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Here in Southern Westchester County, we are blessed to live in such close proximity, from beach camping in Montauk to ice climbing in the Catskills.  And with the harsh winter we have had this year, combined with specific requests from our senior scouts, the time was right to revisit ice climbing after a two year layoff.  Indeed, it was two years ago exactly that the troop hired the highly regarded outfitter Alpine Endeavors out of New Paltz.   Their guides have some of the best climbing credentials and many are also EMTs.  Suffice it to say that not only are their guides well-qualified but they are terrific when working with youth and adults!

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Ice climbing has some similarities to rock climbing (you are belayed), but in many people’s view, ice climbing is technically more challenging and gratifying and FUN!  And FUN is exactly why our crew of 5 adventurous senior scouts and (two intrepid dads) braved the single digit temps that day just outside of Phoenicia, 50 miles northwest of New Paltz.  A few of the scouts had been ice climbing previously and felt at ease “on the pitch”.  The first-time climbers had to learn the correct techniques, including a firm planting of the toe spikes of the crampons as well as where & how to plant their hand axes.  And of course everyone had to be happy being up to 40–50 feet above the ground with only your toe spikes holding you!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  As their skills increased throughout the day, our guides Alan and Ron challenged the boys to try climbing with only one hand axe and many succeeded!  A few even tried climbing without any hand axe or gloves! Ouch!  We stayed warm by taking turns belaying or playing the role of backup belay and keeping the rope out any water and freezing.  Hot chocolate also helped!

By the end of the day, everyone had exhausted their energies but enjoyed a newfound sense of pride and satisfaction at mastering one of the neatest winter sports of all:  Ice Climbing!  For some cool pics, click here!

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It may not feel like it now with all the snow, but before the troop will be planning its annual spring time camping schedule.  For the past several years, our troop has adopted a Good Turn Weekend outing which includes camping on the beautiful grounds of the Graymoor Monastery in Garrison, NY.  The “Good Turn” element typically involves a “spring cleaning” of the prominent 9-11 prayer garden and surrounding area.  For most scouts, and especially the adults, the 6 hours of yard work is therapeutic, as there is a strong appreciation of the thousands of visitors that frequent this sacred ground throughout the year.   Our liason Brother Ted Novack is always careful in his choice of additional special projects and patient in his all-knowing horticultural guidance to the scouts.

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To get the best appreciation of the importance of the troop’s work maintaining the sacred 9-11 prayer garden, please check out these videos of the reverent & respectful services from 2011 & 2013 ==>  9-11 Services video clips.

Although the scouts claim to be “exhausted” and too tired to work any longer by 4:00pm, they miraculously “rally and play either kick ball or softball for at least an hour prior to dinner prep, which often includes a dutch oven treat prepared by one of the adult leaders using the special food ingredient for the next day.

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After a few years, a special feature was added to the outing:  the Iron Chef cookoff on Sunday morning (after Mass) with Brother Ted the tasting judge.  The winning patrol carries the coveted Golden Spatula award for the next twelve months.  The troop’s PLC chooses a special ingredient to be included in the popular cookoff event, such as apple, lime, chocolate, pineapple, etc.

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 The scout’s breakfast concoctions often are original creations–which is often a good news/ bad news development.  “Good” in that it spurs their creativity and there is planning involved, “bad” in that the end result is not always aesthetically pleasing to Brother Ted!  Rule #1 is that it must be edible and something the scouts will eat–not a bad rule to follow under any condition!

Pictures from  2012 are found here!

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Pictures from 2013 are seen here!

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The current generation of scouts has a difficult time fully appreciating the tense & tumultuous period of the 1960s in our country.  As each year passes, the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. become more and more awe-inspiring.  The fight for equal treatment of all human beings against a culture of segregation that was brutally enforced at times is an unbelievable endeavor that demands everyone’s utmost respect.  So it is with tremendous appreciation that our troop serves to perform the opening flag ceremony at the annual appreciation breakfast for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., sponsored by the Eastchester Community Action Program.  The breakfast is attended by a wide variety of public service-oriented groups, including many politicians, to honor the legendary Dr. King.  And Troop 353 scouts proudly post the colors! More photos here!

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Every troop has its traditional outings.  For Troop 353, it is the annual winter outing in January to Ten Mile River (TMR) Scout Ranch in the southern part of the Catskills.  The range of outdoor activities in this winter wonderland are more numerous than you might imagine:  snow ball fights, sledding, snowshoeing, quinzee-building, snow skiing, and even ice-fishing!  And even in years when snow is not as abundant most of these activities are still possible.  This cabin campout is a clearly a troop favorite and you can see when viewing the pictures.

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The typical schedule involves a 2.5 hour drive to TMR, dropping the gear in the 2 cabins and rushing to our snowshoeing / hiking destination near the Delaware River.  After 3 hours on the trail, the troop comes back to the cabin for a quick lunch and then the ice fishing instruction by long-time troop friend Ray Evans ensues.  The scouts have a few hours of sunlight to try and catch a fish, but mostly skate across the frozen pond in metal chairs, aka “chair curling”.  The scouts often seem puzzled about the effectiveness of the small bait fish used, as they are literally frozen!  The grand Thanksgiving feast, a flag retirement ceremony, perhaps a skit or two and then a late night cracker barrel cap a day full of fun activities!  Many (but not all!) scouts typically have no problem falling asleep Saturday night against the backdrop of a warm fireplace glow.

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Perhaps it is the fact that the scouts do not do have to do much to prepare meals for this trip (adult-led Thanksgiving feast) or that the cabins are heated with full kitchens and bathrooms or the ability to play board games (Risk!) late at night or the special respectful flag retirement ceremony; or maybe it is the ice sledding on the lake, or maybe it is the whole weekend!!  The biggest challenge is always cleaning up Sunday morning and apportioning unmarked clothing that scouts leave laying around.  Unquestionably, it is a very fun event and remains one of the scout’s and scout leader’s favorite outings of the year!

As a testament to HOW much fun the trip can be, the recent Scout of the Year winner, Andy M, created a wonderful 5 minute video highlighting the recent 2014 trip — it is full of great clips of our scouts having a blast ==>  Awesome TMR video 2014!

Lots of great photos can be found here from each of the past three years:   2012, 2013 & 2014!

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This past summer, 26 scouts enjoyed a wonderful week at Ten Mile River Camp Keowa. The fun-seeking scouts who came, earned over an amazing 100 merit badges. Badges that were earned included ones required for Eagle Scout, and many other merit badges were earned for fun. Many scouts also advanced to a higher rank such as, Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class.

Along with completing merit badges and advancements, the troop participated in events that were optional, but were still extremely fun.

These events were:

  • Archery shoot on Monday
  • Rifle shoot on Tuesday
  • Canoe / kayak lunch trip on Wednesday
  • Wayne County Fair in Honesdale Pennsylvania on Thursday
  • And the COPE course on Friday

Starting off with their adventure, on Monday, Scouts went to the archery range and competed with each other as well as the adults, to see who could score more points. Some Scouts were so good at archery that they took the badge.

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On Tuesday, the rifle shoot took place. Scouts had a blast, loading their bullets, and shooting at cans, targets, and piles of dirt.

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Wednesday afternoon was the canoe / kayak trip across Crystal Lake to a campground for lunch. The Scouts loaded up in their watercraft of choice along with a bagged lunch to start the ½ mile journey across the lake to eat. The trip included the usual water fight that happens whenever they end up in any sort of boat.

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On Thursday, the Scouts went to the Wayne County Fair in Honesdale Pennsylvania. They had an awesome adventure as they went on dizzy rides, drank homemade soda, looked at farm animals, and purchased random things as they walked through the fair.

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For their last event on Friday, scouts had a thrilling time, zip lining across wires, climbing obstacles, and grappling onto nets, as they tried the High and Low Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience (also known as COPE).

Besides troop events, the camp had other fun and daring things to try.

Such things included:

  • The Polar Bear Swim
  • Mile Swim
  • Camp Keowa’s Campfire Skits
  • Critter Hunt

At 6:00 in the morning five scouts woke up, put on their bathing suits, and dove into the freezing cold lake for over 15 minutes! This optional challenge called The Polar Bear Swim was achieved by Scouts Alejandro U, David E, Dillon P, James P, and Jeffrey F.

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For his breathtaking effort, brave and daring, Dillon P dove into the cold lake and swam One Mile.  This feat was only achieved by nine scouts in the whole entire camp! Dillon received the coveted Mile Swim award for his accomplishment.

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At the closing campfire the whole troop preformed a skit called “Raisins from Jamaica”. Of course the skit was the funniest of the evening.

Troop 353 came in second place in the critter hunt!  Scouts went out and searched for frogs, toads, snakes, bugs, and many other creatures to claim this rank.  Some scouts found critters in the most unlikely place!

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Other things that also kept us entertained were Matt I’s surprise birthday, singing and laughing at our troop campfires, Jack M and Alejandro U having guitar battles throughout the week.

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All in all, the boys had an amazing trip at Camp Keowa Summer Camp 2013, and plan to have another awesome trip next year.

A very special thanks to acting Scoutmaster Dave F who ensured that we all had fun, Assistant Scoutmaster Julio U for planning the trip and making sure everything went smoothly, and Mickey M for taking care of all the boys that needed medical attention as part of the Keowa medical staff.  We also would like to thank all the adult leaders who drove the boys up and stayed with them during the week Tom B, Phil K, Mike I, John M, Joey P, Ed P, and Matt S!  This trip, as well as all of the others, would not have been possible without all of the outstanding effort put into it by our adult leaders!

For more great pictures click here!

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On Saturday, October 7 thirteen scouts and five adult leaders from Troop 353 participated in the Gordon Hamilton Memorial Cook-off and dedication of a lean-to in Gordon’s honor at the Durland Scout Reservation.  The day started out somewhat chilly and overcast but soon brightened.  The first order of business for the day was the dedication of a lean-to in Gordon’s honor.  As many of you know, Gordon was a longtime Scoutmaster for Troop 60 in Scarsdale and very active in scouting.  If there was a district, national or even international scouting event happening, you were likely to find Gordon there swapping stories and collecting badges.

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The lean-to provides not only shelter for camping scouts during inclement weather but is also used as an administrative office during the Boy Scout Day Camp held at Durland each summer.  Troop 353 conducted the opening flag ceremony as part of the dedication which featured representatives from the Westchester-Putnam Council, BSA Area II and Troop 60.

After the dedication ceremony, it was time to head back to our campsite to prepare for the cook-off! The boys prepared an excellent meal of Alamo Chicken, grilled potatoes, cornbread, fruit salad and Pineapple Upside-Down cake (a Gordon specialty).  The tastiness of the meal was surpassed only by the presentation to the judges.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All members of Troop 353, including the adult leaders, wore white shirts and black bow ties.  Two of our scouts meet the judges in the parking area and escorted them to Chez 353 where they were greeted by a phalanx of scouts and ushered into their private dining room.  The two waiters presented the first course of fruit salad while the “sommelier” poured two flutes of the finest sparkling apple cider.  The judges then admired their meal while being serenaded by a violinist.

After asking the cooks some probing questions about the meal prep, the judges were escorted back to their car by two members of the troop.

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After the presentation, the troop lined up and marched to the strains of the violin to the tasting area where the meal was presented to a different set of judges.  After all meals and desserts had been presented to and tasted by the judges, there was a brief consult and then the winners were announced.  Troop 353 won first place!

After a brief troop celebration, it was time to head back to the campsite to prepare dinner which was followed by a nighttime hike down the trail to visit Pack 353 who was also camping at Durland that weekend.  Sunday morning was a quick breakfast and pack-up in the rain.

Despite the rain, it was a fun weekend. We learned a few cooking lessons, i.e. always line the Dutch oven before attempting to bake a cake and potatoes take a long time to cook. We intend to successfully defend our title next year and hope to have all of you join us.

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The last time our troop ventured up to West Point for camping was in 2009 for the Orienteering Skills Workshop, so this was our troop’s first time to be invited to West Point’s 51st Annual Scoutmaster’s Camporee and it proved to be extraordinarily memorable!  The boys had a great time as did the Dads!    The weather was perfect and the boys gave it their all throughout the weekend, whether it was 6:15am physical training, cooking their meals, or competing in the events. One of the many highlights was hiking to the campsite, including a steep hike up to the summit of Bull Hill, which rewarded the boys with a great view of the area and a special pin given to them by the West Point Cadets for braving the challenge.  A special pat on the back for a job well done to the boys who chose to carry their full packs on the hike in – Alejandro U; Johnny R; Joseph M; James T; Alas, only Alejandro had the gumption to hike out with his full pack.

On Saturday evening the boys were treated to a huge bonfire and concert that kept many of them dancing, bouncing and laughing the night away.  At one point, we cheered on the Colonel of the event with the chant: Go Colonel! Go Colonel! Go Colonel! and the Colonel danced in front of the boys to everyone’ laughter.  Colonel Graham thanked the boys for the high spirits and high-fived them all.  The chants went on through the evening as soon as they were able to identify the cadets, cheer them on and get them to dance…good times, good times.  Some of the younger boys looked a bit like “deer in headlights” in part because they were exhausted and in part because it was their first “rave”.  Again, not your fathers boy scout event!

In all, 5,200 boy and girl scouts attended (approximately 250 troops) and our boys placed third in the Commanders Challenge, which is very impressive!  One of the more memorable highlights was viewing a sea of 5200 scouts, all lined up and having Dewan T as SPL and Alejandro as PL and flag bearer break ranks and run up with the troop flag to accept their award from the Cadet Commander.  ASMs DeKnatel, Panico and Urbina were proud to share that moment with the boys.

It was a pleasure planning and participating with the boys.  It’s an honor that our troop’s parents trust us with their boy’s well-being and knowing that they are going to grow up to become fine and honorable young men.  More great pictures can be found here!

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