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  • Scott Oeth

COFFEE TALK WITH CLIFF JACOBSON


Cliff Jacobson has been a great mentor to me for years. I first saw Cliff speak at Canoecopia in the early '80s. Cliff is a master storyteller, so even though I was a fairly young, Cliff's presentation really kept my attention. When my dad later picked up a copy of Cliff's book, Canoeing Wild Rivers, 5th Edition, I soaked up the skills and techniques Cliff outlined to improve my camping skills. As years went by, I read all of his books (no small feat!) and attended Cliff's speaking events at the big wilderness and outdoor symposiums, where he consistently provided rock-solid and entertaining advice.

Cliff Jacobson teaching proper canoe handling technique during the BWCA skills prep workshop.

I got to know Cliff on a personal level through the Boy Scouts of America when I had the honor of working with him for a few years on the Expedition Canoeing School that raised money for college scholarships for Eagle Scouts. I promoted the event and managed logistics for the weekend-long workshop, while Cliff provided invaluable knowledge and hands-on skill development for anyone taking a trip to the BWCA or deep into the Canadian wilderness. It was a fantastic event for a great cause, and I'll always be indebted to Cliff for agreeing to donate his time and knowledge to the BSA for so many years.

One of the things I really like about Cliff is the fact that he's a pragmatic guide. He emphasizes developing skills and judgement over buying all the latest and greatest gear, yet he has some very detailed gear recommendations for serious trips. His style is a mix of old and new with the consistent factor being confidence in his approach.

I recently caught up with Cliff to talk BSA, camping, canoeing, adventures, and, of course, books.

What's your advice to a scout leader (or youth group leader) if their unit wants to run a high-adventure trip on a wild river? Is there a progression of trips you’d recommend to build experience? Do you think there's a minimum age for a youth group trip on more advanced rivers, like the Kopka or Bloodvein Rivers? A leader to scout ratio? Are skills or training outside of BSA needed?

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