Northern Tier High Adventure

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Northern Tier High Adventure
Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases.png
OwnerBoy Scouts of America
LocationBoundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Quetico Provincial Park
Canadian Crown Lands
Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park
CountryUnited States and Canada
Attendance5,923 (2006) [2]
 Scouting portal

Northern Tier High Adventure is a collection of high adventure bases run by the Boy Scouts of America in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Minnesota, Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park and Canadian Crown Lands, Manitoba's Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park, and points beyond. Northern Tier is the oldest of the four National High Adventure Bases operated by the Boy Scouts of America; the others currently in operation are: Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, Florida Sea Base in the Keys, and The Summit in West Virginia.

Programs at Northern Tier vary by season. In the summer, participants undertake wilderness canoe excursions. There are no lodgings along these trips, and aircraft and motorboats are heavily restricted. Typical treks may cover 50 to 150 miles and take 6 to 10 days, with a maximum duration of 14 days. Accompanying each crew is a staff member called an "Interpreter", formerly known as a "Charlie Guide".[3][4]

Programs and bases[edit]

Northern Tier consists of the following bases:

  • Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base in Ely, Minnesota offers canoe trips to the Boundary Waters and the Quetico.
  • Donald Rogert Canoe Base in Atikokan, Ontario Canada offers canoe trips into the Quetico and Crown Lands.
  • Northern Expeditions Base in Bissett, Manitoba offers canoe trips into the Atikaki. All trips here start with a float plane trip to the drop off point and canoe cache.

Other programs[edit]

  • Fall Rendezvous offers a chance for crews to experience the Boundary Waters in the fall.
  • The National Cold-Weather Camping Development Center is located at the Charles L. Sommers Base. The center provides materials for, and specializes in problems associated with, cold-weather camping for councils and other organizations. In the winter, the Okpik program is offered, with activities such as cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snow shoeing, ice fishing, and shelter building.
  • The OA Wilderness Voyage, organized by the Order of the Arrow does work on the portage trails in the Boundary Waters area.[5] In 2009, the program was expanded to include trips into the Quetico.


The Northern Tier programs began in 1923 with canoe trips organized by the Hibbing, Minnesota Council, and was called 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, Minnesota was the launch point. Later it was operated by Region 10 of the BSA. 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.[6] However, the name Region 10 canoe base remained in use, including on patches and publications. 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. With expansion of the program, Sommers is now part of the Northern Tier High Adventure programs.[7]

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

Northern Tier Experience[edit]

What follows is a description of the summer program at Northern Tier [8]

Check In[edit]

Similar to other BSA high adventure bases, an incoming crew will be assigned a staff member, known as 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 or three Granite Gear three person packs. Food and cooking equipment are carried in boxes in specially made packs by Kondos Outdoors in Ely. Tents, paddles, PFDs, and other safety equipment are also issued, and their use is explained by the interpreter or the 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 the itinerary for their trip. Unlike treks at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, there are no pre-assigned routes except for groups staying in the Crown Lands.[9] Crews are then assigned a cabin in which to spend their first night. The crew has dinner, participates in an orientation program, and can visit the trading post.

On the Trail[edit]

For a crew that is leaving the Sommers base and entering the Quetico Provincial Park, groups often make an effort to finish the 3 hour paddle to reach the Canadian customs office before it closes for lunch.

During the summer, the sun comes up at 5:30 am and doesn't go down until about 9:30 pm. Long days are not uncommon, and a daily routine might look something like this.

Time Activity
6:00 am Wake Up
6:15-7:00 Eat 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 Cry about taking the canoe on "the hardest portage"
5:30-7:30 Prepare, eat, and clean up dinner
7:30-8:00 Relax, have a "Thorns, Roses, and Buds" Reflection
8:00-10:00 Down time and lights out

BWCAW vs. Quetico[edit]

While both areas are designated wilderness areas, Quetico Provincial Park is often considered to be more remote and challenging than the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters also receives far more visitors than the Quetico. It is not unusual for crews not to see another person for several days in the Quetico. Whereas the Boundary Waters' portage trails are generally well maintained, Quetico's trails are often unmaintained. This means that in Quetico there are no boardwalks as there are in the BWCAW for swampy portages, and there are fewer park wardens clearing the trails of fallen timber and debris.

Likewise, the campsites are rather different between the two wilderness areas. Boundary Waters' campsites have designated fire grates in the fire ring and a small fiberglass latrine. Quetico's campsites are far less used than BWCAW and many are not marked on maps. The sites themselves do not have a latrine (participants must dig a cat-hole at least 150 feet away from water and camp) nor do they have a fire grate.

Return to Base[edit]

Upon returning to base camp at the completion of their journey, crews return the gear issued to them and retrieve personal items. In the evening, crews enjoy an outdoor barbecue followed by a show put on by camp staff consisting of skits and songs, known as "Rendezvous." In between these events, crews may avail themselves of the camp amenities: sauna, toilets, hot showers, a sweet shop, and a trading post.

Wilderness Grace[edit]

Participants recite an adapted version of the Wilderness Grace. The summer version is as follows:

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.

The winter version replaces "rain" with "snow" and "water and portage trails" for "ice and ski trails."

Alumni Association[edit]

The Charles L. Sommers Alumni Association, Inc. (SAA) was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in 1992. The founders included former volunteers and staff members and supporters of the Northern Tier National High Adventures and Scouting. Their mission is to “provide a continuing interest in and support for the mission and programs of the Charles L. Sommers National High Adventure Base and the Northern Tier National High Adventure Program”[10]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Official website


  1. ^ Felton, Gene (1998). A Diamond in the North. North Stream Publishing. ISBN 0-9660309-2-3.
  2. ^ "2006 BSA Year in Review" (PDF). Boy Scouts of America. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 27, 2008. Retrieved January 5, 2008.
  3. ^ "Charles L. Sommers Alumni Association, Inc. - Charlie Guides - Interpreters".
  4. ^ Felton, Gene (1998). A Diamond in the North. North Stream Publishing. p. 74. ISBN 0-9660309-2-3.
  5. ^ "NorthernTier".
  6. ^ "Modern Voyageurs" Charles L. Sommers Wilderness Canoe Base Camp Dedication Booklet Published by Boy Scouts of America Region 10 office, St. Paul Minnesota Brown & Bigelow St. Paul Minnesota
  7. ^ Northern Tier High Adventure Program - Steeped in 90 years of canoeing tradition By Alissa Johnson Quetice Superior Wilderness News Spring 2013 issue Quetico Superior Foundation Retrieved February 2018
  8. ^ Northern Tier: More Than Just a Canoeing Trip By Greg Stringfellow Quetico Superior Wilderness News Quetico Superior Foundation Retrieved February 2018
  9. ^
  10. ^ The Charles L. Sommers Alumni Association web site home page Retrieved January 2018