of your book-learned skills in a real canoe, do it!

Itinerary options

To $ave you lot$ of money, you will sleep in the United States. You can paddle, portage and eat in Canada, but when it comes to selecting your campsite, make sure you are in the United States of face stiff possible fines. This is the only restriction on your itinerary.

Your Voyage will start at the Charles L. Sommers Base on Moose Lake. You can make any itinerary you want, but popular itineraries include:

  • Bear Loop, 55 miles, goes to the northeast, and allows for lots of flexibility. Highlights include canoeing on the international boundary, visiting Dorothy “Root Beer Lady” Moulter’s island in Knife Like and bald eagles too-numerous-to-count on Ensign Lake
  • Horse River, 55 miles, goes to the west by northwest. Highlights include canoeing on the international boundary, Basswood Falls, and some of the really big and famous Boundary Waters Lakes

Campsites in the United States have the advantage of being equipped with a fire grate and a “grumper”, i.e. latrine. (Grumpers are far more comfortable than Philmont latrines.) Also, many of the portages in the United States have been nicely improved, some by Order of the Arrow Trail Crews.

“The Boundary Waters is wilderness: rugged, remote, and wild. I saw a wolf, before we even got to Ely. Bald eagles, loons, and grouse in abundance, but few people, no planes, no motors after the first day. I saw things as they were when my great-great grandfather was trading for John Jacob Astor and the Hudson Bay Company.

The landscape seemed eerie. On the water, the horizon is low and the sky is huge. You see the shore, and a thin fringe of trees is always the horizon. The dip in the horizon is the portage. You see water, rocks, trees, and sky. The Northern Tier gets in your blood and draws you back. One trip and you know you belong there.”

~Rick Touchette, 2008 Voyageur and PSA co-Phacilitator.

Sneak peek
If your kid-like enthusiasm is growing, or you want to experience some of the remoteness described by Rick, click the link below and select “Ottertrack to Ely”. This video shows some of the “Up North” water paddled, and portages portaged, by prior Exchange Program crews. You may well paddle and portage there, too.

More details here.
Order here.