The Scouts of Troop 433 in Minot, N.D., don’t learn about cold-weather camping by talking or reading about it.
They live it.
The high temperature in Minot from November to April is anywhere from 36 degrees to 3 degrees.
If these Scouts didn’t go outdoors in the cold, they wouldn’t go outdoors at all except for maybe a few months in the summer.
“It’s our weather for half the year,” says 17-year-old Life Scout Austin Westmeyer. “We don’t let it hold us back.”
When these guys — almost all of them natives of North Dakota — aren’t getting up before sunrise to go ice fishing, they’re skiing, snowshoeing, digging snow caves, or practicing to see who can build a fire and boil water the fastest.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
“The cold really doesn’t matter if you dress warmly,” says 17-year-old Life Scout James Drawz.
James and the rest of his troop wear layers: long underwear, snow pants, sweaters, jackets, hats and gloves.
Because they spend so much time outdoors in cold weather, they spend a lot of time preparing for the worst. They polish their winter survival skills every year during their Klondike derby.
The 5-mile course tests their ability to build an emergency shelter, cross a gorge with a sled full of gear, build a fire and boil water.
Scouts also practice winter first-aid, from treating hypothermia to building a travois to moving an injured person to a place where he can get medical treatment.
They also practice rescuing someone who has fallen through the ice.
“You never, ever go out on the ice to assist the other person,” Austin says. “It puts you at risk of falling through.”
Instead, Scouts practice getting a rope to the person who is in trouble and using it to pull them out.
SLEEPING IN SNOW
Austin has twice tried to earn his Zero Hero award — sleeping outside overnight when the temperature drops below zero degrees.
Even though the temperature didn’t drop below zero either time, Austin learned a lot about sleeping outdoors in the cold.
The first time, Austin set up a tent over a bed of straw.
“Most tents don’t have a solid waterproof bottom, and your body heat will melt the snow,” Austin explains. “The straw keeps you warm.”
The next time, he and some of his fellow Scouts covered a huge box with snow, then carved out a door and air holes. They put down straw and blankets to keep their sleeping bags dry.
“Sleeping in something made of snow was really cool,” Austin says. “You can sleep in a tent whenever.”
LIVE AND LEARN
Sometimes, the Scouts of Troop 433 make mistakes just like the rest of us.
One time, James tried to go ice fishing in blue jeans. He still had plenty of layers on. What harm, he thought, could come from a little cotton? He quickly realized the error of his way.
“Sometimes the water creeps out of the (fishing) holes and gets on the ice,” he says. “I got my jeans wet. That will happen in snow, too, because your body will melt it.”
James and other Scouts also recommend bringing spare dry clothing and extra gloves. After all, it’s easy to get wet when you are adventuring in the snow.
One frigid day last winter, Travis Patterson was ice fishing at Lake Darling, 40 miles south of the Canadian border. When he finally saw the fishing bobber move, he hauled his line out of the ice.
A foot-and-a-half-long northern pike flopped off the hook.
Travis tackled the fish and instantly learned why these fish are nicknamed snot rockets.
“I got slime all over me,” says Travis. “Don’t wear your best clothes ice fishing.”
Last summer, just months after their visit from a Boys’ Life photographer, record flooding on the Souris River caused major damage to the homes of more than 40 Scouting families in the Minot, N.D., area.
In addition, three of the seven Scout troops in Minot have had to find new places to hold weekly meetings because of flood damage to the churches where they met.
Summer day camps were postponed and the Fall Camporee was canceled.
The Big 4 Boy Scout Camp, which sits along the Souris River about two miles west of Minot, was flooded from early April to early August. Most of the buildings at the camp had up to six feet of water from the overflowing river.
Several picnic tables were washed downriver. Tools and equipment stored at the camp were ruined.
The Big 4 camp has been used year-round for weekend campouts. It also was the summer meeting place for Troop 433.
Groups of Boy Scouts from throughout North Dakota have been assisting the Minot Scouts since the flooding.