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Spring Backpacking Season – Get Ready

Posted on 03 April 2012 by MikeD

The following is a Guest Article by Mike Dubrall. Mike “Uncle Dub Zero” Blogs and writes informative articles on backpacking and snow camping at 50Miler.com. 

Its Spring – a time when every good Scout starts thinking about his backpack. Across the country, people are pulling their packs out of the closet, cleaning out the leftover food from last year, and getting ready for the practice hikes ahead. Many with the goal of completing a 50 mile backpacking trip before the end of the summer.

Everyone agrees that wilderness backpacking embodies all of the core Scouting values. Accordingly Scout leaders often ask, “How do we start a backpacking program in our Troop or Crew?” It’s not really complex, but here is a straight-forward plan for getting your guys onto the trail. The steps are not necessarily in chronological order but ,the last step loops back to the first step every year.

50miler group shot

Promote the backpacking program with pictures and exciting stories.

1. Promote backpacking in your Troop: Younger Scouts and many adults will not associate the idea of idea of carry heavy packs over long distances with fun – so they have to be convinced. Start slowly, schedule a few short trips and propagate stories about success and overcoming adversity. Then get everyone to agree on a goal of completing a 50miler or going to Philmont in the near future. Remember, it’s not just the older Scouts and Scouters that have to be won over – parents also have to understand the benefits of a backpacking program.

2. Pick Dates for the adventure: With everyone’s busy schedules, spontaneity is not possible. Select a week for the big trip about six months in advance and let everyone know so they can arrange their calendars accordingly. (If you want to have your hike in August, then select the dates in February.) Most of the details, including where you are going, can be worked out later. (Philmont participants usually have to commit to their dates 18 months in advance!)

Schedule a 50 miler six months ahead of time.

3. Have a planning meeting: Schedule a gathering of potential hikers and then advertise it in ways that attract most of the target audience. This planning meeting is about building enthusiasm for the backpacking program, scheduling practice hikes, assigning responsibilities, discussing dietary restrictions or physical challenges, and electing leaders. It is also a great opportunity to talk about the dates of the 50 miler and potential locations.

4. Publish a Pack List: Successful youth backpacking trips require good pack lists and the leadership to enforce their use. However, developing a pack list is a philosophical exercise with many possible and contradictory outcomes. Every unit has their own list, based upon location, leadership philosophy, anticipated routes, and even hiking history. (leaders can be very passionate about their own lists!) Publishing the pack list (months or years) ahead of time allows parents to buy what they need without pressure. Set a deadline about a month before the 50 miler for acquiring all the gear and conduct a rigorous pack check about a week before you leave.

5. Conduct Practice Hikes: Arm the group with a practice hike schedule that includes dates, times, required pack weights, locations, responsibilities, and discussion topics. Each hike, in addition to the conditioning aspect, is an opportunity to increase the group’s knowledge about topics like wilderness first aid, maps and compass, bear bagging, water purification, hygiene, trail safety, and cooking. In addition to the regular outing schedule, our Troop schedules ten Venture practice hikes including three overnighters every Spring. The minimum requirement in order to go on the 50 miler that summer is four hikes with appropriate weights, including one overnighter.

50miler practice hikes

Practice hikes are an important part of the 50 miler experience.

6. Complete the 50 miler: Armed with a map, permits, medical forms, emergency plan, food, and all the equipment on the pack list the group is transported to the trailhead for their big adventure. Remember to take lots of pictures for the Court of Honor. It’s also nice to have parents waiting at the end with fruit, root beer floats, and pizza to welcome home their young warriors and listen to them talk about their misfortunes and exploits.

Unfortunately, many potential hikers ( and parents) balk at wilderness backpacking because of the perceived risks and potential hardships – or because they fear the unknown. Other families are hesitant because they panic at the thought of investing in equipment before they even know if their son or daughter is going to enjoy the experience. This irrational fear, panic, and paranoia keeps too many Scouts and Scouters at home.

However, it is not uncommon for Scouts to stand up at their Eagle Courts of Honor and talk enthusiastically about how backpacking experiences changed their lives or inspired them to new achievements. One said, “I don’t remember many days of my life, but I do remember vividly every day of every 50 miler I have ever been on.” With this kind of testimonial, adult leaders should do everything in their power to provide opportunities for Scouts to experience wilderness backpacking as often as possible.

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Mike Dubrall writes about backpacking, snow camping, and other high adventure outings at 50Miler.com.. His email is miked@50miler.com or you can be connected through the 50miler.com Outing Resource Center on Facebook.

 

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MD Snow Shoe Trip

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Five Degrees of Snow Camping

Posted on 08 March 2012 by MikeD

The following is a Guest Article by Mike Dubrall. Mike “Uncle Dub Zero” Blogs and writes informative articles on backpacking and snow camping at 50Miler.com. 

Snow camping is a popular winter activity for sturdy Boy Scouts.  Every year, thousands venture into snow covered fields and conduct a variety of maneuvers, all designed to prove that they can survive and thrive in cold conditions that cause their parents to mutter about hot tubs and hotel rooms.   However, while cold weather outings can be challenging, not all winter outings can be called snow camping, no matter what your leaders tell you.

Winter is a great time for Scout outings.

Snow camping requires, at a very minimum, that Scouts build shelters in the snow and sleep in them.  These could be tents, Ice or Hop Houses, Quinzies, Snow Trenches (sometimes called Ice Coffins) or the most popular of all – the classic Snow Cave.   Anything less than spending the entire night in one of these shelters  is just a winter outing with snow involved.

To clear up any confusion, here are the degrees of snow camping clearly defined – from easiest to most difficult.

Zero Degree: Staying in a cabin. Gentlemen, this is not snow camping.  No matter how many times you go outside and walk around in snowshoes or how cold you get making snow angels wearing only your shorts, it’s not called snow “camping” when you sleep in a “cabin.”  Even your little sister knows this.  Give it up and try again next winter.

First Degree: Car Camping.  Adults drive you up to the mountains and park near the snow.  You get to pitch tents or dig snow caves right next to the cars and keep all your shovels, extra tools, snacks, water, and tarps in the trunk, grabbing them as needed.  Adults sit in a Winnebago preparing hot chocolate and there is no need to dig out a cooking area because there is a propane stove in the back of  the truck.  Often you have KYBOS nearby, but you have to be brave enough to use them, partly because of the frigid temperature inside.

Second Degree: Tent Camping.  After arriving, Scouts pack up their equipment and leave the parking area to find a campsite.  Travel from the cars can be via snow shoe, cross country ski, or by booted foot.  Upon arrival at a suitable location, snow is cleared or smoothed and tents are erected with “dead men stakes” covered by snow.  Gear is stowed in the tents and the group works together building  a common kitchen area and latrine before heading off to explore the frozen lake.  After dark, Scouts climb into their tents and hope that the temperatures outside do not drop below 30 degrees or that it doesn’t snow too much.  If it does, they shiver in their sleeping bags and think about real snow caves.

MD Snow Cave

Digging a Snow Cave is much more difficult than just erecting a tent - but is usually more comfortable.

Third Degree: Cave Camping.  Scouts load their backpacks, fasten on their snow shoes, and carry all their equipment across the snow and away from the parking lot until the desired separation is achieved – usually when the weakest camper drops from exhaustion.   (The longer the hike, the more adventurous the outing.)  After testing the snow with an avalanche probe for hidden large rocks and other surprises, Scouts spend hours sitting or lying on tarps digging caves using snow shovels, saws, and their gloved hands.  During the afternoon, volunteers takes turns sculpting a kitchen area near the shelters.  Someone makes sure the cooking stoves are constantly lit and that snow is being melted into drinkable water.  After dinner, everyone climbs into their cave, lights their glow stick, and settles into a soundless trance until morning.

Fourth Degree: Cave or Tent Camping as part of an extended trek.  This is full metal jacket snow camping and only for the strongest and most prepared youth in the Council.  In addition to carrying a heavy backpack full of food and supplies across the snow on snow shoes, Scouts have to get up early every day

MD Snow Camping Levels of Difficulty

Leaving the vehicles for several days is the most challenging kind of fourth degree winter outing.

(when it’s really, really cold), break camp, and start moving so they arrive in camp in time to create new shelters and melt snow for drinking water before it gets dark.  On top of the significant physical and psychological burdens, everyone has to navigate across a frozen and alien geography where trails and landmarks are covered in snow, rending most maps almost useless.

Of course additional points can be earned when something difficult happens an any of these outings.  For example, when a storm unexpectedly dumps two feet of snow on your shelters overnight collapsing tents or forcing campers to dig out of their caves in the morning.  Likewise, when adults inexplicably insist that everyone buckle their snow shoes  after dinner for a night hike in sub-arctic temperatures.

Now that you have a snow camping barometer, what kind of winter camping does your unit do?
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Mike Dubrall writes about backpacking, snow camping, and other high adventure outings at 50Miler.com.. His email is miked@50miler.com and you can friend him on Facebook.

 

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