Amidst the vast and rugged landscape of Minnesota’s northwoods, participants learn to harness the dogs and use verbal commands to maneuver the sled across frozen lakes and amongst snowy pines. Throughout the course the crew works as a cohesive unit, pushing themselves in sub zero temperatures and striving to find the next campsite, where they share life stories beneath the majestic northern lights and sleep under the starlit sky. The untarnished Boundary Waters wilderness reminds participants why they lead lives of purpose and service.
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Outward Bound Veterans expeditions build on camaraderie and the challenge of the natural world as a pathway to healing. These expeditions encourage participants to connect with existing strengths and bond with fellow veterans in a safe, positive, mission-driven environment. As they harness the power of wartime experiences like carrying heavy packs, moving fatigued muscles and sleeping outside, these courses help build the self-confidence and sense of purpose veterans need to continue serving as leaders in their families, communities and the nation.
Participants navigate a route over frozen lakes and rivers and travel the overland portage trails between them. Students develop skills in cross country skiing, winter camping, caring for the team of dogs and driving a dogsled. Group members take turns mushing the sled throughout the course, but everyone cares for the dogs on a daily basis. Mushing is not a passenger sport; it is hard and rewarding work. Each participant generally spends at least one day driving the team during this week-long expedition.
Each type of terrain requires different skills and group organization. On level, smooth terrain, most group members ski or snowshoe ahead as two or three group members handle the sleds and dog teams. Skiers scout for obstacles, break trail through the snow and return to help maneuver the sleds when necessary. Over rough areas, the whole group helps to push, pull and turn the sled.
With training, the group finds that they can live comfortably in cold temperatures. Each participant learns how to regulate their body temperature with layers of clothing, cardiovascular exercise and a high fat diet.
Setting up a solid winter camp takes time, energy and teamwork. Each day the crew scouts out a sheltered bay with good firewood in the late afternoon. Night comes quickly in the great white north and does not allow any downtime once camp is reached. The group splits firewood, sets up shelter and makes a fire for hot water and dinner once travel is done for the day. Sleeping under tarps wards off the chilling winds. There may be a chance to erect a room sized wall tent large enough to accommodate a wood stove and group of fellow veterans. Participants cook delicious meals over an open fire, which is built and smothered each morning and evening using Leave No Trace techniques. Reflective evening conversations with fellow travellers in the solitude of the wintry northwoods creates the perfect end to a long day.
Service is an integral part of the Outward Bound curriculum. Students are encouraged to practice service to the environment in the form of leaving campsites cleaner than they found them and following Leave No Trace principles throughout the expedition. Woven within the curriculum fabric are lessons emphasizing compassion and service. Students gain an appreciation and desire to help and understand others without the expectation of personal gain.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
Over 10,000 years ago, continental-sized glaciers scraped their way across much of Ontario and northern Minnesota, leaving deep 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 the winter, the BWCAW transforms into an even more severe and remote wilderness. Winter enthusiasts travel over frozen lakes and rivers by dogsled, cross-country skis and snowshoes. 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.