The Better part of valor…

discression“The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have sav’d my life.” – Falstaff in the Henry IV, William Shakespeare.
It is not often that we get placed in situations in Scouting that call for serious decisions to be made, decisions that may be the difference between fun and adventure and getting someone hurt.
Rule #1. Have fun
Rule #2. Be Safe
Beyond that it comes down the Scout Oath and Law.. that is all the rules we have in our Troop. Before every outing we go through, albeit not a formal process of assessing risk. Typically there are measures that can put in place to reduce risk or minimize those risks so the outing is fun, meaningful, and achieves its goals.
It is not often, in fact in 10 years we have reacted to risk by moving locations, changing the dates, or changing the focus of our activity to meet the assessed risk, maintain the learning objectives, and achieve the desired outcomes of our Troops outings.
Today, for the first time in 10 years the risk could not be mitigated and the better part of valor was to walk away, literally hike out and call it a day.
This weekend was out monthly camp out. The plan was to camp up in the Zig Zag canyon on Mt. Hood. A great trek in that we have done in the past. For a month now, we have trained for the outing. Learning cold weather skills, first aid, and how to use the gear that would need up on the mountain in January. The Scouts learned the signs and symptoms of cold weather injuries and how to prevent them. They learned tips to use ordinary camping gear for winter such as adding guy lines to a 3 season tent that will add to the strength of tent, keep it dry, and equip it for harsh conditions.
So we practiced and shook the Scouts down nit-picking at gear choices, uses, and what they thought would be acceptable versus what we know to be worth taking on a mountain trip in January.
The Troop was ready.
Change #1. Location. Due to the lack of snow, we determined that it would not be possible to go into Zig Zag canyon. Getting in would be fine, getting out would be another story. With the lack of snow we would not be able to hike out on the rock in the conditions that currently are hitting the mountain. So we moved the location to another camp area familiar to the troop on the slope of Mt. Hood. It would afford us the ability to achieve our goals and get good practical experience in winter camping for the Scouts. We decided to hike into Devils Half Acre. A camp area on the Historic Barlow trail. It has a good snow park, good trail, and plenty of camping area.
This morning we departed our meeting hall. In the early morning hours we began our adventure. A light rain was falling and the forecast was calling for heavy rain in the valley, rain on the mountain with heavier rains coming over night as well dropping temperatures. It’s all good, we are prepared.
We arrived at the snow park to a light rain and moderately cool temperatures. The thermometer was hovering around 38 degrees.
As we hiked into the camp area, a steady drizzle accompanied us. We got camp set up, dinning flys, and water boiling for hot chocolate. Everything was going well. A little wet, but we have camped in the rain before.
The Troop ventured off on a hike stopping along the way to practice skills and learn about ways to make winter camping enjoyable.
While we hiked the rain increased. We arrived back at camp and checked the gear and started the process of getting lunch prepared.
I did a walk around camp with the Troop Leadership Corps. I wanted them to develop the critical eye on what right looks like. We discovered that many of the Scouts while setting up took some costly short cuts. In their haste to get set up and under the protection of a tarp, they neglected to think about their current location, situation, and consequence. They did not use the extra guy lines as we trained, they picked locations that we not optimal for the rainy weather and as a result we had wet tents.. on the inside. That also meant that we had several wet sleeping bags.
Not catastrophic at that point.. but then we started to put fixes in place. We reached a point were we knew that for some of the sleeping bags there was no way we could get them dry.
We began to reevaluate our risk and assess what our plans were going to be in the event that the temperatures dropped and the rain did not let up. Hypothermia kept creeping into the conversation. Pack and hike now or pack and hike in the middle of the night It really came down to our willingness to accept risk or not.
We decided the better part of valor was discretion. Ensure that learning objectives happened, find the teachable moment, and live to have fun another day.
We gathered the Scouts around and demonstrated what we were seeing versus what we expected. We talked about the desired outcomes of all the training and preparation and how we may have failed in the execution. Then we packed up and hiked out.
First. We talked about leadership. All of the issues we discovered came down to leadership.
Second. We reinforced our leadership principles and how they applied in this and most situations.
We focused on the first three. Become a Life Long learner, Learn to lead yourself, and Model Expected Behavior.
Learning and retaining things that make you better. Practicing what you learned so you can test and reevaluate what you have learned. Leading yourself so as to be that person that others are willing to follow. And of course, modeling the behavior that you want to see from those you lead. If you maintain those three principles in what you do.. you will not only effectively lead, but will have a great time doing it.
After those lessons were, pardon the pun, soaked in, we packed up ensuring it was done right and departed.
Even though it was a short outing relative to our normal camp outs, it became one that will live in the memories of our Scouts as a learning event. Everyone learned something today, and that made this “Camp out” a success.
Looking back now just hours from the event, I see great value in taking some risk. I also see a lot of value in evaluating and reevaluation of that risk. It is through that process that we learn and discover. It opens up opportunity to teach and reinforce key leadership and camping skills.
I don’t want to have to do this often, but when we have to.. we know we will do what is right. The better part of valor is discretion. And live to camp another day.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

3 comments

  1. Good choice to abort during the day once some sleeping bags got wet.

    I learned a long time ago that using a tarp as the floor inside the tent is the best way to keep the inside of a tent dry. I just curl it a bit around the edges and have even found this keeps the interior dry even when pitching a tent in a puddle of water. Ground tarps placed underneath the tent are a recipe for a wet night.

    Our troop is headed up to Mt Hood this next weekend for some winter camping. I am a bit disappointed in the lack of snow. Next year, I will suggest that our snow camping or caving get scheduled for February or March as the snow levels during those months are a bit more reliable.

    Like

  2. Your experience reminded me of the following blog post I ran across a few months back:

    http://blog.emsoutdoors.com/making-sure-theres-a-next-time/

    The last two sentences of that blog are, I think, the most important:

    “Every minute spent on what seems like a failure is another minute spent learning to do it better the next time, which is probably even more valuable than getting to check off another thing on your list.

    And as always, whether you accomplish your goal or not, the most important thing of all is to be able to do it again tomorrow.”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s