Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Boundary Waters Trail Project: An AHS Volunteer Vacation

This American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation was run in conjunction with the Boy Scouts of America's Northern Tier High Adventure Base out of Ely, Minnesota.  Fourteen volunteers and two guides from the base camp spent 5 days paddling and portaging to reach portage trails that badly needed maintenance.  Ideally, trail corridors for portaging should be cleared to 6 foot width and 10 foot heights to allow safe and easy passage for those portaging canoes, but many trails are overgrown like the one below, and trees had fallen in several places, complicating portaging even more.  These trails are also used in the winter as snowmobile routes connecting the frozen lakes, so clearing fallen trees and limbs and trimming back branches will make the trails safer for them, too.

Check out the video at the end of this post to see the crew in action clearing the trails, and also to see the finished product after fallen trees were removed and encroaching trees and brush had been lopped back creating a safe, wide corridor for portaging. Other trail damage was also repaired and hazards removed.

Our exceptionally well-trained guides, Colin and Sean, first taught us how to portage a 65 pound canoe.  All my canoe experiences involved two or three people picking us a canoe and carrying it from a trailer to the put-in, but Voyageur-style portaging involves one person picking up and carrying a canoe alone while others carry the gear, and portages from one lake to another could range from a mere 50 feet up to several miles in length!  Below is our initial instruction on how to safely and successfully get a canoe from the ground to your shoulders all by yourself so it can be transported for whatever distance is required, and then return it to the water without damaging it.

We then split into groups of 2 or 3 to share canoes and began our adventure. The process was to portage the canoes from trailer to water, then paddle ourselves and our gear and tools to the end of the lake, take the canoes from the water, clear the portage trail for safe, expeditious travel, then portage our canoes and all our tools across that stretch of trail we had just cleared to the next lake, paddle across it to the next portage trail, and so forth.  Each day, of course, we had to reverse the process to return to our camp, and then the next day paddle and portage to return to where we had left off working so we could resume trail clearing work.

Yes, it was a lot of arduous work, but we also got to savor lots of magnificent scenery such as the next two photos, and also got to enjoy the cavorting of loons and glimpses of eagles flying above us.

And on the last day, for a special treat for a job well done all week, the guides led us on another adventure, and after two portages and two paddles, we arrived at some rock art called "pictographs" -- paintings created by Native American artists four hundred or more years ago and still looking good as seen below...

Here's our entire stalwart trail/paddling/portaging crew:

(Left to right)
Kneeling: Chuck, Andy, Libby (the AHS Volunteer Vacation coordinator), John, and Mike
Back row: Chris, Paul, Hank, "G", Patty, Karl, Gail, Don, Keith, and Sean (guide)
(Photo by lead guide, Colin)

And here are our two exceptional guides, Colin and Sean...


Here's a video of our week's adventures...

Additional photos for download can be found here.

Our host for this project, The Northern Tier Canoe Base

American Hiking Society


1 comment:

Karl said...

Hey Chuck, great job memorializing the project! I am happy to have been on this trip and look forward to more. The Boundary Waters is surely "a world away". Thanks for putting it together.