By Gene Bannister
When most people think about camping, they think warm weather conditions. But for Boy Scouts, any weather is camping weather.
Boy Scout Troop 417, chartered since 1945 to the First United Methodist Church in Park Hills, Mo., and other troops from across the area gathered at the local S Bar F Scout Ranch for their annual Klondike Derby (an event which tests their scout skills, teamwork, and most of all their cold weather camping skills).
The Klondike Derby is an annual event held by many Boy Scout units, districts, and councils across the nation for over 60 years. Each one follows a theme to guide the types of competitions from original Gold Rush themes — Winter Zombies, or Vikings, for instance — and this year the local Klondike theme was “On Target” with BB gun ghooting, archery, tomahawk throwing, wrist rockets (sling shots), shotgun shooting, and fishing golf.
Each contest required accuracy with points awarded to each patrol. After the all the contests were completed, each group brought the Gold Rush-era sledge required for the event and they raced them across the Scout Ranch’s large camporee field.
Troop 417, led by Scoutmaster Gene Bannister and assistant Scoutmasters Scott Comfort, John Barrington and Tony Barry, arrived late Friday afternoon with most parents arriving after 5 p.m.
With decreasing sunlight, the Troop pitched their tents, newly acquired Army surplus one-man tents, and then worked together under the leadership of one of their own, this time 12-year old Caleb W. served as acting Senior Patrol Leader, to put up their dining fly and get their entire camp ship-shape.
Later they made their beds (each Scout that did not bring a cold weather sleeping bag was issued extreme cold weather mummy bags once used by the military and guaranteed up to minus 50 degrees), and then piled around the campfire, each grabbing the camping chairs they brought.
Inevitably one or more Scouts had left their camp chairs at home, so some made do using those away from the fire’s chairs, grabbing a log to set on out of the stack of firewood brought by the adults, or one of the assistant Scoutmasters brought a spare chair, or two.
The next morning, after an early night as most of the boys were tired from a full day of school on Friday, the day started with the Senior Patrol Leader waking all the Scouts up and getting the duty roster going for breakfast. Cooks, water and fire, cleanup, and quartermaster duties had to be fulfilled and breakfast served, cleaned up from and the Troop assembled, ready to bring their sled and attend the morning flag ceremony.
The adults cook separate, and the Scouts take care of planning, buying and feeding themselves. Each meal operates the same way, after the morning opening ceremony, the troop competes in the various competitions, they return to camp to prepare lunch, and later dinner, but in between they stay busy with competitions, visiting other troops, and taking part in closing ceremonies, where they took home a trophy for first place in the fishing golf competition.
The final morning, Sunday, they packed up their gear, the tents, and after cooking a quick breakfast, their kitchen, all in all, another wonderful experience.
The weather proved no factor for these campers. The adults are all veteran campers, with two of them having served in the military and being used to camping under less than ideal conditions.
However, the amazing thing is that the boys never complained. When asked if they had been cold the night before when they gathered around the campfire each morning, each one replied in the negative or stated, “not very.”
The chill knocked off by the campfire, they were up and on their feet, going 60 miles per hour to enjoy and take in the adventure of the weekend. Although no snow fell, temperatures did drop into the mid-20s and rains came in around 2 a.m. on Sunday morning.
The Scouts held up like real Missouri campers, and for most of these boys their very first summer camp experience featured the first two days with torrential rainfall, soaking their gear, their beds and themselves, and it has not failed to rain on them each camp out since.
Their smiles continued all weekend, and did not abate until it was time to go home when moms and dads started appearing Sunday morning.
When asked what he likes most about Scouts, “Camping,” is what Bobby H. said, but what about cold weather camping, we ask him. “It’s okay, but we could have used some snow,” he said with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye.
“It’s not so bad,” said Will L., a second generation Troop 417 Boy Scout following in the footsteps of his Eagle Scout father. “I wasn’t cold at all.”
A couple Scouts reported a little leak in their tents after the rainfall Sunday morning, but nothing substantial, they pointed out. A total of nine Boy Scouts went camping, with two of their number being allowed to camp inside one of the lodges that was housing the staff for the Klondike event.
Those two Boy Scouts, Senior Patrol Leader Caleb B. and Patrol Leader Alek B., both are members of the National Honor Society of Scouting called the Order of the Arrow and were serving on staff instead of participating with their Troop this year.
Instead, temporary Senior Patrol Leader Caleb W. stepped up and lead his troop and brought home a first place trophy, although his father admitted that when selected Caleb was a bit apprehensive.
“He was nervous that we would not get to compete,” he recounted as the leaders visited with arriving parents. “He thought since he was in charge he wouldn’t get to do any of the things.” But that turned out to not be the case, of course.
The Senior Patrol Leader guides the troop through the entire campout, under the watchful eye of the adult leaders, but he is responsible for delegating tasks around camp. He is a full member of the team when it comes to competitions and not just a spectator.
He, like the others, got to try their hand at all the contests. Through it all, though, the troop performed admirably, setting up camp with no disagreements, carrying out chores with no arguments, delegating tasks evenly and efficiently, a true testament to what can be achieved if young people are given the chance and the adults stay out of their way.
Troop 417 is one of the few area Boy Scout troops to camp during the entire Klondike weekend each year. Out of the 15 Boy Scout troops in the six-county Ozark Trailblazers District, perhaps 2-3 troops will camp on the first night, with perhaps 1 maybe 2 of those going home Saturday after the awards ceremony concludes the event, then an additional 1-2 units may stay only for Saturday night.
Few troops camp both nights in tents, others opting for cabins, lodges or adirondacks, but Troop 417 is proud of their tradition of winter camping. For decades members of the Troop have camped each winter.
There have been some years where adult leadership has been at a minimum and perhaps camping had to be suspended, but right now they are experiencing an uptick in adult leadership and youth participation.
Winter camping is just another piece of that puzzle — teaching outdoor skills, character, and dedication.
Photo 1: Troop 417’s tents set up.
Photo 2: The Scouts work in their kitchen on breakfast.
Photo 3: Bobby, Jacob, and Austin stand around the fire while breakfast is being cooked.
Photo 4: Troop 417 pulled their Klondike Sledge to each event.
Photo 5: Troop 417 along with their campsite sign post.