I've never seen anything quite like it.
I've been to several Scout Camps—camps that I thought were well done.
But nothing compares to this one.
And I’m not easily impressed.
These types of things don't just fall into place. They’re planned—carefully—in advance.
And to plan something like this takes vision. Vision that boys plus structure is actually going to work without a major rebellion happening sometime during a five-day backpacking trip.
This camp ended up being the perfect blend of education, high adventure, hard work, Scout values, spiritual instruction, mentoring, and just plain fun.
Our destination was Queant Lake in the high Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah. It would take us 2.5 hours on pavement, 45 minutes on dirt, and 5.5 miles by backpack up some very rugged terrain.
Luckily Lance Brown, our Assistant Scoutmaster and Quartermaster, made it sound easier than it actually was. He told us it was a 4-mile hike. Well, that extra 1.5 miles was the killer. Yeah, I know Scout troops do 50-milers…but not all in one day and 5.5 was plenty, thank you.
But Lance was a real trooper and deserves a big hand. The guy scouted out the exact location two weeks earlier—not quite as easy as poking your head out the window to check the weather. He had to drive all the way there and do the hike to make sure the location was perfect.
Now that’s called going the extra mile.
Perhaps the biggest mistake you can make when taking Scouts on a backpacking trip is to leave the essential equipment list up to them—and let them ignore how heavy their packs are.
Nothing can put a damper on things quicker than an overloaded, ill-prepared, huffing-and-puffing, Scout struggling up the trail.
Accordingly, each Scout was given a detailed essentials list and had to bring his pack to the Church for a weigh-in and equipment check.
Each Scout was also assigned his “buddy”—so that nobody would ever be alone in the wilderness.
When Tuesday, June 23rd finally came, all the Scouts and their leaders met at the Highland 22nd Ward chapel at 6:15 AM. A few anxious moms mingled with the crowd wondering how their new, rosy-cheeked Scouts would do on their first real foray into the wilderness.
The departure could have easily been a willy-nilly chaotic affair with backpacks, fresh-faced Scouts, and worried moms all jumbled together—but it was surprisingly well-ordered.
As the Scoutmaster, Jason Conover had it all planned out. Not wanting to miss the chance for a proper send-off, Jason planned a flag ceremony and let the Junior Staff lead everyone in what could only be described as a goofy but fun dance.
And, if you’d like to note the important ingredients of a good Scout camp, you should write down Junior Staff. These boys were hand-picked Varsity Scouts with two Eagle Scouts among them. Talk about mentors. These guys were the cream of the crop and performed like pros.
After the flag ceremony and dance were completed a prayer for safety was offered and a few moms kissed their sons goodbye.
Then it was nothing but rubber on asphalt for 2.5 hours.
To get to Queant Lake from Highland, Utah you have to drive up Provo Canyon, juke east of Heber, pass Strawberry Reservoir, refrain from blinking while passing through Duchesne, leave the pavement behind at Roosevelt, and wonder if you really passed through Whiterocks (So…are those 3 houses considered Whiterocks??).
Then it’s up, up, up, into the Ashley National Forest on a road built entirely of clay that’s surely a mini-nightmare every time it rains.
Arriving at the trailhead we were all anxious to try out our trail-legs and prove that 5.5 miles really isn’t that bad.
So off we went—with the horses heading out before the rest of us. (Yeah, horses packing some of the heavier items like dutch ovens and enough ribs to feed a Scout army)
Then a hundred yards up the trail our Scoutmaster broke his hip-belt buckle.
Backpacks don’t work so well without a hip-belt buckle.
But, the Scout motto of be prepared would come into play here and at other critical times during the trip.
So Jason simply jogged back to the cars, grabbed a spare, and we installed it on the trail.
Good to go.
Then we started the long slog through the beautiful Ashley National Forest. Hiking along a small gorge with a crystal-clear creek (pronounced “crick” here in Utah….), traversing fallen logs and mini-marshes, we ghosted in and out the forest like the last of Utah’s native Bannocks…and as silently as organ-grinder monkeys.
Creaking hip-belts, straining shoulder straps, the zip of tightened stabilizers, swinging water bottles, the tramp of new boots on mountain soil, our own huffs and puffs…. These sounds were our own song of the trail.
At 2.5 miles we stopped for lunch—and a chance to remove our packs, which had mysteriously gotten quite a bit heavier.
Since the “crick” was nearby it didn’t take half a second for some fishing poles to materialize.
After a quick lunch of Kraft Breadsticks and Cheese, gorp, Poptarts, and other such nutritional delights, we hefted our packs again with a few moans and groans.
And that’s where we separated the men from the boys.
Not really of course.
Leaders with FRS radios were spaced conveniently throughout the line, with sporadic bursts of radio chatter occurring at critical points along the trail.
At the 4-mile mark we were ready to be done.
At the 5-mile mark we were really ready to be done.
When we finally saw Queant Lake we were somewhat dismayed to see that we had another half-mile hike around the lake to get to the campsite.
But it's worth it.
Queant Lake sits above 9500 feet, surrounded by trees and bald-faced, shale mountaintops. Shaped like a crescent, the lake has created a natural peninsula with everything needed for the perfect Scout camp: a loosely forested tent site, a rocky promontory for flag ceremonies, large open meadows for sports, easy access to the water for fishing, and a grand view of the lake itself.
Okay, now I’ll be honest. It’s a terrible spot. No other Scout troops or backpackers should waste their time at this place. Really. It’s not worth it. The local KOA is much better. Shoot, an RV Park is a much better choice. I’d just hate to lead anyone astray and encourage you to go to this place.
Okay, now back to my account of our Scout Camp in this awful, awful, disappointing spot.
You can imagine how grateful we were to arrive at our destination and remove the packs from our backs. Our hip-belts had reduced our hip areas into stinging, semi-numb, ache-points.
And no hip areas have been more relieved to be de-burdened.
Then it was out with the tents and tent poles and soon we had ourselves our own little Scout tent city.
But before anyone got too comfortable, by darn if we weren’t going to stick to the schedule. And the schedule said we were going to work on a merit badge—specifically First Aid.
And that’s one of the many things that are so cool about the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
Merit badges are earned by learning, internalizing, and demonstrating proficiency in an enormous variety of subjects ranging from business, camping, dentistry, electricity, family life, gardening, hiking, Indian lore, journalism, landscape architecture, mammal studies, nature, oceanography, painting, radio, safety, textiles, veterinary medicine and water sports. …Just to name the leading titles from A to Z. All in all there are 121 merit badges on different subjects.
Being a Scout is about education, ethical values, and service in the communities that Scouts live in.
Who can complain about that?
And who can say that First Aid isn’t a good thing for anybody to know? In fact, our knowledge of First Aid would come into play in an important way before we ended our camp….
So we sat around the campfire and learned First Aid—as taught by two healthcare professionals (Ammon Jones and Derek White) and one all-around-smart Bishopric Counselor (Karl Bunnell).
Then a flag ceremony atop the promontory rounded it all out.
And lest we forget that boys need some free time—that’s exactly what they got. Out came the fishing poles and the hacky sacks.
Being past 40 myself, I couldn’t figure out where they got their energy.
But fish were immediately caught and hackies were sacked.
Then before we went to bed (which means leaders going to sleep and boys talking and laughing half the night) we hung our food high in the trees to keep bears from digging into our tents.
Because who can imagine a more frightening way to wake up than to the huff ‘n’ snuff of a bear snout poking into your tent?
So we hung our food high and hoped that we didn’t let any stray M&Ms slip beneath our blankets.
The next morning the Scouts made their own breakfasts. Water heated on small, gas stoves provided the necessary ingredient to make nameless, shapeless bags of stuff turn into delicious cinnamon oatmeal or hearty eggs and ham.
After breakfast we immediately split off into 3 separate groups to work on the Duty to God awards.
The Duty to God award represents a parallel path and award to the Boy Scouts of America’s highest Scouting award, the Eagle. Except the Duty to God has a firm grounding in religious and spiritual growth. In this case, our faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Imagine being over 9500 feet above sea level surrounded by the beauty of an alpine lake and a national forest and spending time discussing and contemplating spiritual values. The Scouts were surprisingly cooperative and participated fully as qualified leaders—men of firm faith—addressed them.
I couldn’t help but feel the significance of the moment. Good men teaching young boys how to be good. How long has this been going on? For how many hundreds or thousands of years have good men been mentoring boys?
After working on their Duty to God, it was right back into merit badges—with a continuation of First Aid.
Then the next merit badge was Wilderness Survival—taught by Lance Brown.
Wilderness Survival teaches exactly what it sounds like it should—how to survive in the wilderness—especially under less than ideal circumstances.
As leaders we were somewhat doubtful when Lance informed us that we were going to be taking the boys into the forest—without much gear—and having them build shelters to sleep in. I imagined myself getting soaked with rain as I lay on a tarp in the middle of the forest. Suddenly our tents seemed like a comfortable luxury.
But the build-a-shelter plan was for later. There were a few important things to do before then.
A half-hour later as I was hopelessly trying to untangle a snaggle of fishing line surrounding my new open-faced reel, I looked up in surprise to see a group of boys, led by Lance, carrying what looked like a telephone pole.
In their hands (or on their shoulders) they had the new camp flagpole. And through a process that would make high-rise builders nod with approval and would strangely resemble the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, we erected that pole directly on top of the Queant Lake peninsula’s highest point.
I use the term “we” loosely—because I was actually snapping photos while everyone else got really sweaty.
And this flagpole was another example of good planning. Wanting to have something spectacular, Lance planned on finding a proper pole somewhere near camp—and he did. And he had the rope, eye-screws, and carabiners to make it all work.
Planning. Another necessary ingredient for a good Scout camp.
From then on, all morning and evening flag ceremonies were carried out in style.
Unfortunately our Scoutmaster, Jason Conover, had to make the long trek back home to attend a funeral. But this group of leaders had such a "deep bench", that the Assistant Scoutmaster, Matt Dawson, immediately picked up the slack without the slightest effect to the overall program.
Later that evening it was time for our wilderness survival test.
As a leader, this was one of those things that you openly smile about and act all confident—but inside you feel doubts and pray for easy weather.
So it was with some trepidation that we began our wilderness survival trek out into the netherlands of the forest. After hiking in what seemed like an aimless fashion we arrived at nearby Cleveland Lake and were informed that we going to spend the night nearby.
We weren’t all that far from camp and it looked like a friendly place to spend under the stars.
And the fish were really biting.
I mean really biting.
We lined up like a bunch of hungry Boy Scouts at a fishing derby. Which…we were.
It seemed like anything we threw in the water would end up with a fish attached to it.
Beautiful Brook Trout.
We scrambled to put the fish together with lemon pepper and foil—then threw them on the fire to be expertly cooked by Brian Packer.
Then all the boys were instructed to find a spot at least 50 feet away from each other and build a shelter to spend the night in.
Some were quite elaborate.
Some were not.
I, and many of the other leaders, retired near the fire to sleep under the stars. I fell asleep after counting 8 satellites.
And then I woke up to rain.
I have to admit that I thought I was mighty clever, in the dead of night, when I made a rhyme as I said: "Hey Dain, looks like rain.”
Dain Hodson, sleeping a few feet away, had heard the first pitter-patter of raindrops as well. Neither one of us could see any stars. That meant that the night sky was full of clouds.
Just what we had feared.
So we did what any self-respecting Scout leaders would do.
We folded our respective tarps over ourselves and went back to sleep.
Luckily it didn’t do anything except gently pitter-patter for a minute or two.
Now that’s what I call wilderness survival—I mean, hey, if you have to survive in the wilderness you can always pray for easy weather!
The next day we tramped back to camp, none the worse for wear, and repeated the same type of schedule.
Patriotic flag ceremony with fun skits; Duty to God; merit badges; free time in the form of hacky sack games, fishing, and steal-the-flag; some hard work collecting wood and filtering water; and great “rubbing of shoulders” between good men and good boys.
We also worked on other merit badges: Astronomy, taught by Matt Dawson, Emergency Preparedness taught by Jim Golden, and Fishing taught by Lance Brown.
Oh...and a deluxe cowboy meal of barbecued short ribs and Gramma Anderson's beans was provided by our own camp cookie, Tim Anderson. No meal ever tasted so good.
That night we were mercifully rained on while we were in our tents. Still, hard rain all night will flood even the best of tents—so the first order of business in the morning was drying everything out.
Friday was the day that our Bishop came come to visit us.
I think something has to be noted here.
The Bishop of an LDS ward is undoubtedly the busiest man among, perhaps, 100 families. As a lay-pastor he has to support his own family by working a regular job at least 40 hours per week—and then his spiritual duties require, perhaps, another 20-30 hours per week.
And our Bishop is no exception.
So when Bishop Chris Juchau took the time to make the long trek to Queant Lake, we couldn’t be anything but grateful.
We were also grateful for the support of the two Highland 22nd Ward bishopric counselors (Karl Bunnell and Tim Anderson) who provided invaluable time and expertise. Equally impressive was the fact that the entire Young Men Presidency (Ammon Jones, Brian Packer, Jim Golden, and Dain Hodson) was at the camp. Without their dedicated assistance it just wouldn't have been the same.
After another day of the perfect blend of education, teaching of faith, and mentoring, Jim Golden had a special treat for us all.
He would lead the retirement of a U.S. flag. I have to admit that I’ve never seen a flag of the United States retired.
As I heard the other leaders talking about it, I wondered what it would be like.
Then I watched Jim meticulously practicing the ceremony with the Junior Staff and was impressed with the time and care he was taking to get it just right.
And there was, perhaps, no greater setting than the promontory of Queant Lake’s peninsula—high above sea level in the heart of the Rocky Mountains—untouched forest surrounding us—one of those uniquely American places—to retire a ragged old flag.
The flag had been donated by Jim’s grandfather, a World War II veteran, who passed away a short while ago. So it was fitting that Jim led the way by reciting some poetry regarding the flag—most notably the tribute by Johnny Cash called Ragged Old Flag.
Throughout this dignified ceremony the Scouts were still and silent. There was none of usual fidgeting in their ranks. It was clear that something special was happening. Something good. Something to be remembered.
Then, at the end of the tributes, 4 Junior Staff reverently laid the flag into the fire.
The consuming flames and rising smoke seemed like all the spirits of those who had died to honor that flag.
Perfect. And unforgettable.
Later that evening our First Aid preparedness finally came into play.
Across the lake a family had been camping. To our surprise, Aaron and Joan Whitaker worriedly approached us to ask if we had any consecrated oil. They explained that their 6 year-old son, Enoch*, had injured his leg and they feared that it was broken.
When some of our leaders explained that we had someone in our camp with healthcare expertise that could examine their son, they both broke down in tears of relief.
So imagine my surprise when I was called in from a short fishing venture to examine a child who had possibly broken his leg.
I have to note here that the Scout motto of be prepared had been knocking around my head for several weeks leading up to the camp. Since I was staying the entire 5 days I volunteered to be the camp Medic and to build and bring along a comprehensive First Aid kit.
Luckily, as I was putting together the kit, I ran across what is known as a SAM splint.
Suffice to say, I had everything needed to make a very nice splint that came close to doing the same job as a hard cast.
So with Brian Packer accompanying me, I followed the Whitakers around the lake and examined little Enoch.
The problem was that there was nothing except his pain and inability to stand that indicated an injury. No bruise, no swelling, no deformation, no displacement. I performed a variety of tests and only came up with a vaguely pinpointed but significant pain. Not good, but also not a medical emergency.
So, with the Whitakers’ approval we wrapped his leg, ankle, and foot in Coban for the night in hopes that the pain would diminish by morning.
No such luck.
In the morning, Enoch’s foot had swollen.
And the Whittakers were planning on going home that day.
So, after talking with them and our Scout leaders, it was decided that the smoothest way out for little Enoch would be on his father’s back. Which meant that Aaron Whitaker modified his backpack to be like a baby carrier so Enoch could sit inside it—legs dangling out holes on the bottom—and be relatively comfortable during the 5.5 miles back to the trailhead.
But not before we splinted him up nicely with the SAM splint, Coban, and Ace Wraps. His leg was effectively immobilized from mid-thigh to the tips of his toes.
Tim Anderson, our Bishopric’s 2nd Counselor, would pack out Aaron’s equipment with his horses (a horse ride through that rocky, wooded country would have been far too rough for little Enoch).
I have to admit that the sight of Aaron Whitaker packing his son out of the high Uintas was one of the finest examples of a father’s care for his child that I have ever seen. With an off-balance, awkward, heavy load this father went the distance to carry his son to safety. And Joan, Enoch’s mother, carried extra, heavy gear in her backpack to make it all happen.
The next day we learned that Enoch had indeed broken a bone above his ankle and that our splint had helped to keep everything in place.
We were just grateful we were prepared.
On Saturday morning it was time for us to break camp and head back home, so after one last closing flag ceremony we swept through the camp looking for any trace that we had been there.
5.5 miles back down the trail was a little easier downhill than going up. But it was still a relief to finally drop our heavy packs and sit down on some cushiony car seats.
A great Scout Camp like this ends up being a tribute to all those who took the time to carefully plan it. It's not easy to make this type of thing work. But, in the end, what it says about the leaders is that they really care to make it exceptional. And the Scouts themselves deserve credit for their enthusiastic participation.
It also says that a great Scout Camp is a careful mix of all the essential elements: education, spiritual values, ethical values, hard work, fun, and patriotic services.
And, as I said before, I've never seen anything quite like it.
Well done, Troop 1165.
*Story shared with permission.
I've never seen anything quite like it.
Posted by : Derek White on Friday, July 3, 2009 | | 2 Comments