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Northern Tier Advice


  1. If you stay in Ely, eat dinner at Sir G Italian Restaurant (520 E Sheridan St) for the best Italian food ever.  They imported machines from Italy and hand make their pasta.  Wonderful food.   Eat breakfast at Brittons Cafe.  Great breakfast and all the locals eat there.
  2. Don’t pick the Showy Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium reginae) it is endangered, rare, and illegal to damage it.  It is the state flower of Minnesota. 
  3. Food boxes weight 90lb each and you have to lift them with a bear rope. That is 180 lbs! They have two ropes with a pulley on one end of one rope.  You can take another pulley if you can design a better way to lift it.
  4. Bring your own PDF that has a pocket or two in front to keep gear or camera.  The ones at NT are not in good shape.
  5. Get a wooden paddle from Northern Tier.  It is a beautiful keepsake and has a bent shaft that makes it 20% more efficient paddling.  It is made by hand by a family in Minnesota and is beautiful.  It has a laser engraved emblem of NT on the paddle.  Buy it there and use it.  They will ship it home free.  It is $110 but a great keepsake.  They have a plastic one for less but it is not very good.  See: http://www.northerntiertradingpost.org/paddles.html They have plenty there and you buy it there before going on the water.
  6. Get the Buff head “scarf”.  It is great and has many uses.  It can be a head scarf, face protector, neck protection, keep off mosquitoes, keep the sun off and wet it to keep cool and more.  It is not nice to inhale mosquitoes while portage.  Over the mouth and nose will keep them out of your airway.  See: http://www.buffwear.co.uk/pages/product-info/ways-to-wear.php It is a tubular scarf that is very important.  You can purchase them in Ely at the Piragis store.  (It is the best store in town. http://www.piragis.com  )
  7. We took a very strong repellant that lasts 12 hours… it lasted 2 hours.  I like the over the head net that folds up … and with the neck Buff and gloves you will not be bothered as bad.
  8. Take some energy bars … maybe 3 for a 7-10 day trip.  I like the Loucks Sesame Snaps. They are light weight, not super filling, but high calorie = 230 at half the weight and good.  Made of Sesame seeds and honey.
  9. Use gloves for paddling but use full gloves.  The finger-tips-open kind for bikers will cause blisters on the fingers and allow mosquitoes to bite the ends of the fingers as well as it keeps them warm in cold weather and sun off them too prevent sunburn.  Gloves in the outfitter stores in Ely have full fingers for a reason.
  10. Take two containers of sunscreen and repellent so if one is lost then you have another.
  11. See proper way to lift canoe onto shoulders for portage:  VIDEO  There are pads for your shoulders.Be sure the pads are separated at the correct distance apart so they do not pinch your neck.
  12. Paddle properly.  Reach out as far in front and move the paddle as far back as you can.  Front person keeps a steady pace and stays on one side of the canoe.  Do not try to steer the canoe from the front.  The back person steers the canoe with the J stroke and keep on the opposite side of the canoe from the front person.  The back person paddles at the same pace simultaneously with the front person.  Do not have the middle duffer paddle.  It will cause the canoe to zigzag across the lake.  Practice keeping the canoe straight at home before going on the trip.  Right way:    Wrong way.  Do not have the back person rudder and slow the canoe down unless you are going to run into a rock.  Keep the canoe moving forward with forward strokes but steer by J or sweeping strokes.  Also keep your arms straight and use different muscles so they do not get tired.  You can use the right (A) or left (B) arm and you can use your back muscles (C) by leaning back similar to a person that is in a rowboat.  When a person rows a rowboat, they lean back as they stroke.  Bent elbows get tired quicker.
     See video of good and bad technique.  Paddle at the same time...stay together and use only 2 paddles.

  13. In strong winds, canoe into waves and keep to the windward side to “shadow” the wind where there are less waves.
  14. Camp on the points with a wind so less mosquitoes and cooler.
  15. When going up a more-rapidly moving water, keep the point of the canoe straight up stream and do not worry about how hard you are paddling.  Don’t paddle hard but keep the same steady pace you have canoed all day.   You must keep the canoe straight up current.  If the point of the canoe turns a small amount to the side, the water will push the front over to the side and you will turn sideways rapidly.
  16. Buy a water proof camera that is not water resistant.  It should be water proof down to 10 feet and can actually take pictures underwater.  You and the camera will get wet.  And you will not take many pictures if it is in a waterproof case.
  17. Your toenails will be like rubber by day three so if you do not cut them before the trip they will come off or be cut easily during your trip.
  18. If you tend to have a BM in the night in the forest (like in the Quantico), then dig a hole before going to bed so it is ready and you know where you are going.
  19. Use an ointment on your bottom after BMs because you cannot clean it well.  I recommend a mixture of equal volumes of A&D ointment, Antibiotic Ointment, Hydrocortisone Ointment, and Maximum Strength Lanacane cream. Make sure they are ointments and creams as stated.  Mix and but into a screw top container.
  20. Trails in Quantico Canada are not maintained.  See difference.  First picture is Canada and Second one USA trail.
  21. Take the packets of glass cleaners for eye glasses.  One for each day.  You can use them on camera lenses also.
  22. I recommend Turkey bags for dehydrated foods in Philmont but they are not helpful at Northern Tier.  Food at NT is plentiful and is the actual stuff you would buy in the stores and cook at home.  That is why you will have two boxes of food each weighing 90lbs.  Save 20% of the lunch sausage logs to put into the Macaroni and other meals at night.  Or catch Crawdads on the shore and cook them and put into meals. 
  23. Be sure the camp dry shoes you bring tie up secure on your feet and have tread on the sole that will keep you from slipping.  Especially in the Quantico where you have to walk out into the forest where it is very slick.
  24. Take the Interpreter’s advice to heart. They are trying to help you stay out of trouble. They will not tell you what to do so it will sound like he is just making a suggestion.
  25. When you pick your foot out of the water to put it into the canoe, water fills your cloth pant legs and you pour a bunch of water into the canoe or you have to squeeze out the water.  If you lift your pant legs up before putting your feet into the canoe then you will not have to fight that.  First picture shows water pouring out pants leg and the second one shows how to pull your pant legs up before getting in.

  26. Take the first campsite that fits you.  The next one may be smaller or filled.  You will be sorry you did not take the first one more frequently than you will be sorry you did not keep looking for that perfect campsite.
  27. Use the metal canoes.  The lightweight fiber canoes do not have a rudder and they are hard to steer.  They also scratch easier and you could be charged a lot of money for scratching them.  The metal ones are a little bit heavier but worth it.
  28. Bring extra zip locks and a few zipties.  Also they now make zipties that you can undo.  I recommend taking a Ziploc on you for lunch so you can put peanuts, or trail mix into it when the main bag of food is divided up among three people.  Or try to put the stuff into your hat or hands.
  29. Take a soft canoe seat with no back and that straps onto the canoe seat..  You will need it connected to the canoe so it does not dangle during the portage.  The pad they have for the middle person “duffer” is 3 in thick with two handles that dangle.  Bring your own and have a system that you can attach it to the “Grey whale” or to your belt.  It is hard to portage with a large pad on your waist or dangling at your feet that can trip you up. 

    The rail you lean against as the duffer will hurt your back eventually.  Consider some kind of “plate” that you can attach to the rail to make it better.  Also bring some kind of foam pads to put on the side rails of the canoe.  The edge is sharp and cuts into your shin or knee as paddler or duffer. Possibly use a cut piece of “floaty” from the pool or pipe insulation and duct tape it in position.
  30. Bring pen and paper.  There is waterproof paper that you can write on.
  31. Bring a book to read, cards, hackysac.
  32. If you go down and camp on the boarder lakes like Carp, then try to get the Historic Trails Medal.  You will have to do a historic skit at the end of your trip but it is a beautiful medal (the best I've seen.  I will put a picture up when it comes in.)  You should consider preparing the skit that has the history of the Voyagers ahead of time.
  33. The main camp at Charles Sommers has 30 GPS to do Geocaching.  The requirements are extensive and time consuming so our boys decided not to finish it.  But it is a cheap way to have a GPS unit with you and it has maps in it.  However you run the risk of not having one if they are all checked out.  I do recommend a GPS and put in the coordinates of portage trails in it ahead of time.  It will give you distance paddled, and how fast you are traveling.  You only need two lithium AA batteries in the unit plus one more set.  A great site to get GPS coordinates in Canada is at the site: Canada Topo or use Google Earth to locate trails and GPS coordinates.
  34. Here are pictures of the "grey whale" backpacks with your crew gear.  It will hold three waterproof bags or tents.  Your gear is in zip locks, put in waterproof bag, put into plastic bag inside the big backpack.  It is hard to get gear wet.

    We first put them lying down as shown in the last photo but it was better to stand them up as see in the first photo.  You can put a water filter and your rain coats under the flap.  That way they are easily accessible when needed.
  35. Bring long underwear. Cold fronts can come at any time and the underwear is small light weight.  Use “under armer” or thin underwear.
  36. Break in jungle boots.  You will be portaging long ways and you can get blisters very fast with water soaked feet.
  37. Wear gloves and scarf over face when portaging because the mosquitoes will be there.  They really are 24-7.  Just worse at dusk.  The scarf over your mouth/nose will keep you from inhaling mosquitoes.
  38. Bring lots of spices:  Cajun, Italian, Salt, Pepper, Hot Sauce (Chalula), Garlic salt.
  39. Go June 20-30th.  Earlier than that is more cold and starting July 1 it is very crowded.  There were 4 crews on July 20 and 10+ crews on June 30th each day.  So many that they did not have enough room for every one to eat in the dining hall.
  40. Difference between Canada Quantico and USA Boundary waters. 
    1. Well kept campsites in USA.  Latrines and tent pads.  Canada has rough campsites and no latrines… do it in the forest with shovel.  Also Canada now does not want you to bury the paper so you have to use leaves or carry out the paper.  Yuck.
    2. USA has well kept portage trails.  Smooth, and even has crushed granite rock trail in the Muck Mud areas.  Canada you can sink up to your knees in mud with a canoe on your shoulders and trails can have a 45 degree incline with slippery rocks.  Canada does not move trees that have fallen across the trails and limbs that stick out. 
    3. USA you can have hooks with barbs.  In Canada you have to use pliers to remove barbs and it is more difficult to land the fish.
    4. In Canada Quantico you cannot use life bait.
    5. You have to pay to get into the Quantico and have to have a passport.  More difficult to get all the paper work done.
    6. A lot more scouts use USA boundary waters so you will see many people and frequently not get campsites. It is more rustic and more like roughing it like the original voyagers did in the 1700s.  I like Quantico even though it was tougher.  It is more of a challenge and ore realistic.