The Klondike Derby is a winter scouting skills and leadership competition that has been sponsored annually by Boy Scout units since 1949. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Venture Crews gather for the daylong event, working in teams and vying for points earned at several skills stations set up along a course.
Named for the late 19th Century Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska, when thousands of hardy, young men headed north to find their fortunes, dragging with them sleds of tools and possessions, the Scouting Klondike Derby also features sleds laden with useful tools, food, and other supplies. Participating Scouts must drag their handcrafted sleds from station to station — regardless of whether the yearly Connecticut winter brings rain, snow, mud, or sun.
This year, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Scatacook District and Troops 9, 33, and 52 hosted more than 400 Connecticut Scouts in 30 teams, Saturday, January 18, at the Hoyt Scout Reservation in Redding. Of those 400 participants, just four were young women, members of Venture Crew 70 in Newtown. Morgan Reiss, Victoria Palmer, Cynthia Ormsbee, and Corinne Wilklow joined with fellow Crew members Henry Summ, Jack Benedict, Tiernan Keane, and Sebastian Fountinopolis in showing the 300-plus other scouts there that whether male or female, working together with mutual respect and enthusiasm could culminate in a highly positive outcome.
At the end of the chilly, snowy day, the Venture Crew 70 team had earned the highest number of points, slip-sliding away with the first place honors for the Scatacook District 2014 Klondike Derby.
This year was the first time in the Venture Crew 70’s 30-year history that they have taken part in the Klondike Derby, said Crew senior advisor Tracy Van Buskirk. Although affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, the co-ed Venture Crew 70 rarely has opted to take part in BSA-sponsored activities. “We tend to be what is considered a High-Adventure Venture Crew,” said Ms Van Buskirk, who has guided the Crew for the past nine years, and is currently assisted by Richard Palmer.
“We like to take on challenging things in the wilderness, more often,” she said. But when a parent suggested to the group one evening that they consider entering the Klondike Derby, the suggestion was met with a spirited curiosity.
“It’s a very different activity from our usual outings. We described the skills needed, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn and improve on our outdoor skills. And,” said Ms Van Buskirk, “it was a chance to show other Scout troops how much fun and how competent a co-ed group can be.”
The Crew members were very receptive to the idea, she said, and the young women, especially (Venture Crews invite boys and girls ages 14 to 21 to join), liked that there were going to be some teenage girls going to what is essentially an all-boy event.
“I thought it could be interesting,” said Morgan Reiss, a Newtown High School senior who has been a member of Venture Crew 70 for more than two years. Morgan is currently the president of the group. “It seemed exciting, plus we got to learn a lot of skills,” she said.
Sebastian Fountinopolis, a sophomore at Newtown High School and only with the group for a few months, was familiar with the Klondike Derby, having taken part as a Boy Scout. “I was happy. I thought it would be fun to have a new experience with a new group of people,” said Sebastian.
Eager To Learn
The fact that the Crew had never practiced some of the skills in which the team would be tested at the Klondike Derby was looked at as a challenge rather than a game-stopper, Ms Van Buskirk said.
“Our Crew was eager to learn. They had an ‘Of course we can do this!” attitude. So we paired up with Boy Scout Troop 70. Scoutmaster Ed Breitling and Assistant Scoutmaster Robert Taylor helped us a lot,” she said.
Meeting three times for two-hour sessions, the Scouts of Troop 70 worked with the Crew members, reviewing first aide and orienteering, and teaching them the fundamentals of lashing with ropes, creating an emergency transport litter from a tarp and branches, and pitching a tent — blindfolded.
“It was great working with Troop 70. They were willing to teach us all we needed to know,” Morgan said. Even so, she was concerned that knot tying might tie them up in knots. “Especially for me, knot tying was the thing I worried about. You know it, or you don’t,” she said.
For Sebastian, it was the aspect of log sawing that had him concerned. “I had never used a two-man saw, so that was something I needed to work on. There was always someone on the team, though, that was expert at one thing or the other, though. We were a good team. We all supported each other,” he said.
The January 18 Klondike Derby challenged scouts making their ways from station to station in many other areas of mental and physical prowess.
At the Sled Check, each team’s equipment was checked for completeness, and the team was advised on hypothermia and quizzed on that subject. The Skidoo Station required Scouts to build a temporary shelter with only materials from the immediate area and their sled supplies. Here, they also showed competency in knot tying skills.
The Fiddletown Station gave participants a chance to demonstrate lashing skills. After lashing together a ladder from branches, one of the scouts had to use it to climb up the side of a tree and retrieve a stocking cap. All on the team then did 50 jumping jacks. Building a sustainable fire, hot enough to burn through a string tied above it, was the skill proved at the Tombstone Station, along with moving a pile of wood from one point to another, quickly and efficiently.
From there, the team moved on to the Bisbee Station, where scouts used a two-man — or in this case, a two-woman — saw to cut through a log.
“Each station grades on the mastery of the skill, but also on team spirit,” Ms Van Buskirk explained. Scout Spirit includes enthusiasm, cooperation, cheering on other teams, and a cheer unique to each team.
“I think the other teams were surprised to see girls with us, but they were definitely welcomed. Our reception was extremely positive,” Ms Van Buskirk said.
“It was a fun experience,” agreed Morgan. “The other teams could see that we’re girls and we can do it, too.”
Mental skills for the kids to have fun with were a part of the Klondike Derby day, as well.
At the Vulture Station, it was a sling shot/ping pong relay that tested the scouts’ skills. Figuring out which PVC tubes were going to work best when interconnected to move a ping pong ball from point A to point B took some consideration and perseverance. Scout history knowledge and three “holes” of Disc Golf comprised the Eureka Station, and American history was paired with the rescue transport test at Bannack Station.
Memory testing and a tire obstacle course made up the Waldo Station, and at Ketchkan Station, each team navigated a rope obstacle and selected three team members to shoot at a target.
Amazed By The Win
Scouts do not learn the final scores the day of the Klondike Derby, so Venture Crew 70 left not knowing that they had made their mark, placing first in the Boy Scouts of America/Venture Crew division. (Another first place is awarded in the Cub Scout division.) It was not until February 12 that it was officially announced that the Newtown Crew had out-lashed, out-tied, out-climbed, and out-witted the other teams — including their mentors, Boy Scout Troop 70.
“They were amazed to hear that they had won,” Ms Van Buskirk said.
“I did not believe Tracy, at first,” laughed Morgan. “I mean, this was our first year competing. I thought there was no way we had won. It’s really exciting, though,” she said.
“It’s amazing that we won,” said Sebastian. “I expected we would go and just find out what it was all about. I wasn’t expecting to win,” he said.
The skills learned for the Klondike Derby are valuable ones, added Morgan and Sebastian.
“I, personally, am more confident in some of those skills,” said Morgan. “As a team, we learned how to work together. It’s good to know that a bunch of kids in our Crew know what to do in emergencies. It’s more on us, now, than the leaders. I’m glad we got to go,” she said.
“I was excited that this was a co-ed accomplishment, even though I think that the kids take it more for granted that boys and girls can compete on the same playing field. I came away happy that we could model good co-ed cooperation,” said Ms Van Buskirk. “I think Venture Crew is instrumental in building self-confidence. It’s a wonderful way for boys and girls to participate in challenging outdoor activities,” she said.
Newtown hosts three Venture Crews, high adventure, year-round outdoor co-educational programs for ages 14–21. Activities include snowshoeing, camping, hiking, rock climbing, caving, and canoeing. Newtown Venture Crew 70 meets at 7:30 pm, at Cullens Youth Association, Taunton Lake Road, two Wednesdays each month. Advisor is Tracy Van Buskirk (203-426-3014). Venture Crew 100 is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Newtown. Advisors are Edward Wolf, Sr, and Barbara Wolf (203-426-4696). Venture Crew 270 advisor is Scott Coleman (203-270-0213 or email@example.com). Venture Crew 270 meets each Wednesday night, at 8 pm, at the Newtown Congregational Church.