15 scouts from Troop 56 brave the cold at Valley Forge

The Valley Forge Pilgrimage and Encampment is the oldest continuously-held annual Scouting event in the world. It was first held on February 22, 1913 (George Washington's 181st birthday), and has been held every year since. The event is hosted by the Cradle of Liberty Council of the Boy Scouts of America and commemorates the soldiers of the Continental Army who braved the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge. Each year more than 2,000 brave the winter chill of the Delaware Valley to participate.
Scouts and leaders from Troop 56 huddle for a brief photo
Photo courtesy of Rich Thompson, Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 56
Remember George Washington and his men, said Boy Scout leaders as they rallied their own near-frozen troops at Valley Forge National Historical Park on Saturday morning.
Of course, the Continental Army didn't have the high-tech, cold-weather gear the scouts have.
A shining sun was deceiving as more than 1,600 scouts gathered -- braced against a punishing wind and bundled with thick layers -- for the organization's 104th annual pilgrimage and encampment at the site where Washington's Continental Army stayed during the treacherous winter of 1777-78.
Thanks to Arctic gusts, the region felt a windchill just a few degrees above zero Saturday morning, with temperatures dropping to the lowest of the season Saturday night into Sunday.
Thankfully, this was not problematic for Boy Scout Troop 56, of Strasburg, 16 members of which took a hike back in time to learn and experience the life of the soldiers at the Valley Forge Encampment this past weekend (February 12-13).
Once a gear and inventory check was finalized, the troop left their warm confines of Strasburg and headed off towards Valley Forge. The hour-long ride east was their last few moments with warmth before they needed to brace the chill. A hasty setup of camp engaged all the scouts in pumping blood to keep them warm for one night. Tents were pitched and a dining hall was raised before the chili and hotdogs promised began to cook. Then the stuffed scouts went to sleep with no intentions of getting out until dawn.
Scouts gather at a monument to take a break amid the cold
When dawn broke, the scouts were given some more time to rest, but the wondrous leaders and adults trudged on to create a hefty portion of Hoo-Hash (potatoes, bacon, eggs, and leftovers). All of the troops who slept at the encampment then rushed to the buses to be crammed in and shipped off to the actual site of Valley Forge for our pilgrimage.
This pilgrimage starts off with a waiting game until all the slower Troops arrive. But once everyone was present, Anita Warren sang the National Anthem.
In Valley Forge, a scout leader called to the troops at the opening ceremony: "Are you warm enough?"A halfhearted roar went up.
"I'll take it," he replied. But the scouts from 10 states, wearing fur-lined hats and hardy boots, said they were ready for the brutal February weather - though they arrived to see the coldest conditions for their encampment in recent memory.
"We kept an eye on the weather," says Joe Ulmschneider, an adult leader from Prince Frederick, MD, who brought 17 scouts. "The boys are prepared."
It is his troop's first time participating in the event. They took a cold-weather class and wore plenty of layers.
Soon after every group was given a destination and took their separate ways. The scouts, who were completing activities about Revolutionary War-era and modern-day cavalry, skirmishing with rifles, and music of the Revolution  had buses standing by to warm them up. Barry Kaufman, chair of the event, briefed the large crowd at 9 a.m.: Stay hydrated, warm up if you get cold, and call for help if there's an emergency. All scoutmasters had taken a required cold-weather course.
The city could likely take a few notes from the Boy Scouts as it faced what could be record-breaking cold this weekend.
Saturday night into Sunday, temperatures in Philadelphia were set to hit single digits for the first time this winter.
The Weather Service issued an advisory for dangerously cold wind chills in the area through Sunday morning, with potential gusts up to 50 m.p.h.
Troop 56 stayed where they were to learn about Revolutionary War medicine and to brave the cold together.
According to the speaker, doctors' knowledge of medical issues was very basic (and often flawed) compared to medical knowledge today. Doctors and nurses were hard to come by, few specialized in any particular topic, and many lacked formal training. Hospitals were few and far between, tools were rudimentary, and much was yet to be discovered about the causes and treatments of common ailments. Compounding problems, close quarters, poor sanitation and hygiene, and contaminated food and water supplies contributed to the rampant spread of disease in army barracks.
As the day trudged onward, Troop 56 began to wander off of the scheduled path to head for the Valley Forge Cathedral where a history of the BSA is housed. After the quick lunch break, they traveled back to the designated path, or close to it. The Troop arrived at the museum for some warmth and naps while they ended up waiting for a bus back to the encampment. For the first time in its 104-year history, the second night of the encampment was cancelled due to extreme cold and wind, so everyone headed home early.


The executive council of the Valley Forge area decided that it was for the best of the entire encampment to take leave before there was hypothermia present.

Troop 56's contingent was disappointed, but can rest with the knowledge that it embodied the BSA motto: be prepared.

--Kyle Johnson, LSNews.org Contributor

Edited: BP

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