Sunday, December 26, 2010

Polar Bear

It all started in 1980. Dean Mahonri was the Camp Loll Nature Director. As has always been the case, the Nature Director position was a catch all for everything that needed doing in the Camp. He served as Camp Ranger and was over all hiking including the High Adventure hikes into Yellowstone. It was in this capacity that he left Loll for a week and turned his duties over to Brett Butler. Brett has always been of a most competitive nature, and it bothered him greatly that, in those days, most Loll campers spent their free time at the Waterfront. Many of the Staff had enjoyed the hike to the big spring on the south side of Lake of the Woods, just opposite of the Camp Fire Bowl. Once there the crystal water was so inviting, one could not help drinking deeply and was greatly tempted to take a dip in all that purity. I suggested that Brett might set up a hike to the spring. To make it even more exciting to the Scouts we added the possibility of a dip in the icy waters as a sort of manhood passage right. We added some nature requirement activities to lock the activity squarely under Brett's purview and the Polar Bear was born. Along with the dip in the falls one had to identify ten plants and five animal signs. Within a few days all the staff had joined and Jared Felt, a bit of a calligraphy whiz, had placed all our names on a scroll of honor. We would be the first in an army of participants. The day after their dip the scouts' names were read at flag ceremony and they would follow the Nature Director in a dance/march around the parade ground or the parking lot chanting Polar Bear, Polar Bear.

Even early on we saw the magic of this activity. It was not only the fun and adventure, it was the romance, the life changing impact of the event. In a day where schools and parents go out of their way to make everything easy for their children, when our country is silver spooning us into oblivion, Polar Bear gives one a chance to prove to oneself that one can do difficult things with nothing but determination and courage, that one can suffer a little now for a great reward to come later.


Dean Mahonri Lester with Doug Hopper at the Waterfront.

Mahonri at one of his many duties. Once we were friends I started calling Dean, Mahonri. Misery loves company and with a name like mine - well, you can understand.

Mahonri teaches Dutch oven cooking to the Scout Masters.

Camp duties were not Mahonri's only responsibilities that summer. Here are his twin girls with my son Bryon on the Camp Loll dock. Left to right - Bryon, Elizabeth and Janie.

Brett Butler, father of the Polar Bear, demonstrates log sawing. Just behind him, one knee down, is Staffer, Cory Walton.

Our Camp Cook, Arlene Taylor (Burnham), was eager to get into the action.

Here is Jared Felt, earning his place on the Polar Bear Scroll.


By 1981 the Polar Bear was a must do at Loll.

1981 Water Front Director, Scott Butler, leads the way.

Kevin Baggs

Dave Shupe

Larry Gordon

This is my brother-in-law, Alan Taylor, with son Bryon.

Alan takes the plunge.

Dave Barton demonstrates the process.

What a fine example of Camp Loll manhood!

Jonathan Burnett in the icy waters.

Jonathan Burnett in his "famous" speedo swim suit.

I'm not one to make too extravagant of claims about the virtue of Polar Bear, but I do detect a sort of supernatural glow in the group.


For thirteen years I taught at BSA National Camp School. Most of those years I was instructor to the Nature Directors. We had a lot of fun. This is my class in 1982. One of the activities we did was the escape from the Cannibal King. It centered around the song of the same name and consisted of building a bridge across Causey Creek before the Cannibals got you.

The Cannibals are Kim Hansen, Director of Island Park Scout Camp and Program Director of Teton Peaks Council and Big Al Armenta. I had just moved to Teton Peaks Council, and was Director of Camp Treasure Mountain. Three of the guys in the picture worked for me. Brian Bock, standing at the far left, and Shaun Oborn and Scott Pierce kneeling left to right.

Another activity was a Polar Bear Plunge. Here I show the way in a very cold Causey Creek.

Here the whole class takes the plunge. Shaun is front and center, Scott at the back and Brian with both hands on the log.

We began a search for a Polar Bear Springs at T. M. There was Big Medicine, on the mountain above camp, but that was a long and somewhat dangerous hike. However, we found almost limitless opportunities for Polarbearing at T. M. The premiere spot was at Morning Glory Pool. The story around camp was that it was so cold it would kill you if you got in. Perfect for us.

Doug Hopper and Dave Kirkham enter Morning Glory Pool. Who knows how deep it is - deep enough for a big jump, cold enough to pass Polar Bear muster.

Of course, if one was going to be a Polar Bear at Morning Glory, they would have to be a swimmer as well.

Pride of success. In these beautiful faces one sees the magic of Polar Bear; yes it hurt, yes it was hard - but I did it anyway!!!


1983 saw me back at Camp Kiesel and National Camp School. Once again I took my class for a dip.

Mike Garrett from Star Valley, second row second from left, and Doug Hopper - back row, far right are Treasure Mountain staffers. The red head in the middle was Kim's Nature Director from Island Park.

They were the ones to take the dip!

Back at Treasure Mountain we were looking for a "safer" alternative to the swim across Morning Glory Pool. We found a great spring gushing out of the mountain side just up canyon.

T. M. Staffer, Charlie Ward, give the new spring a try.

Staffer Lafe Stapley gives proof that the water is indeed cold.

Shaun Oborn in The Polar Bear.

Shaun with some Scouts who have decided to take the plunge.

Brian Bock in T. M. Polar Bear Springs.

Further up the canyon we found another deep pool. It was smaller in circumference that Morning Glory, but probably just as deep. Staffers, left to right, Jerry Lainheart, Brian Bock, and Dave Shupe contemplate getting in.

Brian and Jerry at the Upper Pool.

Brian goes in on a jump.

Dave takes a dive.

All three give the Teton sign to celebrate their triumph.


By the spring of 1984, I was no longer a Professional Scout. I had been hired to teach American History at North Layton Jr. High, and to direct Camp Bartlett. I was still teaching Camp School, and still introducing camps across the west to the wonders of Polar Bear, via their Nature Directors.

My students prepare for the plunge. The mental preparation is part of the battle.

Once again, I got to set the example. I always wore my campaign hat in those days.

One at a time my pupils follow.

Oh, it hurts.

But, it feels so good when you get out!

I took the Bartlett Staff on a Road Trip to Treasure Mountain that summer. They were very impressed by Morning Glory Pool and Polar Bear Springs.

The Bartlett and Treasure Mountain Staffs at Morning Glory Pool.

Blain Reed checks out T. M's Polar Bear.

Todd Wangsgurad sugested that we dig a big hole and put a pipe in the bottom to replicate Morning Glory Pool. I didn't think that would work, but decided that we could find someplace to take a dip.

We found a dent in the creek bed down Mosquito Canyon. It really wasn't a Polar Bear Springs, so in honor of Old Ephraim, a big theme at Bartlett, we called it the Bear Wallow. Those who took a dip did the dance like the Polar Bear, but chanted Wallow Wallowers, instead of Polar Bear. Here Alan Francis, arm raised to the left, leads a group of Scouts to the Bear Wallow.

No less a hero than Winston Peter Nelson, my old Assistant Scout Master, mentor, and friend; known to my kids as Grandpa Winston, takes a dip in the wallow the summer of 1984. What a man! He is joined in this shot by Larel Parkinson, a Bartlett Staffer.

1985 Add Image

In 1985, Brad Darrington became the Nature Director at Bartlett. He was full of enthuisam and a wonderful example of Manliness to Staff and Scouts.

Here Brad Darnington leads the Wallowers in their celebratory march or dance. Round and round they go, like a great whirlpool, Brad at the vortex.

By the end of the summer, I knew that Janice and I would be returning to Loll in the summer of 1986. We took the Camp Bartlett staff on an after-camp visit. It was inbetween the scouts and girls week at Bartlett. Loll was still in session, but they had room for us to camp at the place behind the pioneering area, where camp Puma is today. The Loll Staff was very gracious. Carl Robbins, the Camp Director, involved us in a beautiful after-Campfire ceremony with his crew. I'm afraid our guys, though nice, were a bit out of line. They kept singing Roll out the Thunder, with the adaptation of "we are next year's Camp Loll Staff you see."

Here the Bartlet Staff sits about a picnic table at Loll. Front row, left to right, Neil Lindeman, Scott Parsons, Kenny Spencer, and Leonard Hawkes. Second row pair, Tim Tanner, and Steve Miller, and back row, Dan Reeder, Todd Wangsgard, and Janice.

Some of Barteltt's best check out Polar Bear.

Mark Soelberg, Scott Parsons, and Dan Reeder in Polar Bear.

Still at it.

Todd Wangsguard still contemplating.


Early in the spring of 1986 Bret Butler and Tim Price check out Polar Bear Springs.

This is the view from the Springs to Lake of the Woods.

This is the look up canyon.

This upper fall is dry most of the summer, but in the spring you can hear it all over the valley. Here Trent Warner gets his first taste of Polar Bear.

In 1986 Scott Parsons was the Nature Director, here he leads the March of the Polar Bear with the "sacred scroll in hand.

In those days we snaked around, with legs going out and in like a tonga line.

The "Parade Ground" in those days, was up on the hill above the lake.

This is the view of Lake of the Woods from the upper trail. In the early days we hiked along the lake and then right up the stream to the falls. It did a lot of damage to the "resource".

Trent Warner at Polar Bear in 1986 - this is a typical show of macho before entrance.

Trent in the falls.

After his dip, he prepares the scouts for the dip.

My own children were early to get involved in the growing that comes from the icy dip.

Bryon Conner gives the Moose sign, preparatory to his entrance into the Springs.

Lafe follows his example.

We called this level of commitment, Polar Buns.

Lafe takes a dip.

Randy Wilde, out.

Randy Wilde, in.

Some Scouts were bunsmen as well.


This is my big brother, Chris in Polar Bear.

My nephew Nathan.

Now an adult staffer, Dave Barton returns to the Loll Staff and takes some Scouts to Polar Bear.

Bryon takes another dip.

A new year, and a little deeper comittment.

Son Shaun joins his big brothers at Polar Bear.

This is Loll Staffer, Sammy Wright.

Dave Hopper was one of our very successful holdovers from the Loll staff of 1984.

Trent Warner demonstrates the manly way to count off the ten seconds required for full membership.

Scott Clements at count six.

Curtis Weller at eight.

Dave Barton gives proof that Polar Bear Springs really does put hair on one's chest. Check out his picture above in 1981.

1987 was Jody Orme's first year on the Loll staff, here he does the Polar Bear.

Jody Orme after the dip.

The dance of the Polar Bears.


Early in the season of 1988 we took the entire Loll staff on a road trip to Treasure Mountain. We arrived during the Cedar Badge Youth Leadership Training. Cedar Badge is a big deal in Teton Peaks Council. It was founded years before by a great scouter and former Navy Captain. While I directed T. M. he would spend the week with us, in 1988 he was still there.

Here Captain Wadsworth, everyone just called him The Captain, poses with the Camp Loll Staff. Left to right, Mike Bronson, Ryan Price, Curtis Weller, Jeremy Bingham, Captain Wadsworth, Adam Fox, Chris Carter, Dave Oleson, Shane Wayment, and Dave Kirkham.

We then headed over to Morning Glory Pool. The Teton Peaks Council had ruled it too dangerous to swim in the pool, the Loll staff were made of sterner stuff, or were just more foolhardy. Left to right - Dave Oleson, Adam Fox, Chris Carter, and Larel Parkinson.

Chris Carter leads the way into the pool.

Chris comes out all right.

So does Adam.

Dave Kirkham always liked to pose.

Chris Carter, Paul Harris, and Dave Oleson after their ordeal.

Meanwhile, back at Loll the next generation gives Polar Bear Springs a trial run for the summer.

A confident Shaun

An apprehensive Shaun

Lafe goes under the ice.

Bryon goes in,

and stays,

for the count.

Shaun goes under the stream.

He could get to 3 on either hand.

The Conner women at Polar Bear. Bryon stands guard over Alison, Janice, and our brand new Emily.

Alison gives it a go.

One more summer for my big brother Chris at Loll and another dip in the Polar Bear.

Nathan follows his dad's example.

Trent Warner before the dip.

Kara Jones (Hollingshead) gets out of her refreshing ordeal.


In 1989 Trent was Nature Director and led the Dance of the Polar Bears. Each participant in the line has named the ten plants and five animal signs and spent the count of ten in the icy waters.

Trent Warner and Curtis Grow, Camp Program Director, take the upper trail to Polar Bear. This trail was built by Darel Webb as his Eagle Scout Service project, a service to the Forest, not the Camp.

Trent get psyched up.

Trent in the falls.

Curtis Grow in Polar Bear Springs.

Curtis Grow in recovery.

Above the falls there is a grotto where the water actually comes out. For most of the season, all year in a wet year, there is a waterfall there. Trent and Curtis at the fall in the grotto.

Trent gives his boss a hand.

Curtis Grow at Polar Bear Falls.

Curtis and Trent after their journy.

Trent Warner

Some Staff Members need a little convincing. Here I explain the wonders of Polar Bear to Eric McPherson.

Eric shares Polar Bear with his troop.

Once in the falls, Eric strikes a new manly pose.

Here is Eric with my beautiful niece, Carolyn.

Lafe in Polar Bear. Note the wonderful swim trunks the boys are wearing. Janice made them for the kids.

Shaun takes a tentative dip.

Lafe and Bryon above the falls.

In the grotto

Lafe and Shaun take a dip.

Shaun makes consideration.

To go or not to go?

To go!!!


In 1990 Todd Wangsguard was the Nature Director at Loll and led the Polar Bears in their dance.

By the end of the week most of the camp would be milling around on the hillside.


Here Paul Bates leads the march in 1991. My favorite part is Asst. Scout Master, Dennis Spence, rushing in to take his place in the line of honor.


Mike Hansen leads the Polar Bears in 92.

My beautiful daughter Emily at Polar Bear in 1992. Janice also made her swimwear.


A new year and a new army of Polar Bears join the march. Names are still carefully recorded on the roll, which is getting bigger and bigger, and heavier and harder to carry.

In those days, the Nature Director still read every name. Here Mike Hansen is still doing the honors.

My beautiful daughter, Alison, takes her dip in 1993.


In 1994 we went to Camp Aspen Ridge. Many of the Loll Staff came with us, although many did not. Among those who stayed at Loll were Leonard Hawkes, as Loll's new Director, and my son Bryon. We did pick up a great treasure at Aspen Ridge, Karlo Mustonen, who served as our nature director that summer. We also instigated a Polar Bear Society, taking our dip in the creek just below the pump house.

Karlo took his place at the center of the dance, our new vortex of manliness.

At the beginning of each week, the only ones to dance are the staff. Here you will see Jody Orme in the scout hat at left, Tiffany Hayward with the long black hair and daughter Alison in the middle. The Staffer in the tan shirt second from the right is our Waterfront Director, Ashley Brimhall.

The next summer we were off to California and Camp Cherry Valley. There really was no place for a Polar Bear dip there. No surface water anywhere on the island. However, we did have the Pacific Ocean. In fact we used to brag that our Waterfront was so big that Japan was in it. We replaced the Polar Bear with the Beach Master. The requirement was to go snorkeling in the rocks off the beach and identify ten sea creatures. We replaced the Grand PooPaw of the Polar Bears with the Beach Master, our version of a sea lion, played to perfection by Karlo. Instead of chanting we would clap the back of our hands like a seal and bark. Karlo lead the march each day for six years.


Karlo in his distinctive Beach Master get up.


Six years and counting, Karlo still jumped into action to lead the dance.

We came back to Loll in 2001. We were very busy, but I know we had a lot of Polar Bears. Karlo continued to serve as Nature Director, and I am sure thousands of men and boys took the plunge in 2001 and 2002. I just didn't get any pictures of them. In this day of digital cameras it is hard to remember how difficult photography was "back in the day". I would be grateful for any pictures from those years; if anyone can supply them.


Polar Bear Falls at Polar Bear Springs was still beautiful in spite of our long absence.

The summer of 2003 my son Bryon brought his lovely wife and her little brother, Taylor, to Loll and they made the trek to Polar Bear.

Bryon led the way.

Taylor got all the encouragement he needed.

Karlo changed jobs in 2003, it was the year the lodge collapsed and we needed help supervising the relocation of all our tools and equipment. Karlo became Lodge Manager, and turned the Nautre Staff over to Lafe Conner.

Along with the multitude of other responsibilities that came with Nature Directing, Lafe took up the mantle of Polar Bear. I picked up this bear hat in Yellowstone, spray painted it white, and a new part of the tradition was born. Lafe practices his moves with his lovely wife Diane.

Lafe and Diane were married after a summer at Loll.

Here Jody and Julie's daughter Savanna try out the Polar Bear hat with the support of Super Reagan.

The Polar Bear gives his pitch at flag ceremnoy on the parade ground next to the damaged lodge. We called the big lift in the back ground the T-Rex.

Jan Austin and Kristy Stettler were among many who entered the club that summer.

Remembering that learning ten plants and five animal signs is an important part of becoming a Polar Bear, here is a picture of Loll's Polar Bear in Chief teaching the fine points of evergreen taxonimy.

Lafe also started several incentives to protect the resource at Polar Bear. Years earlier, when the Forest Service drew the lines for the Wilderness they cut out a chunk for Camp Loll. The notch stretched from CEYHO Basin climbing rock to the stream at Polar Bear. To the east of the stream is the Wilderness, to the west, Camp Loll. Here Lafe stands by the railing he put in to keep the scouts from spreading down the hillside.

There is now just one entry point into the falls, and the campers wait their turn along the rail or on the stairs put in to accomodate impact reduced access.

All the way.


Polar Bear Falls in 2004.

The Polar Bear in 2004.

If you think this Polar Bear is made up with Maori tattoos and is dancing the hucka, you are right.

The Air is warming up, but Polar Bear is still cold.

Reagan and Savanna


As the years passed the role of the Polar Bear at Flag Ceremony grew and grew.

I'm not sure what the Polar Bear is doing to this unfortunate Waterfront Staffer but I'm quite sure it involves gratuitous violence. Note the UFO.

The Polar Bear stirs up the troops. Note a young Quin McBride, far left in the row of Staffers. He will have a role to play in our story.

In 2005 my grandson Jensen came to Loll and took his place in the Polar Bear ceremony.

The week Lafe left on High Adventure, a very competent Dan Mauchley took the job of Nature Director, and Polar Bear.


Lafe carries on.

The dance begins with just a few Staff Members; many more members will follow to join in the dance.

When Steve Irwin became part of the Flag Ceremony Skit, he always had trouble identifying the roar of a Polar Bear. Throughout the week he would learn his lesson, but perhaps not in animal identification. He should have gone to the Naturalist.

The enrstwhile Steve Irwin is actually Ian Crookstan trying to catch a grizzly bear. He will find the Polar Bear far more formidable.

The next day Steve was hunting a roaring marmot. He got Polar Bear trouble instead.

Not even roaring butterflys are safe to hunt in the realm of the Polar Bear.

Ian was a good sport, here he is in Polar Bear Falls 2006.

The Burnham boys take the plunge.


A new year found the falls more beautiful, less impacted than it had appeared in years. I remember taking our scout executive on a hike to the spring, as we put our hand into the water I pointed out, as I often do, that the last time this water saw the sun it was snow. I told him that it was only the movment of the water that kept it from freezing, and that if you caught some in a cup it would turn to ice. "You're kidding me," he said. "Ya, I am," I replied. The water at Polar Bear seems to be at 45 degrees year round. It runs all winter.

The green moss is also in place year round.

Few scouts now visit the upper groto.

Here is a picture of the entry point into the falls.

Shad Burnham and Dan Mauchley

Quinn McBride

Lafe as the Polar Bear in Polar Bear


Although the run-off from above diminishes throughout the season, the flow of the spring at Polar Bear is remarkably consistant.

The dancers of the Polar Bear pour onto the Parade Ground year after year as well.

By the end of the week everyone is milling about the Polar Bear.

Year after year he seeks to educate Steve. There was some hesitation about this skit after Irwin's tragic death. But now, at Loll - as in the reruns, he lives again.

To increase the shock value of the violence; kids love violence; the Polar Bear ocasionally disembowels his hapless victim.

The Polar Bear is even now to wear the guts as a trophy. I guess it makes up for all those bear skin rugs.

In 2008 Camp Loll held its first anual Alumni Association Reunion. A trip to Polar Bear is an important part of the festivities.

Lynn and Kaylene Hinrichs

Jenny Aldana (Tippetts) and her daughter

Tyler and Todd Wangsguard

Todd introduces his sons, Conner and Dawson to the grotto.

Up close

Bryon Conner returns to the falls.

It feels the same.

Tim Moser gives the falls a re-try. His son Cyrus is a bit concerned.

Tim shows his boy there is nothing to fear.

Bryon and Tyler Shaw stand by to help with the recovery.

Bryon's son, my grandson, Rowan, deals with the adventure differently.


In the early spring the falls above the spring are in full rush.

Cory Christensen contemplates a dip among the snow banks.

He goes through with it!! What a man!!

The view Cory had from the grotto. One can see the stairs clearly to the right.

Waterfalls mingle with the spring in the grotto.

2009 brought us a new Nature Director, and a new Polar Bear. None other than Quinn McBride.

Quinn stirs the troops to action.

Here he gives some support to the Rock Jock. Once the Rock Jock reaches his full manliness he can only be understood by real men, and Polar Bears. Hence Quinn must translate for the rest of the camp.

One of thousands of Scouts who are now and forever Polar Bears.

This is male bonding on a whole different level.
Spring came late in 2010 and our arrival at Loll found Polar Bear still surounded by snow.

The falls as fair as ever.

Above the spring the runoff is waiting to run.

Quinn still gives the call that most of the campers will answer.

The staff set the example with the first dance of the week.

Day after day the numbers swell.

Once again the Rock Jock, Christian Lippert, gets a hand.

The wonder and beauty, and the challenge and adventure of Polar Bear call to all.