SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Be Prepared



June 20, 2011

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska -
My Dad always thought of Boy Scouts as "amateur hour."
jpg Dave Kiffer

Sure, he was the great outdoors guy, hunting, fishing, trapping pretty much all year round. And I got to go with, much to my general dislike.

Even today, men often get wistful when I talk about my life to age 15, which was a seemingly continuous miserable slog through the muskeg or the woods. And of course, there were those summers spent commercial fishing from 4 am to nearly midnight.

If that sounds like heaven to you, great.

I understand that we often feel a need to get back to our frontier roots. And I understand that many people really do cherish their time hunting and fishing and etc. But it is a hard life and there is a big difference between doing it when you want to and doing it when you have to. Especially when you are seven or eight years old.

Most days I would have just preferred to curl up with a good book and enjoyed the civilized comfort of "town."

But now, I find myself yearning - not to reclaim my wilderness youth - but to at least provide a sliver of it for my son. I want Liam to have outdoor experiences. Just not the brutal, forced marches that I went through.

So that brings us back to boy scouts.

For three years running, Liam and I have attended cub scout camp at Orton Ranch right around Memorial Day.

Despite my personal aversion to most things "outdoorsy," heading off to Orton Ranch - about 12 miles from the end of the road - always reminds how lucky we are to be surrounded by the great outdoors.

When we spend most of our days in "town" we tend to forget just how spectacular life is all around us, as we grumble our way through traffic and deal with all the little irritations of getting by.

Besides there is nothing like camp food and sleeping on an uncomfortable bunk to remind me how much I like civilization, like indoor plumbing and baseboard heat.

And that's just cub scouts. I can't wait for boy scouts, which involves real camping and real sleeping on the ground. If it was tough on my 10 year old body, I can't imagine how it will appeal to an out of shape 50 something!

But I digress.

Despite my father's misgiving I did join Boy Scouts for a couple of years when I was young. Not sure what I was looking for.

Maybe I just wanted to share my discomfort with the outdoors with others.

Maybe I secretly wanted to be "thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."

Maybe I just liked the uniforms.

But when I was in sixth grade, we had a scout trip that proved my father right about the "scouts" and it also involved Orton Ranch.

First a disclaimer, my three years with Liam's scout troup have shown me that the modern scouting movement has come a long ways since my experience 40 years ago. What happened in the early 1970s couldn't happen today. That is a good thing.

So, once upon a time, our pack set out on a "hike" to Moser Bay and Orton Ranch back in the early 1970s. It was a weekend jaunt.

The hike out was completely free of drama. At least I think it was. I honestly can't remember the hike out.

Or the campouts at Moser and Orton itself. I have clear memories of an earlier hike out to Orton, but I don't remember anything of the second one.

I suspect it's like how the mind is able to push traumatic events out of the easy accessible part of the brain. How people don't remember much about car crashes.

Unfortunately, I remember this "car crash" more clearly.

It all started on the hike back to Settler's Cove.

It was raining and some members of the pack were in a big hurry. Pretty soon, the pack had split into two groups. One group was convinced that the "trail," such as it was, was not the most direct route home. They headed inland.

The other group - the one I was with - stuck closer to the shore. I'm not totally sure where the scout leaders were but they certainly weren't with the shore group. Why they allowed the scouts to split up is a mystery to this day.

As it turned out, neither route was a good choice.

The inland scouts got so lost that they were eventually corralled by a search and rescue group a hypothermic night and day later so far inland that they had almost reached Lake Harriet Hunt.

Things didn't go so much better along the shore.

First of all, the tide was coming in faster than we were getting to Settler's Cove. Soon, the shore patrol was having to wade around the rocks in knee deep water and by then the shoreline was too steep to go inland.

Some members of the shore patrol were faster than the others and soon it had divided into two and then three groups.

One thing my father had drilled into me was to never be in a big hurry in the woods. So I hung back, helping some of the slower scouts. I wasn't trying to be a hero or anything, I just figured that a staying with a larger group was a good idea because it meant it you would be easier to find.

Even early in the hike, I realized that we were all going to be in need of some sort of rescuing.

And that's pretty much what happened.

Eventually, our group fell so far behind the others and was so wet and cold, all I could think of was finding shelter. A fire was out of the question because everything was way too wet to burn.

In those days, there weren't cabins and lodges along the entire shoreline between Settler's Cove and Loring. But there were a few.

Late in the afternoon, we came to an old cabin. At first we figured we should just break in, get a fire going and wait until someone found us. That would have been the smart idea - although breaking and entering isn't in the scout manual.

Instead we decided to take a skiff from next to the cabin and try to row to civilization. It was still light out and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Of course, grand theft isn't in the scout manual either, but sometimes a scout's gotta do what a scout's gotta do.

After we got out in the channel, we noticed we were making no progress at all. Then we started going backwards. The tide was definitely "agin" us.

It continued to rain, it continued to get dark. It wasn't looking so good.

We were even colder and wetter and two of the younger boys were crying. It really wasn't looking so good.

Finally, we drifted back toward Loring, but before we reached the village, a seine boat - Spike Murphy's Rio Grande - pulled up and hauled us aboard. We sat in the pilot house, sipping the most wonderful chicken soup ever, on the way back to Knudson Cove.

We were the lucky ones because all the other scouts spent the night outside before they were rescued.

Afterwards, there was much finger pointing and a change in leadership of the scout pack.

Fortunately, Liam continues to have good scout experiences and seems to enjoy spending time outdoors.

Today, the scouts are not "amateur hour."


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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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