Backpacking the AT into Durland — Always Memorable!

Every year the troop plans a mini-trek for backpacking in order to give the younger scouts a taste for self-sufficiency.  The Scouts typically start in Clarence Fahnestock State Park and backpack a portion of the Appalachian Trail (AT) into Durland Scout camp.  First year scouts, and even guests, are instructed to wear day packs only as some have not experienced much hiking, especially around the hills of Durland Scout camp!  Scouts must prep for backpacking and target total pack weight of only one-third of their body weight and ensure they have comfortable fitting hiking boots (not sneakers!).  Sometimes the troop splits into two groups, with the younger scouts taking a path less than 5 miles.  Too, they get ample practice with map and compass on the trail.

There is a rich history in the area with several abandoned mines from the mid-1800s.  Iron ore was mined in those days and shipped westward to nearby Cold Springs to the foundry there.  There are even remnants of an old town deep in the woods.  If the history is not enticing enough, the natural beauty of a hike during fall foliage is!  Temps can drop into the teens on Saturday night, so the outing is also a good primer for Winter Camping skills.  Many often stay warm after dinner by performing acrobatic skits to everyone’s appreciation.  Prior to departing for home, however, scouts often engage in a traditional game of “acorn wars”.  There is a degree of comfort in camping at Durland each year, akin to donning an old pair of sneakers, as these pictures clearly show!!


Exploring Picturesque Catskills: North South Lake

Every year Troop 353 tries to explore some new territory given that so many varied terrains are within a short 2-hour drive. A visit to North South Lake turned our small group of explorers into huge believers that this is one park that should be revisited frequently!  North South Lake is not a New York State property, but instead a park in the Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) domain.  We had read about the attractiveness of the park through various online sources, but nothing could prepare us for the incredible beauty we discovered.  The list of scenic and historic points along the scenic Escarpment Trail are numerous:  Badman’s Cave, Sunset & Lookout Rock, Artist Rock, Boulder Rock, Inspration Point, Catskill Mountain House & Kaaterskill Hotel.  There were numerous croppings that allowed for small grade rock climbing and bouldering.  At the picturesque North South Lake & public campground, a boat rental provided opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, rowing, and paddleboats.  Fishing is also available for those looking to hook a chain pickerel, brown bullhead, pumpkinseed, black crappie or largemouth bass (no license required for those 16 & under).  We encountered many outdoor enthusiasts that day: hikers, geocachers, nature groups, wedding parties and numerous other families.  Finally, a short distance away are the famous Kaaterskill Falls–a two tiered waterfall system of 175 feet and 85 feet, that are believed to be the highest in NY state. Unquestionably, this park has something for everyone!  Check out the incredible pictures here!

Wilderness Survival = Weather Survival

Troop 353 had ambitious plans related to its recent monthly advancement theme of Wildnerness Survival.  Primed from truly inspirational slides from Assistant Scoutmaster I. Artaza’s 2-week experience last Spring with the Boulder Outdoor Survivial School (BOSS) in Southern Utah, scouts had visions of building shelters, starting fires with bow & string, and hiking up the tallest mountain in the Catskills:  Mt. Slide.  As the weather forecast before the trip worsened, so did the participation rate.  While we drove to an unknown campsite on Federal land on Friday night, a lightly falling mist would soon be a precursor to more precipitation the next day.  Undaunted and high spirits characterized our hearty crew the next morning as we scrambled to make the trailhead by 8:30am.  By now, the rain was falling steadily and a decision was made to keep backpack contents to a bare minimum.  In addition to a near 2000 feet elevation gain, the trail would be slippery with wet leaves adorning rocks everywhere.  As the trails turned to streams, the crew became increasingly spread out.  By 12:30pm, our group had summited the peak only to find a view that provided 70 feet of visibility (at most) instead of stunning views of several states afar on a clearer day.  As I hunkered down in a cluster of pine trees away from the gale force winds on the mountain face, I could feel the ground rising and falling  from the swaying trees.  In the distant, a prescient SPL indicated that it was in the best interest of everyone to end the outing early and to drive back home that night.  An otherwise drenched and exhausted group of hikers suddenly became quite boisterous when they learned of the abrupt change of plans!  When we reached the trailhead about 3:30pm, the small stream by the parking lot had turned into a full babbling brook, which led inevitablly to wet boots given that there were no dry crossings of any type!  As Lady Luck would have it, a sudden patch of sunshine greeted our rain-soaked crew around 4pm just as we broke camp and headed back home.  Sometimes the best-made plans go up in smoke because of the unpredictability of mother nature!  Nonetheless, it was a very memorable trip to the top of Mt. Slide that these scouts undoubtedly will likely never forget! More great pics here.