Monday, February 18, 2008

Winter Camping & Appalachian Trail Hike

Troop 88 chose January 25, 26 and 27 for the troop's annual winter camping trip. This year the troop travelled to Kittatinny Mountain Scout Reservation in the northern tip of New Jersey for the event. Most of the troop travelled up on Friday night and were joined by the rest early Saturday morning.

As expected and true to form, there was snow on the ground. Luckily, the Scouts opted for cabin camping as opposed to tent camping at a site like this one. Just up the road was our cabin nestled in the woods.

It was not quite the rustic and primative log cabin some were expecting, but most of the Scouts appreciated the comforts of a slightly more modern shelter.

Our cabin was named Bauman Lodge after Otto Baumann Jr., an Eagle Scout and member of the Order of the Arrow, the national honor society of the Boy Scouts of America reserved for Scouts who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives . As a member of the Order of Arrow, he was awarded the Vigil Honor based on his exceptional service above and beyond the norm in leadership, exemplary efforts, and dedication. Otto Baumann, Jr. served in Vietnam for the US Army and was killed in action in 1966 at the age of 20.

The cabin is equipped with a wood stove for heat, tables, benches and ten bunk beds (without mattresses.) All the necessary comforts of home.

Well... almost all of the comforts of home.

The cool mountain air is a wonderful cure for the stresses of the world back home (school, homework, chores, work, etc., etc.) Gathering firewood to heat the cabin was our first order of business.

The highlight of the winter camping trip for me was the hike along the Appalachian Trail which was located just a few miles from the cabin. The trail which stretches over 14 different states was completed in 1937 and is a unit of the National Park Service. Is the nation's longest marked footpath, at approximately 2,175 miles.

As you can see, there is about six inches of snow on the ground making the early part of the hike a little difficult.

As we climbwd in elevation the snow cover thinned where the sun warmed the rocks beneath. This made the hike more managable and less slippery. Fortunately, the weather for the hike was good with overcast skys, no wind and termperatures above freezing.

At a high point along the trail, the Troop took a well needed break to rest, cool down and enjoy the breathtaking view of the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania countryside, all visible from our vantage point on the mountaintop. The scenery was beautiful, even in winter.

There is nothing quite like sitting by a warm fire or woodstove with a cup of hot chocolate after a vigerous hike in the mountain wilderness. The Scouts felt a true sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for the ground they covered and for all they had done and seen that day.

All that exercise sure works up an appetite. The cabin does not have a kitchen or running water so all of our cooking and cleaning was done outside as usual. The Scouts prepared homemade chili and cornbread, with the capable assistance of Dr. Allenby, our executive chef (pardon the pun.)

What would a Troop 88 campout be without a deck of cards? Certainly not the same. Heated competition among the Scouts included a lot of bluff an bravado. The adults could barely carry on a conversation over the boisterous banter of the Scouts.

As the night wore on, exhaustion finally caught up with both the Scouts and the adult leaders. And while a nice warm woodstove helps, there is no substitute for winter weight sleeping bag when it comes to winter camping.

On Sunday morning, the Scouts gathered their gear, packed the vehicles and cleaned up the cabin before heading home. The trip was a wonderful experience. Fortunately for the Scouts of Troop 88, they can look forward to this kind of fun every month. Our Scouts decide what they do and where they go. They chart their own course of adventure. Join Troop 88 and you can too.