High Adventure Trips in Winter, Too

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Our Team Leader for District Operations Darin Stendl joined our new District Executive Con Sullivan in attending our Roundtable Meeting last Thursday. At the RoundTable, the agenda was focused on High Adventure Trip Planning. As we were reviewing the opportunities provided by National Council, the topic of Minnesota’s cold weather program Okpik came up.  I asked if anyone was familiar with Okpik. Darin volunteered that he had attended twice.  As a result of his story, I asked him to write me a summary of his experiences. Here is what he sent me.

One of the highlights of my time as a Scout was our two trips to the boundary waters canoe area in the winter. The great thing about going in the winter is – no mosquitos! And how many people can say that they have camped out in -20 degree F weather and enjoyed it?!

Example of a Quinzee
Example of a Quinzee

Our troop had camped out in the winter before doing OKPIK, but it was a lot more fun after we learned the right way.

Once we arrived at the base northeast of Ely, Minnesota, the staff distributed the gear we needed and gave us basic instructions on how to survive in cold weather. We spent the first night at base camp, then packed up our gear and loaded it onto sleds (pulks) for the cross-country ski trip to where we were going to spend the rest of the trek.

Once we arrived in our campsite, we started building our snow huts – called a “Quinzhee”. This was done by piling up snow, then packing it down, then piling on more snow, packing it down… Once we had the quinzhee large enough, we let it settle on its own for a while. Instead of sitting around and waiting, we headed out onto the lake to cut some holes in the ice and try to catch some fish. After fishing, we went back to camp to finish our snow huts. Basically we carved out a cave in the piled up snow, dug out an air hole in the roof and built a door flap.

With a candle in the snow hut (for light) and heat generated from the ground and other bodies, it was very pleasant sleeping in the quinzhees. During the trek, we did a lot of skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, cooking and sitting around the campfire. We even got to see a real dog sled team in action.

The second time we did OKPIK, the weather was too warm to sleep in quinzhees, so we slept in shelters that were already made – basically a teepee like structure covered with a huge parachute and topped with snow. There was enough room for 30 people to sleep in.

OKPIK can be done during the winter school break and is a less expensive high-adventure option. And it is a trek that Scouts can brag about for years! For more details, visit Northern Tier’s website.

When Darin shared his story with us at Round Table, he added that on his second trip, the weather was closer to 30 degrees. It ended up being a less comfortable experience because the melting snow tended to make everything wet and clammy. The colder weather was actually more comfortable on his first trip.

Darin Stendl grew up in the Paul Bunyan Area Council (Eagle Scout from Troop 51 in Bagley, MN). As a professional scouter, he has worked in the Northern Lights Council (ND, MN, SD & MT), Voyageurs Area Council (MN & WI), Tecumseh Council (Springfield, OH), Dan Beard Council (Cincinnati & KY) and the past 6 years in Crossroads of America.

Jeff Heck