Troop 28's March 2001 Campout
By Lloyd Dalton

The March campout started out poorly. The SPL and PLs hadn't made sure all the scouts knew the date & location of the campout. As a result, only 7 scouts signed up on the Monday before the campout. Of course, this is Minnesota, and winter events usually have slightly lower attendance. Still, I had hoped for at few more scouts (the troop had around 20 at that time). Oh well, we'd just have to do our best to make the trip worthwhile for the ones who went. We were going to Lake Maria State Park.

That Friday, things really went sour. Out of the 7 scouts who'd signed up, four cancelled. Maybe it was the forecast, which predicted 0-degree temperatures and severe wind chills. I was pretty disappointed, and thought about the possibility of cancelling the trip. That would have been awful, since we'd been camping each month for the past year and a half. I hoped the remaining three scouts would still want to camp.

Fortunately, they did want to camp--and without any persuasion from me, either. I felt my spirits rise as I saw them work to combine their two patrols' duty roster, food and equipment. At any rate, there would be plenty of food for the weekend.

It took about half an hour to get to Lake Maria, and of course it was dark when we arrived. We were 5 people. The three scouts, Assistant SM Jeff, and myself. Of the scouts, all were 13 or younger. One had 15 campouts under his belt, another had 5, and another had zero. He had just joined the troop. We'd done a good job of talking to him and his parents to make sure he had the right equipment and was prepared.

We had to hike about half a mile from the parking lot to our camp. It wasn't an easy half-mile either. The trail went up and down small hills like a roller coaster. Fortunately, we had sleds. I was impressed with the amount of gear the scouts were able to stack on their sled. It looked about as stable as an elephant on stilts, but the scouts assured me it was fine. They were correct for about 30 feet of trail, and then I was correct.

Near the parking lot was a warming shelter which was kept open and heated at all hours. We left one of our water jugs there, since we were pretty sure any water in camp would freeze.

We made it to the camp area and discovered two decent campsites. The scouts selected the nearer one, and Jeff and I dumped our gear at the far site. It was about 150 feet away. Both sites had metal fire rings, completely filled with ice (melted by previous campers' fires). The ice at the scouts' site was less than an inch thick, covering about 6 inches of liquid water. Brett (the brand new scout) discovered this the hard way, with his boot. It got totally soaked. Luckily, he had brought an extra set of footwear and socks.

The scouts busied themselves setting up their tent, while Jeff and I started a fire at our site, and made our troop's famous 5-can chili cheese nacho dip:

2 cans of chili
1 can of refried beans
1 can of spanish rice
1 can (or jar) of cheese
2 or 3 bags of chips
1 small can diced jalapenos (optional)

Before the campout, dump all ingredients (except the chips) into a ziploc bag, and freeze (reduces the chance of a spill). At the campout, dump into a dutch oven, heat and eat.

We invited the scouts over to join us for some dip and hot kool-aid, since their own fire-building efforts had not gone well, and it was getting late. Everyone loved the dip, and we ate most of it. Did I mention it was really, really cold? We were in a low-lying area, out in the woods. I found later that the temperature in town had reached 0 degrees F.

After the food, the scouts wanted to go to bed. I persuaded them to hike back to the warming shelter, to get a sled-load of wood for the morning. The real reason was because all three of them were starting to shiver. After walking to the shelter and back, we all were much warmer from the exercise. The scouts went to sleep, and Jeff and I did too. We stayed up talking a bit later than we should have.

The next morning, Jeff and I slept late. I'm embarrassed to say how late. While we were sleeping, the three scouts woke up early, started a fire, hiked back to the shelter with their frozen water, exchanged it for the liquid water we had left the previous night and cooked eggs, sausage and hot chocolate for breakfast. They were busily cleaning their campsite when Jeff and I wandered by. We were both quite impressed as we sheepishly re-heated leftover the chili cheese dip for our brunch.

The scouts had decided earlier that they wanted to go sledding. Lake Maria State Park has a very large hill, about 1.5 miles from our campsite. We set off, with the scouts arguing over how to interpret their map. At the first trail junction, there was a disagreement over which way to go. The argument was still in progress when another group of boys came walking by. We found out they were also scouts, from a different troop, out for a day trip. Coincidentally, they had just come from the sledding hill! We learned that we could save ourselves some effort by hiking to the parking lot and driving to the far side of the hill.

"Can we do that?" asked one of the scouts.

"Sure, just hurry up and figure out how to get there." I said.

The scouts responded with enthusiastic yells, and then Jeff and I witnessed something that made us laugh for about 10 minutes straight. Each of our scouts instantly took off running down a different trail. They got about 10 feet before stopping to look at each other in surprise. After a few more minutes of map-consultation, they agreed to ignore the map and follow the trail that the other troop had come from. They did not check the map to see if this truly was a shorter way to get to the parking lot (it wasn't). But after a long and scenic hike, we arrived.

When we pulled up to the sledding hill, I was sort of awed. It was humungous. I had memories of hiking over that same hill in the summer. But now the swampy area at the bottom was frozen over, making the hill much longer. Of all the hills I've sledded down, that was the only one that gave me real fear. We spent the next hour or so enjoying thrills, spills and chills. The other troop also returned from their hike and joined us. They were very impressed that we'd stayed the night outside.

When we pulled up to the sledding hill, I was sort of awed. It was humungous. I had memories of hiking over that same hill in the summer. But now the swampy area at the bottom was frozen over, making the hill much longer. Of all the hills I've sledded down, that was the only one that gave me real fear. We spent the next hour or so enjoying thrills, spills, chills. The other troop returned and joined us.

Lunch was fruit bars and crackers with cheese and summer sausage. At the warming shelter, the park rangers were demonstrating how to boil maple syrup. Several people from the local area had come for the event, and we joined them. The scouts tried some of the maple syrup and gave it the thumbs-up.

Afterwards, it was time to work on scout skills (we ask the scouts to spend some time on every trip practicing some kind of basic scout skill). The scouts decided to work on axe-sharpening, knots and first aid (mainly for the benefit of the new scout). We were in the warming shelter, ready to start, when one of the scouts ran inside.

"Deer! Deer! I saw a deer!" He yelled.

"Hmm, cool," I replied. Whee, a deer, I thought. Never seen those before.

"No, it's right outside!" he said, "Come on, see!"

We went outside, and sure enough, there was a deer about 20 feet away, standing there. I took a picture of it, and it stayed still until we started to walk toward it. Then it jumped away, into the woods.

Afterwards, we all sat in the heated shelter, drinking hot chocolate, while the scouts tied knots and sharpened the hatchet and axe. But when it was time to do first aid, they had other ideas. "Can we go look in the woods for more deer?"

"Sure, have fun." I said. Good luck, you'll need it,I thought. I had no way of knowing that something magical was about to happen.

The scouts asked if Jeff or I wanted to come, but we declined (we were feeling a bit lazy). Then I noticed the time, and the position of the sun in the sky. Did I really want these scouts to go off into the woods shortly before dark? The same scouts that couldn't figure out how to orient a map earlier? I grabbed my coat and went with them into the woods. "Have fun!" said Jeff.

In the woods, things were different. There was, no exaggeration, about two feet of snow on the ground. It had a thick crust, and the scouts could walk on top of it. I was heavier, and I often brok through the crust, sinking in up to my knees. We hadn't gone more than 200 feet when the scout out in front raised his hand, turned around, and put his finger to his lips. He pointed with the other hand, and whispered "deer!".

Sure enough, in the small valley ahead, a deer was barely visible, lying down with its head poked up over the snow. We all crouched down and crept closer, trying to be as quiet as possible. We didn't fool the deer for a single minute. It watched us approach, then stood up. "I wonder how close we can get," I whispered.

We all stood up and ran towards the deer, which leaped away from us. Then we saw another deer, that we hadn't noticed before. It leaped up, and escaped with the first deer over a hill.

The scouts resumed their stealthy positions, and crept up and around the hill. We saw, the two deer just 100 or so feet away, on the other side. We got within 50 feet of them before they again ran up and over the next hill.

Now, the scouts began to think strategically. They spread out, hoping to encircle the deer. We all moved over the hill and spotted the deer again. They evaded the encircling maneuver without really trying hard. Again, over the hill. Again, we followed.

This process repeated itself at least 5 times. It was an amazing experience.It was nearly dark when I called a halt--I have no doubt the scouts would have followed those deer for miles and miles, had time permitted.

I've read some passages and excerpts from the original scout handbook, where it talks about stalking wildlife. I found them interesting, but kind of quaint, until that day. Now I realize exactly why the founders of scouting emphasized stalking skills--few things are more exciting. This was confirmed by the scouts--for quite a while, they talked of little else. So did I. Jeff probably thought we had gone a little nuts.

After that, the rest of the campout was sort of anticlimactic. We ate supper, went to bed, woke up, packed up, saw a raccoon, hiked our gear back to the parking lot, greeted our ride home (who was surprised to find us actually ready on time). The scouts fell sound asleep about 1 minute into the ride home.

What I learned from this? Never even think of canceling a campout because only three scouts are going. You never know what you'll miss.

As a postscript, 15 scouts and 5 adults attended the next month's campout, including all three scouts who had camped in March. (believe it or not, the snow was gone and the temperature reached 80 degrees!)

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