Will and the Steger Wilderness Center communication squad travel together to Listening Point on nearby Burntside Lake – the fabled land of Sigurd Olson, the great nature writer, whose books still inspire love and wonder for the Boundary Waters and beyond.

In the video above, you can follow the full tour of Listening Point and hear Will tell stories about Sig. Below, watch our musical collaboration with artist Willow Bardlark who sang “The Singing Wilderness” during our visit.

Learn more about Sigurd Olson’s legacy at the Listening Point Foundation:

Life at the Homestead
by Caitlin Augdahl

July 10, 2018

It was a beautiful weekend here at the Steger Center. We had a gorgeous sunny day on Saturday and a rainy Sunday to calm down the festivities of the weekend. With past residents visiting and some guests who were visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, we had an exciting weekend.

The first few photos are from the fire down at Hobo Village on Saturday night. Will needed us to burn up some scrap wood, so we made a huge fire with logs so large we needed two people to carry them. Once the fire was at satisfactory height, we all enjoyed the companionship that arises at gatherings around the fire.

Monday brought an exiting feel to the Homestead, as the second Summit group arrived to help us with our ongoing projects. The fifth photo shows the first morning meeting with this group from Summit. This week is also exciting because Jim Sullivan, the master stone mason, came up to teach us how to build a dry retaining wall down by the lake.

After an exciting work day, residents and staff relieved their stress of the day by doing yoga on the dock, playing volleyball, and hanging out with Johnny Ray down at Hobo Village.

– CA

Life at the Homestead
by Caitlin Augdahl

July 4, 2018

Life at the Steger Center is pretty simple. After a long day of work the residents and staff enjoy themselves and the wonderful companionship of this community. After the rush of dinner and dishes, residents often go down to Hobo Village to hang out with the mayor, Johnny Ray.

The first photo (above) was taken on the fourth of July. Staff members Jenna Pollard and Louis Mielke were singing some songs about wilderness while we all laughed and sang along.

After a fun 4th, it was back to work for the staff and residents. The third photo above shows our daily morning meeting with Will Steger, all the staff, all the residents and of course, Johnny Ray’s retired sled dog Jasper.

The night after work was a calm, soothing evening. Most people were tired after their work day, taking a dip and the lake and hitting the sack. But Jenna and Aurora knew there was still time to get some work done before the sun went down. In the fifth picture you can see them making shelves for the portraits of the past years residents.

– CA

Stay tuned for more Life at the Homestead updates by summer resident Caitlin Augdahl.

“I just landed in Dave’s ski plane on wheels at Yellowknife so I’m officially back in civilization right now. I’m on pavement and talking on a cell phone so I have to get back to the real world now and get caught up on emails. I wanted to thank everybody for following me for the last two months. It’s been a great personal trip for me.” – Will Steger, May 30, 2018. Great Slave Lake, NWT. Day 72

Yellowknife: 42°F / Ely, MN: 68°F


 LIVE POSITION TRACKING:

Find Will Steger on the 2018 Barren Lands Solo Expedition and follow his daily progress. Will updates his position at the end of each day while making dinner, journaling, and preparing for the next day.

‌  Find Will’s Current Position

Written By Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune on Mar 18, 2018

When Will Steger goes on spring break, he knows how to avoid crowds. He heads in a familiar direction — North.

Ely’s Steger, who has led successful dogsled expeditions to the North Pole and across Antarctica, will leave northern Saskatchewan on Wednesday for a 1,000-mile solo trek across Canada’s treeless barrenlands. He plans to reach Baker Lake, near Hudson Bay, 70 days later in early June.

Now a fit 73, Steger will haul a custom-built canoe-sled loaded with 200 pounds of gear and food over lakes, rivers and portages. His route passes through no villages. He will be resupplied twice by a bush plane on skis.

Even by Steger’s standards, this journey will offer significant challenges.

He will face temperatures of 40 below to 40 above, he estimates, traveling unpeopled, unforgiving country known for its fierce winds. He will negotiate rivers that could be in spring break-up near the end of his trip. Thus, he tows the canoe, a Northstar design by Minnesotan Ted Bell fitted with runners so Steger can pull it or paddle it.

“This is serious,” Steger said in a telephone interview from Ely. “In these rivers, you could fall in. It can be life and death. This pushes all my skills.” He spent six months trying to find a suitably formidable route across the barrens, he said. For the past five springs, he has made similar journeys closer to home — in wooded country — finishing near his Ely homestead. He’s unlikely to see a tree for most of this trip.

Steger will have to average about 14 miles a day, mostly skiing or walking, to complete his trip on schedule.

“That’s quite a chunk,” Steger said. “But I think I have a good shot at it.”

Read the Full Article at Duluth News Tribune

By Cathy Wurzer, MPR

Explorer Will Steger has been pretty busy lately planning his next adventure, which starts later this week.

Will Steger at his exhibit “Inside an Explorer’s Mind: Survival, Innovation, Design” Sept. 30, 2013 at Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minneapolis. Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2013

Steger, from Ely, Minn., became famous leading dogsled expeditions to the North Pole and across Greenland and Antarctica. On those journeys he led a team of explorers, but on this one, Steger will go it alone. He’s looking forward to the solitude.

Steger, 73, will be traveling with a canoe that he will sometimes pull and sometimes paddle, and about 70 pounds of gear — clothes, a satellite phone, journals, an emergency locator — and 90 pounds of food and fuel.

Over the next couple of months he plans to ski, walk and canoe across a large area in the Barren Lands of the Canadian Arctic. It’s a part of the world he has explored before but not at this time of year.

Listen to the interview at MPR.org

Story by Scott Stowell
Video by Jerry Stenger

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot

At a time when the northland climate is offering a glimpse of easing, Will Steger isn’t ready to call it a winter. On March 21, he’ll begin an expedition that straddles the seasons. It’s a 1,000-mile, 70-day journey through the Barren Lands in the Canadian Arctic. It will be the longest solo expedition of his life.

Photo Credit: Scott Stowell - Special to the Star Tribune

Photo Credit: Scott Stowell – Special to the Star Tribune

Nevermind that at 73-years-old he’s going alone. He’ll also be traversing the Barrens during breakup, the transition between winter and spring, a time of treacherous water when no one has considered exploring the region. He said the adventure will present challenges like he’s never experienced before.

But while physical and mental challenges are important to Steger, he said they come with a gratifying tradeoff—the splendor of the Barrens’ country. During the two-plus months he’ll travel the land, he’ll catch the tail end of winter and experience the full breakup of spring, from ice to water to the return of wildlife.

“Spring is the most beautiful time of year in the Barrens,” he said. “When waterfowl migrate back, it’s like the Serengeti.”

Steger will also be taking the pulse of changing climate in the region. He said it won’t be through observation so much as being intuitively immersed in the physical landscape. For that, he’ll rely on predator-prey relationships during migration. He said caribou patterns speak volumes about change and he’ll get a good cross section as a result of his own migration through. “The whole ecosystem follows the caribou, from the wolf to the muskox. I’ll check in with them to see how the herds are doing.”

The Route

The Barrens are renowned for inhospitable winds and subzero temperatures. That combination makes it the coldest region in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s a stark landscape devoid of villages, mining camps and people.

Steger will depart from the Chipewyan community of Black Lake in northwestern Saskatchewan. He’ll make his way north into Canada’s Northwest Territories, then dogleg east through Nunavut to his final destination at the Caribou Inuit village of Baker Lake near Hudson Bay.

Steger said the initial 50 miles will be the hardest section of the expedition due to its deep snow, long portages and rivers. It’s in the forested area south of the Barrens and will take him across the Chipman Portages. The first is five miles long. His portaging method generally involves four trips, three for gear and the fourth with his canoe sled. That translates to seven treks back and forth, or 35 miles. He’s considered making three trips, but said it’s not wise to carry super heavy loads when he’s alone.

The next 300 miles are populated with large lakes, many as long as 25 to 30 miles. But their points, peninsulas, bays and hundreds of small islands are also complicated to navigate. Steger explained that once he moves into these lakes, he’ll begin breaking out of the forested areas. Within 150 miles of the trip’s start, he’ll be in open territory without a tree in sight. By then, April will have arrived, the windiest month of the year.

About 350 miles into the trip, Steger will enter the headwaters of the Thelon River system. The first is the Elk River with rapids and waterfalls that can be very tricky to navigate and demand caution. The fast-moving upper Thelon River follows, running through gorges and more rapids. Eventually it widens and flows into even larger lakes, sometimes 40-miles long. When he reaches the final 70 miles, the current is swift and hold the biggest mysteries. “It could be jammed with ice. Almost anything could be in there. It makes the trip really exciting to have unknowns at the end.”

Travel Weather

With winter closing out, temperatures at Black Lake could range anywhere from 40 degrees below zero to 40-above. Steger said the ideal travel conditions for canoe sledding are daytime thawing with nighttime freezes. “Then lake travel is fast. Some of the portages become solid, too, and you can haul over them.”

Available daylight is another advantage because the Arctic sun returns quickly during the day. Steger said March, April and May are typically perfect for this kind of travel.

The Canoe Sled

Steger’s canoe sled is a modified Kevlar canoe with runners. He can paddle it or haul over snow and ice. In icy conditions, he said he can pull the 220-pound payload with one finger; it’s that easy. Whereas if he gets into thawing snow, he can’t budge it with all his might.

The canoe sled also factors into safety. On thin ice, Steger will straddle the canoe from the rear, grab the gunwales and push it like a scooter. If his feet go through the ice, he’ll fall forward onto his chest into the canoe.

“It’s really quite safe,” he said. “The canoe allows me to cross razor-thin ice. But without it, I just couldn’t be out there.”

The canoe is manufactured by Northstar Canoes from Princeton, Minnesota. Steger has been designing canoe sleds with Northstar founder Ted Bell since 1996. “Ted’s the best canoe designer in the world,” Steger said.

The Tent

Steger’s specialized tent will be his only shelter on the Barrens and critical to his safety. The real danger is setting up his tent alone in a Barren Lands blizzard with 80 mph winds.

The tent is Quonset-shaped and customized to Steger’s specifications. It weighs about four and a half pounds and features a double wall that captures dead air in between. Its main cover is black with yellow sides so light can pass through. Steger said the black coloring in clear sunshine provides warmth that saves him heating fuel.

The tent was developed by the late Jack Stephenson, a mentor of Steger’s. It’s made by Warmlite and is the one he’s used on most of his expeditions.

Clothing

Steger’s clothing includes a dry suit, one of his most crucial pieces of apparel. When he’s on thin ice, he wears it with a life preserver.

As a former clothing designer for Montbell, Steger said he continues to wear their gear on expeditions to this day. “I consider it the best outdoors clothing available on the market for serious use.”

Follow Will Steger’s Barren Lands expedition through his daily satellite phone dispatches on this website.

Learn More

Here are some useful links to learn about the Canadian Barren Lands, Will Steger’s expedition, and more.

Will Steger's Recommended Reading List

As part of expedition preparation, Will does his homework. He’s an avid reader with a personal library that contributes to his education and motivates his spirit. The titles below are his hand-picked recommendations that offer additional in-depth understanding of the Barren Lands and supplement his upcoming expedition.

Check out Will Steger’s Recommended Reading List

Are You An Educator?

Sign up with Climate Generation to follow Will’s journey with your students and receive two emails a week with a link to the Story Map detailing his journey, classroom activities to do, and questions to prompt investigations and discussions in your classroom.

Sign Up Today at Climate Generation

Gear Will Steger Is Using On The Expedition

  MontbellNorthstar Canoes 

As part of expedition preparation, Will does his homework. He’s an avid reader with a personal library that contributes to his education and motivates his spirit. The titles below are his hand-picked recommendations that offer additional in-depth understanding of the Barren Lands and supplement his upcoming expedition.


Nastawgan: The Canadian North by Canoe and Snowshoe

A collection of historical essays edited by Bruce W. Hodgins and Margaret Hobbs.

“Nastawgan” is an Anishinabai word meaning “the way or the route one must take to get through the country.” This is a favorite book of mine and can be found in print on the Internet in the $20 range. It’s also available on Kindle.

Relevant chapters include:

  • “The Quest Pattern and the Canoe Trip”
  • “History Travel and Canoeing in the Barrens”
  • “Women of Determination: Northern Journeys by Woman before 1940”

Tundra by Farley Mowat

I am not a fan of Farley Mowat, but his book Tundra is well done. It’s neatly edited for a popular audience and he amplifies the text with minimal intrusion. This is one of the best accounts of the fascinating and sometimes spell-binding history of land voyages across the Canadian Barrens. It’s available in print on the Internet and on Kindle.

Relevant chapters include:

  • “Coppermine Journey: Samuel Hearne’s Expedition to the Coppermine River, 1769-72”
  • “The Brothers Terrell: Exploring the Interior of Keewatin”
  • “The Spring that Never Came: John Hornby and Edgar on the Thelon River”

Thelon: A River Sanctuary by David F. Pelly

This an excellent read about the Thelon River. It is well-rounded for the naturalist, covering history, culture, geology and the environment. Unfortunately, the book is out of print and existing copies are super expensive. However, if you search the Internet, you can find some copies in the $20 range. It can also be found on Kindle.


The Legend of John Hornby by George Whalley

This 1962 book is a well-researched historical piece about the Barren Lands and a classic must-read. But it’s very rare. You might be able to find it online. Otherwise, libraries could have copies. Googling “John Hornby” might also be worthwhile.

This article has been reposted from Dunwoody College News.

New class of Architecture students help bring previous design proposals to life

A new group of Architecture students visited the Steger Wilderness Center in August 2017 to prepare for their semester project

A new group of Architecture students visited the Steger Wilderness Center in August 2017 to prepare for their semester project

In August of 2016, third-year Architecture students were challenged with one of the program’s largest and most innovative projects yet: to design a brand new dining hall for the Steger Wilderness Center.

The venture inspired the program’s first studio course, Dining Wild, led by Architecture Senior Instructor Molly Reichert and wilderness adventurer and Center founder Will Steger.

Dining Wild

Throughout the studio, students spent their semester touring the site, working with local businesses in the culinary industry, and creating design proposals. And in December of 2016, students pitched three different design ideas to Steger.

But, the project didn’t end there. Instead, those three designs were saved for the next class of Architecture students, who were charged with turning their predecessors’ proposals into one final building design.

Same project, new students

“The second semester of Dining Wild was very interesting in that we were not starting from scratch,” Reichert said. “Typically architecture studios start with a clean slate and students can let their ideas run wild over the course of the semester. This semester required a much more rigorous and focused approach to move the design forward and respond to the client’s needs.”

With help from Steger, the new group of students spent their fall semester combining and refining last year’s schematic designs.

Students meet with Will Steger to flesh out building plans

Students meet with Will Steger to flesh out building plans

“It was good to have a starting point,” Architecture Student Jacob Larson said. “And working with Will is really interesting.

“You know what he likes and you can incorporate that into the design,” he said. “Working with your client is really helpful because you get that clear feedback.”

The process

To ensure their final design would remain environmentally friendly as well as respond to the chilly site conditions of northern Minnesota, students spent several days visiting and exploring the build site. They also received helpful information and building tips from industry professionals.

Last semester, Marvin Windows and the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA) presented on sustainable methods of building and how windows and Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) can contribute to a more efficient construction schedule.

Architecture students learn from a SIPA representative in class lecture

Architecture students learn from a SIPA representative in class lecture

Mechanical Engineer Craig Tarr—who specializes in alternative energy—also shared what mechanical systems and appliances were most efficient and ecologically sound.

Students even enlisted help from Dunwoody’s Surveying & Civil Engineering Technology program. Last spring, Surveying students surveyed the Center grounds to provide the Architecture students with necessary site information to help move the project forward.

The result

Using this information, students worked in separate groups, each tackling different pieces of the final building documents. Groups included a Drawing and Renderings team, a Material and Product Specifications team, and a Physical Model team.

Students then combined their findings and suggestions into one ideal construction plan. This plan was then proposed to—and immediately approved by—Steger and his team late last month.

Students present final proposal to Steger and his team

Students present final proposal to Steger and his team

The Center is expected to break ground later this year.

“It was fun working on a project that is actually going to be built,” Larson said. “It’s an experience I won’t forget!”

Read more about the students’ semester experience by visiting their class news blog.

See the final design proposal.

Steger Wilderness Center board chair Julie Ristau has a proven track record of clarifying a vision and then making it happen in practical terms. Her extraordinary background dovetails well with the mission of the Center.

A few of her start-up projects have included helping launch and lead Utne Reader magazine; serving as co-chair of Homegrown Minneapolis, the local food initiative for the mayor’s office; holding an endowed chair as part of the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture; and founding Regeneration Partnership, a strategic problem-solving collaborative for communities in southern Minnesota. As current chief operating officer for The Main Street Project in Northfield, Minn., she’s spent more than two years building a research and demonstration farm.

“I definitely know what it’s like to embark on a very large project that requires concentrated focus, resources and commitment over time. That’s what we’re doing at the Center, too,” Ristau said.

She lives in Minneapolis and has worked closely with Will Steger as a senior advisor for the Center since 2012. During that time, she’s built its nonprofit platform, coordinated its communications strategy and website, assembled a public relations team to introduce the Center’s microgrid, and works with Steger and the board on strategic planning. She became board chair in 2015.

Ristau said the Steger Wilderness Center is important as a place where people can gather to reimagine the future, re-skill and reconnect to the elements. “Our future really relies on us tending to and taking care of the resources that we all must share. Will’s work is a testament to that. His commitment to future generations is inspiring.

“I believe that interacting with the Wilderness Center is life-changing for anybody who connects with it. I am honored to be playing a role to bring it to its next phase of completion.”