The Mountain Times

°F Fri, April 25, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

Winter Camping

As scoutmaster, I gathered my 18 scouts to plan our winter campout. To earn an honor patrol for scout month in February, one of the requirements was that we needed to go camping. My wife, who is from California, was astounded that we camped in the winter here. "When the scouts in California camp in the winter, it is like summer camping in Idaho."

I had to agree, but I assured her we would be safe. "Besides," I told her, "we want to prepare the boys to survive if they are ever caught out somewhere in the winter."

Most of the boys were excited about winter camping. All but one. J.R. was not the slightest bit inclined to feel it was a part of what he felt was a joyful life experience. "I don't think the word camping and winter should be used in the same sentence," he growled.
I didn't expect to see him on the night of the campout. But in that I was wrong. His parents were pushing him to get to his Eagle, and every campout moved him one step closer. J.R.'s father dropped his scowling son off for the campout on Friday night, whether J.R. wanted to be there or not.

J.R.'s father was one of the congregational leaders of our church and should also have been going with us. When I approached him about joining us, he frowned. "I don't need any merit badges." With that he took off in his car before I could pursue the issue further.

My assistant scoutmaster and I had spent weeks training the boys on proper winter camping methods and now was our chance to put it into practice. We worked with them to dig the snow down to the solid ground, laid out a couple of bales of straw for insulation, and then set up the large 20 man tent. We piled snow back along the edges for insulation and laid tarps over the straw. By the time it was getting dark, the tent was snug and warm.

I had prepared fajitas for the boys. I liked fajitas because I could have most of the food prepared ahead and it took only about 15 minutes before dinner was served. In all of my years as scoutmaster, I learned that boys can put up with a lot of things if they are well fed. When they finished with fajitas I had scones and honey butter.

While the boys played a game of moonlight steal-the-flag, my assistant scoutmaster and I set up our much less adequate tent.

When the boys grew tired, we gathered around the campfire to share some stories. It was close to midnight when they finally wore down and climbed into their sleeping bags. I had some hand warmers and I gave some to each boy that desired any. They crushed the package to activate them and then tucked them down into their sleeping bags so that, when they climbed in, their feet were nice and warm.

I also had lots of extra blankets. I spread them out across multiple boys to help hold in the heat. J.R. chose to be on an edge. He refused to take any of the warmers and absolutely wanted nothing to do with the extra blankets. He was sure he hated winter camping and was determined that he would be miserable.

The night grew cold, reaching about 20 degrees below zero, but we were well equipped. When we woke, my assistant scout master started a fire while I prepared bacon, sausage, and pancakes for breakfast. The boys rolled out and came to get some hot chocolate while the last of the breakfast was being prepared.

As most of us were standing around and chatting happily, J.R. finally climbed out of his bed. He scowled as he joined the rest of the happy throng. "Well," he grumped at us, "I guess we made it through the night. But, let's not ever have any more of this foolishness."

Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at daris@darishoward.com