I recently guided two all-women’s camping trips. What a blast! Both groups of talented, smart and go-get-em women sought out a female guide for their Boundary Waters camping experience.
I have guided canoe trips over ten summers for teenage and adult women in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park, working at the Northern Lakes Girl Scout Canoe Base and here at Boundary Waters Guide Service. I have become a believer in the truly different and remarkable experience that is possible with a group of only women.
I haven’t seen the statistics for travel by men versus women, but what I have noticed personally is that there are substantially more men traveling in this wilderness area. By far, the majority of groups are exclusively men, with a fair amount of groups with one or two women. This reality underscores just how unique an all-women’s trip is in the Boundary Waters.
As much as I tried to deny it when I first started guiding canoe trips in the Great North Woods, women really don’t have the muscle mass that men do. The canoe that men (of many ages) can pick up without any technique does not go on my shoulders without teamwork or some real practice. That applies big-time to groups of first-time women to the Boundary Waters. Teamwork really becomes key.
During an orientation before getting out on the water, we tackled portaging technique, which is typically the most intimidating aspect of a BWCAW trip. Each group learned how to use three people to flip the canoe upside-down, and then each person took a turn carrying the lightweight Kevlar canoe. The task was surprisingly conquerable to most, even a breeze to a couple of the stronger women!
After our first few hours of paddling, everyone discovered, despite their trepidation, that the portaging was actually quite do-able, though still a workout. Both groups of women smiled with accomplishment (and maybe a little tiredness) at the end of their first long portages. Everyone was definitely appreciative a little while later of a campsite where we could rest and relax.
The eight ladies of the first group were friends since having their children involved together in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, and boy, were they a get-er-done kind of group. They gathered armloads of firewood, found time to relax, and shared much laughter. Some felt a little nervous about the physicality of a canoe trip, others just looked forward to relaxing and not having to cook. These ladies were all made for this kind of canoeing adventure, amusingly calling themselves “Kate Plus Eight.”
My second group of ladies, four this time, were nurses or nurse practitioners with numerous stories about the many babies they had delivered. Lovely women with great stories, also quick learners and very capable in a canoe in the gusty conditions we experienced. These four ladies had worked together in their profession for years and were absolutely great at working with each other in this new environment.
These two trips in the late summer season had lovely weather — highs up toward 70 degrees and low temps in the 40s, sometimes dipping down to the 30s. Since women typically tend to feel colder, I used another trick for our ladies: we filled everyone’s water bottle with hot water overnight to keep our sleeping bags toasty warm. It proved to be a delightful surprise.
It seems to be true no matter the woman’s age: after experiencing an all-female canoe camping trip, there is a definite sense of empowerment. I believe these already intelligent and accomplished women were no exception. Being “out there” for three or four days and relying only on each other for forward movement tends to build trust, make a lot of fun moments, and create an experience that will not be quickly forgotten.