Wintoree 2019

Wintoree is one of Troop 353’s annual traditions. We team up with other troops and head up to Durland Scout Reservation for cabin camping, merit badge classes, merit badge counselor meetings, and other rank advancement work.

This year’s Wintoree was a bit later in the year – and a whole lot warmer – than usual, with sunny late-March weather permitting merit badge classes to be held outdoors at the campfire ring!

Thanks to Troop 1 Bronxville and Troop 2 Bronxville for joining us this year!

High Adventure — Ice Climbing Challenge in the Catskills


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!


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!


Troop Tradition: Winter Wonderland at TMR


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.



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.


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.

Community Service – ‘Good Turn’ at Graymoor Turns Grand 



One of Troop 353’s more important Community Service projects throughout the year is the annual pilgrimage up to the Graymoor Monastery in Garrison, NY to help beautify the grounds.  This year’s effort was the grandest of all with the completion of a substantial improvement and beautification of the St. Jude’s Pond and Prayer Garden area.   Brother Ted Novack was extremely grateful and highly complimentary of our historic efforts and reminded the boys of the importance of their contribution again during our Sunday morning Interfaith Prayer Service.   The troop’s herculean efforts drew the attention of the local Garrison Garden Club, which arrived en masse (6 carloads!) & unannounced to inspect our handiwork about 30 minutes after our completion late Saturday afternoon.  Everyone was in awe of our troop’s handiwork!

This past week, the Graymoor Monastery communication department asked for our permission to use our photographs in the following Graymoor Publications:  a monthly newsletter, a quarterly bulletin and additions to their website.  In all, it is estimated that the troop was able to devote over an estimated 165 man hours to improving the prayer garden, a holy place and one of great solitude, frequented by thousands of people of all faiths every year.  This is particularly true around Sept. 11th of every year when literally hundreds of people arrive to pay their respects.  Here is a link to the monthly newsletter

On Sunday morning at the Graymoor outing, all 3 patrols participated in the Iron Chef Cookoff with Brother Ted performing the role of chief guinea pig and tasting judge!  The Eagle Patrol, led by the careful guidance of Troop Guide Tim DeMichiel, easily won first place with a warm and tasty special raisin & lime pancake, garnished with apples that included all of the required special ingredients!  A special award was presented to the Eagle Patrol that Sunday night.  The Tiny Insects and Mustang Patrols came in 2nd & 3rd, respectively, owing to their less than ambitious offer of lukewarm oatmeal.  The previous night, the Scoutmaster attempted his hand at preparing a special apple & raisin dumpling dessert in 2 large dutch ovens, topped with whip cream–though the bottom crust was overcooked, scouts were asking for a second helping! For some great photos from the trip, click here.

High Adventure High in the Adirondacks

Ice Climbing Near Lake Placid

After waiting for two years for the opportunity to participate in our Council’s popular Ice Climbing event near Lake Placid in upstate New York, our older scouts (minimum age 14) finally got the opportunity to discover why this outing remains in such high demand.  First of all, there are only a few weekends per year that this unique high-adventure  trip is available.  And relative to the size of Westchester-Putnam Council’s scout base, all ice climbing weekends typically “sell out” within a few weeks of becoming available in May the preceeding year.  As well, the Summit Base crew does a terrific job to ensure scouts have an exciting, fun and safe weekend.  For the scouts, whom are used to camping, staying in a warm Hostel with bathrooms and home-cooked meals is a bit like being on vacation!  Finally, the ice climbing in the Keene Valley itself is spectacular!  It is very challenging (much harder than it looks), the weather elements can be harsh, but the scenery is simply spectacular.   Staying in Lake Placid, site of the 1932 & 1980 Olympic Games, had the added benefit of other important sporting events occurring, namely the Empire State Games with athletes from all over the world present.  And if one still had any energy left from learning to work ice picks and spiked crampons in tandem on a magnificent vertical ice cliff all day, then one could play on the Lake Placid Toboggan Chute at night as long as one wanted.  This new winter event for the troop, in all likelihood, will prove to be enormously popular.  Words simply cannot adequately describe the exhilaration of ice climbing in the beautiful surroundings of Keene Valley.   Simply spectacular photographs of this event can be seen here.

Ten Mile River – A Memorable Outing in a Winter Wonderland!


One of the troop’s long-standing traditions is to travel up to Ten Mile River Scout Reservation in the middle of the winter and enjoy a variety of outdoor recreational activities. In addition, the Old Goat patrol historically prepares a large Thanksgiving-type dinner for everyone on Saturday night. This year, the turnout was exceptionally strong, especially among the Old Goats, and all bunks were filled in both Hearst cabins. Given that it was Super Bowl weekend, the event organizers were particularly pleased at the maximum capacity crowd!

Nearly half the troop arrived late Friday night. And those that did, were able to put together a solid 1-mile orienteering course the next morning in the brutally cold surroundings. The rest of the troop arrived mid-morning on Saturday and promptly prepared an early lunch in anticipation of spending the early afternoon ice fishing with long-time associate & local resident Mr. Ray Evans. Mr. Evans has taught our scouts to ice fish over the years and generously brings lots of fishing gear, bait and, of course, a large augor to punch a hole in the ice atop of the frozen lake near the Hearst cabins. This year, perhaps due to all the foot traffic on the surface, the fish appeared a bit more spooked and nobody landed any fish, or to my knowledge, even received a nibble! Still, it was a very neat experience and the scouts enjoyed immensely the fishing challenge as well as uniqueness of the frozen lake surface!

p2010066About 3 hours before sunset, the troop returned to shore and grabbed their shovels and began building quinzees, or snow huts. This entails shoveling a giant mound of snow about 6 feet high and 10 feet across. After the snow settles for an hour or two, the hollowing out process begins. Building a quinzee is a valuable skill to learn about wilderness survival. This last step takes quite a while and one gets very wet, unless properly protected with waterproof clothing. By dinner time, 3 large quinzees were built and ready for use. After consuming an estimated 60 lbs of turkey, which was deliciously prepared in large fryers, cleaning up and enjoying a short skit night, nearly everyone was ready for bed by 10pm. Five adventurous campers decided to leave the warm confines of the cabin and venture back outside to the sub-freezing night time temps in order to sleep in the quinzees. Inside the dense snow huts, it was a balmy 32–33 degrees, while outside the frigid arctic air was closer to 8–10 degrees. Everyone in the snow huts remained comparatively warm all night and enjoyed a more “peaceful” night of sleep than the 40 cots of exhausted scouts and scouter dads that were sawing seriously logs all night long! After a delicious traditional Irish breakfast and Interfaith Prayer Service the next morning, the boys packed up and were home well in advance of the Super Bowl pre-game show. In many ways, it was a truly unforgettable weekend for all! Check out the many great pictures from an unusually memorable winter campout here!