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Cold Weather Camping
The Scouters’ Winter Campout
Although I am sometimes given credit for starting the SWC, in reality it was the result of the efforts of a number of dedicated Scouters who wanted to reinforce Scouting’s Outdoor Program.
Cobb District has always had some of the most dedicated and talented Scouters in the world. They have a unique spirit of adventure and willingness to accept challenges. It is not surprising that the Scouters’ Winter Campout had its beginnings here.
It is my earnest hope that this annual event will continue to inspire Scouters to make more and better application of one of the finest experiences of outdoor living and pioneer days in America that the Scouts of today will ever have. Scouting’s best contribution to building character, developing leadership skills and promoting good citizenship can be found in the Outdoor Program.
The SCOUTERS’ WINTER CAMPOUT. May it live forever!
Homer Powell, Scouter
THE STARTING POINT
It all began at the Scout Roundtable in August 1967. Program kits for the coming year had been distributed, and we were discussing campouts. It soon became apparent that a number of troops didn’t go camping in cold weather. They limited themselves to indoor activities from November through March, because it was “just too cold to go camping”.
The leaders of these troops said that if all you could do was sit around your fire and try to keep your feet and face from freezing, you were better off at home. We all agreed with that, but what we couldn’t agree on was that it had to be that way. I pointed out that Scouting is a world-wide, year-round program, and if everyone waited for warm weather to go camping, some troops wouldn’t go camping but once or twice a year.
I suggested that we plan a campout for the coming January ... just for adult Scouters ... to see if we could do what we claimed. That is, to have a good campout in cold weather, complete with fun activities. Since I was the Roundtable Commissioner at the time, and since this idea came from the Roundtable meeting, I was the one designated to spearhead the activity.
After some discussions with my fellow Scouters, we drafted a
layout of a “SCOUTERS’ WINTER CAMPOUT”. I took our plan to the
District Camping Committee and asked for their sanction. Cotton
Pierce was Chairman of the Camping Committee, and other members
included Bill Barber, Mel Posey, Robert Pierce, Jim Pierce and
Dan Worley. They all agreed it sounded like it might be fun and
officially authorized me to proceed, promising their support.
During the next few months we were really busy. This campout just had to be done right and be successful. We knew we wouldn’t have another chance. We also didn’t have a lot of time to promote it. I did what I could at the Roundtable meetings, and we made up a flyer proclaiming this event as the “FIRST ANNUAL SCOUTERS’ WINTER CAMPOUT”. We knew that if it wasn’t done right it could also be the last SWC.
Siegfried Gruener, Karl Porter, Bill Barber, Hart Gates, Tom Ogletree and Fred Thornton were among those who worked to make it all come together. Sieg is now dead, Karl is no longer active but lives in Cobb County, and Fred lives in San Antonio. The basic plan was to concentrate on “camping by the book”. (The Scout Handbook, that is.)
There were equipment limitations, since we wanted to prove that you could do it with only the equipment Scouts were allowed to use. This meant we couldn’t use Coleman stoves or catalytic heaters, among other things. Our theory was that if we couldn’t do it, we couldn’t expect Scouts to do it. We also decided to make only a single award, for the “Best Patrol”. That is, a patrol that worked well together, had the best Scout spirit, and accomplished the best complete campsite, according to the Scouting standards and guidelines.
We visualized future expansion of the SWC, with awards for
variety of activities and competitive accomplishments, but
initially we wanted to keep it as simple and uncomplicated as
possible. We also knew that if we were to prove our point, this
had to be a true “winter” campout. With that in mind, we tried
to select the weekend in January that offered the best chance
for cold weather. This was our greatest unknown going into the
first SWC. Everything else we could plan and make happen.
The First SWC - January 1968
We reserved Camp Dobbs for this event, since it was usually a little colder in alternate areas. The staff went in on Friday night, and the campers came in early on Saturday morning. We had a model campsite set up before the campers arrived. Everyone parked at the top of the hill and packed in to the camping areas around the valley. We let them choose their own sites, since part of our judging was to consider their selections.
The weather was terrible. No rain, no sleet, and temperatures in the 40’s. But we survived this setback and had a lot of fun. The staff had as much fun as the campers did, and our Campfire Program and Cracker Barrel were outstanding. We encouraged the three patrols to build pioneering projects, which they did and enjoyed immensely, and all weekend they kept adding to their own campsites from ideas they got from each other. The results were beyond our greatest hopes, and when we broke camp on Sunday we knew this wasn’t the end.
At the next Roundtable we had an unusually large turnout,
complete with lively discussions and descriptions for those who
hadn’t attended the “FIRST ANNUAL SCOUTERS’ WINTER CAMPOUT”.
Everyone wanted to be sure we were going to schedule another SWC
for the following year. We assured them we would. This was proof
we had started something good.
The Second Year - 1969
The District Camping Committee named two Scoutmasters for the
1969 SWC, Mel Posey and Al Ramsey, as an experiment suggested by
BSA-National. Although Mel Posey and Al Ramsey were very well
qualified, with years of Scouting experience, they were never
able make the 1969 SWC a reality and it was cancelled.
The Second Scouters’ Winter Campout - 1970
Working as we were without guidelines and established procedures, it was important to build slowly and as carefully as possible. This could be done best by linking past experiences to present planning to ensure that the future SCOUTERS’ WINTER CAMPOUTS would be as exciting and meaningful as possible. We were on a roll and wanted to keep it going.
This SWC was even better than the first. The weather was cold, about 35 degrees, and we had a better variety of activities. The staff had to keep improving their model campsite to keep pace with the campers. Equipment was still limited to what was in the Scout Equipment Catalog. We were quite sensitive to this, because we felt it was an important basic consideration.
We let the patrols buy their own food this year, instead of using the commissary method of the first SWC. It worked very well. We found that all of the varieties in menus added to the natural learning experience of the SWC. We added a “Campsite Tour” to the agenda, and every patrol visited every other campsite. There was a lot of sharing of ideas.
Sieg Gruener was designated as Scoutmaster for the 1971 SWC, and
most of the same staff members repeated under his leadership. We
were committed to continuing this event because of its
tremendous acceptance. However, during the next twelve months we
were unsuccessful in getting Districts to join us by sending
patrols or individuals. They never knew what they were missing.
SWC Number Three - 1971
Now that we felt the SWC was firmly ensconced, we decided to add something new. Lightweight camping in winter. Bill Barber set up a “Pack Weigh-In” station. Naturally, it was something quite unique as Bill Barber himself, but it taught everyone another lesson in pioneering and Scouting ingenuity. Every camper’s equipment was weighed on a Pioneering type scale, and points were awarded to patrols based on how light their equipment was.
We had taken advance reservations, and again bought all the food. This time it was freeze-dried food. Lightweight camping in winter? We did it and it was fun. We still insisted on the use of equipment Scouts could use, but by now it was an accepted requirement. This was the first year no one tried to smuggle in a catalytic heater.
Another highlight of this 1971 SWC was Bill Barber’s flint and steel fire starting activity. He made it all seem so simple, but that’s the way Bill works. He has a special knack of making everything he does seem easy. Through the years Bill Barber has probably contributed more to the success of this SCOUTERS’ WINTER CAMPOUT than any other individual.
Innovations such as these show that the SWC is an excellent forum for the interchange of Scouting ideas and the natural learning of new skills.
About this time there was a very strong effort on the part of some to take over the SWC and turn it into a training event. We almost lost it that time. We knew that much learning took place at the SWC, but it was natural and unstructured learning. We had plenty of formal training courses, but we didn’t have another activity where Scouters could use their personal skills and try out their own ideas with such freedom.
This was a battle the District Camping Committee joined. They were the ones who kept the SWC free from the structured environment that would have come with making it a formal training activity. The SCOUTERS’ WINTER CAMPOUT started out as a fun activity, and so it continued, despite attempts to change it. When Scouting stops being fun for the boys ... and their leaders ... they will all find something else to do.
My recent visit to the 20th anniversary of the SWC brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t help wishing that Sieg Gruener, Elton Adams and Dave Lipscomb could be there to see what they helped build. They would have been as pleased as I was, and I think they might have shed a tear, too. As long as the SCOUTERS’ WINTER CAMPOUT lives, the Scouting Program we all love will continue as one of the finest ways we Scouters can spend our time. Scouts for the next hundred years will be our beneficiaries.