This epic Scouts BSA story begins back in December of 2021, when seven brave adventurers, all Scouts from Troop 1717B, sponsored by Hartwood Presbyterian Church, signed up for the trek of a lifetime to the legendary “Great White North.” The Northern Tier High Adventure winter camp “Okpik” was the destination, located at the Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base in Ely, Minnesota.
‘Okpik’ means “snowy owl” in the native Inuit language, and the snowy owl is the emblem of the camp. In addition to the Okpik requirements, the Scouts set upon a year-long pursuit of five additional requirements so they would “Be Prepared” (the Scouts BSA Motto) for the arduous winter conditions they’d be facing: 1) Earn the rank of First Class Scout and then earn four merit badges – First Aid, Camping, Weather, and Wilderness Survival. All the Scouts (Ryker S, Michael L, Curtis L, Joshua W, Lucas P, Rudra S, Sheppard A) accomplished all these goals! The Crew ultimately consisted of these seven Scouts and four adults (Brett S, Curtis L, Micaiah P, Nilesh S).
On 26 December 2022, the adventurers departed the Hartwood Presbyterian Church parking lot bound for their first stopover, the Internal Hostel in downtown Chicago. Through snow covered roads and many miles they arrived safely at their first stop and enjoyed a brief night’s sleep before starting out again on the 27th.
After another day of driving the explorers arrived at Northern Tier, north of Ely, Minnesota, along the southern end of Moose Lake. After a good meal and meeting with our Interpreter, Mike, the Scouts planned their adventure for the following days and returned to their lodgings for the night. The Scouts stayed in an octagon wooden yurt (A yurt is a portable, circular dwelling made of a lattice of flexible poles and covered in felt or other fabric), while the adults squeezed into a tiny cabin.
The first day everyone drew their gear, and by the afternoon were off on their adventure for the next three days and nights. The Crew wore snowshoes under their boots and on each adventure wore a waist harness with a tether so they could pull a sled ladened with packs, food, and camp gear. The first destination was a campsite on Secret Lake. Due to the winter storm the week prior, the trail was snow-filled and fresh. The Crew Leader, 1st Class Scout Ryker S, broke trail – that is, he was the first to walk the trail, so that others could follow more easily – for nearly two miles to get to the site.
The Scouts’ wilderness survival skills came in handy as the wind had blown all the snow off the ice, so the Crew could not build snow shelters. Instead, the Crew entered the tree line and set up their sleeping shelters for the night. Temperatures ranged from 9 degrees at night and got up to only a “balmy” mid-20s during the days – Brrrr!
The next day, after a hearty breakfast, the Crew packed the camp, hooked up to their sleds, and were once again on the trail. Breaking trail again, Ryker lead the Crew over another quarter mile of hills trail to the edge of Flash Lake. Once on Flash Lake the Crew hiked another three-quarters of a mile across the lake to another trail. This trail, a half-mile long, led to Snowbank Lake, which would become the Crew’s base camp for the next two days.
The next couple of days were spent ice fishing, enjoying dog sled rides, and building a quinzhee. A quinzhee is a snow shelter, just as an igloo is an ice shelter. There was very little snow on the ice but this did not deter two dedicated Scouts, Joshua W and Michael L, from building their quinzhee just in time to spend the last night in the shelter.
The final day in the wilderness, the Crew hiked nearly two miles back to the Northern Tier facility, towing their sleds along the trails and back across the ice of Flash Lake. That night was spent enjoying a hearty lasagna meal at the lodge and entertainment provided by the Northern Tier staff.
Later, after getting the first hot shower in four days, the Crew celebrated the arrival of 2023 and the 100th anniversary of Northern Tier. January 1st found the Crew once again loading vehicles for the return trip. After several photos and many good-byes to Mike, our Interpreter, the Crew departed for Rockford, Illinois. Why Rockford, Illinois, you might ask? Because Rockford held the next prize for the trip: Giordano’s famous Chicago style deep dish pizza! Curtis L (an adult leader) coordinated the feast for the Crew.
Evening found the Crew once again at the International Hostel in downtown Chicago for another night’s sleep. The next day of the adventure the Crew was once again leaving Chicago but now on the last leg of the trip, arriving safely back home in Fredericksburg, VA that evening. They returned not just as Scouts, but as “Northmen.” You will have to find a Crew member for further tales of such things as: wolf tracks and howls, seeing northern lights, keeping your boots warm, the International Wolf Museum, eggs in a bag, and Hudson Bay bread. You might even learn about the correct response to “HOL-RY!”
Ready to begin your family’s Scouting Adventure?! To join BSA, please go to www.beaScout.org to find a BSA Scout unit near you – Cub Scouting serves families with children in Kindergarten through 5th Grade; Scouts BSA serves families with children ages 11-18. There are BSA programs for families with older Youths, ages 14 – 20, including Venturing, Exploring or Sea Scouting.
The mission of the BSA is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling the values of the Scout Oath and Law. Aquia District includes Stafford County, VA, and Marine Corps Base Quantico. For more information on Scouting in the Stafford/Fredericksburg area, including how to donate, join or volunteer, contact Kristy Freeman, Aquia District Executive, at Kristy.Freeman@Scouting.org or call (540)287-3866.