Barry's Scouting Resource Page

Klondike Derby:

How much fun can you stand?


By B. James Voorhies

Deseret News Staff


This is a fun winter camping story from the Salt Lake City, Utah evening newspaper called the Deseret News

February 5, 1987

AIRPORT SOCKED IN? Snow three feet deep? Winter storm warnings for half the nation? It must be time for the Klondike Derby!

What is a Klondike Derby, you might ask? Take 17 Boy Scouts, add 16 sleeping bags, 23 gallons of hot chocolate mix, 31 packages of turkey franks, 27,392 matches, nine pup tents (each minus at least one peg) and several reluctant adults. Multiply this by 20 or 30 groups from all over the area. Throw them together into a cold, narrow canyon usually populated by five head of deer and seven squirrels. Now you have January winter camp with games and fun. It's so fun that it borders on insanity.

First, let me define winter camp with 17 Boy Scouts. This is institutionalized masochism. Any adult male who says that he honestly enjoys it is seriously psychotic, lying or being paid handsomely by some father who was too chicken to go himself. And the kids think it is great!

Thursday night the Scoutmaster calls: "Meet me at my house tomorrow night right after school. We leave promptly at 4 p.m. so don't even be a minute late."

Silly man. I bet he really thinks that he can leave at 4 too!

The first Boy Scout shows up at 4:30 p.m. and then remembers that he left his food and his coat at home. By 5:30 p.m. we start counting noses and cramming gear in vehicles. It takes about one U-Haul truck per boy to stay overnight. We draw the line at the 25-inch color TV. There's actually room for the TV, but not for the 14 miles of extension cord.

The stopping point is clearly chosen: we drive up the gravel canyon until everybody is stuck and we stop and pitch camp. It is now hard dark and the temperature has dropped at least 25 degrees from the valley.

"Will you help me here, Mr. Jones? My mother bought this tent this afternoon on sale and it didn't come with instructions."

"Where are the tent poles, Ritchie?"

"Those funny stick things? I left them home. They were too long too fit in my pack."

And then comes dinner. Someone builds a fire. The fire is started by piling up 15 boxes of kitchen matches for tinder and touching them off with a BIC.

They begin the fire building about 6 p.m. By 8:30 they have a fire big enough to cook the food.

Every boy brings a can to add to the pot. Nobody has brought a can opener. It's mulligan stew, Russian Roulette style. You haven't lived until you've eaten sauerkraut, candied yams, okra, tamales, bean sprouts, maraschino cherries and Spam poached in smoked oyster sauce. After sampling the stew, most of us opt for weenies and marshmallows carbonized on the end of a plastic-coated hanger.

After that delicious feast, the night's festivities begin. Every boy has brought an inner tube or a plastic slide. They may forget food or shoes, but all have the necessities. In a rare flash of insight they build a wall of snow at the base of the hill just before the bank drops off three feet into the creek. For at least three hours, they careen down the hill in the dark, bouncing from tree to tree like some gigantic pinball machine. Finally they convince the Scout Master to try it. He is a little overweight. He doesn't stop when the tube hits the snow wall. The scream is heard at the vacation homes three-and-a-half miles down the canyon.

We fathers spend the next two hours around the fire drying out George and swapping tales of our youth - like the time we disassembled our principal's Volkswagen and put it together on the third floor of the high school. The younger boys are out on a snipe hunt and the older ones are pulling pegs on the neighboring camps' tents. We bemoan the fact that the younger generation is so corrupt: a den of juvenile delinquents. No, that was Cub Scouts. Now it's a troop or post of delinquents.

About midnight the boys straggle in. We are only missing three: two that fell over a cliff and one that was run down by a snowmobile. Peace and quiet, just the crackling of the fire, the unzipping of sleeping bags and the crunch of snow on the path to the trees as our sons discover the folly of two quarts orange soda each just before bed.

The morning begins early: about three o'clock. The neighboring troop who went to bed at 9:30 decide now is the time to practice for the Olympic hog calling gold. They are definitely competitive.

As the sky barely lightens, I crawl out to start the morning fire. It is a matter of pride that the first one of our troop up is an old man who should know better. I want them to appreciate, as they drink that first round of hot chocolate, who in this crowd is really tough.

I carefully lay my fire scorched cotton and frayed rope ends: next tiny slivers of wood cut especially the night before and wrapped away from the frost, and then larger pieces in graduated sizes for just this purpose. I gently apply my flint and steel to the bundle and then, mouth to infant flame, coax the first blossoming tendrils of red. Joey, who has just stumbled out of his tent, squirts a stream of lighter fluid at my nose. The explosion scorches half the hair off my eyelids, and all what's left on my forehead.

"My grandpa says that Boy Scout juice is the only way to start a campfire."

With the first aroma of hot chocolate, my faith in the resurrection is affirmed. The dead come to life, well, sort of to life. From the scoutmaster's tent we hear the groan of agony, "These long johns were just fine last night. Now I can't get them above my knees."

... and from the assistant scout master. "It's fine for you to talk, George. Mine are about seven sizes too big."

One of the boys who hung his wet jeans out to dry the night before finds that they are frozen stiff. The thermometer says 11 degrees. He hits the jeans on a tree to soften them up enough to put them on. The left leg falls off. I think to myself. "We can pay for our next camp doing field tests for Consumer Reports."

The only eggs that are not frozen are those stored in the insulated cooler. The bananas are all frozen; but we find that pan-fried bananas are actually quite tasty. Some of the boys think that they are better with the skins off. Some boys like the skins best and are quite willing to donate the mush in the middle. It all works out.

We survey the damage from the morning after the night before: five cases of Montezuma's Revenge, two cases of hypothermia and one acute case of Saturday morning withdrawal. It's the kid who had to leave behind the TV.

By 9 o'clock the sky, clear as a bell, is still absent the sun: the canyon we are in is quite deep. The bugle sounds down the road and we assemble for the flag ceremony and the games. There is a uniform inspection. At least two-thirds of our boys have a partial uniform, seven have a shirt, four have trousers, two have neckerchiefs and one has a National Jamboree patch stuck in his ear.

One troop who has bused in a half an hour before fresh from town - takes the honors - 23 complete khaki uniforms, spats, green and gold plaid neckerchiefs with apple pie neckerchief slides and red berets, each cocked over the left eye just so. They probably all had a bath, a manicure and a kiss good-bye from their mummies.

"Don't worry Dad, they may look pretty, but we'll mean 'em out in the games!"

First is the fire building contest. Start a fire with sparks and tinder and melt the water in an old sourdough's cup (which looks a lot like a tuna fish can). In the ice there is a message to the judge and you are home free. Our message is in Morse Code. Did you know that you could read Morse Code backwards?

Second hike up a hill and find the crazed polar bear (that looks suspiciously like a portable dishwasher box with the word BEAR written on the side), take a compass reading to the council flag in the meadow, pace off the distance and call in an air strike.

Third and I quote:

"Your senior patrol leader came down with a terrible rare disease only caught in winter storms. The only cure for this disease is to find these materials in the wild and bring them back in the shortest time:

The only thing that potion would cure is obesity.

Last, but not least, is the dog sled race. Each patrol has built a sled using old skis for runners. Some use orange boxes on top, some use 2-inch black pipe. There is one of welded aircraft tubing, one of salvaged barn wood. The boys are obviously the dog sled drivers. They are also the dogs.

We race against the red berets. They don't stand a chance. Ten of our boys take on the trail. Our other seven take on the other team. We tackle the red capped driver. He drops the rope. We stomp on the rope. Their sled stops. Their dogs pull mightily. We kindly step off the rope. They all fall in a heap. By that time our team has rounded the turn a hundred yards away and is halfway back.

By 11 a.m. the dawn finally comes to our corner of the canyon. I realize that I am going to survive another winter camp.

Back home that afternoon, mother asks the boys, "Did you have fun?"

"Well Marty froze three toes and Homer lost his glasses."

"And Mr. Margrove backed his pickup truck into the creek so half of us had to walk out with our stuff."

"And I put too much water into my pancake batter and it turned to runny soup. It took a real long time to cook."

"And I thought I was going to die last night it was so cold. Look I am still blue."

"I think not dear, those are stains off your new madras shirt. It sounds like a real disaster. You won't want to go again next year. I'm sure."

"No, Mom. It was great! Our troop came in second overall and there were over 200 other scouts there. We want to go again next week."

I believe my boss will make me work all next weekend if I promise to forfeit a vacation day in exchange. I don't think that I can stand that much fun two weeks in a row.


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