Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases

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The Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases are a collection of National High Adventure Bases run by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) of Minnesota, Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park, Manitoba's Atikaki Wilderness and points beyond. It is the oldest of the three National High Adventure Bases operated by the Boy Scouts of America. Its counterparts are the Philmont Scout Ranch and the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base.

Northern Tier offers wilderness canoe trips. There are no resorts or cabins along the trail, and aircraft and motorboats are restricted. A wilderness canoe trip in this area is not just a fishing trip or a laid-back vacation. Just as the voyageurs who traveled through this area in the 1700's, modern day voyageurs are physically challenged as they travel through the woods by paddle and portage. Typical treks may cover 50 to 150 miles and take 6 to 10 days. With each crew is a highly skilled technician/instructor called an "Interpreter". Sometimes called "Charlie Guides", these people can make the difference between a wilderness ordeal and an exciting and wonderfully memorable experience.

Programs and Bases

Northern Tier consists of the following bases:

  • Don Rogert Canoe Base in Atikokan, Ontario, Canada which offers canoe trips in Quetico Provincial Park and areas north.

Charles L Sommers offers the Okpik Cold Weather Camping Program in the winter months, which covers such activities as cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snow shoeing, ice fishing, expedition travel, and shelter building, and more.

The National Cold-Weather Camping Development Center is located at the Northern Tier Base at Ely, Minnesota. The center provides materials for, and specializes in problems associated with, cold-weather camping for councils and other organizations.

There is also the OA Wilderness Voyage, organized by the Order of the Arrow to do work on the portage trails in the Boundary Waters area.


The Northern Tier programs began in 1923 with canoe trips organized by the Hibbing, Minnesota Council, and was called the Region X Canoe Trails. This was later changed to the Region X Wilderness Canoe Trips. In the early days, there were no permanent structures, and Winton was the launch point. In the winter of 1941-1942, a log lodge was built as a base of operations. Soon after, it became the permanent base of operations and was named the Charles L. Sommers Wilderness Canoe Base, taking the name of a great scouter who was the first Chairman of Region X. Mr. Sommers was an avid Base supporter, canoe trip organizer and participant. The name stuck until 1972 when BSA consolidated regions and the base became part of the National High Adventure Program. The name was then changed to the Charles L. Sommers National High Adventure Base, BSA. With expansion of the program, Sommers is now part of the Northern Tier High Adventure programs.

The program has a long history with the Ely, Minnesota area. Such famous authors as Sigurd Olsen counted themselves as friends of the program.

Northern Tier Experience

Check In

Similar to other BSA high adventure bases, an incoming crew will be assigned an interpreter to help them get ready for their expedition. Upon arrival at the base camp, the crew will meet their interpreter while their leaders check in. After that, the crew will be issued their food and gear. Personal gear is carried in two person red packs, or the larger (80-90 lb) three person "gray whale/elephant/hippo/hefalump" packs. Food and cooking equipment are carried in boxes in specially made canvas bags with arm straps for portaging. Tents, paddles, pfds, and other safety equipment are also issued, and their use is explained by the interpreter of outfitting staff. Included in the gear is a radio or satellite phone used for emergency communication with base while on the trek. With the help of their interpreter, the crew plans their course on a large map displayed on the wall. Unlike treks at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, there are no pre-assigned routes. Crews are then assigned a cabin in which to spend its first night. The crew enjoys their dinner in the dining hall, participates in the evening program, and can visit the trading post if time permits.

On the Trail

For a crew that is leaving the Sommers base and entering the Quetico Provencial Park, the first three hours of paddling are the most crucial. The Canadian customs office closes for two hours at lunch (11:00am). It is advisable to paddle fast as to not get there during the lunch break.

The sun comes up at 6:00am and doesn't go down until about 10 at night. Long days are not too uncommon, but a typical schedule could look something like this:

Time Activity
6:00am Wake Up
6:15-7:00 Eat hearty breakfast, break down camp
7:20 Depart camp
7:20-11:30 Paddle and Portage
11:30-12:30 Eat Lunch, Rest
12:30-3:00 Paddle and Portage
3:00:3:45 Set up camp
3:45-5:30 Goof off; relax
5:30-7:30 Prepare, eat, and clean up dinner
7:30-8:30 Relax, have a "Thorns, Roses, and Buds" Reflection
8:30 Go to bed

The Return

When crews return, they can shower for the first time in several days, and eat a dinner that they don't have to prepare themselves. They clean their equipment, and spend their last evening in a cabin.

Wilderness Grace

Participants recite an adapted version of the Wilderness Grace:

For food, for raiment,
For life and opportunity,
For sun and rain,
For water and portage trails,
For friendship and fellowship,
We thank thee, O Lord.



See also

External links