This wasn't your typical hiking, canoeing, fishing and swimming campout. This campout was in four feet of snow at an elevation of 7,300 feet at Cold Springs Summit off Beasore Road above Bass Lake. The temperature dropped to 28 degrees during the overnight stay.
The Scouts had the opportunity to experience the high country and learn winter survival skills from volunteers from the Madera County Sheriffs Department Search and Rescue team led by Chuck Bump March 24 and 25.
The trip to Cold Springs Summit was made possible by Bump, who not only coordinated the outing, but took time to attend several Scout meetings prior to the trip to instruct the Scouts on winter survival preparedness.
Scoutmaster Tony McLean said the trip, two years in the making with the search and rescue volunteers, was worth the wait.
"We wanted to utilize the expertise of the dedicated volunteers of the search and rescue team to pass on survival skills to the next generation," McLean said. "In addition to learning valuable winter survival skills and having a lot of fun, our Scouts experienced first hand how adults give back to their community through volunteering."
In addition to Bump, experienced search and rescue volunteers Leo Miner and Bass Lake Volunteer Fire Department member Steve Arata made the trip to share their knowledge with the Scouts along with Madera County Sheriff Deputies Larry Rich and Paul Chetwood, members of the department's off highway vehicle unit.
The group was transported to the high country with the help of Arata and his snow cat and sheriff's department snowmobiles. Camping equipment was hauled in sleds towed behind the snow cat and snowmobiles.
Making the trip were troop members Zane Dufresne, Ben Johnson, Jack Rice, Phillip McLean, Peter McLean, Ty Peterson, Jayden Malcolm and Cameron Miller.
Fathers making the trip were Eric Peterson, John Dufresne, McLean, Ken Johnson and former Scoutmaster Dale Hartesveldt.
The group started out in vehicles from the Bass Lake Court House at 8 a.m., travelling east on Beasore Road three miles from Road 274 to McLeod Flat. That's where the group hit snow and stopped to load all their gear onto the snow machines, continuing the final 13 miles to Cold Spring Summit.
After setting up camp, Scoutmaster McLean led the group on a one mile snowshoe hike to Chilkoot Lake.
Near the lake, Miner, an experienced outdoorsman, provided a training class in avalanche awareness. The Scouts learned how to look for avalanche prone areas, do a snow profile, interpret storm and snow type for avalanche danger, use an avalanche beacon and perform a simulated search and rescue using probe poles.
After returning to camp, the Scouts were instructed by Bump and Miner in the basics of building a snow igloo used for protection against the harsh environment if someone was to become stranded in the wilderness during a strong storm.
Of course the trip would not have been complete without the traditional snowball fight. No injuries reported.
Two of the Scouts, Phillip McLean and Jayden Malcolm spent the night in a snow cave prepared by the search and rescue team the weekend before.
Scouts pitched in to start a fire and cook a spaghetti, meatballs and garlic toast dinner. The oatmeal breakfast was eaten quickly as a heavy snow began to fall.
"The intent of the trip was to show the Scouts that being in the snow environment can still be comfortable if you are wearing the proper snow clothes and have the right equipment," Bump said. "It's mostly about staying warm and dry."
Bump said Miner is a great instructor and Arata's snow cat was a great resource to transport the boys and equipment to the high country.
"It was great to watch the boys enjoying themselves in the snow while leaning some winter survival skills," Bump said."We hope this was an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives."
Snow camping was not new to Scout Phillip McLean. However, although he's snow camped six times, this was his first experience with the search and rescue team.
"I learned valuable skills about avalanches and how to identify potential avalanche terrain," Phillip said. "Mr. Miner showed us how an avalanche can happen utilizing layers of cookies and whipped cream until a cookie towards the bottom of the stack became unstable. It was great to sleep in a snow cave which was warmer than a regular tent and surprisingly sound proof."
Peter McLean learned how effective snow shoes are.
"On our two-mile hike on snow shoes, we learned that without the snowshoes, we would sink into the snow up to our waists," said Peter. "We learned that cotton kills because it absorbs water and does not dry out. We wore polyester or wool head to toe to protect ourselves from the cold weather. In our tents, everyone used two Therm-a-Rest pads to keep our sleeping bags off the ground and dry."
The overnight trip provided the Scouts credits towards their camping merit badge and troop members are currently working on their emergency preparedness merit badge.
When taking a trip into the high country, Bump advises people to always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return and if you encounter a big storm you were not expecting, stay calm, stay put and shelter yourself the best you can until the storm blows over.