August 21, 2016

Camp Melakwa Beaver Weekend 2016: Weekend in Review (Jul. 2016, OR)

Me at the Peaks

Opening Beaver Weekend - Camp Melakwa, Oregon
In the 
 Willamette National Forest nNear McKenzie Bridge, OR and the Three Sisters Wilderness
July 15-17, 2016
Warm Cascade weather, 70-85 degrees midday, 50-60 in the evening.

This was an exciting year for me on Beaver Crew. I have been working with my buddy Andrew to recruit some old alumni to attend Beaver Weekend and to join the annual work of the crew. We were happy that some old friends took up our invitation this year.

Two Brothers and Three Sisters
Apollo and me getting to enjoy each other's company after years apart

Andrew and I also had been hard at work to commemorate the camp's 70th birthday this year. Our efforts included the creation of a custom 70th year Beaver Weekend patch for all attendees, and a limited "Legend of Camp Melakwa" backpatch commemorating the year. Both projects turned out really well and were excitedly accepted by the friends of the mountain.

In addition to the camp's birthday celebrations, I was able to bring my buddy Ray out to join the crew. It makes me happy that he was welcomed with the same hospitality that my brothers extended to our long-time alumni. It was exciting to see him experience our playground in the Willamette and to let him experience the Spirit of Melakwa - photos just never did it justice when I tried to describe it.

Unfortunately, it's the only weekend I'm able to attend each year. However, it is worth an entire year of planning to just get a couple days on the hill. Time slows down and I experience nature at its most raw. It is a rejuvenating and cathartic experience - much to which anyone can attest at any age. It's why we still promote deep, primitive camping among the youth of the digital age. There's something human and strengthening about it that gives me extra energy to jump back into urban life with vigor.

Me at the Peaks
Me enjoying my favorite peaks

So, below are a few of my concluding thoughts on this year's opening weekend. I'll write more about this year if anyone can share their photos and stories with me. Send me an email if you'd like to share something for a more comprehensive annual report.

Nostalgia's familiar stories

I'd like to start with the scenes we all know and the places we hold most special. These places whisper their poetry in our minds within simple photographs, and still hold power for me long after the camp is buttoned up for the winter. When I need to be picked up, I look back on my photos for inspiration and peace.

The bumpy road that leads us up the hill may twist, but it never leads us away from our goal. It always takes us home, and shows us great wonders along the way. Before you arrive, you prepare yourself for something grand.

Bumpy roads have views

Treelined hills

Our flag flies on top of radio rock, reminding us of what we work for and preserve. Our stewardship of this land means something. These mountains are home. The wind also spoke to us, giving flight to the stripes and placing the stars in the sky.

American strong

The waters at their stillest push you back for a minute and get you to reflect. The lake and its flora are full of lessons.

Waveform reflections

Sit for a view

The mornings on the mountain always show a special side of the forest. As the sun shines, you see sights you can only glimpse for an hour or two. Wake up you sleepy heroes!

Bright moss

Star Lake

Both the large and the small catch our eye. Depending on your eye, you can be a giant among the forest, or an ant on the forest floor. How do you look at the forest and its myriad forms?

Ferns of all colors

The Legend of Melakwa made its showing and was shared. Its buckskin story reminded us of the seventy scouting plus seven hundred years of history of this special place.

The Legend of Melakwa

Cycles of life surround you. The most vivid scenes are composed of many centuries of history.

Cycle of mountain life

Hundreds have stepped before you, but with each year the land washes itself anew. It's up to you to pass on the stories and make sure your steps don't last.

Footsteps renewed

Light plays funny tricks when you drink from the clearest of waters.

Colorful waters

Leaning into the waters

Here's to the brilliant glaciers of the Middle Sister lasting for another 700 years, so scouts can continue challenging its sides with crampons and ice axes.

The Middle Sister

"Remind me why I want to go home again? I am home" - Andrew

Lake navigation

The A-Frame this year looked more like a Civilian Conservation Corps cabin than it ever had, with its new green roof and brown paint looking worthy of any Forest Service encampment.

The A-Frame

Our familiar peaks showed themselves at many points during the weekend. On one of the days, a group of clouds asked the Sisters for a dance for the afternoon. Although the skies were clear for us throughout the weekend, the clouds hovered over the peaks as they are wont to do. Geologists and meteorologists would remind us that systems frequently get held up at the line of peaks, usually failing to find their way over to the eastern Deschutes side of the mountains. It was cool to see it in action.

Three Sisters

Three Sisters

Three Sisters covered in clouds

Cloudy Peaks

The year's report at open - A review of the highlights

- Weather -
The days during that week were beautiful. As it is Oregon, our party was prepared for rain. However, it wasn't needed for this year's excursion. In addition, the alpine sun wasn't too hot for the physical demands of falling, bucking, and moving the many dead trees that were intermixed throughout the forest.

Belltone Peak

In true Cascade mountain range fashion, it did get really chilly at night, especially with the lack of cloud cover. I remembered to bring my thermals this year, along with many long-sleeved shirts. A full moon illuminated the forest with an incredible brilliance. No flashlights were needed for the mountain-initiated. This did, however, put a damper on any stargazing that one may have wanted to do (namely, me...).

- Snow and wildflowers -
Of the 20 years I have been going to Lake Melakwa, this is the first year I have seen the dry lake bed so colorful. I know that the lake bed had standing water just a couple weeks previous to our arrival, thanks to photographs from both Dan G. and Mike/Alan G., so the bloom of the wildflowers was a gift for our arrival. This was a real treat - the colors of the dry lake bed were too much to take in with one camera shot.

Dry lake bed flowers

Blooms at dry lake bed

Blooms at dry lake bed

Blooms at dry lake bed

Blooms at dry lake bed

Blooms at dry lake bed

Red blooms

Tiger lily

The camp's signature beargrass blooms were also at full strength, dotting the trail-sides with white. It's always fun to arrive on a year of late snowmelt to experience the forest during its annual awakening.

Bear grass was in bloom

Beetles and beargrass

- Fire -
The fire danger this year at open was moderate, level 1. We were able to have carefully watched fires. This was a blessing considering last year's complete ban on flames. Fellowship convened each evening at the chapel fire rock and at the cook shack. The warmth of the flames were the perfect cure for the bite of the alpine nighttime chills.

- Water conditions -
Thanks to the hard work of Bill Mason and his team, the water was running within hours of green gate open. The lines were in good shape, as well. The water tank on the hill needed some adjusting and work on tightening its bands, which was a project for the work weekend. However, the camp's arteries looked good, save for a section heading up to Scott campground that would need additional work at some later time.

- Condition of camp -
Our work party completed the initial walk around the camp and campsite inventory. Our hike proved the camp to be in great condition considering a heavy snow, notwithstanding many downed trees throughout the entire camp. The growing threat of additional falls from the dead pine sentinels that were spread throughout the camp prompted the Forest Service to allow experienced Beaver Crew members to clear out dead and rotting snags that dominated the treeline. To preserve the safety of the campsites, many dead, dangerous trees were needing to be removed.

- The crew -
As always, the crew was outstanding. Almost two full days were spent working on the dead timber in the camp, trying to clear up snags to improve the safety of the campsites. Many additional projects were done, as were completed from the brown jobs chart on the cook shack. Crew members grabbed projects from the board and checked in at lunch. We all told stories of how our days were going and asked advice from everyone as each project needed it.

Afternoon project check

After a hard day's work, stoop sitting at the A-Frame is the choice form of entertainment. Or a swim at the point

After a hard afternoon's work


Pat Patterson was able to visit on Saturday to see his favorite crew at work. In his words "This Damn Crew is the lifeblood of the camp. If it weren't for you dedicated friends of our camp, scouts would lose the traditions of primitive camping that the scouting program holds most sacred."


I was able to get Pat to model the newest LEGO minifigure, the Pat Patterson grouch minifig.


Many friends reunited, some of whom hadn't seen each other for over 10 years. In addition to kindling long-running friendships, new friendships were made. And everyone worked their tails off.

Beaver Crew 2016
The 2016 Beaver Crew

Many Troop 179 alumni from Springfield found their way back up The Mountain.

Ray, Apollo, and I enjoying the cloud-covered Three Sisters

Finally, the crew shared a wonderful moment on Saturday evening during the traditional steak dinner. For his many tireless and dedicated years on the crew, Bill Mason was awarded a lifetime achievement award. His efforts year after year to promote and sustain the crew are greatly appreciated by everyone who comes up to help the camp succeed.

The projects

- Tree Falling - Dead snag removal -

Many trees needed to come down. If there was one report on the condition of the camp, it was the fallen tree count. Of concern, however, were the small rootballs of these trees. Something was making it easy for the dead trees to snap at the base without bringing any of their anchors up. This necessitated immediate work to maintain the safety of the camp.

Ladder of snags

Roots and rocks


The forest service permitted the cutting of dead trees that met certain criteria by skilled woodsmen. However, all hands were required as these trees needed to be bucked and their rounds and branches moved to round stacks and firewood piles in the dry lake bed. Two full days of work were dedicated to this project.



Roger H. estimated that between 300-400 dangerous trees were felled during the weekend, which was a significant improvement.




It was also open season for anyone who wanted to practice with their chainsaw. There was so much bucking to do that it was also a great opportunity to teach the younger beavers how to use chainsaws. Under the careful eye of our experienced woodsmen, many of us were able to get important lessons on the use of tools.



- Trail work -

Andrew and I led a party to all of the camp's main trails to clean up large debris. Only a few trees found it best to lie across the trails. We dispatched these quickly and cleanly. Mostly, though, Apollo was just looking for an excuse to go HAM on a tree with an axe.

Clearing trails

Clearing trails

- New Eaton KYBO -

The bottom line on this project was that the Eaton KYBO was full - no way around it. The old-style pilot/copilot outhouse is shared with the shower house, so it was a well-used crapper. A crew dug a new hole and a prefabricated KYBO was ceremoniously paraded across the camp from the ranger area to the shower house. It was fit over top to have a floor and seat installed at Ordeal weekend.



The procession was just missing bagpipes.




We approved of our work, and just fell short of christening it. Nobody had to go...



- Bluff bleacher work -

The bleachers on Council Bluff needed to be resealed. A crew grabbed a sprayer and brushes to seal'er up.

Sealing the benches at Council Bluff

- Projects with no photos: -

  1. Fixing the final setting post for the A-Frame. The A-Frame sits on wooden and cement blocks for its foundation. A few of these needed work, and most of them got done last year. This year, only one remained, which was fixed.
  2. Water tower. The water tower needed some work on its bands and to be leveled out a bit. Work was done to maintain the tanks and bring them into an improved working shape.
  3. The road from the green gate to camp was going to be refit with new shipments of gravel, but this project was postponed to the Ordeal to accommodate schedules.


It never rains at Camp Melakwa. The water is always warm and there's never a single mosquito...they're all married and have millions of babies.

That being said...the snows had just recently melted, so the newly hatched larvae now had wings and were looking for some blood. Although we don't talk about it, historical posterity demands a note that the bug population was present, but not terrible. It cleared up within the first couple days of being up there, and was always worst in the morning and evening (as per normal feeding times). Conventional bug repellents worked just fine this year, so no need for the garden sprayer full of DEET.

Full Photo Album

If you'd like to see my full photo album from the weekend, hover over/tap on the image for slideshow controls, or visit the album on Flickr

Melakwa 2016


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