REGIONAL - Thirteen-year old Marshall was shoveling snow to clear his campsite. The idea of sleeping outdoors when the temperatures were in the 20s didn’t seem to bother him at all.
“Last year I camped out and it was -25,” he said.
His camping partner Ryan was also not concerned.
“My mom made me wear about five layers of clothes,” he said. “I won’t be cold.”
The two boys are younger members of Scout Troop 128 from Cook. The troop’s more seasoned members were helping them set up camp at this year’s Klondike Derby. Older troop members told tales of past winter camping fun as troop-mates shared a mid-morning snack, after figuring out who had packed the best ones.
The scouts actually look forward to below-zero weather for the Klondike weekend, said troop leader Rock Gilson.
“They earn a special Zero Hero patch if it’s below zero,” he said. “Otherwise they are just camping out in the cold.”
Last year Gilson’s troop did earn that honor, but no one truly seemed to mind the seasonably warm Klondike weather this year, since there was plenty of fresh snow to practice their winter survival skills.
The big worry with winter camping and kids, Gilson said, is keeping them as dry as possible. Once they get wet, he said, they can get dangerously chilled, even if temperatures aren’t that cold. Gilson teaches his troop to sleep outdoors in the cold, using a combination of tarps and sleeping bags to stay warm.
Some years, he said, the boys will build quinzees, a type of snow fort. But quinzee building is quite energy-intensive, and the boys build up quite a sweat while piling and then digging out the snow, and then often end up with wet clothing.
Troop member Kristian has been coming to Klondike Derby since he was a preschooler, tagging along with his parents, who are long-time scout troop leaders. This year Kristian had opted not to sleep over, noting he had plenty of practice already. But he was out in the snow helping his younger troop-mates get ready for the day.
The Klondike is an annual event and is based on the heritage of the Klondike Golf Rush. The first Klondikes were organized in 1949. The event is a chance for scouts to test their skills, as well as get a wintertime camping experience. Not all the scouts choose to camp overnight, some just participate in the games and activities throughout the day.
Troops spend quite a bit of time preparing for the event. Each troop brings their own sled to haul gear from station to station. Scouts compete in activities that encourage skill-building, team-building, and wintertime fun.
Gilson said his troop has spent lots of time this year practicing their first aid skills; their preparation earned them first place in the first aid challenge at this year’s Klondike.
Shawn Halverson’s Troop 427, from Orr, came in second in the competition this year, earning nine first-place awards, and coming in second overall.
Halverson has a lot of experience with Klondikes, since he organized the event the last four years, hosting it at Myrtle Lake Camp in Orr. He figures the event took about 180 hours of planning, plus about 25 volunteers for the event itself.
Halverson said he would have hosted the event again, but bringing the Klondike to a new location, with new leadership, meant more variety for the Scouts.
“Every person manages it differently,” he said, “so for the youth, the program is new and different.”
Halverson said the Klondikes put on by the Nopaming District of the Voyageur Council (which covers parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan) are recognized as the best in the nation because they offer activities and learning opportunities for scouts at all levels.
“We offer enough challenges for our more experienced scouts,” he said.
Many of the events focus on problem-solving skills, said Gilson, and this is one of the most important skills being taught.
“People often ask why I continue to work with the scouts,” Gilson said, “and the biggest reason is that scouting works.” And the reason it works, Gilson said, is that it teaches problem-solving in real world situations. We try to work on the skill, and how it works in the real world, he said.
“These guys work hard and they work hard together,” Gilson said.
Another special thing about the Klondike is the sense of community.
Scout troops set up their own camp areas, and their leaders set up in a separate area, a little distance away. Scouts share food and friendship between the camps, Gilson said. “We never have any problems with kids fighting or things going missing.”
This year’s Klondike Derby was hosted by Troop 129, from Britt/Virginia. Assistant troop leader Allen Wiermaa spearheaded the effort, spending the past nine months organizing the event, which was open to Boy Scouts and Webelos from throughout northern Minnesota. The event was held on the homestead of Allen’s parents, Dale and Arlene, in Vermilion Lake Township. The Wiermaas seemed to be enjoying the buzz of activity on their property, which borders the Pike River. Dale had helped clear some winter roads through the fields, and had plenty of parking space available for the almost 100 scouts from the nine troops that participated.
Wiermaa came to scouting as an adult, getting involved as a Cub Scout troop leader for his grandson Devin. He had been to two Klondikes in the past, and recruited a committee of four others to help with the planning.
“It went better than I expected,” he said. “Once everything began on Saturday, it ran very smoothly.”
Wiermma, himself, opted not to sleep outdoors on Saturday, even though he is a winter camping fan. Planning the days before the event kept him up half the night, he said, and so he donated his already-setup camping spot to troop leaders from Cloquet.
It is the policy of the Boy Scouts only to release first names, unless permission has been given by the parent.