Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases

Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases
Owner Boy Scouts of America
Location Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Quetico Provincial Park
Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park
Country United States and Canada
Founded 1923[1]
Attendance 5,923 (2006)[2]

The Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases are 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, Manitoba's Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park and points beyond. Norther 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, Florida Sea Base and The Summit.

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."

Programs and Bases

Northern Tier consists of the following bases:

Other Programs


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. 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. 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 Olson counted themselves as friends of the program.

Northern Tier Experience

What follows is a description of the summer program at Northern Tier.

Check In

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. 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

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 an hour at lunch (noon-1:00 pm). It is advisable to paddle fast as to not get there during the lunch break.

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 Down time
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

While both areas are designated wilderness areas, Quetico Provincial Park is often considered to be more wild 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 called a "grumper". 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

Upon returning to base camp at the completion of their journey, crews return the gear issued to them and retrieve personal items from the shared locker. 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

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


  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. Retrieved January 5, 2008.
  3. Northern Tier website
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