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A full moon glowed Monday morning as the new day came into being, just enough light to cast the woodland grounds south of Anoka High School in silhouette.

Scattered in a clearing were quinzhees, or igloo-like snow dugouts — barriers between the world and the senior high schoolers inside them, who shouldered through a chilly night in the teens.

Perhaps, too, the quinzhees were filled with fantastic dreams of more winter camping nights in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. That is to come after Sunday night's dry run on metro turf.

The eight students will join six other classmates Feb. 23-26 for a camping trip into the BWCA, heading there through Bearskin Lake off the Gunflint Trail.

In doing so they'll follow the well-worn path of Anoka teens before them who were educated on essential survival skills and wonders of the natural world in a class named Outdoor Adventures that has been held for more than 25 years.

Now, it's their turn.

Summer trip origins

Chase Evertz, a science teacher, exposes the kids to a range of topics. They cover wilderness safety, like how to spot hypothermia. They dug into the basics of fire-starting, working with cook stoves and building their own latrines, mindful of Leave No Trace ethics. They've molded and hollowed out the aforementioned quinzhees, and Evertz took several on the nearby Rum River to auger holes, just like they'll do up north to get to water.

Putting the knowledge in motion is fundamental to the class, said Evertz, and the idea was echoed by one of the class's founders, Scott Birklid, now a retired chemistry teacher and sports coach.

Birklid said Outdoor Adventures owes its start in 1996 to an annual summer field trip out West when he and others "took school on the road." They decided to form a senior-level class built on similar experiential learning.

The first classes focused on everything from climbing rocks and finding wild edibles to trapshooting and butchering a whitetail. Four of the five days of classes were spent outdoors.

"The whole idea was to be out and to help students gain confidence from their learning and their experiences," Birklid said. "You can't give someone confidence. You can't teach confidence. But you can promote an environment that will be conducive."

Just like the circle of nature, the class's long-term impact is bearing fruit. Evertz, who grew up hunting and fishing, was a student in the class he now leads. And Birklid can rattle off former students who now lead similar outdoor education programs in Alaska and California, for example.

'You ready to rock?'

On Monday morning, at Anoka High School, the students passed their mandatory night out in quinzhees. After sliding into cold boots and other gear in the morning chill and discussing their experience overnight, they strapped on snowshoes and tethered themselves to individual pallets.

"You ready to rock?" Evertz asked the groggy group. Then, crunching across a trail, they set out one after the other on a 45-minute hike to simulate the pulk work they'll encounter pulling and portaging their gear once north.

The bustle of a new school day was heating up nearby in parking lots, and they were, too, with some shedding layers they'd just cinched after waking. Mindful of the cold, they stayed together to avoid having to stop for others and risk getting chilled anew.

An adventurous group of Anoka High School students strapped on snowshoes and pulled wooden pallets through the snow Monday, practicing for their wilderness trip.
An adventurous group of Anoka High School students strapped on snowshoes and pulled wooden pallets through the snow Monday, practicing for their wilderness trip.

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Evertz said the class isn't intended solely for outdoor kids. Like Evertz, some have grown up in families of hunters and anglers or campers. Yet for others in the class of 36, almost every experience is new. Plus, not all can afford the four-day winter outing. The Friends of the Boundary Waters, a nonprofit advocacy group, is chipping in $3,400 toward the bus cost and lodging at Camp Menogyn.

"The class opens up all the different systems and how they interact together," he said. "It is not geared for a certain type of kid, but to find something that you can get interested in."

Perhaps it will be winter camping. The reviews early Monday and at first blush among some were positive.

Student Noah Thelen said he was anticipating a cold night but was surprised at the insulation of the snow hut. Between that and his bag and clothing layers, he was too warm at one point.

Thelen has grown up hunting and fishing but his resume is light on camping. He recalled his sister Mary taking the class when she was a senior in 2017.

"Since then I've just been really excited to get on this trip, too," Noah said. "It's been on my bucket list of things I wanted to do."

Lance Lewis said trying to stay warm was tough Monday night, but he leaned on his new skills, doubling up on sleeping bags and putting on new socks before settling in.

Now, Lewis is looking ahead to his first trip to the BWCA, more snow to work with for their quinzhee and maybe some ice fishing.

Lewis took the fall class, when students worked on tree identification, cooking outdoors, water safety and paddling, among other areas. He'll take the spring class, too.

"Everyone wants to take this because it's not easy but there is not a lot of [home]work," he added. "You get to be with all your friends if you take it together."

Having never camped, Karissa Webb was out overnight, too. She arrived Sunday night after work. She was nervous, but Webb said her knowledge about layering and sleep systems (two bags and a pad) delivered.

Energized by the experience, Webb is eager to try it up north. She and her friend Olivia Buxton are the only two young women on the trip of the 10 females in the winter trimester class.

"I think we will definitely face some challenges, but her and I work so well together," Webb added.

Evertz and five chaperones, some of whom taught the class in recent years, will camp, too. They'll set up within range of the teens but intentionally out of the way.

"The class allows the kids to go out of their comfort zone and take risks," Evertz said. "It is a good space to do that. Kids look forward to doing that."