We had lots of fun and are looking forward to next summer.
Thanks to Mr. Kindberg and the other adults who stayed with us.
We had lots of fun and are looking forward to next summer.
Thanks to Mr. Kindberg and the other adults who stayed with us.
As we all awoke on our last day, we were all eager to go home. The night before we figured out that we needed to get on the water earlier than normal, so that we could hit our destination between 10am & 11am. It was still cloudy and cool and early in the morning getting in the water was not “fun”. The only other living mammals up at that hour were the loons! Now we know where the phrase “crazy as a loon” came from.
After studying our lake map the night before, we fully expected a short paddle to our pick-up point. The paddling route seemed very straightforward, we had a short, easy route along the “right” edge of the lake to a river that would lead us up to Saranac Village–our final destination. Or, so we thought…
As we slowly made our way towards our desired location, we kept heading into coves instead of the targeted river. We cut across what appeared to be cove inlets on the belief that the river entrance was “around the corner”.
A couple of interesting houses diverted our growing weariness as the morning wind began to pick up. We made our way through the lake, passing by many islands.
After several stops, it was clear that we were unsure as to where we were and where we were supposed to go. It was a bit shocking that our confident guide Kelly, whom claimed this lake area as his “home”, was so lost on the water. After over an hour of paddling, we suddenly realized that we had traveled in a giant circle and were near the canal, where we had entered the lake the afternoon before! We ended up paddling back and forth for about two hours before figuring out where to go.
Finally, to get back on track, the adult leaders asked a motor boat driver for direction, while cross-checking their paddling maps & GPS. The solution? Follow the easily marked boat lanes…back across the lake…ugghh!
The whole morning, the clouds were threatening and as we got across the lake into the beginning of the river channel, we were forced to stop at somebody’s lake garage due to some thunder that was heard. So, we all took a break, grabbed a snack, and played some more cards.
After a 45 minute wait, we were cleared to start canoeing again, so we all made the final push to arrive at our pick-up point. The next portion of paddling seemed to take forever, as we all saw civilization, but could not stop until we arrived at the exact pickup location. We passed many houses and camps.
Finally, we reached the pick-up point and though we were over an hour late, we didn’t care, as we could finally stop paddling and this concluded the trip!
Before we made our way back to Summit Base, we stopped for a quick lunch. During the long car ride many of us were able to enjoy a well-earned nap. Upon arriving at Summit Base, we were welcomed with a nice lunch & took hot showers before we headed out on our 4-hour drive back home.
In conclusion, the entire experience of this High Adventure Trip was extremely rewarding because of the mileage we were able to accomplish. Even though we did not travel enough to earn the 50-Miler Award, it still gave us an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Not only had we traveled a vast distance in such a short period of time, we had also learned so much more and experienced what “real” camping was like. Despite the many challenges, it was an awesome and extremely memorable trip for us all!
The next morning all of our gear was packed away and put into the canoes as fast as possible, so that we could have an early departure. We all knew that today would be a day of extensive paddling, as we wanted to cover about 10 miles before reaching our next and last night on the trail. Tonight we were heading for a private island in the middle of Kiwassa Lake! Our actual destination appeared to be a short two hour paddle away, so to accumulate some more miles, we headed in the opposite direction toward Lower Saranac Lake.
For what seemed like several hours, we paddled, passing by many small islands. The wind had picked up considerably so we needed to stay close to shore. Our bearing was southwest, but we were paddling into a stiff breeze and we felt like we were getting nowhere fast!
After lunch, we turned around and headed back to our original riverside campsite, then continued down the river into some of the most remote wilderness of all.
Trees were growing out of rocks in the middle of the water and there were many fascinating natural sights. While we were expecting to see some 4 legged wildlife in this pristine wilderness, the only wildlife viewed were a wide variety of birds. The peaceful serenity of our picturesque setting distracted us from noticing our aching and sore muscles from paddling.
Suddenly, we came upon an extremely rare sight: a canal. Due to the presence of different water levels between two lakes, we were required to enter a canal and to be lowered down about 10 feet, so that we could continue on our paddling journey. The “lower locks” were extremely fascinating, as this was the first time that any of us had experienced this.
After what seemed like endless paddling, through connecting channels and across small lakes, we eventually arrived at our desired location!
Our last night on the trail was on a very small, semi-private island in the middle of Kiwassa Lake, which was actually pretty cool, as we would be able to claim it as “ours” for that night! Since we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, it gave us plenty of time to set up camp, explore the island and relax.
On this final night, the scouts were to prepare everything on their own― without the help of any of the adults, including Kelly. The scouts were expected to build and maintain the fire, cook dinner, clean up, and hang the bear bag. Let’s just say that given all the practice we had had during the week, all of these tasks were handled very well.
At the fire, a few “infamous” skits, commonly performed by Troop 353, were presented. Afterwards, the traditional “Rose, Bud, Thorn” ceremony was conducted, as we all exchanged ideas of what we thought was the best and worst parts of the trip, along with what we look forward to doing.
Meaningful words were later spoken by the adult Scoutmasters and Kelly, as they explained about everything this trip should mean to the scouts and how it should be remembered for being such an amazing experience. From this, the scouts had embraced the fact that they had all accomplished a lot and learned a whole lot of new things, perhaps more than they thought was possible originally.
As the fire died down, everyone was very satisfied (and very tired) & we made our way to the tents, where we bedded down in the chilly Adirondack air to spent the final night on this amazing trip and easily fell fast asleep listening to wind whistling through the pines.
Waking early in the morning again, the scouts packed up camp quickly departed their picturesque campsite along the Salmon River. Today was another 7–8.0 miles of hiking, except that we had to immediately traverse the 3000-ft ridge atop Blue Mountain and then back down the other side–and hopefully do so before the rain arrived.
The total elevation gain from our campsite to the top was approximately 1000 feet and although it took a solid +3 hours, the hike through the beautiful Blue Mountain Wild Forest was filled with breathtaking beauty. After about two miles, the scouts witnessed a stunningly beautiful sight as we entered into a large meadow that was dominated at one time by an active beaver population. Completely isolated, the pathway was surrounded by an area dominated by tall grass and enclosed by a ring of hilltops and trees. The scouts were amazed at this marvelous sight, taking their time to walk through the tall grass and wooden bridge dividing the two halves.
With still an estimated 1.5 miles to the summit, the scouts pressed on. The trail began to get steeper and muddier. Along the way, we discovered the remnants of a lumber camp, with decayed blocks of cement foundations. The last 1/2 mile was particularly tricky as we climbed up wet, muddy, rocky gullies. The mountaintop breeze was particularly refreshing given the amount of energy we were expending in the very humid environment.
It wasn’t very clear to us that we had reached the top as the tree cover was so thick, but if one looked closely through the trees (at left) there was a tiny sliver of a view of Long Lake in the distance to the Northwest. The flat trail that curved around the side of the mountain quickly began to descend through the Birch and Maple forest. Hiking downhill was even trickier given the steep, muddy surface and the fact that we had heavy backpacks. Those of us that had hiking sticks found out just how useful this trail tool can be!
Our trek of hearty hikers, made fairly solid progress all the way down the backside of Blue Mountain and by 12:30pm, we decided it was time for a well-deserved break for lunch. After such a vigorous hike and a relaxing lunch, we all began to fill a little cramping and soreness in our legs as we rose to continue on our trek toward Caitlin Bay. After lunch, a light rain began to ruin what had been so far, bright and sunny weather and we still had at least another 3 miles–at least we had relatively flat terrain and the thick tree cover shielded our group partially from the precipitation.
We hiked at a solid pace for at least another hour, crossing a few small creeks (some bridges were in better shape than others). With the light rain however, the bridges became very slippery. Our trail map indicated that we would go through some low-lying, soggy areas near the end, characterized by boardwalk trails to prevent damage to fauna. This area does not get much sunlight so the boards also had a thin layer of moss at times. Nearly all of us slipped on these unstable wooden planks, as we were becoming increasingly fatigued and sloppy in our hiking techniques.
Tired and sore, the scouts were eager to reach their next campsite, but eventually discovered that they would soon be caught in a dilemma. Finally after exiting the woods at the DEC registration box, the exhausted group stationed themselves alongside Hwy NY 28N, a large and busy road, to gather their bearings. At last, we could stop hiking! Fortunately, no one in our group had blisters, but we were tired. So, we were happy to take a break while our guide Kelly decided to walk into Long Lake Village 1.5 miles down the road to gather a few needed supplies.
Our group was only a mile from our destination and after our nice 45 minute rest, we thought we’d be at our Caitlin Bay campsite in less than half an hour. WRONG! Expecting a short walk from the highway, the scouts became furious when they discovered they had to hike up a steep hill for at least a half mile and then only to see the sign for the campsite which indicated it was at least 1.5 miles away! Uggh!! We had no choice but to continue to plod along. And hike we did, albeit downhill, for over an hour before crossing over a boulder-filled riverbed into our destination. During our rest, we had thought it would be “convenient” to set up camp, and take a leisurely stroll into town to pickup some treats. However, by the time we arrived, those thoughts had completely perished from our minds!
But the wait and hard work was worth it, as our group arrived to a calming and gorgeous campsite! It overlooked the Caitlin Bay and was beautifully set-up. It had stopped raining, but the skies were still threatening. Lean-to’s on one end of the campsite, and nicely positioned picnic tables to cook and view the peaceful water at the other end of this very large, spread out Adirondack campsite! There was even a hammock to rest upon.
The lake water was a comfortable temperature, and though we did not go swimming per se, we did wade in to cool off and to rinse our smelly clothes. And of course, we refilled our water bottles and treated them accordingly. With Mr. Wauchope grabbing a quick nap and Mr. McCandless exploring the area and taking pictures, the scouts had a relaxing game of cards (as became our end-of-day tradition) before Kelly decided we should probably prepare our dinner before it got too late and/or more rain arrived.
As always seems to be the case after a full day of backpacking, our dinner was delicious and “munging” was becoming at least partially tolerable. The scouts were even able to reflect the skills they learned the previous day during the group’s dinner (and another card game) and scoped out a suitable tree to hang the bear bag before dark. We waved cheerfully at another group of scouts that were paddling by at dinner time, knowing that starting tomorrow, the less physically demanding part of our trek (paddling) would begin. After a small campfire, we all were grateful that our hiking was over, that the predicted rain had largely held off and that we were all actually having a really great time and an adventurous trek. As we trundled off to bed at a reasonable time, nobody had any trouble falling to sleep!
Next: Day 4, Dealing with Adirondack Weather — A Few Basic Lessons Learned
Bright and early the next day the scouts enjoyed a lavish breakfast prepared by a few counselors at Camp Read. Full of energy, the scouts were now ready to take on their first full day on their high adventure trip, when the real action started. We were headed out to hike a small portion of the historic Northville-Placid (N-P) Trail. The N-P Trail is 132 miles long and was the first project undertaken by then newly-formed Adirondack Mountain Club in 1922. The N-P Trail was completed two years later and donated to the State of New York in 1927 with the Conservation Dept. (DEC) becoming responsible for it maintenance and upkeep. Today the DEC, along with numerous volunteers and organizations, are stewards of the trail. “The trail passes through what many consider the wildest and most remote parts of the Adirondack Park, notably the high plateau that encompasses the Spruce, West Canada, and Cedar Lakes area, along that of the Cold River. The highest point the N-P Trail reaches (3008 ft) is at the crest of the ridge to the east of Blue Mountain (3759 ft) and of Tirrell Pond.” And these latter landmarks were our destination!
After an hours’ drive northwest of Summit Base, our van dropped us off Hwy 28 near Blue Mountain Lake to pick up the 16 mile segment between Lake Durant and the Caitlin Bay lean-to at Long Lake. (Click on the map at the left for more detail.) We all had to get our backpacks adjusted and get acclimated to carrying all our gear–nothing we had ever done on any weekend campout back home. The official Summit Base itinerary had our trek stopping at the north end of Tirrell Pond after hiking less than 5 miles of the segment, a destination we reached easily by lunch time. The initial hike was relatively easy and flat terrain through heavily wooded forest until we finally arrived upon the beautiful & remote Tirrell Pond.
Our group was happily hiking along side the remote Adirondack lake when a pontoon plane flew in for a water landing. The plane motored around then took off again and flew right past us. It seemed surreal that we were watching the ultimate in human presence against a stunning remote backdrop of wilderness–it looked like one of those aerial scenes from the TV show ” Alaska: The Last Frontier”.
On this our first day of hiking, our group was refreshed from a healthy lunch on the sandy north shore of Tirrell Pond and our ambition to experience more adventure inspired us to hike further. Importantly, we concluded it was probably a good idea to even out the expected mileage of Day 2, which entailed a 1000 foot elevation gain, cresting the highest point on the N-P Trail and then descending 1000 feet along with a forecast of rain arriving Tuesday mid-day. And, equally as important, a guide book we had indicated that there was “an informal campsite can be found jut past the bridge on the left .. at mile 7.3….”
So we decided to hike an additional 2.5 miles past our picturesque lunch setting and “hoped” that there really was a small available campsite for us to rest our weary feet for our first night in the wilderness. As we started again, we came across a trail sign that reminded us how far we needed to hike by the end of the day tomorrow to reach Caitlin Bay, so we felt good about our decision to press ahead.
In the heat of the day, our ambitious group headed north into the woods again and down long over-grown logging roads, and crossed some bogs with wooden plank walkways to end up on a remote dirt road. The air was extremely humid and there was no sound of mankind anywhere, just the “quiet” of nature. As we trudged along the dirt road, we had become so weary that we complete missed the peaceful and desolate campsite at the base of a bridge, next to a beautiful creek…just as the guide book indicated!
The campsite was intimate, and ran alongside a long creek in which the scouts were able to wash their clothing, acquire clean drinking water (through the pump, iodine tablet, or boiling water), and eventually to enjoy the accomplishment of completing their first challenge of the week. Despite the extremely slippery rocks and dense population of insects flying around the surface of the water, the scouts ventured off down the river to find a beaver dam at the end. This intricate structure was an amazing sight to see at the end of their first fun day.
After returning back to the campsite, Kelly taught everyone the basics of cooking food on this trip and how to effectively obtain clean water. He educated the entire crew on the directions of using the small, portable stoves and taught them the methods of using the iodine tablets and pumping water. One scout in particular got special use of the pump due to a shellfish allergy, making it mandatory to go through the exhausting pumping process to access clean water every day. The entire crew even learned of a new method of cleaning up individual mess kits through “munging” in which clean water would be poured into a dirty bowl to make a “nice, soupy” meal to drink the mess away. Yecchh!
After enjoying a delicious meal and feelings of disgust towards munging (One scout believed that hot sauce would be beneficial to the process. Heads-up: It is not a good idea), the scouts packaged all items from their pack that was either food, or had strong smells to prepare multiple bear bags. For most scouts, this would be their first attempt at setting up a bear bag to prevent not only bears from attaining the group’s food but also to prevent raccoons, other medium-sized animals and those pesky chipmunks from eating our food.
Our guide Kelly’s first few attempts of hanging the massive weight of our food and supplies were unsuccessful, and as it became dark, everyone slowly began to realize the futility of trying to hang bear bags in a patch of the woods consisting of only Lodge Pole Pines with no horizontal branches. Eventually it took Mr. McCandless’s decision to look for a more suitable area of the forest (in the dark) and Mr. Wauchope’s complex rope & carabiner system to hang the bags successfully high enough. (Scoutmaster’s Note: Many lessons were learned in this exercise!)
Through the ambitious extra mileage and the back woods lessons taught by Kelly, it was safe to say that our first day on the trail of this high adventure trek was a great success! We all had no trouble falling fast asleep against the soothing backdrop of the nearby babbling creek.
Next: Day 3, A Memorable Trek to Caitlin Bay — a Backpacker’s Paradise!
* – As largely written by the scouts on the trek.
The Adirondack Park in upstate New York is a major recreational destination year-round. It is difficult to grasp the enormity of this area. Wikipedia defines it as follows:
“The Adirondack Park is a publicly protected, elliptical area encompassing much of the northeastern lobe of Upstate New York, United States. It is the largest park and the largest state-level protected area in the contiguous United States, and the largest National Historic Landmark…The park covers some 6.1 million acres, a land area roughly the size of Vermont and greater than the National Parks of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains combined.…”
Our Council is fortunate to have a camp in the heart of the Adirondack Park and Summit Base near Brant Lake, NY is viewed as the outdoor gateway to the park for scouts from all over the country. After several years of high adventure treks at BSA National camps (Sea Base & Philmont), other Councils (outer banks of NC & Colorado) & other countries (Bahama Sail School), our troop opted for an adventure closer to home. Suffice it to say that the combo backpack & paddling adventure was every bit as challenging within a stunningly beautiful setting and at a very affordable cost as any trek pursued in prior years! The following enjoyable description of the trip has been largely reproduced by the scouts that took the Adirondack challenge: Andy M., Jason C., Jeffrey F., & Justin W.:
In the summer of 2014 four of our senior scouts and two adult leaders courageously ventured up north to Summit Base to begin a week long high adventure trek encompassing approximately 45 miles of backpacking and canoeing in & around Adirondack Park.
In preparation for this challenging week the scouts first had to help raise the funds to make the trip affordable for them all. During the Troop’s annual car wash at Chester Heights Fire House, the four scouts led the troop in having a very successful fundraiser, raising over $2500 for the troop and for the high adventure trip.
In addition to funding the trip, the scouts prepared by going on a weekend long backpack trip in Harriman State Park where they were given a glimpse of what the trip would really be like–hard work! The scouts would be exposed to backpacking and camping overnight away from the comfort of their cars like most weekend troop campouts are–we really were a bit nervous and not totally sure what we would face, but we were up for the challenge! Fortunately, a watering hole deep in the park provided needed refuge in the +90 degree weather in early July.
Although preparation for this high adventure trip was not as tedious as most previous trips, all arrangements were finalized and the scouts were eager to start their first high adventure trip.
Day 1: Upon arriving to Camp Reed, everyone was greeted by the friendly Summit Base staff and we were introduced to our Guide for the week: Kelly, who would accompany and lead all the scouts throughout the entire endeavor. To ensure that everyone would be capable of swimming in case of any emergency that could occur on the canoe portion of the trip, the scouts and adults were required to perform the standard BSA swim test. Slowly but surely, everyone completed the test.
Next, our group underwent a comprehensive gear shakedown to ensure we had the proper gear for the grueling trip. Although unpacking and packing all the gear was quite boring and endless, all scouts were prepared and were ready to take on the challenges of the next day.
After dinner at the Camp Buckskin Dining Hall it was getting late & all scouts returned back to our campsite in the more remote environs of Summit Base for the night. Regardless of the structured and civilized campsite, little did the scouts know that they had had their sole encounter with wild animals for the week with little varmints successfully nibbling through plastic bags to eat the snacks needed for the remainder of the week and even chomping on a few exposed fingers in the middle of the night! Ouch! Despite the unexpected and unwelcomed visitors at 3am, our crew fell fast asleep (again!), eager to take off the next morning on a new adventure in the historic Adirondack Park!
Next: Day 2, Backpacking the Historic Northville-Placid Trail
The fall Court of Honor in our troop is always the biggest and best as a pot luck dinner is a part of the festive night! This year was no different, as more than 75 people were present and a record number of advancement awards were handed out following summer camp at Read Reservation: + 80 merit badges for 12 scouts & 12 scouts advancing in rank. Also, special congratulations to Michael P–winner of the 2009–2010 Scout of the Year. There was a two-way tie fo the Annual Good Turn Service Award between William B & Michael I, as these scouts accumulated more than 100 hours of community service across a wide range of community service opportunities. Special BSA Emergency Preparation and Mile Swim Awards were also handed out to Willaim B, Chris L & Michael P. Here are a few pictures from this memorable night!
Summer camp is clearly the high point of the year for most scouts and this year was no different! Our scouts began preparing for camp by sponsoring a car wash to raise money to spend on the planned extracurricular activities while at Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation in Lake Brant, NY, about 30 miles north of scenic Lake George. This year there was nearly a 50% increase in the number of Scouts (to 21) attending summer camp along with a corresponding 50% increase in the number of merit badges earned (to 65)!
The drive up to Lake Brant proved to be fortuitous about the unpredictability of Mother Nature. As we arrived into camp that Sunday afternoon, within a 250-mile radius there had been torrential downpours, lightning and what appeared to be a few small twisters in the low hanging clouds. The rain let up considerably by early evening, and luckily it had not really dampened anyone’s excitement about being at camp! As it turned out, throughout the week a few of our planned activities were either postponed or rescheduled due to rain…but not many! Rain in the mountains, we learned, often occurs rapidly and unannounced and frequently ends just as quickly as it started!
Overall, the weather was the least of our concerns. After all, as we’re fond of saying in Scouting, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate dress”! The bigger concern was the outbreak of the Norwalk virus throughout youth camps across the mid-atlantic and northeast during July & August. The “stomach bug” was NOT something anyone wanted to endure at summer camp, so we implemented procedures to ensure the boys practiced healthy personal hygiene habits while at camp. And, for the most part, it worked well, with only Tim D. getting sick for about 18 hours–much less intense than what had been experienced by other campers that had caught the “stomach bug” previously.
The adult leaders helped the boys create workable advancement class schedules to accommodate for some time planned to be out of camp doing the fun planned extracurricular activities. The game plan was to have something fun planned for every afternoon. With Monday and Tuesday’s planned extracurricular events getting postponed due to rain, the horseback ride in Lake George on Wednesday and the all-you-can-eat BBQ & Rodeo in Lake Luzerne was greeted with much anticipation! The food was terrific and the boys enjoyed the rodeo enormously, which included bareback broncos, barrel racing, calf roping, “half-time” entertainment and children’s games, & then the grand finale, bare back bull riding! The boys really enjoyed watching one stubborn bull that refused to exit the arena after he had successfully tossed his cowboy!
On Thursday, with light rain, many boys opted to sign up for the zip line. There was considerable energy put into creative water entries with Chris L., clearly mastering this skill! Earlier in the day, troop 353 pursued a novel service project for the camp, and created and hung a terrific new “Woodsman” campsite sign for the entrance off the Siberian Trailway. Many Scouter dads & scouts took advantage of the free time in the afternoon to shoot a few skeets at the shotgun range. Many scouts in the Emergency Preparation merit badge class took part in a fun skit during retreat. While after dinner, Troop 353 long-distance runners (Brad M., Mike P., Matthew S., & Sean W.) won 1st Place in the 3-mile relay. Still, there was time for relaxing, chasing frogs, fishing and swimming. Speaking of aquatics, Joshua G. successfully completed the BSA 1-mile Swim that night–only the second scout in the history of Troop 353 to complete this enormous challenge!
For Friday, the sun was out for the most eagerly anticipated extracurricular activity of all: white water rafting! Unquestionably, this is THE most fun event of the week. Everyone spent as much time in the water as in the raft and all agreed that it was an “awesome” event! After a tasty dinner of burger & fries, courtesy of the troop’s car washing proceeds, the troop hurried back to camp to squeeze in one of the more unique activities of the week, caving at Camp Waubeeka! Though we could not leave the cave’s natural underwater exit (as water levels were too high due to rain), it was still a very memorable experience for all!
All in all, troop 353 had another great experience at Camp Read in 2008, reinforcing the fact that boys can still have a very special fun experience with considerable advancement completed irregardless of a little rain! There are over 300 great summer camp photos to view, just click here!
A clear Adirondacks sky greeted the Troop as we piled into our cars for the last out-of-camp activity for the week – and a good thing too. We planned to spend a good portion of the afternoon out on roaring river, getting mightily wet. Above Lake Luzerne, New York, a 3.5-mile section of the Sacandaga River is filled with stretches of friendly rapids and fast-flowing ripples. The Sacandaga River is a tributary of the Hudson River and enters the Hudson at the border of Saratoga County and Warren County, and that’s where we aimed to end up – if we survived the rapids.
After getting our flotation gear set up, the scouts and leaders boarded a packed bus for the ride up to the the launching spot, just below the Sacandaga dam. The Troop split into two groups and we muscled the big rubber rafts down to the river, each with an experienced guide telling the boys (and the dads) what to do. After a few minutes of arranging paddles ands seats we were off. A few rapids in the early going gave the lads a bump, but we soon found ourselves on a smooth, clear stretch under a sun-streaked sky.
Man overboard! After a few friendly paddle splashes between the two boats, one of our guides “boarded” the other raft and tossed young Michael into the river. Then he got tossed. And then it was Katie bar the door – soon David, Sean, Matt, Brad, Tim, Kelsey, Dan and Simon were floating, and then Brandon, Anthony, Nick, Devon, William and Andrew hit the water, as did the dads. We floated for a mile or so, relaxing under the warm sun – our reverie broken only by the occasional splash fight.
Then it was time to reboard for the more serious rapids, all class two’s and three’s. The chant of “stroke, stroke, stroke…” broke the air and we battled our way through a few deep gulleys and around some big rocks. All too soon, we entered the Hudson and beached the rafts. Everyone agreed: the rafting adventure was one of the highlights of the trip.
We raced back to Camp Read because one Scout had an important appointment – Sean was going on his wilderness survival overnight, and needed to head out for the mountain. The wilderness survival test is a tough one: a night in the mountains with virtually no equipment – no tent, no sleeping bag, no food, no matches. Just water bottle and a poncho. And the forecast called for rain.
And rain it did.
Overnight, we had a bit of weather and it was dark and damp in camp as we rolled out of our bunks. But one scout was up earlier than the rest: Sean had made it through his wilderness survival test and was standing in the middle of the camp, quiet and exhausted. Many of the other scouts just stood there staring at Sean, like some kind of apparition. Later, he told us the night hadn’t been so bad – he’d built a shelter and stayed fairly dry. Boredom, it turned out, was stronger than fear.
Of course, the fear test would arrive that night – our last in camp, after a day of completing merit badges and some zip-line splashing and rock-wall climbing – with the telling of “Third Brother.” I am prohibited by the code of Camp Read from repeating this harrowing and truly scary tale, but let’s just say it’s well worth the listen – even if it does cost you some sleep.
Which is not to say plenty of sleep wasn’t lost to scary stories and tall tales during our week. It was. Not surprisingly, the older Scouts had some – shall we say – tricks up their sleeves for the younger guys. And the first-timers were suitably terror-stricken. But I will say it was all in good fun, that no one went over the line, and that post-terror, a degree of kindness reigned. Indeed, for the biggest “trick” of all, we had several volunteers! The scouts had the idea to use a human volunteer as our troop “flag” for the camp competition – one boy would be proudly “flown” from the flagpole. Andrew won the shoot-out and soon found himself hog-tied to the pole. Let’s just say, the judges didn’t quite get the Troop’s humor but we all thought it was hilarious.
That kind of leadership from the older boys was evident the night of the Big Bonfire – which came after an in-depth Firem’n Chit safety training course led by Ben, our troop’s Activities Chairman. With the help of the entire troop, a huge pyramid of wood was assembled, ready for the spark. And the boys decided that the youngest scout – our Webelos guest Devon, only 9 – should have the honor of starting the blaze. And quite appropriately, it should be started the right way, they decided, with flint and steel. It took a while, and there was one false alarm, but the veteran Brad led the youngster through the test and soon the fire was leaping into the air (quite possibly visible from space). That fire was really one for the record books, and we all stayed up late – telling and embellishing “Third Brother,” hand-churning some homemade ice cream, devouring the tasty snacks rustled up by Mike D., breaking out the guitars, and conducting our final rose-bud-thorn of the trip.
The fire died down slowly and one by one, we stole away to our cots.
The last morning was all packing, sweeping up in camp, last-minute inspections and some hilarity down at the mess hall as a few of the counselors got some pie their eyes. After breakfast, we packed the cars and looked forward to real beds and real bathrooms (this was a consensus view). But there was time for one last troop picture – until next year that is:
Troop 353’s colors at Camp Read.
There was plenty of activity during our week at Camp Read, for both the adult leaders and the Scouts. Many, many miles were walked. Chores were completed. And the schedule was a busy one. But don’t get the idea there wasn’t any down time. We had plenty. Each day, there was the post-lunch siesta – which allowed the boys to catch up merit badges or chase after frogs and newts and for the parents to, well, take the word literally. And during the course of the week, the guitars came out (along with a bass and a mandolin), more than one Harry Potter volume was seen in camp, and we even made our own ice cream.
There was down time and then there was down time. On day three, many of the Scouts and couple of adults took that literally, meaning down as in underground. With the help of an expert guide, the Troop explored an underground cave over at Camp Waubeeka. They scurried down what appeared to be a glorified rabbit hole and scrunched through an underground passage, complete with stream, to the exit a couple of hundred yards away. A unique experience and one that all the participants found illuminating – and drenching as well: there was one part where they had to briefly swim underwater to pass between caverns!
A word about the weather. While we thankfully missed a heat wave by a week, we did get our fair share of rain. The tents are canvas, but they held up well. Ponchos were necessary a few days. And one night we had a real downpour, with the rain drumming on the tents. Most of us stayed dry, and we kept an eye out for violent weather as well.
After a morning of classes and a quick lunch, the Troop hit the road down the Northway toward Lake George. It was good to get a break from the camp routine, and the boys were excited about the outing. A gorgeous day with bright blue skies provided the perfect backdrop for our ride at Saddle Up Stables, just up the road from Lake George Village.
We went off in two groups, with all boys wearing helmets. Some had horseback experience, others didn’t but everyone seemed to do well (despite a few allergic reactions that required a brief Benadryl break afterward). The ride was a good hour up into the hills, along a few narrow trails. The highlight for me was a sweeping view of Lake George from the mountain before heading down.
After the ride it was off down the road to Lake Luzerne to the Painted Pony Rodeo. It was strange to find a western/country style attraction in upstate New York – complete with a vocal ‘twang from the announcers – but it was also great fun. We gorged on all-you-can-eat barbecue and the boys played keep-away in one the fields (they met up with another Scout troop from Pennsylvania), and eyed the bulls in their pens. Then it was showtime: a real competitive rodeo, featuring cowboys and cowgirls from the region in fast-paced competition. The Scouts watched amazed at the Bareback Bronc Riding, Saddle Bronc Riding, Steer Wrestling, Tie-Down Roping, Team Roping, Cowgirls’ Barrel Racing, Cowgirls’ Breakaway Racing and the most dangerous of them all: Bull Riding. It certainly put our own hour in the saddle into perspective!
Troop 353 enjoys the rodeo.
We got back quite late from our “western” outing, and for once, the Scouts hit the sack in voluntary fashion. They knew that the next day was the big rafting trip – and for one Scout, a test of survival.
This was home for a week in August: four canvas walls, a nine-year-old bunkmate, and a few furry “visitors” who scampered around our cots from time to time. Yes, the chipmunks were everywhere at Camp Read this year. They say it was the drought, which had the lake levels low, some fire up on the mountain, and some thirsty rodents pawing their way through our stuff. No one seemed to mind.
Five adult leaders and 15 boys escaped the daily world of video games, cell phones, grinding traffic, the daily commute, and piles of email for a week in the woods this August. Thanks to the detailed planning of Scoutmaster Tom McCandless, Troop 353 packed a wide range of activities into our seven days in the Adirondacks. Here, then, is your humble Webmaster’s journal from camp.
It’s well over four hours (with stops) to Camp Read, up past the Lake George exits and down through Brant Lake to the dirt road into camp. We arrive in good order and check in. Nice, wooded site a couple hundred yards up the trail from the mess hall. Accommodations: basic. Latrine: smelly. Troop morale: high. The layout is simple – a dozen two-man canvas tents on platforms scattered around a central campsite with a fire-pit, a flagpole, and a couple of picnic benches under tarps. The simple two-hole latrine and wash-basin station is down a short trail in the woods, but it’s olfactory reminder is never far away. (It never fails to make the list in the nightly Rose-Bud-Thorn sessions – enough said).
After a camp tour and swim test in the lake (yes, I passed), we set up camp, unpack our stuff, and rig mosquito netting on the cots. In truth, it’s less buggy than last year; this year’s drought has kep the skeeter population down. Patrols are assigned, a work schedule is drawn up (waiting tables at the mess hall and latrine duty are rotated around the troop), and firewood is gathered. After dinner – and we had hot meals daily! – the parent leaders set to reviewing each Scout’s schedule for merit badges and advancement classes. This, along with constant safety patrol, is our main duty as dads (and one brave mom) – to keep the schedule manageable and moving, maximizing each boy’s experience at camp. I’m lucky in this: it was a great group of adult leaders to spend the week with – Andrea, Tom, Ben and Peter are all tolerant and flexible. We shared chores (and the occasional Tylenol) throughout the week, with almost-uniform good cheer.
I learned in the night that junior Scouts who discover the joys of the candy counter at the Camp Read trading post – and then spend the twilight hours consuming roughly the amount of sugar used in a small bakery on any given week – do not generally encourage a quiet, restful sleep. Lesson number one in the books (and boys safely packed away back in sleeping bags), I get an hour or two before dawn.
I have a buddy for the week. In addition to my 12-year-old second-year Boy Scout, I’ve brought my 9-year-old Webelos as a special guest of the Troop. He’s a bit nervous, sleeping in the woods for a week. And we’ve made a contingency plan to come home half-way through. But he does fine, thanks largely to the kindness of the other boys who take him under their wings on numerous occasions. Sure, he groused about the latrine and the early wake-up call and the chores (he wasn’t exempt) – but he sure has talked about camp a lot since we got back! And is just me, or does he seem more confident…
The first full day is hectic for the boys. They have three or four or more classes each day in a wide variety of subjects they don’t get in school: rifle-shooting, amphibian study, leatherwork, archery, swimming and boating, fishing, basket-weaving, outdoorsmanship.
Then there’s the hike – a relatively grueling climb on Mount Stevens and back. Confession: I don’t go. With my chronic back problems and a bit of rain, I can’t chance a spot of traction in the nearest Adirondacks medical facility. So I’m on the radio back at camp. And there are some challenges up on the trail. A steep climb, some rocky moments, a couple of minor injuries. I hear it all like the guy on the shortwave at the lowest base camp of an Everest expedition. “Be careful, lads. Weather conditions stable. Base camp out.” Then I tucked into the next chapter of the book I’m reading. Oh the humanity.
The boys loved the hike, and worked up quite the appetite – which is fine, because Newton Hall serves up some pretty decent chow. During our week, which had spots of cool and wet weather, we had hot meals to look forward to, ranging from simple hamburgers and mac-and-cheese to beef stroganoff and spaghetti. The adult leaders ate everything. Some of the boys can be, shall we say, slightly fussy eaters. But generally, there was enough variety – and the ever-present salad bar at night – so no one starved. And the Scouts learned how to set up tables for the meal (this duty rotated among all the Scouts) and clean up afterwards, including washing down the table-tops and sweeping the floor. I’m 100% positive they each volunteered for this duty once they returned home.
Each evening we spent in camp, we had a fire. Sometimes there were stories, sometimes s’mores, and sometimes we had some music. They became a real highlight of every day, and a great way to wrap up after so much activity. The boys gathered the wood and helped build the fires (usually with Ben’s help – he taught all the boys a lot about fire safety). Chairs were pulled closer to the campfire. Things quited down considerably, and I was reminded of Winston Churchill’s description of a Scout jamboree in England in the 1930s:
“…there twinkled the camp fires of a vast new army whose ranks will never be empty, and whose march will never be ended while red blood courses in the veins of youth.”
Next: A deep cave, a long ride, and a bit of the west high in the Adirondacks.
With January temps in the 60s and 70s and overnight lows in the 50s, what else comes to mind but the good times at Camp Read in the summer? Here’s a picture from last year to remind everyone in Troop 353 that it’s not too early to start planning for summer camp – a great week for advancement, friendship and fun! Scoutmaster Tom McCandless is hoping to increase the troop’s participation this July. If you need more information, speak with Tom or any of the Scouts who went last year.