The Wilderness Canoe Expedition

Course Info
· Length: 4-Weeks
· Dates: 7/5-7/31 2020
· Max. Size: 8
· College Credits: 6
· GI Bill: Yes
· Americorps: Yes
· Tuition: $3600

Four-Week Wilderness Canoe Guide Training

This is a new iteration of the canoe expedition for 2020. As of this year, this course will be for high school students looking for college credit, or a great summer learning experience. We’ll spend two weeks in camp learning skills for living on the land and rivers, then spend two weeks on trail putting those abilities in context. This is a course designed to give young men and women the skills they need to canoe and live outdoors well, and the chance to see those skills put to use on a long trip. It will be challenging, but the confidence our students walk away with is palpable. They’ll spend time on remote rivers, and see how pleasurable and simple life can be with a few simple tools and a bit of know-how.

You’re The Only Engine

This program is based around the idea that we don’t need a lot of infrastructures to live well on the land. Our field school has no pipes or wires coming in or out, so the only way to get things done around camp is to use your body, and the tools we’ll be teaching you about. We encourage students to embrace this idea and keep cell phone use and trips to town to a minimum. When you’re here, be here. We aren’t opposed to technology in any sense, but we find students get more out of the courses we offer when they jump in feet first to a simple way of living.

How And What You Learn

Participants learn by doing. This is expedition learning where it isn’t an option to sit on the sidelines and watch. We’re living on the rivers and lakes of northern Maine, traveling day after day. By the end of the experience, they will have knowledge of and experience with:

  • Expedition planning
  • Expedition provisioning
  • Group dynamics and people management
  • Students will make their own canoe paddles
  • Traditional canoe techniques, including poling, lining and solo paddling
  • Fire lighting (if we can’t get it going, we don’t eat!)
  • Remote campsite setup and management
  • Reading the river
  • Scouting and safely running white water
  • Safe and efficient use of the axe in remote environments
  • A first hand insight into ecology and how we interact with the ecosystem around us responsibly
  • And much more.

We’ll be living outside for the entire month, practicing bushcraft skills on a daily basis. If you’re looking to take your skills, experience and confidence to the next level, living out for a month will do it.

Experiential Wilderness Learning Based On The Rivers Of Northern Maine

Wilderness canoeing has changed dramatically in the modern era. While once the vehicle for long-term, long-distance exploration, the canoe has become one of many recreational crafts, indistinguishable from others based on how we use it, while it’s true strengths have slowly been forgotten. Most of modern canoeing has become driving to the headwaters and floating downstream to the takeout. It’s fun, but so much of the heritage has withered due to non-use.

We believe there is still value in doing things the hard way, with minimal infrastructure. It maintains the traditions and keeps the skills and technique – the know-how – alive.

To truly know a river, it isn’t enough to just float downstream. Poling upstream, lining, carrying, drinking the water, and living with it until it is forever a part of you; that’s how to truly know a river.

Expedition learning has been a major part of the Jack Mountain and School Of The Forest experience since the beginning. There’s no substitute to getting out and doing it, learning by doing, and having a life experience you will never forget.

We take 8 students on the WCES, arranged in 7 canoes. That’s six solo’s and a tandem (we always take the tandem in case of injury). Paddling and poling solo leads to a greater mastery of the skills of the professional guide.

This is a unique experience. To our knowledge, no outer outfit runs a multi-week guide training course where people are solo in freight canoes. We’ve been hearing that you can’t do this for the same two decades that we’ve been doing it. And it’s hard. But the rewards are worth all the struggle. If you want to guide canoe trips in the backcountry, there is nothing else like the training and experience you gain on the WCES.

Our Educational Philosophy

Knowledge is power, but knowledge is constructed, not received. It is built incrementally, over time. If teaching were simply telling, then anyone who excelled in a field would be an effective teacher of it. But this transmission model of teaching isn’t effective for most learners. Standing in front of someone and telling them what they need to know isn’t facilitating learning. Especially when you consider the differences between visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles.

We subscribe to the learning model of teaching, where the role of the teacher is to create situations where learning takes place. Students build upon their knowledge daily, and by the end of the experience they’ve accumulated a storehouse of information and experiences. But the instructor must also make it relevant. It’s easy to scoff at friction fire since matches and lighters are so readily available. But remove them from the equation and it’s instantly relevant, and the desire to learn the subtleties of the hand drill takes on renewed importance.

Our students are actively learning, immersing themselves in the curriculum by necessity. An example of this is how we teach shelter building. You can learn something about a shelter by making one. You can learn more about it by sleeping in it. But to truly know that specific shelter, you need to spend four consecutive nights in it. In this way you’re forced to deal with the consequences of shoddy construction or not paying attention to details. Maybe the first night is rough, but it teaches you what you need to do before the second night in order to shore it up and get some sleep. The second night is spent learning some of the subtleties that would make it more comfortable. The third night is fine-tuning it to your specifications, and the fourth night is enjoying the fruits of your labor. If you were to build the same shelter again, you could eliminate the learning curve because you’d know what to do from the outset. That’s experiential education.

“Experiential education is the process of actively engaging students in an authentic experience that will have benefits and consequences. Students make discoveries and experiment with knowledge themselves instead of hearing or reading about the experiences of others. Students also reflect on their experiences, thus developing new skills, new attitudes, and new theories or ways of thinking.” (Kraft & Sakofs, 1988)

In addition to passing on traditional skills, we focus on using them to foster critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, curiosity, and concern with ethical issues.

 Intended Learning Outcomes

  • 1.Demonstrate skill proficiency and experience in a wide variety of outdoor skills, including fire, shelter, outdoor cooking, observational weather forecasting, carving, basketry, cordage and natural bindings, navigation, and the safe and efficient use of the axe, saw, and knife
  • 2. Have a working knowledge of basic, wilderness survival.
  • 3. Build a base set of skills for canoeing in a wilderness setting (paddling, poling etc)
  • 4. Navigate by map and compass, and also by using barehand methods
  • 5. Build a strong foundation of nature knowledge about the weather, plants, the stars and constellations, mammals and their tracks, fish, etc.
  • 6. Have a basic knowledge of edible, medicinal, and otherwise useful wild plants.
  • 7. Document progress with individual skills in their logbook.
  • 8. Increased knowledge of individual needs relating to food, comfortable sleeping, etc.

The program includes access to the staple foods we keep at camp. We’ll also provide a gear list and trip itinerary for everyone when they sign up.


College Credit

Students can get college credit through our partnership with University of Maine Presque Isle. They will receive four credits for completing the course, and can find more information about the process and credit types here

Other students have completed independent studies through their home institution to receive credit. For more details visit the credit information page.

What Sets School Of The Forest Programs Apart

There are plenty of bushcraft and outdoor education programs you can choose from. Few, if any offer the experience we do. Our programs are centered around the concept of “Non Scholae sed vitae discimus”, or “we do not learn for school but for life”. This means that we aren’t just teaching students a few skills that they can master in a weekend and then forget about. We’re offering students the chance to learn the skills and knowledge required for a lifetime of enjoying the outdoors.

“longterm courses that put those skills into context daily”

This is achieved by running longterm courses that put those skills into context daily, approaching ecological studies in a hands-on way and maintaining an educational philosophy that encourages living with the land in the closest way possible. We practice what we teach as well. Our instructors live at the field school full time and because of that are constantly increasing their working knowledge of what we teach by living on the land and using what we teach every day. This is why we believe a long-term residential program is so effective. No matter how much time you’ve spent in the outdoors, there’s always more to learn and understand, regardless of your age or experience level.

What Previous Students Have To Say About Our Field-Based Programs


“This camp was one of the best camps I’ve ever been to. I learned so much about the forest, canoeing, and myself. My dad told me that when he picked me up I was a changed person. I had pep in my step, and aside from the sweat, suet, and campfire smell, I had the biggest, cheesiest grin on my face. I really loved it there. I plan on going back and doing more courses with Jack Mountain because of this camp. If kids are looking at this program and thinking to themselves that this is going to be hard. Well, it’s not. Even if you work your but off, you’ll be laughing at the end of the day. This was so much fun, I miss the woods already. 

Sincerely, Skylar George (aka, queen hobo)”


“A big thanks to Chris for giving us a wonderful experience at the School in the Forest and to Tim for creating Jack Mountain Bushcraft School. Chris was a phenomenal teacher, full of wisdom, humor and an ability to effectively connect with people of all ages, personalities and skill levels. The schedule was relaxed and flexible so even with two small kids we were able to participate in all the lessons.  We learned skills such as axe work, basic canoe paddling, and rescue techniques, campfire cooking, dry and wet fire starting, how to make a shelter and much more. These skills have given us the confidence to enjoy adventures in the great outdoors with our kids and feel comfortable in an off-grid situation.

We are already looking forward to our next trip to School Of The Forest and the Jack Mountain School.

~Heather, Julian, Julian, George and Scout”


Course Format

This program is a truly immersive experience, students cook every meal over a fire, and sleep outside for the duration of the course. Each skill and technique they learn can be applied immediately to their day to day lives on the semester. The first two weeks will be spent learning and practicing these methods and ways of living, and in the final week, we take what we’ve learned on trail for a two-week-long canoe trip. This time on trail is where all the bushcraft and outdoor living skills that students have practiced comes together and is used in the context of a life outdoors. This is where we set ourselves apart as a program. Students are not taught in the traditional sense. They are shown the skills necessary to go out in the bush, and then given the opportunity to try out what they’ve learned with zero infrastructure.

If this sounds like the way you’d like to spend your summer, get in touch with us soon. This is a small course and will fill quickly.

Our Sites
· JMB Field School – Long-Term Immersion: Semester & Expedition Programs
· JMB Trips – Classic Wilderness Guiding By Canoe & Snowshoe
· JMB Folk School – Short Courses, Crafts & Lodge-Based Programs
· School Of The Forest – Teen & Youth Programs
· JM Outfitters – Gear From The World’s Smallest Outfitter

Our Blog
Our media hub, home to our articles, videos, podcast, photos and updates, going back to 2006.
· JMB Blog

Our Email List
Join our email list; it’s the best way to keep up with what we’re up to. We promise to never fill your inbox with junk and we never share or sell your information. We value your time and privacy. We won’t abuse either of them. More Info.

Featured In:
Jack Mountain Bushcraft Media Appearances Image

Life Member – MPGA
mpga graphic
Life Member – MWGO
mwgo graphic