BISSETT, MANITOBA – If the members of Frankfort Boy Scout Troop 281 are asked to write an essay on how they spent their summer, be prepared for some good stories.
Seventeen boys, adult leaders and guest scouts traveled to Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park in Manitoba, Canada, for Scouting’s Northern Tier High Adventure program – a canoe trip of more than 80 miles over eight days in the wilderness. The group, split into two crews and each with a guide, carried all of their camping gear and food, covering an area with no towns, no roads and just a few fishing cabins.
The trip included several challenging portages over slippery rocks and through heavy forests, beaver dam crossings, winding rivers, waterfalls and of course, encounters with millions of mosquitos and other flying insects. The group caught some fish, swam in the cool, clean lakes and enjoyed seeing moose, bears, beavers, eagles and other wildlife.
The canoe base in Bissett is unofficially known as the “most extreme high adventure in Scouting,” according to the program’s website.
One crew started with one of the more challenging portages called “Heartbreak” – a kilometer-long bog that requires canoes to be unloaded and pulled through mud and peat. The only secure footing was tree roots. Scouts who make it through are entitled to buy a special shirt at the trading post.
“Dragging a canoe through waist-deep mud was pretty fun,” said Todd Collins, a member of Troop 281.
Meanwhile, the other crew headed to Sasaginnigak Lake where high winds caused white caps and made paddling tough. They successfully reached an island to see an old fire tower.
“It was a lot more adventurous than I expected,” said Keenan Jones, another member of Troop 281.
Besides Heartbreak, some portages and crossings had telling names. “Death Swamp,” “Beaver Damnation,” “Big Boulder,” “Billy Goat” and “Burnout” are among the places the scouts visited.
The scouts also saw several examples of rock paintings left by native peoples inside the 4,000-square-kilometer park. The pictures on rock cliffs along the lakes showed animals and people and are protected under Canadian law. The park’s name – Atikaki – is an Ojibwe word for “country of the caribou.”
The troop began planning the trip more than a year ago. Each participant paid about $800 to cover the cost of the trip. Charlie Jones, an adult leader, made the arrangements for travel, including the stops at campgrounds in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Manitoba on the way there and back by car.
The group met several times to prepare for the trip and went on two overnight canoe trips in Kentucky – one on the Levisa Fork in Pike County and another on the Kentucky River in Franklin County.
Because each crew takes between seven and 11 people, the troop sought out other scouts interested in attending. Four scouts and an adult leader from other troops and states joined Troop 281.
The group arrived at Bissett on June 29 after two days of driving from Frankfort. Bissett, a tiny town of 150 residents, is known for its gold mine.
After settling into the cabins, the interpreters (guides) handed out equipment and taught the scouts the proper ways to use it. This included how to carry a canoe and how to put on a backpack. Some of the gear packs were so heavy that they required two people to lift. They also mapped out their journey for the next eight days.
After spending the night at the base, the crews awoke the next morning, ate breakfast, packed their gear and walked out to a lake to meet a float plane for a 30-mile trip to Scout Lake where the canoes are kept.
Since all gear had to be carried in large packs called “whales,” every effort was made to travel light. Clothing was limited and scouts bought lightweight sleeping bags and pads. The “whales” weighed as much as 80 pounds each and had to be lifted from a canoe and carried over land at each portage. The aluminum canoes also had to be carried on a scout’s shoulders, a challenging proposition with tree branches, steep rocks and mosquitoes every step of the way.
Meals were kept simple and light. Breakfast usually consisted of granola and oatmeal. (Pancakes were the highlight near the end of the trip.) Lunch featured items such as sausage, cheese, pita bread and Hudson Bay Bread – a high-energy combination of nuts, oats, syrup, honey and butter. Dinner featured items such as a pasta or rice with meat – freeze dried and simply mixed with hot water.
The crews used lake water, with a dose of purification chemicals, for drinking.
All trash from meals and any litter found was packed out. The scouts followed the principle of “Leave No Trace” and made sure not to leave anything where they camped or stopped for lunch.
The first few days were tough, but the scouts began to get better at portages and navigating through the grassy, shallow streams. During a few days, the wind was flipping over lily pads and made it difficult to paddle out on open lakes.
The scouts also got used to stepping into water and getting their boots, socks and pants wet. The shoreline was usually too rocky to beach the canoes. And since getting wet was the norm, the scouts did not bring anything that was cotton. Clothing had to be polyester or another fast-drying material.
Although the wildlife was fascinating, the mosquitos were always a problem – except out on the water. Most everyone would turn in early before the sun went down to avoid insects. What at first sounded like rain drops on a tent was actually mosquitos trying to get into the tent.
Another rule required everyone to wear boots at all times while in the canoe or the water – the area is known for its rocky surfaces. Everyone also wore personal flotation devices anytime they were on or in the water.
Troop 281 returned to the base camp on July 7. After showers, a visit to the trading post for souvenirs, lunch at Wynne’s Place – a restaurant, general store and gathering place in Bissett, the scouts headed home on July 8.
The Northern Tier, which also has canoe bases in Minnesota and Ontario, is one of three Boy Scout “high adventure” experiences. The other two are Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for backpacking and rock climbing and Florida Sea Base for beach camping, snorkeling and sailing. A fourth high adventure base, the Summit Bechtel Reserve in southern West Virginia, will open in 2013 for the national jamboree with white water rafting, ziplines, rock climbing and mountain biking.
Several members of Troop 281 spent time on the way home from Manitoba making plans for their next high adventure trip.