What was at first feared to be a dire emergency on a stormy night in the remote wilderness of northeastern Minnesota turned into an adventure eight Girl Scouts won’t soon forget.
The Chicago-area teens were midway through a weeklong canoe trip in the Boundary Canoe Waters Area Wilderness late Friday when thunderstorms rolled in. Suddenly, lightning struck close to their campsite on Knife Lake.
“A couple of the girls said they may have felt something in the ground,” a Girl Scout spokeswoman said Saturday.
Though the teens were shaken, nobody appeared to be hurt. But their Minnesota guide, following Girl Scout protocol, radioed BWCA officials to report the lightning.
The guide suspected the girls “might have experienced ground current,” said Nancy McMullen, director of communications for the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakes and Pines, a local organization that’s been helping the visitors from the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.
“Better safe than sorry,” the guide and officials reasoned, and decided to have the girls brought back to Ely for medical exams, McMullen said. The guide provided the exact GPS coordinates of their campsite, which was along a preplanned route.
A dramatic overnight extraction ensued. Rescuers paddled nearly 16 miles into the chain of lakes to reach the party. The campers were then given five minutes to collect their things and head for the canoes, a parent said. Their tents were left behind.
The Scouts, who ranged in age from 14 to 17, paddled for more than two hours in the darkness to return safely to their base camp in Ely sometime after 4 a.m. Saturday.
Susan Felts of Evanston, Ill., awoke to a phone call from her 14-year-old daughter, who excitedly recounted the trek.
The Scouts “are very safety-conscious,” she said. “I knew that [she] was in good hands.”
All nine campers were examined by emergency medical technicians; none was injured. The two girls who had reported feeling tingling from something in the ground were taken to a hospital for further examination but released soon after.
Somehow along the way, a miscommunication occurred, leading to the spread of alarming news: An intensive rescue effort was reportedly underway to save Girl Scouts struck by lightning and possibly lost in the BWCA.
“We can say that the entire six-person party experienced the strike, but two are showing acute symptoms that have us concerned,” the St. Louis County Rescue Squad said about 10:30 p.m. Friday, understating the size of the party while overstating the urgency of the situation. The agency was acting on preliminary information given to 911 dispatchers, it later explained.
But not before news outlets, including the Star Tribune, reported the apparent emergency. Social media blew up with prayers for the girls’ safe return.
“A group of very brave Girl Scouts need your prayers tonight,” Gov. Tim Walz tweeted. “We’re going to do everything we can to bring them home safe.”
In any event, the Rescue Squad wasn’t taking any chances Friday. Rescuers motored in as far as they could, then continued by canoe, navigating five portages. The girls were found about 1:30 a.m. and escorted back to base camp in Ely.
By about 9 a.m., the girls had “changed into dry clothes and were sipping on warm beverages,” McMullen reported. Girl Scout officials called each of the girls’ families to reassure them.
“From my understanding, the girls were in good spirits throughout the entire trip,” McMullen said. “I’m sure it was an amazing adventure.”
And no doubt, a bonding experience. The teens hail from different troops in the Chicagoland area and had not met before the 12-day trip, Felts said. The group drove to Minnesota and is expected to end its travels Friday at a camp in East Troy, Wis.
Despite the unexpected journey, Felts said her daughter gushed about how much fun she’s having. “She’s a tough cookie,” she said.