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closely as if the lake might crack open. But the freezing temperatures have cured the top into a foot-thick skin of durable ice. With the frozen lake


as their new home, the campers get ready to test their classroom knowledge in a cold—albeit fun—reality.


WHEN THE TEMPERATURE PLUMMETS, most people board up their camping gear and hibernate. Not many people face the cold with a smile and cheer, heading out the door as soon as the mercury limbos beneath the freezing line. Jim Varcho, 67, does exactly that. His wind- whipped face stretches into a


wide smile when you ask him a simple question during the early days of January: “How’s the weather?” In usually whitewashed Minnesota, Varcho explains that snow is scarce this season. And, what’s worse—in his eyes—the temperature hovers in the mid- to upper-20s. “It’s warm this year,” he says as he preps his gear the night before the group travels to Flash Lake. “ I think I’m going to have to leave my goose- down sleeping bag behind. We’ll adapt.” Varcho, a Scouting dad


from Iowa with several (now-adult) Scout sons, isn’t alone in his excitement for spending time in the cold.


they learn the chilly nuances of winter camping. Fourth-season camping


Scouter Jim Varcho (above) celebrates his 21st visit to the Okpik program.


Joining the 16 Scouts and Scouters at the Okpik train- ing, he’s racked up 21 visits to the base. In fact, he’s such a regular that Northern Tier made him a staff member. As an “interpreter” on this train- ing trip, Varcho’s in charge of teaching a group of Scouts and leaders from Kansas as


isn’t like grab-and-go spring or summer outings, when you can shake off a shivering, sleepless night after forget- ting an extra sleeping layer. “Winter camping is cerebral camping,” explains Mark Kelly, associate director of programming at Northern Tier. Speaking to the group during one of several indoor training sessions housed in the Ludlow Lodge, a few feet from the base’s iconic (and now frozen) Moose Lake, Kelly adds: “It’s a thinking- man’s camping. There are repercussions for your actions—whether it’s some-


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S COUTING ¿ NOVEMBER•DECEMBER 2012


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