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SCRUNCH. SCRUNCH. SCRUNCH. A birch-lined trail echoes with footsteps and labored breathing. It’s mid-morning in northern Minnesota, and a rising sun softens the frozen ground with the help of unsea- sonably warm 25-degree temperatures.

Instead of walking with ease, hikers slip and slide with each step on the buttery surface of snow. A group of seven teenage

Scouts walks in sync, towing gear-heavy sleds like elon- gated shadows. The boys don matching, all-white Anorak- style jackets over layers of fleece. And despite his over- bundled appearance, Nate Meier matter-of-factly states, “We look awesomely warm!” The waterproof jackets keep the teens dry as they lob wet snowballs at one another

during the mile-long trek. Just around a corner of

the path, the hikers come to a halt as other adults negoti- ate a dip in the trail. Meagan Pickens, a volunteer from West Virginia, cautiously makes her way down the descent, and her sled—which she pulls with a rope and waist belt—careens past her and flips upside-down. “This thing is like walking an untrained bullmastiff!” she exclaims as she turns the sled over and continues on, her mukluk-style boots slushing in the soft snow. Despite the

crash, her gear remains envel- oped in a tarp that’s tightly crisscrossed by ropes. How to tie this sturdy

web of netting is just one of many new techniques picked up just days earlier during Northern Tier’s Okpik Cold Weather Leader Training—a course developed by the BSA “godfather” of winter camping, Sandy Bridges, former director of the base. The goal? Arm the 16 par- ticipants with cold-weather training so they can ignite their Scouts’ passions for fourth-season camping. But first—before they head home—the participants must put their new knowl- edge to the test by spending three days outside during early January, Minnesota’s coldest time of year. Back on the trail, the use of a sled to carry gear is a tip

Bridges picked up during extensive research trips to Scandinavia, Alaska, and Canada. This method of hauling equipment keeps the gear off a hiker’s back, pre- venting sweat from soaking through a person’s clothing and quickly freezing in cold temperatures. In the late ’70s, Bridges went so far as to make his own sleds (with his father- in-law’s help) for Scouts to use in the Okpik program. Even today, the teenage

hikers tow these handmade yellow contraptions behind them on their way down the trail. Just as the boys begin to get restless, the single track opens in a wide yawn. At its throat, a white abyss glimmers in the distance, its flat surface enveloped by snow. Beneath the layer of white? Flash Lake. Hiker-sled teams cautiously spread out across the surface, listening

 2012 ¿ SCOUTING


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