CLARIFICATION: This event was in early February, before the time of social distancing.
It was a cold morning — at least 10 below zero — as seven Boy Scout troops met at Peoples Academy in Morrisville to compete in the Klondike Derby.
But no group of kids is better equipped than Boy Scouts to have fun on a frigid day. That’s the whole point. Twenty-six Scouts would compete in nine events, from fire-starting to snowshoe races, from simulated fishing to a rescue.
Each pulled a sled from one station to another, stocked with everything they needed for the challenge. Every group tried to outdo the others, which required them to work closely together and use their skills, wits and physical ability.
“When you work on all your advancements and you work on all your skills, this is an arena where you can come together and actually use them,” said Brad Wilson, leader of Morrisville Troop 876, which put the whole thing on.
It takes a village
“We’d gone to all these klondikes and camporees over the years and it was our turn to give back,” Wilson said. The troop decided to make survival the theme, and went to work picking a spot to host it, designing the events and working out the fine details.
“The idea behind Boy Scouts is to have it be boy-led and boy-run,” Wilson said. “If you do everything for them, they’re not going to learn. They took the ball and they ran with it.”
The boys of Troop 876 designed the activities and found the location. On the eve of the derby, the Scouts set up for the event, with help from 18 Scout leaders and parents.
“They directed us. It was their leadership,” Wilson said.
They were back at it at 6 the next morning, when it was minus-15. But, again, this is no chore for Scouts.
“There was no complaining,” Wilson said. “The Boy Scout motto is ‘Be prepared.’ They came prepared.”
Wilson recalled the first winter camping trip he had with this group: “When we woke up, it was minus-10 degrees. For some of them, this was their first-ever outdoor campout.” There was a little grumbling about frozen socks and boots, but “you learn kinda quick or you’re going to be miserable.”
Let the games begin
The troops arrived as the snow glistened under a blue sky —Troop 888 of Danville, Troop 880 of Derby, Troop 709 of Montpelier and its all-girl sister Troop 1709 and Troop 894 of Johnson, accompanied by Troop 876’s Cub Scouts.
The first leg of the competition had six events: fire building, ladder building, ski walking, a snowshoe relay race, simulated ice fishing, and a sled race. Each required different skills and problem solving, and the troops earned points by completing the task quickly, efficiently and creatively.
Fire building is a cornerstone of the Boy Scouts, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Scouts were required to start a fire whose flame broke a string 15 inches above it without using matches or a lighter. Troop 888 won that, starting the fire with flint and steel.
For ladder building, Scouts had to lash a ladder from their supplies and use it to get over a fence.
“This is about leadership skills, but also lashing,” said Ben Ring, a Scout with Troop 876. Troop 880 took the gold, but 888 got points for creativity — it didn’t bring the right poles, so the Scouts used their snowshoes instead.
The ice fishing challenge was creative. Rat and mouse traps were set up, and Scouts had to build an improvised pole to catch them. “These events are designed to get the boys thinking,” said Tom Ring, a leader in Troop 876. The girls of 1709 took this one, building their pole and using a carabiner as a hook.
The ski walk took a lot of teamwork. Three Scouts had to walk 20 feet attached to 2 long poles. Coordination was key. The all-girls Troop 1709 dominated the event, crossing the line in 3 minutes and 19 seconds.
The snowshoe race was just plain fun. Snow flew as the kids’ snowshoes flapped beneath them, leading to lots of and laughs. Troop 880 took this one as well.
And then there was the dogsled race, a real slog. The Scouts needed to push and pull their sleds around a quarter-mile loop with an uphill slope. The kids huffed and puffed as they navigated the course, and Troop 894, paired with the 876 cubs, took first with a time of under four minutes.
Lunch and life lessons
“Hey, you guys, chow’s on!” Wilson yelled, dressed as Yukon Cornelius in a big fake beard and a fake revolver tucked in his belt.
After their busy morning, the Scouts lined up for lunch and ate around their sleds. There were ham and turkey sandwiches, granola bars, potato chips, hot cocoa, plus a signature dish called “hobo soup.” The troops brought cans of soup, all different kinds of soups, which were poured in a big pot, mixed together, heated and served. There were bits of tomato, beef, chicken, a variety of noodles and who knows what else. It wasn’t half bad.
Once everyone had their fill, Wilson asked in a booming voice, “Are you ready for more fun?” and the last three events began — the vital survival skills of shelter building, search and rescue, and the river crossing.
In the river crossing, each Scout had to shimmy across a rope — 8 feet above the ground — without falling. “The rope crossing, that’s one I hadn’t seen since I was a Scout,” Wilson said.
In this test of technique and physique, 1709 met the challenge and grabbed first place.
Next was shelter building. Scouts had to erect structure that would house their troop and withstand the elements, and they were judged on how viable the creation was. Only three troops were successful, and the structure made by Troop 894 and the 876 Cubs was deemed the most sound.
Finally was the search and rescue challenge, the most technical and serious of the three, testing the Scouts’ orienteering skills and medical knowledge. They were given randomized instructions — paces and navigational degrees — and had to find three points with a compass before finding the victim they were out to rescue.
A Scout from Troop 876 lay on the ground, acting out symptoms as Wilson described the scenario and helped walk them through it. Once they assessed the injury, they treated it the best they could, created a stretcher from a blanket and two poles, and moved the patient 25 yards. Once again, the win went to Johnson Troop 894 and the Cubs from 876.
A great success
The overall victor was the combined Troop 864 of Johnson and the 876 Cubs of Morrisville; they earned a plaque with an ice-climbing pick on it. Troop 1709 of Montpelier took second and Troop 880 of Derby was third.
“All the kids were cheering and, of course, ribbing each other,” Wilson said. “As the scoutmaster, because I had to do very little, I thought the event went great.”
The success made the Morrisville troop eager to organize more events like this.
“One of our guys, who’s actually going for Eagle Scout now, told his father, ‘I had more fun working it than I thought, and now I am recharged about being in Scouts,’” Wilson said. “Even some of the younger guys said, ‘When can we host one again?’ They had that much fun.”
Troop 876 is a dedicated bunch. Wilson said only about 2 percent of Boy Scouts reach Eagle Scout, the highest accolade a Scout can earn. In Wilson’s time as Scout leader, 876 has produced seven Eagle Scouts — including his son, Jake — and five are working toward it now.
Jake, who’s working to become a paramedic, helped put the event together, and said the Boy Scouts have had a strong influence on his life.
“That’s what Scouts is all about — teaching you how to survive and think on your feet,” he said. “Kids who go into Scouts, they come out a different person.”