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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Troop Tradition: Winter Wonderland at TMR

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Every troop has its traditional outings.  For Troop 353, it is the annual winter outing in January to Ten Mile River (TMR) Scout Ranch in the southern part of the Catskills.  The range of outdoor activities in this winter wonderland are more numerous than you might imagine:  snow ball fights, sledding, snowshoeing, quinzee-building, snow skiing, and even ice-fishing!  And even in years when snow is not as abundant most of these activities are still possible.  This cabin campout is a clearly a troop favorite and you can see when viewing the pictures.

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The typical schedule involves a 2.5 hour drive to TMR, dropping the gear in the 2 cabins and rushing to our snowshoeing / hiking destination near the Delaware River.  After 3 hours on the trail, the troop comes back to the cabin for a quick lunch and then the ice fishing instruction by long-time troop friend Ray Evans ensues.  The scouts have a few hours of sunlight to try and catch a fish, but mostly skate across the frozen pond in metal chairs, aka “chair curling”.  The scouts often seem puzzled about the effectiveness of the small bait fish used, as they are literally frozen!  The grand Thanksgiving feast, a flag retirement ceremony, perhaps a skit or two and then a late night cracker barrel cap a day full of fun activities!  Many (but not all!) scouts typically have no problem falling asleep Saturday night against the backdrop of a warm fireplace glow.

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Perhaps it is the fact that the scouts do not do have to do much to prepare meals for this trip (adult-led Thanksgiving feast) or that the cabins are heated with full kitchens and bathrooms or the ability to play board games (Risk!) late at night or the special respectful flag retirement ceremony; or maybe it is the ice sledding on the lake, or maybe it is the whole weekend!!  The biggest challenge is always cleaning up Sunday morning and apportioning unmarked clothing that scouts leave laying around.  Unquestionably, it is a very fun event and remains one of the scout’s and scout leader’s favorite outings of the year!

As a testament to HOW much fun the trip can be, the recent Scout of the Year winner, Andy M, created a wonderful 5 minute video highlighting the recent 2014 trip — it is full of great clips of our scouts having a blast ==>  Awesome TMR video 2014!

Lots of great photos can be found here from each of the past three years:   2012, 2013 & 2014!

The Brotherhood of Scouting

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

Winter Campout, Ex Snow & Ice

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

Klondike 2011 — Optimal Conditions

Scouts from Troop 353 challenged their cold weather survival skills at the 2011 Klondike Event at Camp Alpine in Alpine, NJ.  Scouts competed with other troops to build outdoor shelters in which they could survive against the elements.   Then, mimicking the crew of Ernest Shackleton, scouts practiced some ice rescue techniques on plastic tarps that surrounded a life size ship similar to that used by the crew of the Endurance that had been stuck in ice during an expedition in 1921.  After reaching the stranded ship, scouts were rewarded with some delectable snacks they found scattered on board the ship.  After enjoying some hot soup lunch, scouts were able to enjoy the outdoor timed  competition of the two-man log sawing contest.  Troop 353 proudly took second place!

It was not until later that the competition became fierce with the District snow sled race. Troops from all over pulled and pushed their sleds over the finish line.  A few sleds didn’t survive the event!  Most didn’t care what place they came in since they were all having so much fun.   Lots of great photos of this event can be seen here!

Backpacking the AT into Durland — Always Memorable!

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

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

Winter Playland at Ten Mile River

The annual winter outing to Ten Mile River is never short of fun activities!  The new twist this past year was the attempt to go snowshoeing–something most scouts have never done.  Unfortunately a warm front in the week leading up to the event resulted in most of the area snow melting.  By Saturday morning, it was well below freezing again and our snowshoeing guides ended up taking the boys on a brisk 5-mile hike, where scouts found both interesting ice formations as well as spectacular views of the Delaware River valley.  The afternoon was reserved for the traditional ice fishing adventure, courtesy of long-time troop friend Ray Lewis.  Mr. Lewis brought the gear, the bait, the augur and the cheerful encouragement!  Though the fish were not biting, the boys entertained themselves on the thick slippery ice by sliding around in chairs from the cabin.  The traditional Thanksgiving-style meal and a good night’s sleep capped off another fun winter playland weekend for the scouts.  Check out the photos here.