BSA Troop 328

Oak Ridge, Tennessee

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Northern Tier Canoe Base

Over Fall Break, 5 scouts and 3 leaders went on a 7 day canoe trip through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. We met at Kern UMC at 6:30AM on Saturday, October 1st and we were on the road in our rented Ford Transit 12 passenger van just before 7:00AM. We stopped for the night in Eau Claire, WI. Sunday morning we got and drove the rest of the way to the Charles Sommers Canoe Base (base camp) just outside Ely, MN (about 7 miles south of the Canadian border). Our guide, Virginia, met us when we pulled in and helped us find our way around. While in base camp we got to stay in the SLU's (Staff Living Unit) because we were the only crew there. After we stowed our personal gear, we went around to the various stations to check out our crew gear. We also got a lesson on how to flip a canoe onto your back and carry it and made the final decisions on our route through the BWCAW. We planned to earn the "Duty to God", "Historic Trails", and "50 Miler" awards and chose our route accordingly. Saturday evening we had dinner and went to the trading post. On Monday morning we packed all our gear into the portage packs and headed off to breakfast at 7:30AM. Afterward, we finished packing up our crew gear and trail food, checked out our paddles and life vests. We were on the water around 10:00AM after a short delay because one of the canoes was leaking. We paddled north to Prairie Portage on the Canadian Border where we got out of our canoes on the Canadian side walked around a little. Next we headed east along the border, which is also the route the fur traders used and is considered a historic trail) and stopped on the Canadian side to have lunch. After lunch we continued east and camped at a forest service camp site near Isle of Pines on Knife Lake. Isle of Pines is where Dorothy Milter (the Root Beer Lady) lived. That night the sky was unbelievably clear and we were able to see Mars, Saturn, the Milky Way, and the northern lights which were totally awesome!. Tuesday morning we continued along the border to Thunder Point where we hiked up to the top to take in the view. Two miles further east we stopped at a forest service campsite for lunch and cleared several downed trees from the storms that passed through back in the summer. Clearing the campsite served as our trail improvement project for the Historic Trials Award. Afterward we continued through the South Arm of Knife Lake to Eddy Falls and camped for the night on Eddy Lake. Wednesday morning we got a much earlier start and headed southwest along Kekekabic Lake and eventually to Thomas Lake where we camped for the night. There was some wind and rain in the morning but the afternoon was pleasant and just before lunch we saw a black bear on a hillside above the lake. Thursday was a layover day for resting up and fishing. We slept late and had bacon and pancakes for breakfast (very tasty). We fished most of the day but did not catch anything to speak of, but it was another awesome day outdoors. Friday morning we woke up to snow, sleet, and high winds. After a chilly breakfast, we set off into the mist (thick fog was rising off the lakes because the water was warmer than the frigid air that had rolled in overnight. We could not see well enough to navigate by landmarks on the map so we (Virginia) used a compass instead. The water was white capping, waves were breaking over the side of the canoes, and there was a strong headwind so progress was slow. Conditions improved in the afternoon and we made it to Boot Lake where we camped for the night. On Saturday morning, it was cloudy and windy again, but only a little light frozen precipitation. Crossing the open water on Snowbank Lake was again difficult due to the wind but we all made it. After one final very long portage (almost 2 miles) we walked back into base camp around 3:00PM. After checking our crew gear back in, the all took showers and hit the sauna. At dinner, the camp staff broke out a gas grill and made hamburgers and bratwurst which were unbelievably good after eating trail food all week. After dinner, we looked at some exhibits on the hist of Northern Tier, the Ojibwa Indians, the fur traders, and the BWCAW. Sunday morning left on the long drive home right after breakfast and got back to Oak Ridge around 4:30AM.

Map showing an overview of our time on the water.

Map showing the distance we traveled each day.

Here is a copy of our permit to be in the BWCAW.

Saturday, October 1st:

We left Kern UMC around 7:00AM and drove 895 miles to Eau Claire, WI where we spent the first night.

Here is a map showing where Northern Tier is located relative to Oak Ridge.

Here we are making an emergency pit stop to use the restroom just north of Louisville, KY.

Here is the Ford Transit van we rented for the drive up to Northern Tier and back.

Indiana and Illinois, just corn and windmills for hundreds of miles.....

Sunday, October 2nd:

We got up and took advantage of the "free" breakfast at the EconoLodge in Eau Claire.

Here we are in front of the EconoLodge.

The drive from Eau Claire on up to Ely, MN to the Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base outside
Ely, MN was uneventful except for getting lost on the construction detour in Duluth. We had
lunch at the Dairy Queen in Ely, and got to the Canoe Base (base camp) a little after 1:00PM.
Here is a map showing the layout of the facility.

Our guide (called an Interpreter), Virginia, met us when we pulled in and shoed us to the
SLU's (Staff Living Units) where we stayed while at base camp. First up she showed us how
to flip the canoes over and carry them on our shoulders. Here we are practicing that
maneuver while Virginia checks all the paperwork.

Here Virginia is showing the scouts how to operates the camp stoves we will be using.

Next we gather in front of a large map of the BWCAW to plan our route. We hope to earn
the "Duty to God", "Historic Trail", and "50 Miler" awards while we are here and so we plan
our route with this in mind.

Next we check out some more of our crew gear.

And then head over to the Commissary to make sure all of our trail food is ready to go
tomorrow morning.

This is the view of Moose Lake from the Commissary. We will start our trip tomorrow on this lake.

Here we are having dinner in the dinning hall before turning in early to rest up.

Monday, October 3rd:

Monday morning we packed all our personal gear plus our tents into the portage packs that
are nicknamed "grey whales". This was a challenge due to the winter sleeping bags and extra
warm clothing. On our trip we route included a total of 32 portages where we get out of the
canoes and carry everything on our backs cross country to get to the next lake. The lakes are
connected by small streams and waterfalls which are not passable by canoe. There were
9 people in our crew with 3 canoes and 6 portage packs (3 with personal gear and tent,
Virginia's Interpreter pack, the food pack, and the crew gear pack). Here we are the leaders
before breakfast deciding how much we can load into our portage pack.

Here we are at the Commissary stuffing all the food into the food portage pack. It does not
all fit so we have to cram some of it into the personal gear packs.

Here we are selecting our life vests and paddles.

Next we carried everything down to the water. This was like a practice portage. When we got
down there and were loading the gear into the canoes we discovered one of them was
leaking so we had to swap it out.

Finally, around 10:00AM, we are shoving off for a week in the wilderness.

Here is a video taken by the Northern Tier staff to promote their fall trips.

We paddled northeast through Moose Lake, then Newfound Lake, then Sucker Lake.

On Sucker Lake we passed a beaver lodge.

Still in Sucker Lake, we are rounding the bend toward Prairie Portage on the Canadian Border.
There are both US and Canadian customs "cabins" here so you can legally pass between
the BWCAW and Quetico Provincial Park on the Canadian side.

Prairie Portage is in sight.

We got out and played around on the Canadian side.
There was a welcome to Canada sign and a dam/waterfall for water flowing from Sucker Lake into Basswood Lake.

Looking back across to the American side about 50 feet away across the water.

Now we are paddling east through Birch Lake.

We stopped for lunch on the Canadian side of Birch Lake.

After lunch, we continued east through the rest of Birch Lake, then Carp Lake, then
Seed Lake, and into Knife Lake.

We camped for the night at a forest service campsite on the American side of Knife Lake.
Here Virginia is showing the scouts the Northern Tier method for hanging a bear bag.

All of the forest service campsites have a fire pit, a place to pitch 1 or more tents, and a
pit toilet called a "grumper". The grumper is usually up a short trail away from the main
campsite so you do have a little privacy.

The sky was crystal clear that night. We could see Mars, Saturn, Venus, and the milky Way. However,
the coolest thing ever was seeing the northern lights which we astonishing bright. They looked
like the glow from a large city on the horizon to the north, but of course there is no city there.

Tuesday, October 4th:

Tuesday morning we were pretty slow having breakfast and getting back on the water. Virginia advised
the scouts that we will have trouble making our 50 mile goal if we don't get better organized.

Some of the scouts kept a constant vigil for hostile indians.

Back out on Knife Lake heading east. Passing the Isle of Pines where Dorothy Molter
(the Root Beer Lady) lived.

Taking a water break.

Still headed east and approaching Thunder Point near where the South Arm of Knife Lake
branches off.

At Thunder Point we got out and climbed up to the overlook. The view was spectacular.

When we got back on the water, we continued east through the South Arm of Knife Lake.

After about 2 miles of paddling, we stopped for lunch at a forest service campsite on the far
end of the island from Thunder Point. This campsite was in pretty bad shape from the storms
that had passed through back in July. One of the requirements for the Historic Trails Award
is to do a trail restoration project so we chose to clear out this campsite as our project. There
were several large trees down across the two tent sites and a huge hemlock tree has fallen
next to he grumper and it was buried in limbs and debris. The scouts spent about an hour
with the folding saws we brought as part of the crew gear clearing the grumper and the trail
leading to it as well as the trees across the tent spots.

From the South Arm of Knife Lake, we portaged over to Eddy Lake. Along the portage trail
we passed Eddy Falls.

We paddled east on Eddy Lake.

We spent the night at the eastern most campsite on Eddy Lake.

Wednesday, October 5th:

So far the weather has been sunny and warm. Wednesday morning, we got up to cloudy
skies and windy conditions. We got an early start (not like Tuesday morning) and we were
on the water at sunrise. We portaged from Eddy Lake to Kekekabic Pond and
headed southwest.

Just before we portaged from Kekekabic Pond to Kekekabic Lake, we saw a black bear
on the hillside above us.

Approaching the portage to Kekekabic Lake.

Getting back in our canoes on the other side. It has started to rain pretty hard and
the wind is picking up.

Stopped for lunch at a campsite on a point before we turn south on Kekekabic Lake.
The rain has mostly stopped and the sun is breaking through the clouds.

From Kekekabic Lake we portaged to Strup Lake to Wisini Lake to Ahmakoee Lake to
Gerund Lake always heading south.

Preparing to portage from Gerund Lake to Fraser Lake.

Getting back in the canoes on the Fraser Lake end of the portage.

Navigating the narrow passage from Fraser Lake into Thomas Lake.

Once on Thomas Lake, it was a short paddle to a good campsite.

Hanging the bear bags.

Drying out all our gear after the rainy start to the day.

It was a beautiful camping spot.

Thursday, October 6th:

Thursday was a layover day where we don't go anywhere, we just hang out and enjoy
the outdoors. The weather was very pleasant and there was plenty of time for fishing
and resting up for the remainder of the trip. We slept in and had bacon and pancakes
for breakfast. Very tasty.

Getting in some fishing.

A bald eagle watching us fish from the canoes in the afternoon. He seemed disappointed
that we were not catching anything.

We finally caught one and it was a whale.

We had a nice dinner (but no freshly caught fish).

The sunset Thursday evening was simply unbelievable. These photos do not begin to
capture the spectacular colors.

Friday, October 7th:

During the night the weather took a turn for the worst. Heavy rain and very high winds.
Virtually everything got wet. Just before sunrise, colder air moved in and the rain
changed to sleet and snow. Here the snow is beginning to accumulate on one of the
portage packs.

Nonetheless, we were back on the water early. The water was warmer than the air so thick
fog was rising off the lake making it difficult to navigate by following the landmarks on the
shoreline. But Virginia was able to get us across Thomas Lake using a compass.

From Thomas Lake we portaged to Thomas Pond, then to Hatchet Lake, and then to Ima Lake.

Crossing Ima Lake was very exciting because the waves were white capping and
crashing over the side of the canoes due to the combination of open water and high winds.
We stopped for lunch about halfway across.

During the rain storm last night all of the toilet paper got too soaked to use so we resorted
to using boradleaf aster (the Charmin of the forest) for grumper runs.

We made it the rest of the way east across Ima Lake and portaged over to Jordan Lake,
then to Cattyman Lake, then to Gibson Lake, then to Swing Lake, then to Abinodji Lake,
then to Haven Lake, and finally to Boot Lake where we camped for the night at the western
most campsite. The snow and sleet stopped and the sun came out from time to time.

This was our first encounter with "moose muck" which is essentially peat floating on the
water that looks like dry land. If you step in it you fall through up to your waist as the scouts
found out. So unloading the canoes and getting ready to portage was a little tricky. Also,
the white signs we started seeing at all the portage trails are warning us that people are
trapping wolves in the area and dogs should be kept on a leash so they don't get caught
in the traps.

Saturday, October 8th:

We were able to mostly get everything dried out Friday evening and had a comfortable
nights sleep. But Saturday morning we were back to cloudy skies, high winds, and occasional
rain and sleet. Here we are launching our canoes that morning.

Continuing east, we portaged over to Snowbank Lake which has a lot of open water. It was
once again a struggle against the wind and cold but we made it over to a peninsula where
we stopped for lunch.

During lunch the wind died down some and we started seeing some sun. The rest of
the way across Snowbank Lake was not too difficult. When we reached the far side
we had a long portage (almost 2 miles) back to base camp.

Back at base camp we checked our crew gear, paddles, and life jackets back in,
then showered, then hit the sauna. Wow, that felt nice.

The staff grilled hamburgers and bratwurst for dinner which was unbelievably good after
eating trail food for a week. After dinner we did our group photo.

After the group photo, Virginia did a very good presentation of the history of Northern Tier
and the surrounding area. Then we head back the SLU's tog et a good night's sleep before
our long drive home.

Sunday, October 9th:

On Sunday morning we were served an awesome breakfast in the dinning hall.

On the way home we stopped at Red Robin for lunch.

We got back to Oak Ridge around 4:00AM.