Let me take you to a place where there are more fish than people, where every campsite has a lakeside view and a swarm of mosquitos takes on a whole new meaning. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is located in the most Northern reaches of Minnesota. Where regulations restrict motorized boats, there are no roads and the basic luxuries of a campsite latrine and fire ring provide primitive access while protecting the pristine environment. The regulations go so far as to allow no more than four canoes and nine people to gather at any time. This is wilderness.
Staring down at the cover of climbing magazine I was intoxicated. A snaking shoreline in the distance. A couple feet of dark gray rock exposed from the vast, pristine, clear and fresh water. The rock acting as a boundary between two great seas. The other, a thick wood of green spruce and birch covering all visible land. The green sea washing down from small rolling hills to meet the water.
In the foreground, a man is halfway up a larger section of this rock boundary. A sheer granite cliff in shades of gray rising 120 ft out of the huge fresh water lake. Where is this magical place? Minnesota.
I had my first ‘Oh Shit!’ moment in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota. Despite a prior night’s storm our morning started out relatively calm paddling in my two person canoe. However, as the day went on and the lakes became larger the wind would overpower our human-powering steering. Repeatedly it diverted us away from our prospective camp sites, separated our group and forcing us towards rocks. Several times we had to communicate across islands to regroup, strategize our next campsite attempt and push our physically abilities and technical skills.
I call these emotionally driven situations ‘Oh Shit!’ moments where your group is forced to make quick decisions deviating from the original plan. They happen due to unexpected hazards (weather), human error (becoming lost) or just bad luck (injury). They are experience altering and often scary at the time, but make great stories and valuable experience later. I’ve had a number of these moments so I wanted to share my strategies for making the best decision when you realize, ‘Oh Shit!’