In mid-January, Boy Scout Troop 382 out of Asbury United Methodist Church in Arnold traveled to the Northern Tier High Adventure base for their winter high adventure camp, Okpik, on a six-day trip. The camp is located in northern Minnesota near the tiny town of Ely, about six miles from the Canadian border.
The Northern Tier High Adventure Camp is a collection of high adventure bases run by the Boy Scouts of America. Since the early ‘70s, the Boy Scouts of America's Sommers Canoe Base has provided training in cold-weather camping and winter survival. In the early days, the Okpik program teamed up with the military, which used the base during the week for cold weather survival training. On weekends, Boy Scouts would come up for a three-day camping experience.
In addition to the basics of learning how to camp and function in extremely cold environments, the scouts built and slept in snow shelters, specifically a snow shelter called a quinzee. They ice-fished and learned how to clean and cook the fish they caught, a northern pike. The boys also cross-country skied and dogsledded.
After building the quinzee, unfortunately, due to cracks in the ice that let water come up, the scouts could not spend the entire night in their record-breaking shelter. The Boy Scouts worked together as a team to set up an unfamiliar Soviet era military tent and move into it, all in minus 27 degrees and blowing snow.
"In all my years of training scouts and scouters, [these] young men performed outstanding as a group,” said Gregory Oates, chair of the Baltimore Area Council High Adventure Team and expert in cold weather camping. “They were faced with many challenges throughout the trip and overcame every issue without arguments or complaining about whatever needed done. Very rare thing to see with any age group. Hats off to the leaders of Troop 382 and specifically the Okpik Crew youth!”
The scouts and leaders of Troop 382 received numerous awards and honors: Trail of Courage, Bizhiw, Duty to God and Winter Trek. Troop 382 was the first of the year to earn the Zero Hero Award, which is awarded to those who camp in temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 1 or colder). This particular crew camped in a frigid 27.3 degrees below zero. With the help of Troop 382’s merit badge counselor, Marty Lamb, they also earned the snow sports merit badge.
Troop 382 scouts who traveled to Okpik were Joey Marino, crew leader; Thomas Callahan, assistant crew leader; Jacob Earp, crew quartermaster; Eric Heisch, chaplain’s aide; and Adam Jackson, scribe. The adult leaders joining Oates were scoutmaster Shawn Callahan and assistant scoutmaster Beverly Goetz.
Callahan commented on how dealing with the dry snow of a permanent freeze is different than the wet snow familiar to Marylanders.
A Life Scout and 16-year-old crew leader for Okpik, Joey Marino, said, “We can't say we would want to be snowbound in the woods waiting out a blizzard, but after an Okpik adventure, I know we are all a bit smarter about cold weather camping … We had a great time, and we can’t wait to go back!”
Several observers who have had a chance to see many crews in action on such adventures said that Troop 382 members ranked high in terms of their ability to set goals and get them done, their desire to make the most of opportunities and their positive attitudes under extremely trying conditions.
The Okpik interpreter, 19-year-old Kess Hutchinson from Chantilly, Virginia, put it best. “These boys should set the standard of what Boy Scouts should be,” she said.
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