High Adventure — Ice Climbing Challenge in the Catskills

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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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Rocky Mountain High Adventure – Pt 2

Day Five:  After two nights each at beautiful Camp Dick & Horseshoe Campgrounds, we would be camping at the even more picturesque Lake Turquoise,   5 miles west of historic Leadville for the last four nights.  Leadville has the distinction of being North America’s highest incorporated city at 10,430 feet and is a legendary gold and silver mining town where many Coloradoans made their fortunes in the 1800s.  Along with many nearby ghost mining towns, Leadville is where the infamous Doc Holliday (notorious gunfighter and gambler) was finally arrested and is the home of Colorado’s most famous couple, Horace and Baby Doe Tabor.  Lake Turquoise is also home to several bike races, 10ks, 5ks and various gun shooting events.

 Although Leadville is less than 25 miles due west of Fairplay, it is separated by the Mosquito Mountain Range and the massive Buffalo Peak  Wilderness–there is no direct route between.  Before we would make it to Leadville, however, we had to travel 130 miles south.  So Sunday was our longest day, as the group traveled to the Great Sand Dunes National Park—home to the largest sand dunes in our country and nestled against the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  The enormous sand deposits cover an area equal to an astonishing 330 square miles!  The mountains of sand are as tall as many ski slopes on the East Coast and temps can reach upwards of 140 degrees during the day, so we needed to arrive by 9am (when the park opened), rent special sandboards and be finished around 1—2pm optimally.

 Four-wheel drive and deflated tires allowed us to drive up the sandy road to the beautifully remote Canyon Creek wilderness area to attempt sandboarding.  The scouts were surprisingly challenged in climbing the unusually tall mountains of soft sand and all needed rest prior to their semi-speedy, and often ungraceful, descent.  Everyone crashed repeatedly and was covered in sand, but everyone unquestionably was having a blast! 

After about two and half hours of sandboarding, our group decided to call it quits and headed to an  oasis–the coveted Sand Dunes Swimming Pool (hot springs fed) for lunch, swimming and volleyball!  We finally arrived at our reserved Baby Doe Campground sites that night about 10pm.  Despite the long trip to this commercially-untouched area of South Central Colorado, many of the scouts cited the unique sandboarding opportunity as one of the highlights of the trip!

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 Day Six:  After our late night arrival at Baby Doe Campground (elevation 11,600), the scouts once again had to rise before 6am in order to arrive on time at the ATV rental in Salida 60 miles away. With the recent limited approval of driving ATVs by the BSA, combined with considerable experience of most of the people in our group along with the ultra-cautious training and guidance provided by the ATV operator, our excited scouts confidently headed up a gentle, dirt road for the Continental Divide about 10:15am. 

Fifteen minutes later, disaster struck.  One of our scouts lost control of his ATV and crashed into a ditch.  He was a bit shaken and holding his arm.  We quickly concluded that his head & neck were ok, but that he may have separated his right shoulder.  Two of our scouts quickly created a stabilizing arm sling with spare clothes.  Back in the parking lot 20 minutes later, the injured scout was joking around with everyone else relishing his hard-earned celebrity status.  Still, a quick trip to the local medical center revealed a cracked bone in his upper arm. 

 In retrospect, the scout was lucky that this was the extent of his injury, as there were warnings  by the ATV operator of an irresponsible rider needing to be air-lifted out a few weeks prior.  Fortunately, our group was more controlled and organized, and our injured scout was responsibly driving.  Still, he did manage to lose control on a smooth part of the road—this serious incident was a huge reality check for the remainder of the group that stayed behind to finish their four-hour exploratory ride to the Continental Divide.

  After arriving back at Camp Baby Doe later that afternoon, it was decided that the injured scout would fly home the next day, given his inability to participate in any of the remaining activities.  He was pleased that he had been able to experience so many new activities, but still disappointed that his trip was ending two days early.  Even a steady rain did not spoil the special pasta dinner and high spirits of the evening, as we all reflected on fun events of the past week and as we wished our fellow departing scout a speedy recovery!

 *****

Day Seven:  The rain had cleared overnight and our group was up early again.  Most of us were preparing for the second more challenging “14er” hike—attempting to peak Mt. Elbert (14,433 feet), the tallest peak in Colorado and the second tallest in the lower 48 states!  A 7am departure put us at the trailhead (10,000 feet), up beautiful Halfmoon Creek, by 7:45am.  It was another bright and beautiful day in the mountainous Sawatch Range—home to more 14ers than any other range in the state!

  To put the climb up Mt.Elbert in perspective, the hike up to Mt. Cameron on Day Four involved roughly 4.5 miles round trip and 2,200 feet of steep, rocky elevation gain.  To peak Mt. Elbert would involve 9 miles of hiking and climbing as well as 4,700 feet of elevation gain.  (The climb up the “Brothers” mountains at Camp Read in the Adirondacks is only 1000 feet of elevation gain…and much closer to sea level.)  Mt. Elbert involved a long hike through the forest to the tree line and then an equally steep but moderately longer climb up rocky terrain like Mt. Cameron.  Both peaks are considered to be Class 2 in terms of degree of difficulty (requiring some off trail hiking, occasional use of hands for balance and hiking on talus/scree). 

It took us 5 solid hours to reach the summit, as the altitude allowed only gradual progress    before needing to rest again.  The higher we climbed, the slower the progress.  Often one could only hike 20-25 steps, literally, before stopping to catch your breath and to calm one’s pounding heart.  Between 13,500 – 13,900 feet is the most strenuous part of the hike as there is a steep, rock-strewn face that literally requires Class 3 scrambling as the trail mysteriously disappears off to the side (but we found it on the way down thankfully).  On the way up this long climb, the uninformed hiker is duped into thinking the summit is (finally) near. 

Quickly, one must overcome the disappointment of the “false” peak at 13,900, as there is still another 500 feet of elevation to go!  Fortunately, this last   part of the incline is “mild” in comparison.  By the time we reached the top, our legs were like rubber, and all were thankful they actually made the summit, and everyone took a seat to rest their weary legs.  A few of us had developed serious doubts as to whether or not we would actually reach the summit by 1pm—our targeted turnaround time.  During this time of year, thunderstorms often appear quickly around 2–3pm and Colorado’s legendary lightning can easily travel up to 25 miles for a ground strike.  Colorado is home to the second most deaths by lightning and one is particularly vulnerable above the tree line.  So, our game plan was to monitor the clouds vigilantly and start heading down around 1pm, no matter how far we had progressed!

                       

 

As the stunning pictures attest, the views on the way up were magnificent and the 360 degree panoramic view from atop Mt. Elbert was every bit as awe-inspiring as the view from Mt.Cameron.  The hike to the top was well worth it to capture this unparalleled view!  We could easily see Lake Turquoise and Leadville nearly 20 miles away.  After a few family-related phone calls (ample cell phone coverage!) from the top and several photographs, the scouts, with one eye on the incoming clouds, knew we needed to make a relatively speedy retreat down the mountain. 

 Hiking down is no cake walk either, as the surface is covered in loose rocks and gravel and the exercise is equally tough on the legs.  A curious marmot, along with a brief sleet shower, combined with spotty sunshine, added a special element to our hike down the famous mountain.  We passed very few people hiking up the mountain—meaning we were one of the last ones to leave the summit.  At the tree line (11,900 feet), we stopped for a much needed rest and got involved with feeding nuts and raisins out of our hands to birds and chipmunks.  By 5pm, we made it to the parking lot and rewarded ourselves with chocolate chocolate-chip cookies on the 45-minute drive back to camp. 

Back at Baby Doe camp, a delicious Mexican dinner feast awaited us, as the group that took our injured scout to the Denver International Airport 140  miles away, had time to start dinner prior to our arrival back.  And with only Cliff Bars and energy drinks for lunch, the hikers were starving!  For once,  nobody complained about cleaning dishes, despite being physically exhausted from the long hike.  Several spent time at the lake after dinner where the star-lit night sky was equally as breathtaking as the unequaled mountain top experience earlier that day.

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Day Eight:  We slept late today…6:30am!  We only had to be 30 miles away by 9:15am.  The chilly upper 30 degree morning was not conducive to enhancing the appeal of white water rafting.  By the time we rolled into Buffalo Joe’s in Buena Vista, the temps were rising and the scouts eagerly scrambled to change clothes and secure PFDs and helmets before jumping into   the group van to the launch site on the Arkansas River, twenty minutes away.  At the put-in site for “The Numbers” (named for 7 different sections of the river), the typical river safety briefing ensued.  Within minutes we were happily paddling down the chilly Arkansas river! 

  The nationwide drought has hit Colorado fairly hard.  First, the snowpack during the winter was lighter than normal, resulting in lowered water flows in the rivers.  Second, the state had experienced many wildfires during May & June, but not as badly in South Central Colorado where we were camping (and the seasonal daily afternoon rains had begun during July). 

The  lower river levels also negatively impacted the fishing, as water temps were  warmer than normal (but still brisk!).    Today, however, the low water level meant a more technical river traverse than the fast & furious pace of a “high water” year.  Class 3 & 4 rapids, however, were still very challenging but fun.

  Mastering sharp turns, backward spins and narrow shoots became easier by the time we stopped for the customary steak lunch.  There was ample time for swimming in the cold river and we stopped in a location to jump through a special rock with a large hole and side vent that passed into the river.  And we even saw people panning for gold! 

Back at the Baby Doe Campground that afternoon, we relaxed playing a game of “spoons” and getting organized for the trip home.  A celebratory pizza was enjoyed along with left over pasta.  Afterwards, one last trip down to the beach at Lake Turquoise to see the bright lights of Mother Nature made one realize that Colorado is indeed an unusual place of breath-taking beauty and a seemingly endless list of potential outdoor adventures around every corner!  Despite the ATV incident, all agreed the trip had been an extraordinary success and vowed to return to Colorado again some day!  Clich here for more truly spectacular and memorable photos!

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!

Rocky Mountain High Adventure – Pt 1

For the past three years, our senior scouts have chosen to pursue water-related venues for their summer high-adventure trip.  2012 proved to be a different year in that the scouts wanted to pursue a mountainous adventure that included more than the typical 10-day backpacking trek offered by Philmont, the ageless national high-adventure camp located near Cimarron, NM. 

The core planning group of senior scouts looked at BSA properties from Montana to Maine, ultimately wanting to choose Longs Peak Council’s high adventure package in northern Colorado.  Unfortunately, the school year begins earlier in Colorado than it does in New York, so our group was forced to plan an independent high-adventure trip to Colorado for early August—a far more complex planning endeavor than attending a typical BSA high-adventure venue. 

Fortunately, scouting & family contacts in Boulder, CO were more than eager to assist & provided considerable guidance.  The scouts needed to prepare for challenges many had never faced before:  getting in physical shape for rigorous physical activities at high-altitudes, planning all meals (cooking gear, food prep, storage, purchase points, etc.), understanding statewide freshwater fishing rules and risk management (wildlife, weather, and first aid).  Planning a successful car-wash fundraiser was also critical to financing our trip and in determining the scope of our affordable daily activities.   And the targeted daily activities were both fun and challenging:  rock climbing, hiking/climbing 14ers (peaks higher than 14,000 feet), ATV (all-terrain vehicles) exploration, gold medal fresh-water fishing, white water rafting and a visit to the famous Great Sand Dunes National Park to attempt sandboarding.  Finally, coordinating a schedule of activities with campsites that met our criteria was also a logistical challenge.

   The first two nights the scouts called Camp Dick (elevation 8600 ft., 25 miles northwest of Boulder) their home.  Through National, State & local parks, as well as the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and official State Wildlife Campgrounds, Colorado is blessed with literally hundreds of available campsites & many take reservations.  All three campsites chosen for the trip were on US Forest Service properties and all were well-maintained, catering to both tent-campers and RVs alike (potable water and vault restrooms), and importantly, reservable.  In order to get acclimated, it was determined to camp at increasingly higher elevations during the week.

Day Two:  The first full day in Colorado was spent rock climbing in scenic Boulder Canyon with two certified guides from the well-regarded Colorado Mountain School.   There are literally dozens of places to climb along the highway in Boulder and other nearby canyons.  After warming up with several +60-foot ascents, the scouts tackled technically more difficult climbs involving virtually no natural hand or foot holds.  One scout actually climbed to the top blind-folded!  The adult scout leaders also participated in climbing and everyone assisted in belaying other climbers.  Our group celebrated that night at a “Welcome” BBQ at the Barber family residence in Boulder where we learned more about what to expect during our upcoming week.  

Day Three:  The next day entailed traveling 120 miles southwest to Horseshoe Campground (elevation 9600 ft.), just below Fairplay/ SouthPark.  After a casual morning, the group broke camp and drove down the scenic Peak-to-Peak highway.  Stocking up on groceries in Frisco and confirming the trailhead location outside the tiny town of Alma for the first planned attempted “14er” the next morning were required before arriving at camp and then squeezing in trout fishing at the nearby Gold Medal Waters of the South Platte River.  Gold Medal Waters are defined by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife as “any river or lake which is producing a standing stock of at least 60 pounds per acre, and at least 12 trout that are 14 inches or longer per acre on a sustained basis.”  A hardy dinner of Alamo Chicken provided the needed protein for the group’s first attempt at “peakbagging a 14er” early the next morning.

Day Four:  One cannot appreciate the popularity of climbing one of Colorado’s 53 famous +14,000 foot peaks until you arrive at the trailhead the first time.  Our group’s 8:00 am arrival at the Kite Lake trailhead (12,000 ft, above the tree line) was welcomed by so many cars that we had to park over ½ mile away from the parking lot!  Clearly, we were “late” arrivals.  Literally hundreds of people had turned out this glorious Saturday morning to attempt to climb (not hike) rocky Mts. Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and /or Bross, all connected along a 13,500 ft ridge in a semi-circle of a few miles within the Mosquito Range of the Rockies.  As an aside, the website 14ers.com was also incredibly helpful in planning our two big hikes.

The high elevation quickly became apparent as each step was “up”, and the rocky trail added to the degree of difficulty.  People of all ages turned out that day and many brought their dogs  and/or their children.  Some labored up and down, while some actually ran.  Most proceeded up slowly, resting often to try and get more oxygen into their panting lungs.  The citing of a large, white mountain goat casually relaxing on the rocky hillside in the sun not far off the main trail helped to distract one’s thoughts about how challenging the hike was becoming.  Ultimately, our group reached the 13,500 ft “saddle” ridge before 11am (see first photo above).  The views were breathtaking and the photographs do not fully reflect the feeling of seemingly being on top of the world. 

 Attaining the saddle was particularly gratifying for one of our asthmatic participants, while the rest of the group trudged upward to top Mt. Cameron (14,238 ft) for the next hour, where the wind chill was clearly below freezing and with wind gusts up to +50 mph.  The very steep climb to this “unofficial” peak was exhausting for our group of “rookies”.  (Mt. Cameron is one of five unofficially designated +14,000 ft peaks).  We quickly learned the importance of staying hydrated & planning a high-protein breakfast & trail snacks, as hunger and altitude sickness gradually began to emerge.  A decision was made not to hike over to Mt. Lincoln over one mile away and instead, head back toward the base.

By 2pm, we were all enjoying a picnic lunch back at Kite Lake, drinking lots of fluids, and fighting off headaches from the altitude.  Unquestionably,   everyone had an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment at bagging their first “14er”.  After a short rest at camp a few of us took off again to try and snare some rainbow or brown trout in the bountiful South Platte River.  This  Gold Medal stretch of the river is known for its large aggressive trout.  This is catch-and-release territory unless you are fortunate enough to land a fish longer than 20 inches and no live bait is allowed either.  Most locals prefer fly-fishing, but our group was forced to use typical casting spinner lures.  After 2 hours and with only three small trout to their credit, the returning fishermen were rewarded with the citing of three elks crossing the dirt road near the beaver-pond ladened area close to Camp Horseshoe.

Needless to say, nobody had trouble falling asleep that night, especially after a day of extreme exercise and rewarding ourselves with a big, marinated steak dinner!  Thus far, our Rocky Mountain High Adventure trip had been near perfect!   Check out more incredible photos from the first four days!

 Next:  Deflated tires; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat; & some unexpected sites on the river!