Cub Scouts in Meridian Are Hecka Active

Thanks to the many Cub leaders who responded to the follow up camping survey. The goal was to share information about Cub Scout activities and provide information to new Cub Scout leaders. Meridian Packs are extremely active and always looking for new ideas.

Meridian Cub Packs average almost seven day trips every year to a broad variety of destinations. Regional Parks are very popular, with Packs visiting Tilden Park, Mt. Diablo, Black Diamond Mines, Las Trampas, Chabot, and Sunol for hiking and picnics. Regional Parks are close by and offer a great outdoor experience with minimal planning issues (all Regional Parks have websites with detailed information). Trail Trekker hikes are known to many units with the Rodeo Lagoon hike a common favorite.  Also mentioned for day trips were: Scout Days at sporting venues (Oakland Athletics, Golden State Warriors, Berkeley), Nike Missiles/Marin Headlands, Pumpkin Patch/Western Railway Museum in Fairfield, and Bowling night.

Cub Camping is a popular activity

Cub Camping is popular in the Meridian District

Most Cub Packs camped three or four times in 2009 (average = 3.2 nights). The most common location for regular outdoor camping is Mt. Diablo, followed by Lake Chabot and Lake Del Valle. All have group campsites large enough to accommodate the 40-80 campers on a typical Cub overnight in the Meridian District. Packs also camped at Gilroy Gardens, Borges Ranch, Gillespie Youth Camp at Tilden Park, Sugar Loaf in Walnut Creek, Sam Taylor State Park, New Brighton Beach, Big Basin, and the Oakland Zoo.  Pre-packaged Scout camping overnights on the USS Pompanito, USS Hornet, and Chabot Space Center are popular, partly because they do not require a lot of camping equipment. Also extremely popular are Day Camp, Webelos at Camporee, and Resident Camp at Wolfeboro. (Every one of these was specifically called out as exceptional by more than one Pack). Family Camp, on the other hand was typically described as very good but too expensive for most families.

With one exception, Meridian Cub Packs do not own or maintain any camping equipment. Some rent griddles and stoves from places like Gagnon’s Party Supplies, but most scramble to assemble the tents, lanterns, stoves, pop-ups, sleeping bags, and everything every time they camp. The biggest impediment to Pack ownership of equipment is that no one wants to store it or take responsibility between outings. All Cub Packs report that scheduling outings is difficult because families are so busy.

It is extremely difficult for Cub families to find enough time to do things, like camping, that require a lot of preparation. On the other hand, camping is by far the most popular activity for the boys so Packs conduct as many overnights as possible despite the problems. Packs indicated that they do not need or want Meridian District assistance with their outings, but central storage of equipment, information about what camping equipment families should purchase for eventual use in Boy Scouts, and publicizing places to go (like Camp Herms) would be useful.

When it comes to online activities, Meridian Cub Packs are all over the place. Almost all units have web sites, but they are described as “out of date” or “not useful” by a lot of respondents – unless the Pack is lucky enough to have a talented webmaster. Scouttrack is the most popular program to manage advancement and contact information. Cub Units are also using Google Groups, myscouting.org, Fotki (photo file sharing), and even .trax files for communications or record-keeping. Most Packs use Evite (or Eventbrite) for activity registration.

Taken together, Meridian Packs conduct less than one outing per month, either a day trip or an overnight. This compares to 2.6 outings per month (day trips, camping, cycling, and backpacking) conducted by Boy Scouts Troops in the District. Therefore, when the Cubs bridge, they have many more opportunities for outdoor experiences.

There are 25 Cub Scout Packs in the Meridian District with 1,500 boys, including LDS units. Nine units contributed to this report.

On Belay, Belay On, Climbing, Climb On

If you put a boy in front of a big rock he will try to climb up the side.  It doesn’t matter if it’s at the Rock City near Mt. Diablo, Balconies in Pinnacles, Half Dome in Yosemite, or even a boulder next to the parking lot.  Boys like to climb.  Scouting understands this impulse and offers the Climbing merit badge to put some structure around this natural activity. 

There are lots of places where Northern California Scouts can learn to climb safely.   One of the most interesting indoor locations is in the old Great Western Power Company building  in Oakland.  The climbing walls are built around a 150 foot tall smokestack and the walls are as high and interesting as the adrenaline rush they inspire.  The Troop voted to make this our outing destination.

We walk into the gym at around 8:00 pm.  The cavernous space is cold and dark.  A faint smell of mold and perspiration rises from the thick mats that cover most of the floor.  The facility is split into two climbing areas.  The area closest to the entrance is for beginners and is filled with short walls, easy routes, and extra pads.  A free climb overhang is off to the side.  The other room is for more advanced climbers.  It contains the smokestack, which divides the much higher walls into two smaller sections, and a dozen walls that are sometimes angled to make the routes more challenging.  

Some boys brought sleeping bags, which are thrown into a dark space under the industrial stairs.  We put on sweatshirts and look for our gloves.  Most of the boys stare nervously at the climbing walls and wonder if they are strong enough (and brave enough) to get to the ceiling.  When everyone is safely inside, the doors are locked and bolted.  No one is leaving until 6:00 am, when our drivers are scheduled to return.

The Troop splits into two groups.  First year Scouts  are working on the merit badge, so they are herded into the beginner’s room with the counselors.  We don’t see them for a few hours as they learn the basics and test each other on rappelling and tying figure eight knots (count six pairs, plus a fisherman knot at the end).  From time to time a shout followed by a loud thud tells us that everything is proceeding normally in the merit badge session

The rest of the Scouts have already earned the merit badge.  They follow two experienced climbers (staff) to the smokestack and sit at the bottom of the 150 foot wall.  Everyone has to review the components of a safe climb:  harness, clips, ropes, knots, belay commands, and inspections.   The staff is tough and some boys have to be tested again and again.   

Climbing outing at Touchstone in Oakland

Scouts Climbing the Wall

Finally everyone is ready.  Half of the advanced group moves to the wall, with the other half deployed to belay the safety ropes in case their climbing partner should slip and fall.   For the next several hours, Scouts pick a route, tie into the harness, and climb until they hit a section that is too difficult.  Directions and shouts of encouragement echo in the chamber.  “You can do it.”  “Don’t stop now.” “Move your left foot up a little and put your weight on the blue rock.”   “You are almost to the top.”  Over and over again, until everyone’s arms are exhausted and fingers don’t work anymore.  Time for a rest.  

By 3:00 am, some younger Scouts are starting to get sleepy.  They look for a quiet place to roll out their sleeping bags.  They are soon to learn a harsh lesson:  it’s difficult to sleep on mats in an open room where Scouts are playing football or when people are tripping over you to get to the pizza and hot chocolate.  Miraculously, one narcoleptic boy sleeps through all the commotion.

For the final two hours, we crank up the music and try to get all the boys onto the walls again.  Some get their second wind and begin climbing steadily and seriously.  Belayers move to the heavy beat of the music in order to stay awake and keep themselves warm.  Younger Scouts wander across the mats, not comprehending how their minds can be mostly asleep while their bodies are still moving.  Adult Leaders keep looking at their watches as the minutes creep slowly by. 

Finally it’s six o’clock.  Scouts slowly push sleeping bags into stuff sacks.  Trash is picked up and equipment is put away.  The bill is paid (including a nice tip for the staff who also stayed up all night)  and the cars are loaded with Scouts, who immediately fall asleep.  The long night ends with a flurry of early morning telephone calls by adult leaders to get parents to collect their Scouts.   Then, finally, it’s time to go home.

The Great Western Power Company gym is owned by Touchstone Climbing and Fitness, which has multiple facilities around the Bay Area and lots of climbing options for youth groups; including easy walls for a Tenderfoot Patrol or Webelo Den and more difficult walls for Venture Crews.   http://www.touchstoneclimbing.com/