The sweet smell of smoke engulfed Colin Dudley as he fanned the flames of a campfire under the watchful eyes of Michael Eskue, Beau Sisson and Robbie Anderson the other boys that make up Boy Scout Troop 1616, Eagles Patrol.
The three youths offered an unsolicited stream of constructive criticism.
"Fan it faster," said one.
"Put more wood on it," advised another.
"C'mon, hurry up. I'm hungry," said the third.
Before long, Dudley had not only stoked a hearty blaze, but had perfectly roasted their lunch.
The chili dogs were served and silence feel upon the campsite as the boys gorged on dog after dog.
They had worked up their appetites by competing all day in a series of cold weather-related events during a Boy Scouts of America three-day campout known as a "Freezeree," held last weekend at Morgan's Landing State Recreation Area in Sterling.
Scouts came from as near as Kenai, Soldotna and Sterling and as far as Homer, Moose Pass and Seward to partake in the event, which to many outsiders would seem like a bunch of kids working toward a freeze-your-butt-off patch; but to the more than 50 scouts who attended, this annual event is about much, much more than that.
"It's about having fun," said Scott Adams, scout master for Troop 568 the troop that hosted this year's event.
In addition to roasting marshmallows and making S'mores, many of the scouts roasted hot dogs for at least one of their meals during the campout.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
"It's been going great," said Adams on Saturday afternoon. "The whole district comes together for this and the kids are really enjoying themselves. They've been thrilled with the winter camping. They all really jumped into it with both feet. Some of the kids even complained it wasn't cold enough."
The boys arrived Friday and dug to the ground through several feet of snow before building camp.
Some then made "Quinzees" or snow mound huts to sleep in. Others went the more traditional route of pitching a tent, throwing out a bivouac sack or sleeping in a tarp-covered trench.
Sleeping out in the cold, the boys accumulate points toward a "100 below patch" for every degree the mercury falls below freezing. There's also a "300 below patch" that is one of the holiest of holy grails to Boy Scouts.
Although both of these would be welcome additions to the boys' uniforms, neither one of these were the patch they had really come for.
They came for the Freezeree patch, and the only way to get it was to go through a 10-station skills course with themes reminiscent of the 1890s gold rush, known as the Klondike Derby.
Prior to arriving at the Freezeree, each troop made its own sled. The boys were all on snowshoes as they moved from station to station and dragged the sled behind them, using it to carry logs and other items earned throughout the derby.
"The sleds vary in skill level," said Bill Parkar, who at age 57 has now been involved with scouting for more than 49 years.
"Some of the sleds are pretty crude. You can tell they were just knocked together last week. But some are very nice. You can tell they've been working on them for quite a while."
It didn't really matter if they were simple or complex in design, though, Parkar said. "The most important thing is that the kids made the sleds themselves."
Kenneth Mahan of Troop 562, Moose Patrol, was far and above the competition at the ax throwing station.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Unlike the sleds that tested their craftsmanship, the 10 stations in the Klondike Derby tested the scouts on a wide variety of winter skills.
According to Adams, it's a culmination of everything scouting is about.
"It pulls them together to work as a team. The younger boys further their knowledge, while the older boys demonstrate what they have already learned," he said.
The first station tested knot-tying skills.
At another, they threw axes for accuracy at a target roughly 10 yards away.
At a first aid station, scouts had to build a stretcher out of a blanket and two poles and carried one member of their troop roughly 30 yards and back without dropping him.
There was a compass and orienteering station, where the boys had to take a bearing on an object a tree across the Kenai River, then tell the height of the tree and the distance across to it.
A survival station had the scouts partake in a mock rescue. A boy in a raft 30 yards away was supposed to be someone who had fallen through the ice and they had to throw that person a rope and tow him into shore.
There also was a shooting station that tested marksmanship and accuracy with an air gun.
The final four stations were all interconnected in theme, but also individually tested the boys on a different skill.
The currency of the Klondike Derby - mock gold nuggets.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Using a giant bow saw, they cut logs into foot-long segments. At the next station the scouts' ax skills were put to the test as they split the logs. The next station tested their knife skills as they had to make kindling and tinder pieces from the split logs, as well as "fuzz" from delicate scrapping with the knife. At the final station they put it all together and built a fire and melted a tin of snow.
"At each station, the boys are rewarded with 'gold nuggets' for not only how well they accomplished the task at hand, but how well the did it as a team," Parkar said.
Mark Thomas, scout leader for Troop 568, said he thought the kids got quite bit out of the derby.
"It teaches them woodsman skills, first aid and how to take care of yourself, but it also teaches them life skills. They definitely learn about teamwork and that's something they'll need in the real world.
"As an adult you need teamwork in the workplace and everywhere else. You've got to learn to communicate and learn how to work with people that sees things differently than you do. This teaches them that.," he said.
The scouts also received gold for the most spirit, which many patrols demonstrated by giving their group cheer. At the end of the Freezeree the team with the most gold was crowned the victor of the event and received prizes donated by Walter Ward of Wilderness Way outfitters in Soldotna.
This 10-station derby may sound challenging enough in and of itself, but there was more.
A nefarious character known as Snidely Whiplash was moving randomly throughout the derby. Dressed in more "traditional" attire, Snidely wore a capote a cloak-like coat made out of a blanket, a split ash trapper's backpack, a pistol and knife hanging from his waist belt, and he carried a bullwhip in one hand and a burled club in the other. His function was to try and get the kids' gold.
"The only way I get their gold is if they don't answer one of my questions correctly or can't answer it at all," said Fred Moore, scout master for Troop 568, and the man portraying Snidely Whiplash.
"All the questions are scout related and things they should know. Some are about first aid, some are rank related, some about knots all different things."
Trevor Clark of Troop 568, Dragons Patrol, shows off what all the Boy Scouts worked so hard to get - the Freezeree patch.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
To offset Snidely, another charter Dudley Do Right also moved randomly to assist the scouts should they need it. He encouraged the boys to think about concepts they already knew to be successful in the derby, such as being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent; but most of the boys did pretty well exercising these ideals on their own.
In the end, most of the boys said they thought the weekend was a blast.
"Some of it was hard, but it's all been a lot of fun. I really liked going along (the derby) doing all the activities. It was neat," said Colin Dudley of Troop 1616, Eagles Patrol.
Trevor Clark of Troop 568, Dragons Patrol, said he liked all the events, as well.
"The air gun was probably my favorite. I did pretty good," he said.
Clark added that he liked the winter camping aspect of the weekend.
"Even though it was cold, I got a good night's sleep. We had a big campfire before bed, one of the best ones, it was going really good. That was really, really fun," he said.
Accolades such as these from the boys let the adults who put in long hours of planning and hard work for the event know that their efforts were not in vain.
"Scouting has brought me every great experience of my life. It's given me a sense that I can do anything, and to help other kids do that through events like this, well, it just doesn't get any better than that," said George Schaaf, Tustumena District executive for Boy Scouts of America.
Scoutmaster Adams was one of several adults who began planning the Freezeree last summer.
"From the volunteer's perspective, I look at this as giving back a little of what scouting has given to me over the years," he said.
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