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!

*****

 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.

  *****

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!

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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!

Hoist the Jib! Pull the Main Sheet! We’re Tacking a Beam Reach To Guana Cay!

In the depths of winter in the Northeast, there is an understandable enticement to ponder warmer climates for high adventure activities for the following summer.  This year, with a large number of newly eligible scouts participating, the majority chose the venue of learning to sail and live aboard a large sloop in the Bahamas over that of paddling and portaging along the wild pristine boundary water areas north of the border.  After all, the memories of the 50-miler endured by the smaller crew the previous year along the Outer Banks of NC, did not resonate with the required “Fun Factor” for the younger scouts…irrespective of the connotations implied by the term “high adventure”.

Adventure, however, can be created any time when Mother Nature is involved and that was certainly the case in the three days leading up to our planned departure for Marsh Harbor, Bahamas in mid-August.  Not all 14-year old scouts are experienced world travelers and the immediate threat of Tropical Storm Emily, during the midst of hurricane season, was not something completely anticipated during the early planning phases in February.  Lady Luck spared our crew of 17 as the storm quickly moved past our destination literally hours before our arrival.

The Bahama Sail School has been in operation for a few years sailing the Abaco Sea and caters to youth groups, particularly Boy Scouts.   Upon our arrival at the designated marina, our eager sea-wayward lads were greeted by the welcoming owner Brian Forbes.  Immediately, the two crews were introduced to their boat captains (Charles and Rob) and off we motored to our live-aboard homes for the next week.  Aboard the Wayward Highlander, our crew eventually drifted off to sleep topside under a starry night following the requisite boat debriefing and outstanding meal prep under the careful eye of the stern Captain Rob.

As the sun was rising at 0630, Captain Rob notified our youth crew chief to have his crew rise & shine.  Breakfast needed to be prepared, the galley cleaned, someone needed to listen to the 0815 weather report and the boat needed to be ready to sail at 0900 in order to hit the high tide.  (The Abaco Sea is generally shallow, averaging only 15—20 feet, and with a 6’ keel, one must be careful not to go aground and be stuck for 12 hours.)  A very short sail brought our 41’ Benetau to our first destination—a favorite snorkeling spot 100 yards off the port-side of the bow.  The coral was teaming with fish and the boys enthusiastically fed them bread crumbs before returning aboard 45 minutes later.  Our next destination:  Treasury Cay (pronounced “key”), which is one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world according to National Geographic

Frolicking in the gentle surf, all 11 scouts were visible except one.  “Kenya”, as he would become known, was jogging up and down the beach in the intense  midday sun and humidity.  It seems that Kenya’s penchant for nightly verbal disagreements among his crewmates was only surpassed by his passion for running.  Nicknames were inevitable on this type of adventure and the imagination of a +14-year old is not limited to traditional nautical labels, ie, Sea Hog, etc.

  By Tuesday, we set sail across the Sea of Abaco for Guana Cay.  Though the boys had experienced some very basic sail training in NY on the 45’ Sea Note, courtesy of troop committee sail advisor Mr. Bob Frost, sailing with the prevailing wind at our backs proved to be technically challenging.  Nonetheless, our group arrived mid-morning and eager to learn the basics of scuba diving in shallow water (less than 30 feet).

   Mastering a few basic scuba safety practices in increasingly choppy water is an accomplishment in and of itself.  And while a few felt very encumbered by the heavy gear on the  boat, the feeling of freedom and wonderment quickly took over once we dropped down 20 feet into the massive coral reef.  Scores of different tropical fish and colorful coral were met with great enthusiasm as were the prized citings of a moray eel, sea turtles and the elegant manta ray.  With the storm now upon us, our dive group hurriedly motored back to the island, thanked our guides and scurried over to one of the few establishments open for lunch:  Nettles Restaurant on the beach.   

  And there we stayed….until 10 pm, as the storm raged all afternoon and into the night.  Scouts entertained themselves by learning how to cut open wild coconuts (no, not each other!), mingling with another scout troop from GA, relaxing in the pool and snorkeling during a brief 1 hour interlude in the tropical depression.  The restaurant remained open to feed us dinner and the boys enjoyed a movie as well.  Besides, nobody was that eager to return to the ultra-cramped (and hot) quarters of their boats.  Fortunately, by 9:30pm the rain finally stopped.

 The skies were still turbulent the next morning as we headed toward Hope Town.  Captain Rob made a strategically wise decision to use only the front sail and the motor to push us down wind.  After about an hour of motoring, we could very clearly see a squall headed our way.  Captain Charles’s boat totally disappeared ¼ mile ahead of us in the massive curtain of rain.  Most of the scouting crew was casually searching for their rain gear below when we entered the storm.  The sleepy scouts below deck were suddenly jarred when the boat lurched to the port side nearly 60 degrees!  With pots and pans clashing about, the now stunned wanna-be sailors scrambled top side to be greeted by the driving wind and rain and waves that even a mild Caribbean storm could deliver!  All hands on deck!

   The next 15 minutes were quite chaotic.  Driving wind, rain and choppy seas clearly made it difficult to reel in the front sail, especially if the opposite lines did not keep the sheet taut.  Captain Rob barked orders worthy of any salty dog.  Scouts scrambled across the ever shifting wet deck to grab the flailing sheets and lines, careful to find any handhold so as not to fall over board.  Gradually, the ship was brought under control under the calm demeanor & direction of Cap’n Rob, who seemed most relaxed when the unexpected (for the scouts) occurred.  Feeling more confident that the seas were navigable, the crew leader and a few others took their turn at the helm.  For a few special minutes, the scouts were so fully engaged in the moment that they gained a far better appreciation for both the challenge and the enjoyment of sailing the open seas.

Gradually, the storm passed and we found ourselves with partly cloudy skies and a mild but steady wind, and when combined with a newfound confidence in their sailing skills, the boys decided to sail for a while longer before arriving at our targeted afternoon snorkeling destination, the rocky shores of Sugar Loaf Key.  Anchored at least 200 yards away from shore, the scouts donned their snorkeling equipment made a bee line toward the shore to explore the marine wildlife.  Three hours later, we hoisted the main sheet and set sail for Hope Town, a short distance away.

Hope Town is a relatively large port, frequented by fishermen and sail enthusiasts alike.  A historic lighthouse is clearly the most visible landmark.  Though steamy hot, the crew moored in the harbor and tried their hand at fishing before preparing dinner.  The stunningly beautiful sunset served notice that the Caribbean can yield a wide range of weather patterns in a single day.  What should have been a peaceful drift off into a much needed sleep that night was postponed until well after midnight by the blaring rock band across the small harbor as Bahamians celebrated a night or two of full moons.

The last morning began before 0700 with Captain Rob insisting the crew leader and his crew rise and shine.  After sleeping on the non-flat surface of a hard boat deck with only a thin air mattress, combined with the warm temps for a few nights in the row made one appreciate why most sailors are red-eyed.  Slow to rise, the scouts grudgingly arose and gathered their wet gear & clothes pins and prepared breakfast for a day of island exploring, beautiful beaches and more snorkeling. 

   The crew was informed by the Captain that they had been the most wasteful with the ship’s bladder of fresh water of any crew he had had in the past three years.  Critical of their kitchen cleanup procedures, Captain Rob informed the scouts that they could have rinsed their dishes off the stern of the boat in the sea—this tidbit of info would have been nice to know on day one instead of day five.  We were also informed that we needed to purchase fresh water while ashore for the sail back to Marsh Harbor later that day, otherwise the galley could not be cleaned and the head would be inoperable.   After five continuous days of subtle criticisms & limited explanations from the Scottish Captain Rob, the crew was near a mutinous point. 

Once in the dinghy on the way to shore, however, tense feelings gave way to liberation.  Hope Town, like all other towns, was virtually closed down as this was the middle of the hurricane season and island population was at a seasonal low.  Gradually, both ship’s crews found their way to the accommodating folks at the Hopetown Harbor Lodge.  Here, both crews gathered near the pool and enjoyed drinks and lunch and discussed their sailing experiences from the week.  Though the two crews were having a very different boating experience, the discussion ended with all agreeing that there were valuable life lessons to be learned from this situation. 

Upon reflection, the adult leaders are again amazed and impressed at the resiliency of Troop 353 scouts eagerly, as the kids ran for the ocean to explore the massive coral reef while in the distance, whales were breaching about a half mile out in the sea.  In the postcard perfect environment of the Bahamas, our scouts had truly experienced a typical High-Adventure scout trip:  one beset with various challenges, yet one of transcendental beauty and personal growth.  Truly memorable photos can be enjoyed here!

Sailing – A New Adventure for the Venture Patrol

Troop 353 is blessed to have many friends and adult advisors.  One of the more interesting activities the troop has added for its older boys is that of sailboat training.   There are ample waterways for boating pleasures in our area and the skills needed to sail a boat have many parallels to basic scouting skills:  navigation, weather, mapping/charts, ropes/lines and, more importantly, it requires well-coordinated teamwork!  Sr Committee Advisor, life long sailor, and a former Boy Scout, Mr. Bob Frost recently volunteered to give some of our older scouts a tour of his personal sailing vessel, The Sea Note.  Mr. Frost explained the multiple navigational systems and backup systems, along with a host of practical safety issues.  Though it was too cold to get out on the water that day, the “intro” served to whet the boy’s appetite for more sailing next spring.  The boys quickly realized that there was a lot to learn and were deeply appreciative of Mr. Frost’s generosity, as these pictures clearly indicate!

Pamlico Sea Base — Sea Kayaking the Outer Banks

For the second consecutive summer, Troop 353 offered a high adventure trip option to its older scouts.  The August 2010 trip was to Pamlico Sea Base in the East Carolina Scout District.  The trip entailed a week of beach camping and kayaking along Cape Lookout National Seashore, culminating in the earning of the BSA 50-Miler Award.

The trip started with a flight to Raleigh, NC and a couple of hour van ride to reach the remote Pamlico Sea Base location on the east coast of North Carolina.  On the way, the scouts sampled genuine East Carolina BBQ at Parker’s Restaurant, a local favorite for decades.  Little did we know that this was to be the last quality meal the group would have for 6 days.

Our group was met at base camp by swarms of mosquitoes, along with the wonderful Pamlico Sea Base staff and our incredible trek guides Tony (hard to miss with his 12+ years of dreadlock growth and his unique ear décor) and Steve (who would come to be known as “the guide who doesn’t lie”).  

The next morning, after gathering equipment and provisions, including a weeks worth of no-fuss foods (including Cliff bars, canned tuna, trail mix, granola bars, easy prep canned/boxed dinners and the ever popular summer sausage) the group was off on their adventure to the barrier islands that make up the lower part of the Outer Banks.

Day 1 proved to be easy, departing Harkers Island for the quick paddle over to the beautifully remote beach of the Shackleford Banks and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.  Scouts enjoyed swimming in crystal clear waters (with the only inhabitants of the island – wild horses), hunting for conch shells and one of many beautiful sunsets.

Day 2 is when the group found out that sea kayaking differs from being pushed down a river.  Nine hours of paddling against rolling currents was enough to exhaust everyone.

Though a few hours of playing in the surf rejuvenated everyone a bit, dinner at Great Island that night was relatively quiet (and not very tasty).  One or two adult leaders consumed (more) Advil for dinner.

During the rest of the week, our group of toughened paddlers hugged the coastline, and followed dozens of duck blinds through the shallow waters of the Pamlico Sound.

Everyone got very much acquainted with their kayaks and mastered setting up tents in the wind and sand.  Each night we camped at a new destination beach, with each being more scenic than the last.  

All got accustomed to the diet of trail mix, cliff bars, oatmeal to go and, of course, summer sausage.

It rained on a few nights, and we had an especially treacherous crossing of the Sound on Day 4 as we departed the beach at Long Point for Cedar Island just after a night of thunderstorms came to an end.   In order not to tip in the high swells, we paddled our kayaks non-stop for one and a half hours.      

The trip across the Sound was well worth it as we were greeted by a rainbow and a group of dolphins (Did someone yell “Sharks!”?) on the far side.

We finished up our adventure with a 4-hour ferry ride and a well deserved night on Ocracoke Island, a popular tourist destination where Blackbeard the Pirate was reportedly killed in 1718.

Although Teeter’s campground was not 5-Star, it had showers and provided a great base camp for exploring the island and its great restaurants.  We got to sit down on chairs and relax.

It was a challenging, beautiful, awesome and memorable trip.  All participants were challenged both physically and mentally, and came away with a great sense of accomplishment and self-confidence.  We can’t wait for the next high adventure trip.

Tony, how much further?!!

For more great photos, click here!

National Park Service Cape Lookout National Seashores map

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.

Special Court of Honor

Court of Honor

According to the Scoutmaster’s Handbook, the four stages of advancement in Scouting are learning, testing, review & recognition.  The last step, “recognition”, is regarded as being extremely important to every scout and this is represented by a special awards ceremony called a Court of Honor.  While all Courts of Honor are special events the Fall Court of Honor for Troop 353 is the most distinguished.  Not only is it a night for fellowship and to enjoy a family-style pot luck dinner (thanks to Mrs. Poletti and several other moms), but it is also a night of very special recognition.  This special evening occurs relatively soon after summer camp, where the scouts have frequently earned many merit badges (65 total) and /or advanced in rank.  The annual Scout of the Year Award is given to a deserved Scout that has exhibited the best traits of Scouting throughout the past year (advancement, training, & participation in all troop activities).  The annual Good Turn Service Award recognizes a scout’s community service efforts often go beyond scouting to related activities for school & through their church or synagogue.  In 2009, if all of the advancement and annual awards were not enough, a surprise Lifetime Achievement Award was given to one of the more devoted adult scouters in Troop 353’s history.

The court of honor took a special turn and a healthy dose of Scouting Spirit was introduced to court of honor with an opening of a few very funny skits representing comical scenes from the high adventure Sea Base camp earlier that summer as well as the senior scout’s favorite spirit song (this is a a do-as-I do song) from Sea Base during the dessert hour.  How wonderful it was to see the older boys having fun time and spreading their infectious enthusiasm!

The annual Scout of the Year Award in 2010 was won by D. Appia.  D. Appia had superior results in all categories that mattered:  he advanced, he took advantage of most troop activities (including summer camp), he took on meaningful roles of leadership and did so in a cheerful manner.  From the Scout of the Year Committee’s perspective D. Appia was the undisputed leader across these categories and was particularly well-deserved to earn this prestigious once-in-a-lifetime Scouting award.

When the number of submitted service hours that one particular scout had accumulated were examined, I thought “this cannot be possible”.  Yet, the Good Turn Service Award committee had dutifully accumulated and verified the data.  After a few phone calls, it was abundantly clear that J. Gonzalez had indeed accumulated approximately 175 hours of total community service work hours during the chosen measurement period!  In fact his hourly totals were over 100% higher than the second place finisher.  Again, the winner of this award was particularly clear cut.

The last award was one that was particularly important to keep “quiet”, as the recipient was also heavily involved in Scout of the Year committee and had intimate knowledge of the Court of Honor program details.  The adult leadership committee was unanimous in its decision that the one individual that had devoted most of his adult life to Scouting in some fashion and, even long after his youngest son had made Eagle Scout, graduated from college and entered the workforce, this dad still spent considerable energy contributing substantially to a number of key scouting activities throughout the year for Troop 353, giving special consideration to first year scouts.  Moreover, this senior scout leader over the years had deliberately chosen to expend his scouting time and energies toward the scouts of Troop 353 and not toward larger Council-type events was thus ineligible for any of the Council recognition awards.  Given this criteria, the obvious Lifetime Achievement Award winner was senior committee member Mr. Michael D. William!  For the perfect trifecta of award winners and other great pictures, click here.