Do you know the song “We’re Going North, the Rush is On?” In 1897 gold was discovered in the Klondike area of northwest Canada. It lies just to the east of Alaska. Over 100,000 people raced to the spot to try to find riches. I read that of the 100,000 who started, only 30,000 made it. They got there by all means, but most put their supplies on a sled pulled by dogs. Some got rich, but most did not.

In 1949, the Boy Scouts from the northern United States and Canada began their reenactment of the Klondike gold rush and called it the Klondike Derby. They built rough sleds, stashed their supplies, put in the lightest Scout and the rest of the unit, Webelos, or Venturers called themselves Huskies, tied by ropes attached to the sled, pulled the heavy sled through the snow as quickly as possible.

Although the Klondike Derby was never actually an official BSA function, it had a very specific reason for being. A winter activity was needed to make the boys use their heads.  So, they can use their Scouting skills in the field, demonstrate their teamwork, and build Scout spirit. But, most of all, they can enjoy the outdoors on cold winter days.

The derby takes place in a huge open field on a farm or a park. Of course there must be lots of snow. Each patrol leader is given a map to follow which brings them to 6-12 “towns.” In each “town” they are given tasks learned from Scouting. They are judged and aided by the “town major” and given “golden nuggets” as prizes according to their expertise.  They proceed from town to town, doing difficult tasks. Each “town” provides them with hot food and drink. Two teams are usually at a “town” at the same time.

The units can use their golden nuggets to purchase Derby patches, or something they want. The grand winner gets a large golden nugget trophy which is passed on to the winning team each year. Of course this might look different in different parts of the country, but you get the idea. 

I think it should be assumed that this activity takes a great deal of preparation. Everyone must be prepared for extreme cold, have adequate supplies, and extra dry provisions. Here’s a great check list for how to plan and run your own Klondike Derby. Two adults must accompany each unit. One of these adults must be over 21. It goes without saying, you gotta love the cold.

What do you do for Klondikes? 

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Joyce Olesen
is a grandmother, mother, and daughter of Scouters. She love kids, camping, country music and sport cars. Her Dad was a Scout leader in Chicago in the early 1920’s and having only daughters did not bolster his Scouting hopes. As his "Scout" she was tying regulation knots by the time she was 7.

2 comments

  1. Skyler Hunter
    Skyler Hunter ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I grew up in California so I had never heard of Scout Klondikes before moving to Utah. In San Jose we would have probably go beach camping instead!

  2. Darryl Alder
    Darryl Alder ( User Karma: 9 ) says:

    My first winter camp was spent just trying to thaw pants after sledding well into the night. The second winter camp I came down with fever and broke out with chickenpox as soon as I got home.

    Wow, winter camps were just not my thing as a young Scout. Then one winter when I was sixteen, I started working at our winter camp, that is when I realized program rules, winter or summer!

    BSA published winter camp “Sparklers” that year and I was won over. One of the suggested events was the Klondike Derby, where each patrol built its own sled with patrol members as the “dogs.” Each year from the late 1960s this grew in popularity until eventually there was nothing called winter camp, only Klondike Derby.

    In Utah these Derbies rule; our Scouts expect to be in one each winter, this year, however, we will need some snow first.

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