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BSA Troop 571 - Sammamish Washington

The Iron Scouts - Chief Seattle Council

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Article from Boys Life Magazine
August 1st, 2003 by Dave Ivey
Photos from Recent Troop 571 Iron Scout Events

These scouts cram at least a summer's worth of Scouting outings into one adventure-packed day.
Why? So they can call themselves...

The IRON SCOUTS

James Ross, 15, sees the light at the end of the tunnel. It's surprisingly cold inside the dark, dank concrete corridor, even in the middle of July, and water from the high ceiling plunks loudly on his helmet as he methodically pumps the pedals on his mountain bike.

After more than 12 hours of challenges that include a mile swim, a two-mile canoe course, a seven-mile hike and a 12-mile rim-rattling bike ride down a black-diamond ski slope, James and the exhausted Scouts of Troop 571, Sammamish, Wash., have just 12 more miles to go before they rest.

"You forget about how tired you are at that point," says James, a Life Scout. "You know you've just got to keep pushing yourself a little more."

All eyes are focused on the pinprick of sunlight winking at them from the exit of the abandoned train tunnel. Flashlights taped to handlebars help ease a creepy feeling of claustrophobia. The sweat trickling down their backs and the water dripping from the ceiling feel like ice, giving them goose bumps as they pound through potholes and try to avoid scraping the sides.

"It looks as if you're in a cartoon," says Star Scout Steven Linden, 12. "The light keeps getting bigger and bigger until you finally reach the end."

And at the end, they aren't just Scouts anymore. They are Iron Scouts.

Everyone Can Win

The demanding, daylong adventure was designed to test both Scouting knowledge and physical fitness. The name Iron Scouts was inspired by the annual Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, which pushes athletes to their limits with a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile cycling course and a 26.2-mile run.

Iron Scouts is not a competition. Everyone can win. The eight events are swimming, canoeing, survival skills, extreme passage, hiking, extreme hiking, biking and extreme biking.

Participants successfully completing four of the tests earn the coveted Iron Scout title. Finishing five events merits the rank Iron Scout Titanium, with six being Iron Scout Silver, seven Gold and eight Diamond. All 30 participants in the July 2001 event attained at least the rank of Iron Scout, but nobody finished all eight events. (There were five Diamonds in 2002; the guys try again this month at Iron Scouts III.)

The Scouts prepared for the challenge by getting plenty of rest the night before and practicing their knot-tying and map and compass skills. They double-checked the chains and tires on their bikes.

Going to Extremes

A long day that ends inside the gloom of the Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel, located in the Cascade Mountains in Washington's Iron Horse State Park, begins about 40 miles away on the shores of Lake Sammamish.

Swimmers don wet suits before slipping into the chilly water at 7 a.m. to begin an arduous odyssey that won't end until after 8 p.m."That water really wakes you up," James says. "I got pretty tired during the swim, but the wet suit helps you float and stay warm."

Survival tests are based on a Scout's rank and cover first aid, fire-starting and knot-tying.

"That wasn't bad because it was all stuff we had learned and practiced before, but there was a little pressure because it seems like everyone is watching you," says First Class Scout Franklin Kuehny, 12.

Scouts pair off and wear personal flotation devices for the canoe challenge. Arms and shoulders get a vigorous workout as the boats glide briskly across the water to a buoy anchored a mile offshore and then head for home.

The action then picks up at Snoqualmie Pass, a trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail, for hiking (three miles on the trail), extreme hiking and extreme passage.

The extreme hike is a four-mile map-and-compass trek through dense wilderness; the extreme passage is a wobbly 100-foot walk across a rope bridge strung between two trees, 15 feet above the ground. Safety measures include using climbing harnesses and safety lines for the ropes and the buddy system, walkie-talkies and the 10 essentials for hikers. (See box "The 10 Essentials.")

Crossing the rope bridge is more than just putting one foot in front of the other. Sweaty hands and shaky legs make for tough travel. Franklin says his first instinct was to bolt across as quickly as possible, but he opted for the slow and steady approach. "I tried to keep my balance," he adds. "And I didn't look down."

Thrills and Chills

After hiking, the Iron wannabes head to the Hyak Ski Area for lunch and the biking events.

The ski resort's chair lifts ferry the extreme bikers and their gear to the top of the mountain.

Riding in a pack, the helmeted Scouts plunge headlong down the treacherous trail, dodging stumps and bumps and bouncing over loose rocks and fallen branches.

"I've skied down those slopes before, but it's exciting going down on your bike," James says. "That's probably the most dangerous thing we did all day. You have to keep your eyes open and pay close attention or you could wipe out."

Reaching the bottom in one piece and out of breath, they meet up with the other Scouts for the final leg of their journey, a 12-mile bike ride on the scenic Iron Horse Trail.

The hard-packed gravel trail's signature feature is the cold and clammy Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel, a two-mile-long gaping hole in the mountainside that can be a little unnerving for first-time visitors.

The sun is starting to set when the riders emerge to rousing cheers and a standing ovation from fellow Scouts, parents and volunteers. Feelings of pride, relief and fulfillment wash over them, but who has the energy to celebrate?

"It feels great to finish," says Star Scout John Tyler, 13. "But all you want to do is go home and go to sleep."