A Pathfinder course provides the opportunity for participants to chart a path, the motivation to begin their journey, resilience to recover from set-backs, and the skills required to achieve their goals.
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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)
Over 10,000 years ago, continental-sized glaciers scraped their way across much of Ontario and northern Minnesota leaving deep ruts, ravines, and holes in their tracks. Eventually, as the glaciers melted, these ravines filled with water, creating a seemingly endless interconnected web of lakes and rivers.
In 1978, the United States designated over 1-million acres of this Northern Minnesota landscape as a protected wilderness area called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Because no roads, power lines, or motorized craft may enter its borders, the BWCAW has remained relatively unchanged since the glaciers receded. The BWCAW extends nearly 150 miles along the Canadian border and encompasses more than 1,000 lakes and rivers. Over 1,200 miles of navigable routes lead to over 2,200 campsites and provide an unparalleled opportunity to travel by canoe and dogsled.
In the winter, the BWCAW transforms into an even more severe and remote wilderness. While more difficult, winter enthusiasts’ travel over frozen lakes and rivers by dogsled, cross-country ski and snowshoe. Winter in the Boundary Waters is mesmerizing, peaceful, and exhilarating. It is a place of spectacular extremes, trackless snow, bracing cold air, glowing warm embers, and powerful silence.
Homeplace, Voyageur Outward Bound School Basecamp, Minnesota
Homeplace is located at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Situated where the Kawishiwi River meets Birch Lake in the Superior National Forest, the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp provides an ideal location for launching/ending BWCAW paddling and dogsledding trips, and practicing white water paddling skills. The surrounding boreal forest also makes Homeplace a great location for spotting moose, wolves, beavers, deer, woodpeckers, eagles and black bear.
Superior Hiking Trail, Minnesota
On the southern edge of the massive Canadian Shield, a granite rock formation that runs from Minnesota to Hudson Bay and the Northwest Territories, sits the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior. The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) follows the northern shore of the lake from Duluth, Minnesota to Canada covering almost 300 miles along the low-lying Sawtooth Mountain range. The trail meanders through dense boreal forest, sustains across awe-inspiring overlooks, and plunges into pristine river valleys. Well-marked trails, designated campsites, and challenging terrain make the SHT a great introductory backpacking experience.
Near the southern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail is a rock-climbing location called Shovel Point, which features 80- to120-foot vertical granite cliffs towering above the lake. The dramatic vertical rock face combined with the dazzling, emerald colored lake ensures a memorable day for the novice and experienced rock climber alike.
Portaging – Groups work as a team to carry packs and canoes over portage trails when transitioning from one lake to another or around challenging rapids. Portage trails are rugged and often rocky or hilly. They vary in length from 10 yards to a mile or longer. Pack weights also vary depending on the length of the trip, and how much personal equipment each group member brings along. Personal packs weigh at least 40 pounds and sometimes considerably more. Food and equipment packs usually weigh between 50 and 70 pounds. Each canoe is outfitted with shoulder pads on the center thwart, and when turned upside down, can be carried on one person’s shoulders. Canoes weigh 75 pounds.
Rock Climbing – At one or two different points during the expedition, students have the opportunity to climb at a stunning, outdoor rock climbing site. Outward Bound chooses rock climbing sites that provide a number of different route options including cracks, sheer faces, and chimneys. Regardless of a student’s rock climbing background, everyone is sure to find something that will both challenge and encourage them. All Outward Bound rock climbing experiences are heavily supervised and employ safety systems that are compliant with national standards.
During climbing days, students learn about general rock-climbing equipment, safety and etiquette before practicing how to belay. Students have many opportunities to climb, belay, and rappel throughout the day. Rappelling involves stepping over the edge and controlling one’s own descent.
Solo – Weather and time permitting, an Outward Bound Solo experience provides an important break from the rigors of the expedition and gives students the opportunity to reflect on their Outward Bound experience. The duration of Solo depends on the course length and type as well as the competency and preparedness of the student group. Students on a 3-week course typically spend 2-nights on Solo while students on a 1-week course may spend one night or even just a few hours on Solo. Regardless of Solo length, all students receive sufficient food, water, and shelter to keep them safe and healthy during Solo. Instructors choose Solo sites to offer as much solitude as possible while retaining some proximity to the whole group. While students spend the majority of their Solo time alone, Instructors do check on each student as often as needed, usually 1-4 times per day, to ensure that each student feels safe and comfortable. Instructors work with each student individually to structure a successful, unique Solo experience that meets their specific needs. Solo is purposefully scheduled near the end of the expedition so students have plenty of time to acclimate to their new environments beforehand.
Students often have mixed feelings leading up to Solo. Inevitably, students feel some nervousness and hesitation but are also excited to rest, reflect and test their new skills after spending many days in the wilderness. Students often find that Solo provokes profound and powerful learning in a short period of time and Solo often becomes one of the most memorable parts of their Outward Bound experience.
Final Expedition – Outward Bound believes that an appropriate amount of independence is a powerful educational tool. In order to deliver that benefit, Outward Bound purposefully and gradually transfers certain leadership responsibilities to the students culminating with our “Final Expedition.” Near the end of course, if you and your group have demonstrated the necessary leadership, team problem-solving and wilderness living skills, you may be given the opportunity to travel without your instructors immediately present. Students on courses designed for ages 16 and older may travel without instructors immediately present (although they will be near the group for safety reasons) for one to five days depending on course length, student age, staff assessment of students’ abilities, and terrain. Many of our students feel this phase of the course is the most rewarding as the group learns to work together, problem solve, and accomplish a goal independently while utilizing all the skills they have acquired.
Service – Service is an integral part of the Outward Bound curriculum. In addition to practicing Leave No Trace® ethics on all Outward Bound expeditions, Outward Bound also coordinates service projects with land management agencies like the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, local land trusts, and social service agencies like nursing homes and hospitals. Most Outward Bound students have an opportunity to participate in at least one service project during their course. Intercept courses always include 2-4 days of community service.
Personal Challenge Event – Time and weather permitting, Voyageur Outward Bound School courses end with a Personal Challenge Event (PCE), a final individual physical push. In the summer, the PCE usually includes a triathlon-style paddle, portage, and run. In the winter, the PCE involves a distance ski, sauna, and polar plunge.
The PCE is non-competitive. Each student sets his/her own time goal for completion and works toward it to see how their mental and physical stamina has grown as a result of their wilderness expedition. Students celebrate the completion of their wilderness expedition and PCE with a final banquet and graduation ceremony at the basecamp.
Canoeing – It’s possible to canoe to the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans from the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp in land-locked northern Minnesota. These journeys, which take anywhere from 3 months or longer, always begin in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW); a million-acre protected expanse of interconnected lakes and rivers. It is also one of the most historically significant and remote wilderness areas in North America.
Because all Voyageur Outward Bound School canoeing courses are un-resupplied, groups paddle with absolutely everything they will need for their entire expedition, allowing students to journey deep into the wilderness. This type of extended wilderness experience, along with our highly-trained Instructors, help students develop and refine new expedition skills, cultivate a deep connection with the environment, form meaningful friendships, and develop a better understanding themselves through challenge and discovery.
During a Voyageur Outward Bound School canoeing expedition, students learn a variety of paddling skills to contend with diverse weather and waterway conditions as they canoe from campsite to campsite. Wind speeds tend to increase around noon and sometimes remain strong throughout the day. For this reason, groups will often rise early to take advantage of flat waters in the morning and then enjoy a longer lunch break as they wait for the windiest part of the day to pass. Paddling partners work together to steer and power their boats through rivers, swamps and lakes, usually traveling between 8 and 20 miles a day. Students also learn how to portage, navigate with a map and compass, cook over a fire or stove, and employ Leave No Trace® wilderness ethics.
Backpacking – The Superior Hiking Trail is a 250-mile trail located in the densely wooded hills of the Sawtooth Mountain range overlooking Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. From hilltop views, Voyageur Outward Bound School backpacking expedition students look out at what appears to be an ocean - water as far as the eye can see.
On a Voyageur Outward Bound School backpacking expedition, students hike within dense forests, across wide-open ridge-tops and through exquisite canyons, tracing rivers that plummet to Lake Superior. Groups work together to carry everything they need in large backpacks while hiking from campsite to campsite, anywhere from 3 to 10 miles a day, depending on terrain. Groups tend to camp near pristine rivers and lakes each evening to resupply with water. Students learn how to filter and purify their water for drinking and cooking, prepare meals over a fire or stove, set-up shelters and navigate with a map.
Family Conversation - Outward Bound contacts parents at various times throughout the expedition to share updates about the group’s experience and how individual students are progressing. Towards the end of the course, after students have completed the expedition and returned to the basecamp, Instructors schedule a phone call with each family. The call will include a conversation between one instructor and the student’s parents and is an opportunity for parents to learn more about their child’s Outward Bound experience, where he/she struggled and thrived, and how he/she is preparing to return home. After that is a conversation between the student and his/her parents facilitated by the Instructor. Outward Bound students often experience considerable growth and development in a short period of time during their expeditions. The Pathfinder phone conference is an effort to equip families with the tools and vocabulary to sustain this growth and forward momentum after the student leaves Outward Bound.
The following is an example of what your course itinerary may look like. Your actual itinerary will vary according to weather, student skills and abilities, and instructor preferences.
Day 1: The course begins in Duluth, MN, before transporting to your first campsite near the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp in northern MN. Meet your Outward Bound Instructors, organize your equipment, eat dinner and sleep in tents.
Days 2-7: Enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and begin travelling. Learn to paddle and portage a canoe, set-up camp, and cook over a fire. Travel until it’s time to set-up camp each night.
Day 8: Spend the day climbing and rappelling at a stunning wilderness rock climbing site.
Days 9-11: Continue paddling and portaging from campsite to campsite as you refine your wilderness skills and get you know your group.
Days 12-14: Experience Solo. Take time to rest and reflect at your own little campsite on the shore of a lake. You will not travel during this time and your Instructors will check on you occasionally.
Days 15-19: Begin the final phase of the expedition. Work with your group to navigate back to the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp.
Day 20: Transport to the backpacking phase of your course. Experience an Outward Bound gear-switch and food resupply! Begin hiking to your first campsite along the trail.
Days 21-24: Hike from campsite to campsite along the trail. Enjoy the beautiful views of Lake Superior.
Day 25: Exit the trail and spend the day rock climbing before returning to the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp.
Days 26-28: Wrap up the expedition at the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp. Participate in a community service project and enjoy sleeping in a bunk-house.
Day 29: Share expedition stories with your parents through an instructor-facilitated phone conversation before participating in an evening Outward Bound graduation ceremony.
Day 30: Eat an early breakfast before departing for the airport and traveling home.
Pathfinder expeditions are a part of our Gap Year /Semester program, designed and facilitated with very specific goals and outcomes in mind that can be achieved on 30-day expeditions. Pathfinder courses seek to give students a better understanding of where they are in life, what they desire and value, and how to move forward in a direction aligned with those desires and values. Instructors focus on the development of personal character, personal awareness and personal direction and facilitate activities and conversations that help students clarify their values,develop positive leadership skills and set goals for the future.
Although each Outward Bound experience is unique, certain key components are a part of every Pathfinder course. Each course begins with a wilderness expedition. Instructors work closely with students to impart the necessary skills to overcome a variety of expedition challenges and mentor them through the process of self-discovery. All of this learning happens in a community environment with fellow expedition members. The idea that students are “crew, not passengers” is central to the Outward Bound learning approach. Wilderness living does not encourage students to contribute to acts of daily life; it requires it. As students learn to cook, care for equipment, stay warm, navigate and plan routes together, they become more aware of one another and how their individual actions affect the group’s ultimate success or failure. As the course nears the end, instructors may gradually transfer leadership responsibilities to the students, culminating with a Final Expedition. During the Final Expedition, students work as a team and apply the skills they have acquired to solve problems and make group decisions, but also reflect on how they can actualize Outward Bound values, reinforce leadership potential, utilize self-awareness techniques and achieve personal goals in their everyday life and future.
The expedition phase of an Outward Bound Pathfinder course is designed to focus on:
Participants at the end of the course will have completed:
Weather is always a factor when traveling in the wilderness and it adds an exciting element of challenge to each course. Learning to handle varying weather conditions is essential to a successful wilderness course.
Minnesota’s weather can be unpredictable with a wide range of temperatures. In the summer the temperature tends to stay between 60 and 85 degrees. Summer brings occasional thunderstorms and rain showers. Expect cooler evenings, misty mornings, occasional rainstorms, and hot days perfect for swimming.
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*If you have received a COVID-19 vaccine you still need to adhere to all COVID-19 safety practices.
This page houses information about pre-course policies/expectations, testing and travel guidelines, and on-course policies.
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Testing timeline example: If your course starts on 2/4/21 then your 3-day prior test should be completed on 2/1/21.
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