When sub-freezing temperatures hit earlier this month, many of us ran for the scarves and jackets without a second thought; but in the meantime, a group of local boy Scouts was putting our toughness to shame.
Last week, a group of three adults and four youths from Boy Scouts of America’s Troop 30 (based at St. Mark’s UMC in the Heights) participated in the Okpik Dogsled Trek at BSA’s Northern Tier High Adventure Base near Ely, MN, just six miles south of the Canadian border. Part of BSA’s High Adventure program, youth campers Johnny Kramer, David Buckles, Jacob Buckles and Mitchell Poche joined adults Evan Kramer, Mike Buckles and Leo Poche for a three-day, two-night dog-sledding trek through the frozen wilderness, returning late in the day Jan. 7.
In and of itself, the frozen trek consisted of three days and two nights camping on ice with four dogsleds and 25 dogs, along with a guide and a musher to keep everyone in line. Scouts and leaders established a base camp on a frozen lake about 12 miles from the base, ultimately traveling about 40 miles in the dogsleds, with each of the four sleds pulled by a team of six dogs.
“The rest of the time, we were just trying to survive. I’m not sure many of them even owned long pants before going up there,” Troop 30 Assistant Scoutmaster Evan Kramer reflected Monday with a slight chuckle.
Along with Kramer, the boys and the rest of the group had to chisel through nearly a foot of solid ice to obtain water for boiling and conducted all cooking over fires built on the ice while on the trek. Further, with all food frozen solid, Scouts had to put many items in their boots during the day to thaw them out enough to eat once the group made camp.
“It was essentially an adventure and survival trip all rolled into one. It’s like being on the moon [facing those temperatures],” Kramer said.
One might think there would be some relief come nightfall; but as Kramer described it, the battle was heightened even a bit more during the night.
Upon removing it, Scouts had to pack each individual layer of clothing underneath their sleeping bag before diving deep into it, desperate for any shelter from the frozen tundra.
“You could hear the ice cracking beneath you at night, and it would wake you up,” Scout Mitchell Poche said.
“Early on, it was very iffy there – I don’t really know how to describe it. The first night was pretty rough,” Kramer added, describing in detail the complex sleeping pattern the Scouts must undergo simply in attempts to get a few hours reprieve from the biting wind and cold. “You can’t wear anything even slightly damp to bed [because of the temperature]. You can’t leave anything laying out either, because it’ll be frozen solid as a rock in the morning. It was a real challenge just to get into the sleeping bag and through the whole routine.”
The experience conjured up more than a few frightening times for the crew once night fell – generally around 3 or 4 p.m.
[“The boys] were a little scared, [the adults] were scared – everybody was scared about it. You’re thinking ‘how can I possibly sleep in -33-degree temperatures without freezing to death?’ Because even standing still in those temps is usually bad,” Kramer said.
But through it all, Kramer said, the boys pushed through. Whether it was enduring the rigorous routine to sleep each night or playing soccer on the ice to keep the blood pumping before bed, they didn’t miss a beat. And ultimately, the trip was deemed a success – no frostbite on any member (two-legged or four-legged); all safe, sound and forever bonded by the experience.
“I learned that even though we had a 95-degree temperature difference, it’s not as hard as it seems. It’s easier to adapt than you think,” Scout David Buckles said.
“At the end of the day, they all had a great time, and that second night you’re not nearly as nervous since you already know you can do that and stay warm,” Kramer added with a light laugh. “It was an adventurous trip, plain and simple.”