Day 4: Dealing with the Adirondack Weather — A Few Lessons Learned

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While we largely dodged the threatening rain on Tuesday, on Wednesday morning everybody woke up to the sound of rain hitting their tents.  On this cold and wet morning, it was quickly decided to pack as quickly as possible so that we could begin hiking as soon as possible.  So the first lesson of the day was how to deal with taking down a campsite in the rain–not something our troop has had the pleasure of experiencing much over the years.  We did not appreciate the many challenges brought by the rain, as it soaked our gear and posed unexpected difficulties with packing away the tents, including adding extra weight to our packs.

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OMG, Was that lightening?

It was raining fairly hard by 7am and we were so dis-oriented by packing away in the rain that one our colleagues mistook a camera flash for lightning.  This added a much needed moment of levity in an otherwise pretty uncomfortable environment.  A scout is cheerful–even under extreme conditions!

Miserable and wet, we all had a quick breakfast and headed back up the slippery +1 mile trail to the road to our pick-up point, where a truck and a trailer full of canoes was OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwaiting to drive us +40 miles northwest to start the canoeing portion of our trip on Lower Saranac Lake.

Before departing however, we needed to replenish our food supplies, shed our hiking gear & get ready for the paddling portion of our trek, so we re-organized at a local beach in Long Lake Village under a gazebo.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Just prior, we made a stop at a classic Adirondack camping good store, Hoss’s and Stuart’s (convenience store) where we were able to buy a warm, morale-boosting breakfast sandwich.

Our original input point was Middle Saranac Lake and we were to paddle up the connecting river through a canal to the southern end of Lower Saranac Lake & then up the 6 mile oblong-shaped lake toward First and Second Pond and eventually to our targeted lean-to on the river.   During the long car drive, in between desperate efforts for a cat nap, our guide Kelly led us to believe that we should change our itinerary to launch our canoes much closer to our targeted lean-to  campsite in order to hang up our wet gear to dry (as an updated rain forecast suggested that the rain would be letting up).  Afterwards, we could get our mileage back up by paddling around the beautiful Lower Saranac Lake, enjoying lunch on one of the many picturesque islands there.  Lesson #2.

According the New York DEC, there are over 55 state-owned campsites along the shore and on the islands.  There are literally hundreds of lakes, ponds and connecting rivers in this area of the Adirondacks, which is part of the St. Regis Canoe Area.  This region is a paddlers paradise and is often compared to the boundary waters of Northern Minnesota.  Check out the map ==> Lower Saranac Lake

After an hour+ drive, we arrived at the designated public boat launch to begin our paddling expedition.    We unloaded the canoes and our gear and then headed in a southeastern direction across Second Pond down a narrowing river to our targeted riverside campsite.   As soon as we entered the water, it started to rain (lightly) again, but we were optimistic that this would soon pass, and besides we were no longer carrying 50lb backpacks.  How bad could this be?

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After a short 30 minute paddle, we made it to our campsite about a mile from the boat launch.  There, we unloaded all of our gear and hung everything that was wet on clotheslines and the lean-to so that they could dry while we paddled around the lake.  Right after this task was completed, we got back into the canoes and paddled back past the boat launch, through First Pond and eventually out to the big lake.  Along the way, we observed lots of different birds, including some friendly cranes.

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We paddled through what seemed like a maze of small islands and the reality of how easy it would be to get lost made us grateful for our detailed paddling maps.   Lesson #3.  Eventually we got to the open water of the lake and made a decision to stay relative close to the shore to minimize the physical exertion that would be required to paddle against the waves and wind and to seek refuge should we hear any thunder from the still threatening skies.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After about an hour we spied an ideal island at DEC campsite #22–time for lunch!  On this small island, we relaxed, explored and enjoyed a lunch served, courtesy of our multi-talented guide Kelly.  An intense discussion emerged pondering how those pesky, starving chipmunks could be present on this tiny island.  We never came to consensus on this.  After lunch, we mapped out a paddling route and decided to do more exploration.  The topography was very diverse and we saw so many interesting campsites along the way.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before we made it back to our campsite, we encountered rain yet again.  So we sought some refuge under some trees near shore.  Luckily, it did not rain extremely hard for too long, but we were definitely soaked.  At least one of our crew learned first hand why experienced outdoor enthusiasts say “cotton is rotten”.  Lesson #4.  By the time we got back to the campsite a few hours later, the rain had finally stopped.

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During our afternoon paddling expedition on the lake, Mr. Wauchope decided to stay behind to watch our gear and, unfortunately, complete some mandatory work for his job.  When we returned, we found our gear was indeed safe, but it had been impossible to bring all the gear inside the lean-to, so much of it was still hanging up…and still very wet.  Unfortunately, it was also discovered that Kelly’s backpack was left open outside of the lean-to and his bedding and all contents were soaked.  Uggh!

Tensions rose and the scouts soon learned about how to manage group dynamics when unpredictable events occur.  The wet gear was even more problematic as the campsite was picked clean of all firewood, so we could not even start a fire to dry out!

They say “Necessity is often the Mother of Invention”.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt some point the group decided to look for wood on the other side of the river, where there was ample firewood.  So an important excursion was made across the river.  Finding a landing spot was tricky and very muddy, but once ashore it was easy to find enough wood to fill our canoe.  A few wood gathering trips yielded quite the bounty!  One of our scouts took great pride in pushing over a dead tree at least 20 feet high!

Now with plenty of dry firewood, we began the process of drying out our clothes and, importantly, Kelly’s sleeping bag!  We were able to attach a tarp to the front of the leanto and used hiking poles to bring the front edge of the tarp near the fire, creating a convection oven effect inside the lean-to.  Slowly but surely, the redirected heat from the fire began to dry out all the gear!  Tensions eased.  Lesson #5.

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Later that afternoon it looked like the sky was finally clearing.  With full stomachs and water bottles, as the night pulled in, we all stood around the fire drying off our clothes and we reflected on both the rugged beauty of our surroundings and how we overcame multiple challenges due to the atrocious rain. We fell asleep to cooling temps & a symphony of nocturnal wildlife calls.  Tomorrow was going to be a brand new day!   From a Scout Leader’s perspective, many valuable lessons were learned today–this was turning out to be a great high adventure trip!

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Next:  Day 5, Canoeing the Lower Locks on the way to Kiwassa Lake

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A Week of Fun at Camp Keowa!

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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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Scoutmaster’s Camporee – West Point

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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!

Summer Fun at Camp Keowa in the Catskills!

Troop 353 enjoyed a week of fun and sun (mostly) at Ten Mile River Camp Keowa this past summer.   The 20 scouts who attended achieved a record 78 number of merit badges, and several advanced in rank as well!

As this was the first summer camp experience for many of the scouts, we relied heavily on the older scouts to provide leadership.  Specifically, SPL Jack F and acting ASPL Chris S kept the troop on task and represented us well at Camp dining hall roll calls. The boys were split into two patrols which were lead by James T and Andy M.

When the boys performed the traditional rose(their favorite part of the trip), rosebud(what they look forward to), thorn(their least favorite part of the trip) at the end of the trip, a majority of the boys stated that their thorn of the trip was the rain! Everyone loved the activities that the troop did which included but were certainly not limited to:

  • An archery shoot (Tuesday evening)
  • A rifle shoot (Wednesday evening)
  • Wayne County Fair located in Honesdale, PA (Thursday evening)
  • High and low COPE course (Friday evening)

At the archery shoot the boys were able to freely shoot a bow and arrow along with the adults! Some scouts even challenged the adults to a competition to see who could get more points!

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The boys also had an awesome time at the rifle shoot, where they were able to shoot on the rifle range for a whole hour!

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Scouts from all troops across the camp were able to participate in a rifle shooting competition to see who could get the most amount of points in order to win a trophy! Out of the 15 winners throughout the camp, 2 of the winners, Jimmy F and Noah O came from Troop 353!  Great job guys!

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On Thursday evening the scouts went to the Wayne County Fair located in Honesdale, PA and had a blast on all the rides and were able to buy various knick knacks from several vendors throughout the fair!

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Scouts were sad when the week came towards an end on Friday evening, but were able to be cheered up by the exhilarating High and Low Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience (COPE) courses! Some scouts and adult leaders were even able to go zip lining!

Camp Keowa Summer 2012 171Camp Keowa Summer 2012 161A few brave boys, including scouts Andy M, Jake B, James T, Dillon P and David E, were willing to wake up at 6:00 AM to participate in the Polar Bear Swim, where they had to stay in the icy waterfront for a whole 15 minutes!  Excellent job scouts!

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When the boys had some down time, scout Jack M entertained them with his outstanding guitar playing!  Very cool Jack!

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Part of being a scout is becoming acquainted with the outdoors and being able to respect nature. Scouts were able to view and appreciate beautiful sunsets on the lakefront that the campsite was situated on!

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The boys had an absolute blast at Camp Keowa Summer Camp 2012, and cannot wait for the amazing trip ahead of them for next year!

A very special thanks to acting ScoutMaster Dave Flannery who ensured that we all had fun, Assistant Scout Master Julio Urbina for taking the lead with respect to planning the trip and to all the adult volunteers who drove the boys up to the site, including Uli Mrose, John Murtha, Ed Poletti, Joey Panico and Jeff Schaeffer!  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 pictures, click here!

The Brotherhood of Scouting

There is no better example of the Brotherhood of Scouting than witnessing two active scout troops in two different Councils work together to create a tremendously successful event.  That is exactly what happened (again) at this year’s Wintoree Merit Badge Seminar, where Troop 240 Riverdale, in conjunction with Troop 353 Eastchester, created a challenging but effective and intense learning environment during a winter weekend at Durland Scout Reservation in early March!  Ten of our scouts completed 16 merit badges (including 9 Eagle Required) and numerous partially completed merit badges.  Other scouts made significant progress toward completing lower rank advancement.  A shared feast, skits and crackerbarrel capped another near perfect day of fellowship with our good friends at T-240.  Check out the photos here!

Eagle Scout Court of Honor — A Grand Celebration!

There are few Scouting events more impressive than the Eagle Scout Court of Honor (ECOH) and this was certainly the case on Feb 4th, when Troop 353 recognized its 22nd Eagle Scout, Brad M.   This special celebration of Scouting’s highest honor was held at The Reformed Church of Bronxville, where Brad has been an active member all of his life.  Indeed his devotion to his church choir mirrors that of his scouting career:  he has been an active member of both for 12 years!  It was perhaps fortuitous that his Eagle Court of Honor was held at this church, as he earned his very first Boy Scout Award (God and Church) during his first year of Boy Scouts in 2006 at this church from then assistant minister Rich Lichti.  For his Eagle Scout ceremony, the current senior minister Dr. Kenneth C. Ruge, conducted the Invocation and it was discovered only a few weeks prior to the event that reverend Ruge is an Eagle Scout!

Troop 353 was privileged to have several other special guests attend & participate in Brad’s ECOH:  Mr. Marc Andreo (Sr. Scout Executive, Westchester-Putnam Council, Eagle Scout), Mr. David A. Pope (CEO of The Generoso Pope Foundation),  Mr. Lowes Moore (Executive Director of The Boys & Girls Club of Mt. Vernon, ordained minister, former NBA player, and a scout) and Mrs. Charlene Lambrecht (Director of the Eastchester Community Action Program).  Also in attendance were several political leaders that have always taken a serious interest in Scouting and whom also offered special proclomations and letters of commendation:  Joe Mammana & Mike Fix (American Legion), Bob Foster (VFW), Sheila Marcotte (Westchester County Legislator), Joe Dooley (Eastchester Councilman), Steve Ecklond (Mayor of Tuckahoe) and Stephen Quigley (Tuckahoe Village Trustee & T353 committee member–Steve’s son David was Eagle Scout #21).  And this list excludes a long list of Eagle Scouts from various troops.

The official guidance in the BSA’s Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project Workbook clearly states that a leadership service project does NOT need to be original but Brad was determined to create a service project that would include a combination of health & fitness (initially it was baseball only–another 12 year commitment!) with that of benefitting those less fortunate economically in our community.  Ultimately, the idea of a “gently used” sports equipment drive to benefit the children of The Boys & Girls Club of Mt. Vernon and the Eastchester Community Action Program evolved.  A massive marketing campaign for the used sporting goods was implemented throughout the community for 6 weeks.  The gear drive would eventually culminate in a “Sports and Fitness Day in Tuckahoe” at Parkway Oval and over 75 children participated in organized sporting & fitness activities, which included basketball clinics led by the renowned varsity coaches of Mt. Vernon High School.

The Generoso Pope Foundation generously donated customized performance t-shirts (created by Brad) as well as a DJ to add an element of festivity to the occasion.  Scouts were involved with the monitoring of the boxes used during the gear drive in 8 locations, the cleaning and organizing of +1700 sporting items, and the preparation of the park for the event as well as 100 lunches and the actual leadership of each organized sporting activity during the event.  At the end of the day, the children were surprised when Brad announced that all the assembled gear was to be given away.  Each kid took home at least 3 or 4 sporting items that day and the remaining gear was dispersed throughout the two beneficiary organizations.  To this day, the two organizations continue to utilize this sports gear in an effort to promote a healthier lifestyle for children.  This big sporting event was well-covered by the media and reflected exceptionally well on both Scouting and our troop.  There are many wonderful pictures of very happy & active kids during Brad’s Eagle Scout Leadership Project, which can be found by clicking here!

Like all Eagle Scouts before him, Brad has become a very accomplished scouting leader, has held every major youth leadership position, was elected to the Order of the Arrow and attended three high-adventure trips.  Troop 353 is blessed to have averaged one Eagle Scout per year since its inception 20 years ago.  However, Brad is the first “early” 17-year old Eagle scout in many years as the past several Eagle scouts have tended to be off to college as soon as they become Eagle scouts and thus the rest of the scouts do not benefit as much from having an Eagle Scout around for assistance.  Brad is currently involved in planning the troop’s upcoming high-adventure trip to Colorado in August and continues to participate in various community service events.  Scoutmaster Mike Occhicone noted in his speech during the ECOH how Brad always challenged himself and that his efforts hopefully would positively influence his fellow scouts to do the same.  Thus, the challenge has been made by Brad for all his fellow troop mates to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout before they turn 17 years old.  Though Brad will be heading off to Northwestern University in Evanston, IL in September, he has vowed to continue to try and live his life using Scouting principles.

Even though less than 4% of all scouts ever attain the rank of Eagle, it is clearly not the ONLY yardstick of success in our troop.  Importantly, what the adult leaders of troop 353 are striving to create is a rich and varied program that provides ample opportunities for ALL scouts to learn about the world around them, how to lead others, how to make strong moral and ethical decisions, to serve their community and fellow scouts cheerfully and to lead a healthy life style.  Advancement per se is not a goal of the Scouting program.  It is along the unique scouting trail, that many, many experiences of a lifetime are created for our boys and I am very sure that Brad would vouch for the truthfulness of this statement as he reflects back on the richness of his special experience in Scouting!  Congratulations to Brad M., Eagle Scout!  More great photos of Brad’s recent Eagle Court of Honor can be found here!

Winter Campout, Ex Snow & Ice

The troop recently took its annual pilgrimmage up to TMR where the temps are typically below freezing most of the month of January. As such, the lake typically frozen and ice fishing ensues. Unless snowball fights or sledding are more popular. This year, however, the weather has been unusually mild and the ice on the lake was too thin. Still, the boys spent most of the day Saturday outdoors: hiking and teaching advancement skills for the lower ranks. The traditional turkey dinner was expertly prepared by ASM Mike I, whom was shipping off to return to service for our country the next day. His presence, along Mr. William and Mr. Evans (both served in the armed forces) added a very special meaning to a very respectful and reverent flag retirement ceremony Saturday night. And the scouts got a first hand look at just how flammable a Christmas tree is when it is totally dried out! All in all, another awesome winter weekend at the base of the Catskills at TMR! Memorable photos are found here!