From Prep to Senior, One Canoe Trip at a Time


By Alex Ernst

have always believed that a canoe trip is the best setting for a boy to grow and learn. As a trip head in the summer and a school teacher in the winter, I see more change in a boy over the course of a 10-day canoe trip than I do during an entire school year. So what is it that happens out on the water? How does this magical transformation take place?


On a Prep trip, the first lesson you learn is the importance of doing your share of the work. No one will pack your sleeping bag for you or carry your load across a portage trail. A counselor will be there to teach you how, and to pick you up when you fall, but it is up to you to complete the task. On a typical seven-day trip, there will be rain and there will be mosquitos, and this is enough to test the resolve of any camper. But if you listen to your counselor, learn his tricks for staying dry and standing in the smoke of the fire, you will come away stronger and feeling more comfortable in the wilderness. The goal is fun, with plenty of challenge mixed in.


At ages 12 and 13, Juniors are ready for a 10-day trip. Up before sunrise to beat the winds, long days on the water, back and arms sore from paddling, your stamina will be tested. You will learn the importance of persistence, of not giving up. And while cooking dinner or helping unload your canoe, you will learn that teamwork

is key to a smooth journey. In the end, having paddled a river, shot rapids and maybe carried a canoe solo, you will experience a real sense of accomplishment. Still a balance of fun and challenge, but this is the age where skills really start to develop.


Many Intermediates choose to come to camp for eight weeks for the opportunity to go on two two- week trips. As a canoeist, you will venture into more remote areas and paddle longer rivers. Wills are tested and lifelong friendships made. Helping others becomes essential.

It is common to be in a canoe without a staff member. You will pack your own Duluth Pack, and load up your friends on the portage trail. You will fill your belly with food and feel hunger not an hour later. The challenge is great, the feeling of accomplishment greater still.


As a Senior, you will embark on a three- or four-week adventure, a “Big Trip” on a remote river flowing into Hudson Bay—a true test of skills and endurance. You will cross portages and make camp without a lot of fuss. Each day blends into the next in a seamless routine of making miles and moving toward the ocean. Once there, a whole new adventure begins with the logistics of getting home— by boat, train, plane or all three. Whether starting camp as a Prep, Junior or Intermediate, this is the trip you will look forward to for years, and remember forever.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of the Kooch-i-ching Tumpline.

KoochBen Woods