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Birchbark Expeditions

Greater Niagara Frontier Council Birchbark Expeditions

Birchbark Expeditions

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Q: Why does Birchbark recommend three people per canoe?

A: By traveling with two scouts and one adult in each canoe, we can usually execute “one trip portages”, moving the canoe and two canoe packs over the portage in one trip.  This dramatically reduce the portage carry distances and makes for a much more enjoyable experience. An additional benefit is that we are able to use larger expedition canoes that travel faster and with less effort (especially when dealing with windy conditions)


Q: What are the portage trails like?

A: The very busy and popular portage trails are somewhat improved, but most portages are simple foot paths that have been cleared of downed trees/branches.  They vary in length from a few meters to well over 2 kilometers.  Your itinerary planning will include the portages that your crew will have to traverse and their difficulty.


Q: Can we bring our own canoes/tents/crew gear?

A: While it’s possible, it’s often not practical. Birchbark Expeditions povides a complete set of crew gear that includes expedition-grade Eureka tents that are similar to the tents used by many troops, new “Pocket Rocket” stoves and fuel, water purification system, a set of nesting pots, a tarp, utensils and much more.  Drop a note to one of the Birchbark Guides at birchbark@wnyscouting.org and we’ll discuss your situation and specific needs.


Q: How extensive of a first aid kit does our crew need for the expedition?

A: It’s recommended that each crew bring a backcountry first aid kit with supplies for up to eight people for five days.  In most cases, this should be no larger than a loaf of bread.  Like all other gear taken on the water, it should be packed in a waterproof zip-lock or dry bag.


Q: Is there cellular phone coverage in Algonquin? How to you reach out in an emergency?

A: While at Wye Marsh (Saturday) and at base camp in Whitefish Campground, there is usually mobile phone service – however, your phone plan must have roaming enabled and to avoid some huge roaming bills, make an arrangement with your carrier for service in Canada.  Once in the back country, there is no cellular service, however your Birchbark Expedition guide will have a satellite telephone that can be used in emergency situations.


Q: Will we see a moose? Beaver?

A: Moose sightings are fairly common, usually found in grassy bays and quiet parts of the park.  It’s also not uncommon to see moose along the route 60 highway on the way to the Logging Museum.  Beaver sightings are not as common, but you will see plenty of beaver dams and their houses.


Q: Exactly what is a 'portage'?

A: Taking a “portage” or the process of “portaging” is moving from one lake to another over land.  This usually occurs when there is a dam, white water or rapids that would otherwise prevent paddling directly from one lake to another. Portages in Algonquin can vary from a few feet to close to 2 miles, depending on the itinerary selected by the crew.  The best practices for making a portage are taught during the Shakedown training session, including tips to ensure each portage is walked only once.


Q: What 'special' personal gear would a participant need?

A: Participants are provided a complete list of personal gear that is recommended for a Birchbark Expedition, which includes a few canoeing-specific items: a very compact 40 degree sleeping bag with waterproof compression sack, closed-toe sandals (Keens are an example), and a medium-size dry sack.  Most of the remaining items are common with the needs for backpacking/hiking.