When the gales of this summer’s big storm blew beyond the Steger Wilderness Center, it
seemed to have trailered in its own recovery crew. A team from Summer Youth Corps (SYC)
rode in just days later to help wrangle the aftermath.
The Summer Youth Corps with Will Steger: (back row, L to R) Laura Pratt, Will Steger, Sam Lancaster, Kristi Yang, Hannah Weiss, Charlie Reber; (front row, L to R) June Roettger and Yang (James) Deng.
SYC is a youth development program of Conservation Corps Minnesota (CCM) geared toward high school age students. It provides hands-on work and personal growth experiences in natural resource fields, among others. For many of those youth, the opportunity is their first paying job.
Crew leader Hannah Weiss is a senior at the University of Vermont where she’s studying environmental science. She described the SYC work as physically demanding. It started with basic training at base camp in St. Croix State Park along the St. Croix River. Afterward, the crew departed on what CCM calls “spikes,” a variety of environmental projects often involving manual labor. The crew was on the move, traveling to projects that typically lasted from one to three weeks.
Weiss said the crew at the Wilderness Center focused primarily on cleanup from the July 21 blowdown. They hauled trees, brush and lumber, stacked wood and lopped branches. They also cut saplings from the hillside adjacent to the lake to encourage pine growth and expose the underlying greenstone.
SYC member Kristi Yang clears branches and brush as part of the cleanup at the Wilderness Center.
Kristi Yang, 17, lives in Brooklyn Park, Minn. She said she’s lived in a city environment all her life. But she heard stories from two friends who had participated in SYC and she decided to sign up. Other than helping her grandparents cart vegetables to a farmers’ market, she hadn’t had much exposure to manual labor. Previously, she was a cashier at a supermarket. Though the work for SYC was far different, she discovered something about herself.
“I really like it. I feel I was born to do this,” she said.
Charlie Reber, 16, is from St. Joseph, Minn. Four of his brothers have worked for SYC and one of them is currently on the staff at CCM. He said his brothers always told good stories of their experiences and he wanted to be part of it. Now that he’s had an intensive chance, he appreciates the work ethic he learned.
SYC members Charlie Reber (left) and Yang (James) Deng haul lumber at the center.
“The hardest part for me, was the [physical] work…[But] being here is not about the work. You don’t have to be physically able to perform on the job site…Just keep a steady pace. Keep quality over quantity,” he said.
According to Weiss, the crew normally resided at campgrounds, lived in tents and used camp stoves for cooking. But she said they were living in the lap of luxury at the Wilderness Center with kitchen facilities and sleeping accommodations—with beds—in the guest house.
“They love this place. They really enjoy having access to a full kitchen because that is an incredibly unique privilege,” she said.
Weiss also explained that the SYC hiring process mindfully selects a broad range of students with diverse personalities and backgrounds. She said this particular crew really stepped up and had few complaints. “I’m very proud of them. It’s not always the case with crews.”
The entire Summer Youth Corps crew spent hours lopping branches and cutting away saplings on the ledge wall beside the lake to encourage pine growth and expose the greenstone.
Samantha “Sam” Lancaster, 17, is from Somerset, Wis. She said she’s not a particularly social person, but intentionally joined SYC to leave her comfort zone. She didn’t know any of the other students and was nervous at base camp. She didn’t talk much at the time, but opened up afterward and she loved the work. She said the lopping sessions and time in the field allowed them to talk, get to know each other and become closer.
The Wilderness Center complex and the philosophy behind it also made an impression on the crew. Lancaster indicated an historical and physical appreciation for the setting.
“I like to think that I’m a little bit a part of that now, the hillside and clearing the brush,” she
said. Then she added, “I actually really like that it’s far away. You can see the stars at night.”
For Reber, the wilderness location and opportunity to work in it were second to none. “I’ve heard some spikes are weeding parking lots. Can you imagine that? So I think we’re really lucky,” he stated.
Evening offers a chance to rest and sing around the campfire.
Each crew member noted they had stand-out moments. Reber said he was amazed at how he learned to interact well with people who were from such different places. “Everyone’s got a different story. That’s what I think I can use the most. It’s being able to work with all different types of kids and everyone’s got a different personality.”
Likewise, Yang said the teamwork will stick in her memory. But she also won’t forget the
surroundings. “I’ll take time to appreciate the little nature we have in the Cities. People [there] don’t really pay attention to it.”
Lancaster said SYC was instrumental in helping her learn about working in environmental fields. She’d like to return to the Wilderness Center for one of the summer apprenticeships. “I really like how [Will] is so forward about the environment.”
For more information on Conservation Corps Minnesota, visit online at conservationcorps.org
or call 651-209- 9900.
A pilot program that began two years ago at the Steger Wilderness Center has become a foundation and training ground for carpentry education, self-reliance and community. A crew of adult construction students from Summit Academy arrived at the center in July and a second team came in August for hands-on experience as part of their 20-week curriculum.
The construction crew takes a lighthearted breather: (standing, L to R) Hassan As-Sidiq, Bronson Sjolie, Terrance Neal and Gabe Corbesi; (sitting, L to R) Mike DeBoer, Will Steger, Courtney Harris and Beth Halverson.
Summit Academy instructor Beth Halverson led the week-long training programs for both crews. She explained the original program began as a collaboration between Will Steger and Summit Academy President Louis King. The first project involved constructing a cabin at the Wilderness Center. When it was completed, she and Steger liked the result so much they continued the program.
But rather than build more cabins, students now engage in a variety of maintenance projects to upgrade the grounds and refine carpentry skills. Projects included roofing, decking, woodshop work and detailing railings. The hands-on component of their curriculum had only begun two weeks before they arrived at the Wilderness Center. Halverson said some students had used carpentry tools before their schooling at Summit Academy, while others didn’t have a lick of practice.
Live at Hobo Village—Gabe Corbesi on guitar.
She noted that the overall experience teaches students a different way of working with raw materials and offers a better appreciation of carpentry itself. It’s on-the- job training like a typical day at a job site. Plus, working in a natural setting creates awareness of waste within the ecosystem.
Toward the end of their classroom education, students are also taught how to write resumes and cover letters. What’s more, Summit Academy brings in contractors to conduct mock interviews with the students.
All of the students participating in projects this summer live in the Twin Cities area. Some had never experienced outdoor life. Halverson called that opportunity a fantastic bridge between
urban and rural. It ran the gamut from the beauty of pristine wilderness to a violent wind storm. She’s found that when students return to the city and other Summit Academy students ask about the Wilderness Center, those who participated don’t hold back.
“Chests were pumped out,” she said. “They couldn’t talk enough about it.”
Rainey Lott detailed railing spindles in the woodshop.
Loretta “Rainey” Lott, 38, is originally from the south side of Chicago and now lives in St. Paul. Until she enrolled at Summit Academy, she had no construction experience. Until she arrived at the Wilderness Center, she had never been camping, fished or used an outhouse other than in a public park. Table saws, routers and recycled two-by- fours were on her to-do list at the Wilderness Center. She fashioned replacement spindles for railings at the center.
“Bringing that wood back to life, that was amazing to me,” she said. “Being able to see my work, I’m proud of that.”
She also knew very little about Will Steger. According to Lott, she was used to a fast life, living in the city, not even subconsciously caring about environmental concerns and her impact on it. Since her time at the Wilderness Center, she’s questioned herself. “What could I do as an individual to at least be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem?”
Eric Woods (left) and Carlos Hernandez align cedar shakes on the rooftop.
Gabe Corbesia, 35, lives in Minneapolis. His only prior experience in construction came when he was a kid and helped his dad who was a carpenter. But he said he didn’t remember much of what he learned. He’s also camped a little, but not like at the Wilderness Center. That alone has been a bonding experience with his classmates.
“Working with them and having to take a bath in a lake… they haven’t done it either. That brought us closer,” he said.
According to Halverson, exposure to teamwork and instilling a work ethic is perhaps the biggest benefit students derive from the Wilderness Center. It’s another bridge with far-reaching effects.
Terrance Neal works on the deck railing outside the center.
“It leads to their families. It leads to their friends,” she said. “There’s some beauty that’s
happening with people working together as one, as opposed to separating themselves.”
Lott described the experience as one big family. “I love that feel of it… Everybody is
approachable,” she said and added, “I can’t learn enough here. I need more time. I have to come back.”
Corbesia explained he’s made significant changes to turn his life around. His past included unproductive time mired in drugs. But he’s cleaned up and said the hands-on training at the Wilderness Center will help him attain his goals of union work in construction, and peace and stability in his personal life.
Lott said she never envisioned herself going into the construction field. However, her reasons for attending Summit Academy extend beyond carpentry. She’s started the “Bigger than You” foundation. It’s an advocacy nonprofit against gun violence with a focus on misled teens. Her proposed court divergence program includes teaching the construction trade to troubled youth. Eventually she hopes to purchase property as a site for their hands-on training like she’s received at the Wilderness Center. She’s closely observing Summit Academy as a curriculum model.
Bronson Sjolie (left), Hassan As-Sidiq (center) and Gabriel Corbesi secure roof panels.
Summit Academy President Louis King said the school’s mission is to help people get the skills, education and social networks they need to enter the economic mainstream. The partnership with the Steger Wilderness Center gets students out of the “concrete jungle,” helps the environment and allows them to practice their craft.
“We believe the best social services program in the world is a job,” King said.
For more information on Summit Academy visit online at saoic.org.
Three decades after their greatest triumph, Paul Schurke and Will Steger still have the itch to explore.
Both marked the 30th anniversary of their famed trek to the North Pole this week by launching new adventures, albeit a bit closer to home.
Schurke, who still operates a dogsled adventure business near Ely, left Tuesday morning with one of the original 1986 sleds for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where he was to meet up with adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman – who are in the midst of their own yearlong trek in the BWCAW.
Meanwhile Steger, who has become a leading and persistent voice in raising awareness about climate change, set off the same day on his own 30-day trek that will take him from Ontario’s Wabakimi Wilderness, across the Quetico Provincial Park and into the BWCAW, finishing at his Steger Wilderness Center off of the Fernberg Road.
The current adventures come 30 years after the Ely duo, together with fellow Minnesotan Ann Bancroft and five others, made history with a 1,000-mile ski and dog sled quest across the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole.
It was the first confirmed trek to the top of the world without resupply, the subject of a National Geographic cover story, a television special and best-selling book, and an adventure that even caught the attention of the White House.
They may not have known it at the time, as they prepared for a 1,000-mile mission in temperatures that at times exceeded minus-70, but their North Pole triumph would set the stage for careers in adventure.
“The North Pole trip defined my life and livelihood,” Schurke remembered in a written submission to the Echo. “Our home and businesses evolved around the skills, resources and adventure passions we gained from that expedition… Tackling a monumental challenge was fearful for all of us. But our success is now the quiet voice I hear every time I face new challenges that says ‘yea, you can pull this off too.’”
Schurke has traveled to the Arctic every year since the initial trek and together with his wife Sue, launched both the clothing business that is now Wintergreen Northern Wear as well as Ely’s Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge.
Just four years after the North Pole triumph, Schurke led the Bering Bridge Expedition from Siberia to Alaska, hailed as a diplomatic venture that helped reopen the US-Soviet border and reunited native people on both continents.
In addition to operating his businesses, Schurke has focused on wildlands preservation and received the Environmental Hero award from the national Wilderness Society for his efforts.
It’s an evolution that began with the North Pole venture, one that Schurke looks back on with affinity, even with the extreme cold temperatures.
“I never remember being cold – we were working so hard that we were often too warm and worried about sweating out of our clothing systems,” he said.
It also was a trip that relied on dogsledding systems and navigation techniques that were decidedly traditional.
“They were much like those Robert Peary used starting with his first expedition in 1886, exactly 100 years before ours,” said Schurke. “All expeditions since ours have relied on high-tech superlight gear and electronic navigation.”
Like Schurke, Steger was only beginning his adventures when trekking to the North Pole, and he too has spent 30 years making an impact both in exploration and environmental advocacy.
In 1990, Steger completed a dogsled and ski traverse of Antarctica.
Other adventures have taken him across Greenland, as well as the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Canada by doglsed.
Steger has received National Geographic’s Oliver LaGorce Medal and is a leading spokesperson on climate change through the nonprofit Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy.
According to Steger, “lots” has changed about the North Pole in 30 years. The polar ice pack is 30 percent smaller and thinner and the team’s launch site is gone.
“Climate change has disintegrated our staging base, which was Coastal Canada’s Ward Hunt Ice Shelf,” said Steger. “It’s no longer possible to depart from there for the Pole. Arctic ice, which helps stabilize global weather systems, is rapidly diminishing.”
30th Anniversary of North Pole triumph marked with new adventures (Hometown Focus – Virginia, MN)
Thirty years ago this March 7, an 8-member team that included Minnesotans Will Steger, Paul Schurke and Ann Bancroft launched a 2-month expedition that was hailed by National Geographic as “a landmark in polar exploration.” In temps that exceeded minus 70F, they left the northern tip of our continent to travel 1,000 miles by ski & dogsled across the Arctic Ocean to reach the North Pole. Their accomplishment, the first confirmed trek to the top of the world without resupply, was featured in a National Geographic cover story, a television special and a best-selling book.
This 30th anniversary will be marked by adventures closer to home. On Monday, Mar. 7, Steger sets out on a month-long solo trek from northwestern Ontario’s Wabakimi Wilderness to travel across Quetico and the Boundary Waters. He will finish at his Steger Wilderness Center near Ely. As a witness to climate change, he’ll share the impacts he observes in posts to the Steger Wilderness Center and Climate Generation websites.
Also on Mar. 7, Schurke departs by dogsled and ski across the Boundary Waters (with one of the original 1986 North Pole sleds) to join up with Dave and Amy Freeman, who are National Geographic “Adventurers of the Year.” Their current “Year in the Wilderness” expedition is focused on preserving the watershed of Minnesota’s canoe country.
The 1986 trek, which gained the team White House commendations by President Reagan, set the stage for adventuring careers for the three Minnesotans:
• In 1990, Steger completed a dogsled and ski traverse of Antarctica. He also traversed both Greenland and the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Canada by
dogsled. He received National Geographic’s Oliver LaGorce Medal and is a leading spokesperson on climate change through the nonprofit Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy
• In 1993, Bancroft skied to the South Pole (and across Antarctica in 2000), becoming the first woman to trek to both poles and gained a place in the
National Women’s Hall of Fame. Her current Access Water project (www.yourexpedition.com) involves treks on all seven continents to highlight global
water issues. Her team recently boated the Ganges River.
• In 1990, Schurke led the Bering Bridge Expedition from Siberia to Alaska, a diplomatic venture which helped reopen the U.S.–Soviet border and reunited native peoples on both
continents. He has since focused on global wildlands preservation and received the Environmental Hero award from The Wilderness Society for his efforts.
– See more at: http://m.hometownfocus.us/news/2016-03-04/Today’s_News/30th_anniversary_of_North_Pole_triumph_marked_with.html#.Vt-sWRjWMyN
The 30th anniversary events align with recent book releases associated with the men’s polar expeditions. These include the new book “Think South, How We Got Six Men and Forty Dogs Across Antarctica,” by Cathy de Moll, executive director of Steger’s trans-Antarctica expedition, and an updated legacy edition “North to the Pole,” the best-selling book by Steger and Schurke. Both books are published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. “North to the Pole” includes updates on the adventures of all eight team members since the 1986 expedition.
In the wake of the 1986 expedition, the Will Steger Foundation took shape, which led to Climate Generation and www.StegerWildernessCenter.org, as well as the www.annbancroftfoundation.org and its annual Dream Maker Awards to empower young woman. It also fostered winter programming for www.WildernessInquiry.org, the non-profit adventure travel program for people with disabilities that Schurke cofounded.
The expedition also helped launch three of Ely, Minnesota’s iconic businesses: Steger Mukluks which employs 34 people and produces over 10,000 pairs of footwear per year; Susan Schurke’s Wintergreen Northern Wear, which employs 20 people and produces anoraks and other activewear in Ely; and Paul Schurke’s Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge which hosts over 500 adventurers each season.
What has changed at the North Pole in 30 years? Lots, says Steger. The polar ice pack is 30 percent smaller and thinner, and the team’s launch site is gone. “Climate change has disintegrated our staging base which was coastal Canada’s Ward Hunt Ice Shelf,” he said. “It’s no longer possible to depart from there for the pole. Arctic ice, which helps stabilize global weather systems, is rapidly diminishing.”
– See more at: http://m.hometownfocus.us/news/2016-03-04/Today’s_News/30th_anniversary_of_North_Pole_triumph_marked_with.html#.VuBrdxjWMyO
Steger to make long ice-out solo expedition
By Sam Cook on Mar 5, 2016 at 11:00 p.m.
Thirty years to the day after Ely’s Will Steger and seven others left northern Canada for the North Pole, Steger will begin a different kind of trip. He’ll make a 350-mile solo expedition, traveling over lakes and rivers from a remote drop-off in Ontario back to his homestead near Ely.
Steger, 71, has made similar solo trips several other times, including a 21-day, 200-mile trek last year from the end of the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais to Rainy Lake during the spring breakup.
This year, too, Steger will catch the spring breakup, pulling or paddling a specially designed canoe. But he’ll start the trip far to the north, on skis and pulling a toboggan, after being dropped off by train in Ontario’s Wabakimi Provincial Park.
“I wanted to do a longer trip this year,” Steger said in a recent interview in Duluth. “I was hoping to catch some 30-below weather — which I doubt I’ll get this winter — and then catch the end of winter, moving into spring and the breakup.”
These spring breakup trips can present dicey travel conditions on slowly decomposing ice and rushing open water in places. As he did last year, Steger will wear a drysuit when breakup is imminent to protect him from an accidental dunking. On the last half of the trip, he will tow or paddle a 13-foot Kevlar canoe reinforced with runners on the bottom.
The News Tribune interviewed Steger last month in Duluth and asked him about the trip.
Q: What went into your decision to choose this spring’s route?
A: I wanted to go farther into Ontario … just because there’s nobody there. I wanted to do a longer trip. The first half of the trip is totally unknown to me.
Q: You devote much of your time now to your new Steger Wilderness Center near Ely and working on climate change through your foundation, Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. You’ve talked about how these extended and challenging solo trips help you reach your “mental and physical baseline.” What does that mean?
A: I wanted something that would really challenge my skills
100 percent and challenge me physically 100 percent, too. Just to go up against it all and see how I fare. For myself, in a way, it’s sort of like an ultimate personal best. It’s a big enough trip that there are lots of unknowns. I’m sure I’ll make it through OK, but there are some major challenges.
Q: You talked about wanting “to catch some 30-below.” You’ve done many Arctic expeditions and your 1989-90 Trans-Antarctica Expedition, all in severe cold weather. What is it about the cold that attracts you?
A: (Laughing) I just feel so at home in it. I feel very comfortable there. I just wanted to get back to the north country in winter and experience the beauty of that.
Q: And doing that in the wilderness is important to you?
A: I need the wilderness. In the challenging conditions, you get more into the present moment. It gets you much deeper in the wilderness. More than anything, I need my shot of wilderness each year. The more challenging, the better. It’s a paradox for me. Yes, it’s hard doing these things, physically, but I don’t look at it in terms of hardship.
Q: After last spring’s trip, you encouraged others to get out and do challenging things. Why do you say that?
A: First, I think it’s very important for anybody to get into the wilderness, to revitalize themselves and their spirit. And I think it’s important for most people to push themselves physically a little bit. It doesn’t have to be extreme, but whatever you can think of that is pushing your limit a little bit. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at yourself and your performance.
Q: You’ll be carrying about 150 pounds on your toboggan at the start of the trip and about 200 pounds in your canoe-sled during the second portion. At 71, how are you feeling?
A: I think I’m in pretty good shape. My knees — everything checks out. The vital moving parts are all in good shape.
To follow the expedition
To follow Will Steger’s 350-mile solo expedition from Ontario’s Wabakimi Provincial Park back to Ely, go to stegerwildernesscenter.org. Steger will be sending back daily satellite phone reports, and a GPS device will plot his position on a Google map on the website.
This year I am expanding on what I learned from my two previous expeditions of traveling on rivers at spring break up. I have doubled the distance I will be traveling and have moved my starting point to Northwestern Ontario, about 300 travel miles north of the Steger Wilderness Center. On the morning of March 7th, I will be boarding the Canadian Railroad (as a passenger) at the small village of Savant Lake, Ontario. The train will take me an hour to the east and drop me off at the bridge that crosses the Allan Water River. From there I will make my way south first by toboggan and then, as the ice begins to break up, by canoe sled.
I am leaving earlier this year with the hope of catching the mid-winter cold. I will be hauling a custom-made 10-foot toboggan with a 160 pound load of food, fuel and supplies. The county is especially challenging because of its remoteness, deep snow and flowing water. There are stretches of rivers where the danger is obvious but the challenge will be on many of the lakes with currents that creep through them. It looks like the break up will be early this year so the travel conditions will be a wild card.
A hundred travel miles into the trip, my route crosses the Trans-Canadian Highway. The village of Upsala is close by and I have made arrangements to cache my canoe sled and water gear there, along with a wet suit, food and fuel. The river section starts here at the Firesteel and the Siene River. I will traverse Lac des Mille Lac, cross the divide and head southwest down the French River drainage into the Northeast corner of the Quetico. I then follow the lakes and rivers south through the Quetico Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
In general, the travel will be slow at first because of deep snow. Five miles might be a good day. As the spring advances, the snow begins to melt down. At times a thick crust forms, providing fast travel. Often the days may be too slushy to travel but the surfaces freeze solid during the cold nights. In these circumstances, I travel at night navigating by the stars. Once the snows melt completely, the lake surfaces become iced and provide very fast travel. I can make up to 25 miles a day under these conditions. In some situations at break up, it is impossible to travel. There may be a two-day wait or a 10-day wait. Because of this variability, I have to travel with extra food and fuel.
I feel well prepared for what lies ahead. I am in fairly good physical shape and mentally I am strong. I am looking forward to living intuitively in the moment again. So please follow along to see how the adventure unfolds as I journey back home toward the Steger Wilderness Center.
See where the adventure will take Will in 2016.
Click to watch an overview of the route!
Northwestern Ontario 2016 Solo Expedition Check back every day for updates!
Will Steger’s Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016
“You have to be at your very best, all the time, totally alert. Totally in the moment. In this situation is where you really learn, one of the best learning experiences, that I’ve found in my life. More than just learning, it’s in the realm of intuition and instinct. You add onto it with experience, but some of it is something like… you always have it, but it’s just being more aware that you have it. Aware of that moment, aware of your self, and your relationship and the relationships to the world. It’s peeling off these layers around your being. These long trips do that for me.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #39 – April 15th, 2016
“Made it back. Really quite exhausted. The last three days I’ve been really pushing hard. Unbelievable weather, must have been 73 degrees today… It’s nice being home, sleeping in my bed tonight. Although I will miss the trail life a little bit. I look up at the moon and the stars here and kind of think about what it was like being out there.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #38 – April 14th, 2016
“I’m camped in the United States on a very beautiful island, facing south, on Basswood. If all goes right, I should make it in tomorrow. I’m going to try and get up early. I don’t know if it’s going to freeze here tonight. It’s just a gorgeous evening. I’m setting up camp. I’m actually on a campsite, on ground. First time I haven’t slept on ice. Setting up here right at sunset and I heard a song sparrow, it was a really very beautiful song. It’s just kind of nice, in the last 40 days from where I started. I started right in the winter time, right when the thaw started coming. I had this incredible experience all the way down. Now I’m right on the home front. I should make it in tomorrow. I’m feeling really good, kinda tired and I’m not looking forward to anything other than just being right here, at the moment, right now. Checking out here. Will, over and out.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #37 – April 13th, 2016
“My skis started sticking and I was ready to stop, because I knew the canoe would probably freeze in, but boy my timing was just right. I got on the portage there, made it over to the next lake called Side lake. This was a climbing site for Outward Bound in 1970-71. I was one of the climbing instructors at that time. The nostalgia of seeing the high cliffs there. It was a very important time of my life. Really those cliffs really empowered a lot of people, including the instructors that worked there. Many people remember that area and not many people see it these days.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #36 – April 12th, 2016
“I’m really looking forward to getting up in the morning. I’m hoping it might be clear. It’s kind of partly cloudy right now, but it feels like a thaw coming in. I just don’t trust this weather, but it seems like it’s hanging in there. It’s now 32 degrees, crust is freezing now. So, I’ll check in. Doing really well, I had a really great workout today, really great appetite. Good to be on the move again after sitting around for a couple of days.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #35 – April 11th, 2016
“One of these days I’ll get a break in the weather. I’m definitely on fuel rations. I can’t afford the extra heat here to fry anything. Also on the food, I’m eating a little less, just sitting still. It’s a normal situation when you are weathered in and food is kind of questionable. You eat a little less, because you don’t need much, just enough to keep warm. You kind of build up your muscles a little bit, but then once you get moving you eat more. You just eat more to accommodate physically what you are doing. I’m in really good shape, just sitting around. The past eleven days now it’s been bad weather. It’s been a really good experience.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #34 – April 10th, 2016
“A storm came in actually last night. This morning, with the usual conditions, the canoe literally froze in when I tried to haul it. So I took a day off, second day in this campsite here.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #33 – April 9th, 2016
“I wanted to make it to Sark lake, because from there I can go straight south. Long lakes, very few portages. I can do night travel there if it I got the conditions. What I ended up doing was, I would pull for forty paces and then stop. At this time I was really cold, it was necessary during the haul here to get warm. I would face the sun, rest and then pull another forty paces. Later in the day I also got up to sixty paces. The conditions really didn’t change. I never did paces before, where I actually counted paces. It used to drive me nuts even thinking about it. It was actually a good system, didn’t have to think about anything. It was almost like doing weight training, repetition. It kept me from getting injured. I was concerned about injury in knees or your back, when your pulling. This way I could just do forty, rest, do forty more and eventually like I said, I made it to sixty.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #32 – April 8th, 2016
“It was stormy all day, a little bit of sun. Pretty cold, got up to about eighteen degrees. Impossible to travel today. North winds, usual, same weather. I just killed time today. Really didn’t want to be in the tent again, but their wasn’t much of a choice. It was really cold outside. I’m on fuel rations, meaning that I use just the stove now for preparing food, not for heating. So I sat in the tent most of the day. Wrote in the journal.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #31 – April 7th, 2016
“I got up at 3 o’clock this morning, it was clear, twenty five degrees, perfect travel. I anticipated an early departure. I had everything all set, so within forty five minutes I had the tent down and canoe loaded.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #30 – April 6th, 2016
“Snowed all night last night, into the morning…. quite…. not much wind….real sticky snow…. I wasn’t able to travel at all….*static (LOST TRANSMISSION)”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #29 – April 5th, 2016
“Still snowing out there right now. Thirty two degrees. I’ll see what the day… I doubt I will be able to haul tomorrow morning, but we’ll see here. Just taking every day as it comes. Actually quite peaceful waiting out the weather, I’m not into making miles, it’s just whatever happens.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #28 – April 4th, 2016
“I went down this section, going the other direction last year around this time. I came down the falls chain on my way to International falls, this time I’ll be going up.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #27 – April 3rd, 2016
“Last night it cleared off. It was one of the clearest nights I’ve ever seen. All the winter constellations were setting in the west and west of the horizon. The spring constellations rising in the east, and then about midnight last night I started hearing snow.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #26 – April 2nd, 2016
“I’m feeling really great, really at peace with things. Solitude, I get some questions, people asking about solitude. You know, I just don’t have any trouble with missing anything. I don’t miss anything at all. I’m usually that way even in the city. I’m pretty much content where with I’m at. I don’t get lonely. Some times you are more in solitude when you are in big crowds or with a lot of people.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #25 – April 1st, 2016
“I covered a big share of Pickerel lake. I made camp on the leeward side of a beautiful little virgin island. Just a sweet little island there. It was dark by the time I got the tent up. Pretty good workout today, mostly hauled, didn’t ski, but I paddled.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #24 – March 30th, 2016
“Last night I was on French River, canoeing down that. There was a slight halo above the sun, it looked like it was going to clear up, but the halo was an indication of precipitation. I made a night camp and then around midnight I started hearing something real slight, it sounded like rain. It must have been around 2 o’clock it started raining pretty hard. At first I thought it was snow, snow would really stop me in my tracks.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #23 – March 29th, 2016
“Another long day. The travel was good in the morning. Once the sun came around, must have been ten or eleven o’clock. The sun started melting the snow, what was left on the lake, got a little difficult. So what I did was I set up a foam pad in the woods and slept for a couple hours in the sunshine. When I woke up the warmth had melted the snow and the conditions were a little better. I haven’t slept good the last couple of nights because of the sun, the intense sun. The ultra violet kind of poison gives you head aches and weird dreams and that. So two hours off was pretty good.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #22 – March 28th, 2016
“Another really long hard, twelve hour day. The early travel was pretty good, it was frozen. I did the first three hours, relatively easily, on skis, but then the thaw kicked in again. I made the portage, called the Baril portage, between Mille Lacs Lake and Baril lake. It is actually a historical portage itself, it’s called the Dawson Trail.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #21 – March 27th, 2016
“On the clear days I always watch the sun move, sometimes the moon during the day. At night it’s a totally different situation. It’s almost always clear here, incredible stars. I’m looking out the tent right now and you see the whole universe. Mankind, humankind really changed when we lost the night sky, because of light pollution. I remember even as a kid it wasn’t as polluted, even in the city. You could step out the backyard and see the stars. I had a telescope when I was a kid, but we’ve lost that for the most part in the city, where most people live. It really puts you in touch with the universe. We have a tendency of getting too self absorbed in ourselves and the work that we do. We really need a universal view like that.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #20 – March 26th, 2016
“Storm last night, it was wet snow. I went to bed at least and I got up about four thirty. I was hoping to catch a crust on the snow, but what happened was, it snowed about another six inches of kind of a light powder. It was fifteen degrees, it was cold enough, but it was really stick snow. It took me about an hour and a half to scrape the bottom of the canoe of, first of all, from the melted snow on it. And then, I couldn’t budge it.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #19 – March 25th, 2016
“It just feels so great, this last week on the river. It’s just so challenging. Really exercised everything I had to negotiate this. All of my skills I’ve built up in a lifetime. Especially the last few years on the river. It’s almost like an extended wall climb, where you go from one move to the next move and one pitch at a time. You just keep going for days and days. You don’t know how the next pitch could go. I have no idea how I’m going to get through this thing, but I figured it out moment to moment and I felt safe.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #18 – March 24th, 2016
“Not an open section on the river right here, it will be open in the morning. Probably about zero, five below in the morning and I will be paddling that with a dry suit. I should be getting up into the lake, probably shortly after that section. And then, once I’m on the lake, I’ll have a little security and keep hauling and won’t have any open water to contend with.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #17 – March 23rd, 2016
“The Seine (river) two, three days ago it was wide open. It all froze now and you can’t paddle on it and you can’t walk on it. All day today I lined along the shoreline. Used about a twenty foot rope and bounced from rock to rock. Very slippery, very dangerous actually.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #16 – March 22nd, 2016
“Last night about one o’clock (AM). Usually it’s the quietest around 1 o’clock. The wind dies down. I could hear real heavy rapids, probably waterfalls… especially in the spring, in the cold and calm weather…”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #15 – March 21st, 2016
“Beautiful morning, five below when I got up. Clear. Coldest day so far on the trip. Which is not really that cold. Cold enough to firm up the ice on the river. The travel, most of the day was really perfect.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #14 – March 20th, 2016
“The river was quite intimidating when I first saw it… What seems like something really terrifying in the morning, by evening it becomes really routine.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #13 – March 19th, 2016
“I’m resting here in Upsala. The last twelve days I’ve been pretty much in motion all the time, in water a lot. Either freezing rain or rivers and so forth. Yesterday, I was hauling down the road most of the day. The exercise is what keeps me really warm.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #12 – March 18th, 2016
“I just did about 20 miles. I got as far as Graham, and a native family picked me up there and drove me, must have been 10 miles or more, to the Trans-Canadian Highway. Then I was going to haul to Upsala but there was no snow on the side of the highway so I waited for a while and a couple of loggers picked me up and got me to the general store in Upsala where Rick was kind enough to store my gear. By the time I got in, I thought it was about 2 0’clock but it ended up being 6 o’clock, I guess they are on daylight savings time. And then I decided I was going to take the day off tomorrow.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #11 – March 17th, 2016
“I did a good twelve hour day. I saw a wolf on this fire road. Often on these roads and long trails you will run into wolves. It’s really common. I saw him in the distance. I had to make out the figure, it was kind of panning sideways. I tried to figure out what it was. I stopped a number of times. I got probably within a couple hundred yards. Sometimes the wolfs allow you to get almost shooting distance away. They keep that safe distance, because they know the difference, what a gun is. I didn’t have a gun of course. So, I would move and stop and the wolf would kind of follow the trail a little bit then stop again and allow me to get within a couple hundred yards. This went on for, man, must have been forty-five minutes. Pretty typical behavior. Then eventually it shot off to the side after a rabbit. And then, it came up on my back later on, which I thought was pretty interesting. I kind of felt something, I turned around there it was again, about two or three hundred yards. This time it was following me, ha.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #10 – March 16th, 2016
“The conditions worked in my favor today. The ice was all froze up, real slick…. I really breezed through this area that I thought was really going to stop me.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #9 – March 15th, 2016
“There is not an option of going out on the ice anymore to avoid the creeks. I have to go inland… I am not sure how I am going to get around this, with the creeks opening up. There is a slight chance I might just get stuck here. Probably less than ten percent. I’ve been hauling a lot of extra food with me, with that intention. I have that as part of a plan. I had no idea that these conditions would deteriorate so quickly. The last five days the winter is just going.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #8 – March 14th, 2016
“The lakes are probably about fifty percent of what they normally are, in fact when we cut ice this year it was the thinnest ice I’ve seen in fifty years. Some of the holes in the lake, the natural holes I poked around with the ski and it’s about eighteen inches. The bigger lakes are okay, but the narrows and the currents were quite dangerous. I made one crossing on a narrows and I put my ski through. It really woke me up. It had all the signs of solid ice, so it totally surprised me. It was a beautiful day though, fifty-three degrees. So I probably would have been able to get out okay. The great thing about it was, it was a very warm day. It was a real learning lesson for me. It made me really think here tonight more about things.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #7 – March 13th, 2016
“It was clear all day yesterday, it got up to fifty degrees and as the sun started setting the temperature dropped considerably. I went to bed around last light. It was about thirty-seven degrees and it looked like their was going to be a big frost that evening. I went to sleep and woke up a couple hours later to a really strong south wind that blew all evening, which was very unusual… I started traveling around first light or so. The only reason I do these solos each year at breakup is a part of my eye witness. I get a sense, I have an intuition of climate. This wind last night, to me was a sign of the El Niño, real severe El Niño weather we are having right now… The changing climate is really quite obvious and the speed at which things are changing. There is still a lot of hope, but we need to act really quickly.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #6 – March 12th, 2016
“Temperatures are up to fifty degrees. I sat around and watched the day go by. The water is just pooling up here and there on the lake. And we are having just the very beginning of the breakup, in fact it might even break up yet. The ice isn’t very safe. At this stage the water will start forming. Still a lot of deep slush on the lake and it was clear all day today so I’m expecting the temperature to drop…. this thaw is going to be around for a while. So I’ve got my alarm set. I’ll be up by four.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #5 – March 11th, 2016
“The big thaw has arrived… I travel by the sun, from lake to lake, I don’t use a GPS. With a compass I can get a bearing on the time. For example, the sun is straight south at noon and when it’s west it’s six o’clock p.m. So in between that at southwest would be 3 o’clock, same thing in the morning, at six o’clock in the morning the sun is due east and at nine o’clock it’s southeast. So I use the sun as my bearing and also figure that the sun moves fifteen degrees an hour. So I factor that in. In the polar areas that’s how we travel. It’s a very easy way of doing it. You don’t have to look at any compass or any watch or anything, you just follow the sun.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #4 – March 10th, 2016
“Today was extremely rough, as I expected. I did three or four crashes in the bush. Very deep snow, a little over knee deep with the crust. Real thick brush, Alder brush and Spruce. I skied some of it and then I ended up pretty much hauling by foot. I would go one rope length at a time, about twenty feet, I’d walk twenty feet and then pull the toboggan and then walk another twenty feet. Pretty hard going, good exercise, very wet.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #3 – March 9th, 2016
“Yesterday afternoon in the fog, I accidentally went in the wrong inlet. It was really tough going deep snow, crust and slush for about 4 miles. It happens. I have a GPS, but I don’t usually use it. A GPS would have definitely corrected the error, but I rely pretty much on the map. I use the compass a little bit, but mainly the wind for directions. Their is a little bit of an issue starting off too, learning the scale and the portions of the map, the surroundings. But, whatever I took the wrong turn there for about 4 miles, so I came into camp really late.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #2 – March 8th, 2016
“Last night from about midnight to first light it rained very hard. The temperatures were way below freezing, probably about 24°-25°. Quite an unusual rain. About a half an inch of ice on everything. It took me about an hour to chip everything off. All the lines were frozen up and I got under way. The temperature remained below freezing all day.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #1 – March 7th, 2016
“Made a pretty good distance today. First day out it’s best not to really kill yourself and try to go for distances, but that was just the right amount. You don’t always have that option on the first day. Two years ago during the vortex winter, deep snow, I was going to take a short day on the first day, but I ended up…it was just an ordeal. I traveled hard hours that day and I had to relay my supplies. They were too heavy to do in one load. It was on a big lake, I didn’t have a chance at all that whole day to take a break.”
Pre-Expedition Check-in #2 – March 6th, 2016
“It must be about 45° right now. It just feels like summer time. Beautiful blue skies… it looks like some really warm weather coming… It should be an interesting day tomorrow, we’ll see what the lakes and the rivers look like. I’m kind of expecting the worst, but we’ll see what happens.”
Pre-Expedition Check-in #1 – March 5th, 2016
“…trains on time, we have good weather, going up the road conditions were great. There’s a major warm front coming in. Zero degrees this morning. it looks like it’s gonna warm up the next 10 day forecast, it’s pretty warm. So we’ll see what that brings. Checking in here…”
Prototyping the future at Will Steger’s Wilderness Center
While Northeast Minnesota struggles with economic uncertainty in its legacy industry — mining — the potential of a dawning industry is being demonstrated in a remote corner of the Iron Range.
The Will Steger Wilderness Center, founded near Ely by the celebrated polar explorer, is the site of one of Minnesota’s first and largest renewable power grids — a next generation energy system providing all the facility’s electricity with solar (and eventually wind and biomass) power. The whole complex, which includes five buildings and a five-story conference center under construction, is powered by a state-of-the-art network of solar panels manufactured in Bloomington by Ten K Solar, as well as battery packs.
The system currently generates 10 to 12 kilowatts of power, with plans to ramp up to 20 to 30 kilowatts. It was installed by Sundial Solar of Minneapolis in partnership with the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering and Cummins Power Generation. Students from the University of St. Thomas and Anoka-Ramsey Community College are studying the power grid’s operations.
“The whole idea is that it is a demonstration project to show that [power grids] can be done,” explained Sundial CEO Jon Kramer. “It blows my mind what we’re doing.” Future plans call for using solar panels that will be manufactured by Silicon Energy in the nearby town of Mountain Iron.
The Wilderness Center encompasses Steger’s home, the lodge where all his polar expeditions were plotted, housing for staff and interns, a wood workshop, and the architecturally stunning conference center. Conceived by Steger during a prolonged blizzard on a dogsled expedition across Antarctica and built over the past 25 years mostly by apprentices working with master craftspeople, the conference center will bring together small groups of business, political, and citizen leaders to brainstorm solutions to critical environmental and social problems. The renewable power grid, Steger explains, will remind meeting participants about all that’s possible.
The center — which looks like an amalgam of a ski lodge, Gothic cathedral and solarium — is 85 percent complete and will host a pilot symposium about clean energy this fall, according to Steger.