A Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) trip returned to campus Wednesday night after going unaccounted for overnight while camping in the Allagash woods. The group, led by Karl Koehler ’14 and Stephen Ligtenberg ’15, had no ability to contact the College or officials at the BOC, who were left wondering why the students had failed to return to campus as scheduled on Tuesday.
“I had never heard of this happening to an Outing Club trip before, and I now am pretty sure that it hasn’t ever happened,” said Koehler.
Their destination had been the ice caves at the end of Allagash Lake. After leaving one car near those caves, the students drove back to the other end of a series of lakes and streams, planning to spend four days canoeing.
The group only made it about halfway to their destination before going ashore and portaging their canoes, which they ultimately left in the woods.
Few things went according to plan; bad weather and unexpectedly strong currents set the trip back almost a day behind schedule.
“None of them were really anyone’s fault,” said Kyle Werner ’14, who went on the trip. “I think it started out with weather. Normally on Outing Club trips we get through that. If it’s windy or raining, we paddle harder. It held us back a bit, but we didn’t make it as far as we wanted the first day.”
By the end of the third day, Koehler and Ligtenberg decided that they didn’t have time to canoe all the way to the car at the end of the lake. The leaders moved the group to shore and determined that the two of them would walk from the lakeside to the nearby road, and run the 10 miles to the car, which they would drive back to the rest of the group and their canoes.
“We decided we would just go straight for the road, and we figured if we could just get to a road, Stephen and I were going to run get the car, bring them back, load up and maybe drive to the ice caves,” said Koehler.
They quickly hit a dead end into thick woods.
Unable to portage the canoes through the thick growth, the group rowed back the way they came before going back ashore and camping for the night.
On the morning of the final day, the group portaged its canoes up from the beach, through a marsh and into yet another dead end.
“We had to spend all morning pulling them up to this swamp that we had to cross. And then as soon as we cross this swamp there’s supposed to be this road. And its just not there,” said Werner. “On the map there’s trails and roads...and there just wasn’t a road.”
Group morale remained strong despite the adverse conditions.
“The group of kids was just so strong and we bonded so well, and the ability to remain positive was amazing,” said Werner. “I think it was largely due to Karl and Stephen’s really strong leadership to keep us all in good spirits.”
So after their two mile portage, the group ditched their canoes and bushwhacked in the dark until Koehler and Ligtenberg decided to make camp.
The next morning they finally reached the road where the two leaders set out for the car.
“We got picked up by a guy who gave us a ride in the back of his truck,” said Koehler. “He was really nice, gave us each a Nutterbutter.”
On Tuesday afternoon, BOC officials had decided to notify the students’ parents of their disappearance, but they located the group just minutes later, according to Koehler.
Everyone made it back to campus safely, and Koehler and Ligtenberg will return to Allagash this weekend to recover the canoes.
“Nobody’s really mad at us,” said Koehler. “We did everything we could and everybody was fine. Generally if the Outing Club gets all the humans its sends out back, they’re pretty happy.”
Werner thinks the trip was one of the most fun he has ever been on.
“It was great. Just a great trip all around,” he said. “It was also just incredibly beautiful, and seeing the northern lights was a once in a life time thing, I might well never see them again.”
Koehler offered similar sentiments.
“It was wild. It was worth it for the northern lights I’d say,” he said.
BOC Director Mike Woodruff could not be reached by press time.