Impressions of BSA Summer Camp
David D. Miller +49 6221 594535 (DDM@DHDIBM1.BITNET)
Mon, 26 Jul 1993 11:25:47 -0600
Having just posted that my Girl Scout Day Camp experiences this year
were less than expected, my experience of a BSA Summer Camp was much
better. I went with Troop 29 to Bayern High Adventure Camp from 27
June til 3 July (the first week). The camp setting is spectacular,
the weather was fantastic, and the program was excellent.
Bayern High Adventure Camp was situated on a small hillock just above
the Bavaraian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GAP), surrounded on all
sides by some of the highest mountains in Germany. The camp is a mix
of pine forest and clearing, with just two fixed buildings: the
trading post (and staff dining area) and the first aid post. There
was one trailer with showers and a couple of toilet boxes, but no other
facilities. Large army tents marked the location of each of the program
There are three main programs being run at the same time. For those
striving to reach first class, there was ACE, run by a very talented
group of three older Scouts. A week at ACE was, for most of our Scouts,
long enough to do one and a half Ranks; i.e., new Scout -> almost
second class. I didn't think such a thing was practical, but I
could see the change in some of the young Scouts (once I saw through
the dirt of a week at camp!). One member of the ACE team, a Canadian
was presented with a Troop 26 Scarf at the end of the first week; When
there were Canadian Scouts in Heidelberg, they were in Troop 26, and
the scarf proudly displays a red maple leaf.
The second part of the program was merit badges. There were about four
groups of merit badges being done; and that didn't include any that were
based on paperwork. Several Troops took advantage of the time spent
together and did some other badges. The record I heard of was 14 badges
completed; but that boy's being pushed hard towards Eagle by his Dad.
Part three was High Adventure, and for some groups that meant HIGH.
Garmisch a major center for the Armed Forces Recreation Center, with
full-time staff available for many different activities. Kayaking,
mountain biking, whitewater rafting, climbing and rapelling, and
mountain walking were all on the agenda for ridiculously low prices.
Troop 29 had six boys and two adults, and was granted a smallish
site out in the open. The campsite provided four tents, a dining
fly, a patrol box and a picnic table; we had to bring the rest.
On checking in on Sunday, we discovered that one of the high-adventure
activities we'd all signed up for, the Zugspitz hike, had been shifted
from Wed-Thus to Mon-Tue. Sunday evening was spent leveling platforms -
well flattening them to an even grade - and storing the Troop gear
under the dining fly. Sunday night was spent sleeping.
Monday began early, with wakening at 0600 and everyone on the bus at
0730. The bus just took us across to the AFRC Lodge, where we met up
with our guides and did a kit check. AFRC has an equipment hire
service, so those with plastic carrier bags got proper backpacks, and
those with their tents and sleeping bags could leave them safely
behind. Several got Gore-Tex jackets, just to try them out.
We got on the trail just before nine, with about 15km to do before
nightfall. The first part was on good tracks, climbing steadily
up through the forest behind the lodge and over into the Reintal, the
next valley south of Garmisch. The Lodge was about 600m (2000ft),
with the planned stop at 1300m (4000ft).
The sheep and the goats were quickly sorted out; the High-adventure
Venture Scouts from Troop 26 knew what they were doing, and were ready
for it, and so rapidly got frustrated at those at the back. One of the
six adults, and three or four of the seventeen boys weren't in peak
condition, but one, Eric, was in a class all of his own. (And this was
on the gentle stuff.)
Once into the Reintal, the climbing was steady, crossing the river
several times. The forest began to thin, and the rock walls of the
valley stretched up into the cloud, but it stayed dry and cool - good
weather for walking. We stopped for lunch at a small cafe beside the
river; they'd just opened for the season that weekend. A coke was
only DM4 ($2.50), and they sold well. The sun came out while we were
eating lunch, but the tops were still cloud-covered. A couple of km
further on, it was beginning to get slightly warm, so we stopped at a
glacier-fed lake and most of the boys went for a swim. Average time
in water was around 4-5 seconds!
From there on, the trail began to climb again, up the side of the
valley. Suddenly it became apparent that the head of the valley was a
sheer cliff, with the river gushing out of a cave and plunging the
several hundred feet to the valley floor. The guide took a small group
of us down to look at the plunge-pool - while Eric and the others went
on and up the trail cut out of the cliff face.
The Alpine Club Hut that we were to stay in was just above the cliff,
in a nice open green area. As we arrived, the tops cleared for the
first time, and we were able to relax on the veranda, drink Coke
(DM4,50) and eat freshly made cheesecake. Accommodation for our group
of 23 was a bunk-bed with 15 spaces on each level. Each person had a
pillow and two blankets, and those who didn't already know how were
soon shown how to fold a bedroll. There simply wasn't a lot of space
upstairs which is why sitting on the veranda was so popular.
(What's that about a BSA rule on separate accommodation for youth and
adults? Stick to it, and you eliminate this hike and almost every other
overnight activity in the Alps! There was only one washroom and shower
for the male guests, and we weren't the only male guests. Last year,
the boys got a real shock: sharing the room with a group of teenage,
and totally shameless Dutch girl Scouts. Our mountain guide remembers
that incident well - with the boys totally stunned by what they were
seeing at the foot of their bed! (Does that explain why the whole of
Troop 29 came on the hike this year?!)
The evening meal was a meat stew, with vegetables and Knoedel (sort of
like dumplings). The boys were told that taste was unimportant; getting
as much as possible inside you was important, and most took the advice.
(Eric took a reasonable helping, even though he simply wasn't hungry.)
After the meal, our guides borrowed a guitar from the Hut owners and
held an informal singsong in the main room. I retired early and
got some sleep; from what the others say, there wasn't any problem with
noise in the sleeping areas - most of the group just crashed out.
In the morning there was another early start. Breakfast was continental
style: oven-fresh grey bread, with cheese, jam, and cold sliced meat.
The boys didn't like it that much, but most again took the hint that
they should eat as much as they could while it was available and they
didn't have to carry it on their backs.
We were on the trail by 0700. The weather was fantastic, with not a
cloud in the sky. On the other hand, the cliff face that we'd scaled
the previous afternoon was comparatively small. The hut was at about
1300m (4000ft); our target was to get to 2600m (8000ft) by lunchtime,
and more than half of that appeared to be one wall of rock.
The path started off very gently, crossing grassy meadows and rock
chutes, but began to climb suddenly. The trail was good, but most
definitely a footpath and not a biking trail. I was near the back of the
group, as usual, but I rapidly became frustrated at how quickly our
slowest members fell behind the rest. Eric, always at the back of the
line when we stopped, would often take another short break before
passing the point where the front of the group had rested. And there
were two others nearly as bad: the slowest adult was Eric's father.
(He admitted that they were leaving Europe soon, and had wanted to do
this as a father-son thing before they went. I managed not to respond.)
At the next major rest stop, (Cokes at DM5,00 - The higher you go the
more it costs!) a couple of decisions were made. 1) Eric was
being force-fed electrolyte replacements until he reached the summit;
and 2) I was not walking at the rear of the group. Several of the
Scouts from T26 and T29 noticed the change, and commented on it, but
there was little I could do. Having me up in the pack did change one
thing; the group behind me stayed behind me. Most of the boys have
little enough experience walking, and none of driving (or cycling in
heavy traffic), and I'm not an easy person to pass on a narrow trail!
After a couple of hundred metres (vertical), they accepted the
situation. (The group in front of me were only a few feet in front,
similarly 'stuck' behind the guide. I wasn't really holding anyone up,
just splitting the rabble into two blocks.)
Above that final rest stop there are 42 marker posts on the snowfield.
They're roughly equally spaced, each marked with a big number and
an arrow pointing to the next. We could see the summit already, but
in cloud, navigation would be on compass bearings from one post to the
next. Not all the group had sunglasses, and the sun on snow began to
get to some. When they saw the snow turn gradually pink, they started
to complain: It took some time to convince them that their eyes were
OK, and that the summer snow in the high Alps often *is* a pale pink.
We stopped for lunch at the solitude of marker 18 - on a dry rock
outcrop. The final stage up to the Platt - the glacier area - would
be fairly easy, but with the weather as it was, the train and
cable-car station on the Platt would be packed with tourists. Better
to eat in peace, than to fight for a seat later on.
The Platt is a huge bowl shape, with the summit ridge to the north.
The old Schneefernerhotel (the old railway station) is halfway up
the north wall, and the ridge behind was still too snowcovered to be
walkable with a group like ours. From the Platt, we watched a group
of three apparently well equipped climbers set off, only to turn back
about half an hour later. The prediction of tourists everywhere was
realized, and the queue for the cable-car to the summit was around an
hour; for the other cable-car, down to Eibsee on the other side, the
wait was around 2 hours. We took the first train down, back all the
way to Garmisch.
Having done all that, the rest of the camp was something of an
anticlimax. The boys had missed out on the start of merit badge
classes for the week, and were nearly three days behind in setting
up their campsite. And they only had three days to catch up on their
scores. As it was, the two days on the trail had turned the six boys
into a very effective Patrol, and the impact on their behavior around
camp was impressive. They began their campsite improvements on
Wednesday morning, and by that afternoon's inspection had done well
enough to exceed the camp standard set for the day. (Most Troops were
still well below the same standard after their third day!)
They'd all missed merit badge classes, and in some cases they'd had
their places given away to others. (We'd been over this with the
program staff when we signed them up, but had to sign them up again.)
The target sports were not a problem, with a short safety class to be
taken before going out on the range to practice, practice, practice.
One boy came back so disenchanted with his archery performance that he
wouldn't go back. He was *sent* back the following day and came back
less than an hour later with a completed blue card!
We had two other successes and several other partials in the remainder
of the week, as well as getting three boys through most of the Camping
MB just sitting talking around the site. (They'd missed too much to
join the class.) The scores for their second week would be much better,
with about 3 or 4 badges each, and one day of High Adventure (midweek).
Thursday was such a good enough day that we took Troop 29 out in the
evening, using money allocated by the Troop Committee for the purpose.
Dinner was McDonalds (the vote was 4:2 against Pizza Hut, although both
adults would have preferred the more relaxed atmosphere), followed by
a gentle walk around Garmisch town center. Later, we went to the
cinema to watch Hot Shots II (in Engl.O.F.). It's one of the funniest
films I've seen in a long, long time; Pity the kids were so tired out
one of them fell asleep in the cinema! :-)
Something that I hadn't expected at camp was the flag retreat each
evening. As each Troop's number was called out, the Troop had to give
a cheer of some kind. Some were really imaginative, and others were
simply brilliant. The biggest cheer was after a political comment on
the Friday: the papers had just announced the closures of several US
bases in Europe - including Bitburg Air Base - and in the same blow
had just confirmed that at least two of the Troops in camp wouldn't
ever again be at a summer camp in Europe. This time next year, the
Troops, two of the strongest Boy Scout Troops in Germany, will be
Saturday was when we confirmed our transport problems. Both leaders
were swapping out, and one of the boys (the son of my co-leader) was
also leaving. In camp, we had a 9 seat military bus for the Troop; at
the changeover, one of the new leaders was driving his car down, and
we were taking it straight back. When he arrived in camp, he was
dropped off by his wife and daughter - who were heading off for a week
in Austria. :-( Heidelberg community had arranged joint transport, and
this leader had called midweek to confirm that Troop 29 didn't need it.
There turned out to be three spare seats in one of the busses going
back, but that was with the kit piled right to the roof at the back.
Well, that was my time at a BSA summer camp. I was impressed at what I
saw, especially the way that the Troop Scouters just have to be there
to remind the boys to go to the right classes at the right time. But
what a number of staff! And what a logistics operation! (The nearest
'real' foodstore was 90 minutes drive each way (Augsberg) and didn't
always have what they wanted.) It's nice to take part in, but not
something I ever want to end up running.
David D. Miller
Scouting in Europe - A Unique Experience
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City