Camp Menogyn: A Wilderness Experience
by Jessica Crawford, 7th Grade Teacher
During the second week of school this fall, the seventh grade and a handful of chaperones headed north to Grand Marais along Lake Superior, and then even farther north up the Gunflint Trail to Camp Menogyn and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We loaded our gear onto boats and were greeted warmly by the Menogyn staff when we reached the camp across the water. Our first activity with our small-group trail guides was to jump into the cold, cold waters of Bearskin Lake for a two-minute treading water swimming test. Let me tell you, that water is brisk, which made the warm sauna afterward feel fantastic!
The next morning the students learned how to take different types and weights of canoes off of their racks, place them onto 3-points on the ground, bridge them, and portage them on their shoulders. They learned and practiced the many paddling strokes necessary to keep the canoe headed in the right direction. They learned what to pack to go “on trail,” how to pack their belongings into dry bags and then into Duluth packs, and how to plan meals for wilderness camping.
It was an expectant and exciting moment when we finally put the canoes into the water, the heavy packs into the canoes, and carefully stepped in to take a seat ourselves. What an amazing feeling it is to have everything you need in a boat that you are paddling yourself, far, far away from the usual sights and sounds of the city! We were surrounded by mist hanging heavily over the tops of the trees, by dark, still water everywhere we looked, and by loons calling in their haunting way.
Each small group of six students set off upon their own adventure, and each group had a unique experience of paddling, portaging, and camping. The group I was in camped on a beautiful point flanked by two quiet bays which offered multiple, excellent sit-spots for reading, gazing out at the unbelievable view, or just being quiet. The students played a lengthy and complex game of tag, during which they explored and hid, spending time alone deep in the woods. We enjoyed eating all sorts of delicious trail food, and learned how to clean our dishes with fallen pine boughs and cones. We stayed (mostly) cozy in our tents during pouring rain and thunder, listening to the eagles screeching overhead.
The challenges of making do with few comforts and of paddling and portaging, and the camaraderie of working together and supporting one another made our trip unforgettable, brought the class closer together than they were before, and allowed each individual to become more aware of, and perhaps completely surprised by, their own strengths and capacities. We are incredibly fortunate to have the BWCA so nearby, where we are able to immerse ourselves in the beauty of a very unusual eco-system, and to appreciate its fragility (especially today when the copper mine proposals threaten the area). I feel honored to have witnessed a kind of rite of passage for this group of young people, as they discover what is important to them and what actions they will take as citizens of the world.