In late January, a group of students from Park Center Senior High School embarked on a snow-filled adventure to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the first of three outdoor trips planned with Wilderness Inquiry. The up-north adventure provided Park Center students (aka Park Center Pirates!) the opportunity to get outdoors as part of their education experience and build community and connection to one another and nature. Park Center teacher and group leader, Chris Gudvangen, shared a memorable recap of their time together.
“‘Mr. G it’s dark out!’
‘Yep, let’s go!!!!!!’
With that short interaction, we departed the safety and comfort of our vans that kept us warm and cozy on the eight-hour drive to the frozen Northwoods of Minnesota. Layers were added and gear was loaded into sleds for the 25-minute walk across Bearskin Lake to the lodge (just a mere two miles from Canada) where we would be staying for the next three days.
A steady stream of bouncing lights made their way across the windy lake. Gear was unloaded and separated into rooms and a hearty dinner was served. After dinner, the Outdoor Adventures class learned about dogs, dogsledding, and their upcoming activities, building excitement for the next day.
Breakfast burritos and ‘Campacinos’ (coffee mixed with hot chocolate) awaited our Pirates in the morning to fuel them for the day’s adventures. With no cell phone service, the Pirates put together puzzles, played card games, (spoons and Dutch Blitz had some pretty heated games!) read books, and wrote in journals.
A balmy -8 degrees awaited us as we made our way to the dog pen to feed them and get them ready for a day of pulling us around the lake. The students harnessed the sled dogs and hooked them up to the sled. Fearless mushers gave the call and they were off. Out on the lake, the students got the chance to ride around on the sleds and give commands to dogs. Shouts of “Good Dog!” could be heard for miles through the thin northern Minnesota air.
After a quick refuel at lunch, we were back outside to hike up to Caribou Rock. We trudged through the snow to spectacular views and returned in time for a filling dinner. A campfire was built and smore’s were made and consumed repeatedly. Laughter filled the air. Slowly, our Pirates left the fire for warm beds and some much-needed sleep.
The next morning, we ate our fill of breakfast and packed our bags for the morning’s adventure. We took off across Bearskin Lake, crossed a small piece of land, crossed Hungry Jack Lake, and made landfall.
From there we hiked up backcountry trails to Honeymoon Bluff. A warning sign about sheer cliffs was seen and giggles were heard. I encourage my class to try dangerous things (supervised and safely!), so they excitedly ran up the trail to the tops of the cliffs. They plopped into the fluffy snow, tired from their hike.
Drinking water and eating snacks, they slowly got up to admire the views and take pictures. Bags were thrown back on, and the hike resumed, making our way across the same to lakes to our lodge for a well-earned high-calorie lunch.
With full bellies and tired eyes, they made their way outside to try cross-country skiing. Through a sun filled sky, they skied into the BWCA and raced back in time for our culminating event. Nervous chatter was heard as 4:30 pm approached.
With swim gear and sandals on, we headed down to the toasty 190 degree sauna. We packed in, heated up, and laughed about the adventures that we had. At the 15 minute mark, we headed out to a small square in the lake cut by a chainsaw. Every one of our students jumped in without hesitation and made their way back into the sauna. They would run back into the lake two more times, each time with a bigger smile.
With shivering limbs and steaming heads, they walked back through the night to warm up for dinner. Exhaustion was on their faces, and it looked like an early bedtime was in store for them.
After dinner, we gave them the opportunity to gear up and sleep outside in the cool weather. Seven Pirates took us up on the offer and we outfitted them for a night in the cold. When the morning sun appeared on the horizon, all seven Pirates were still outside in their makeshift beds. Breakfast was devoured and bags were packed for the walk back across the lake to jump into the vans for the ride home. Four minutes into the trip, they were all asleep.”
– CHRIS GUDVANGEN
This great group of Park Center Pirates have two more Wilderness Inquiry trips planned this year – one to Baker Park Reserve for an overnight camping adventure and an eight-day hiking trip to Yellowstone National Park.
Thanks to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment for funding support of this program.