Steve Frisby, Assistant Scoutmaster for the New Scout Patrol in Troop 427 sponsored by the LDS Sunset Heights Second Ward, was taking the patrol on a hike to Squaw Peak and brought along signal mirrors.He sent me a text message to see if I could send him back a “report” (mirror flash). They were discouraged, since no one else had signaled back… there it was the clear and unmistakable report I have come to enjoy for more than 20 years. My wife, Sue and I took ten minutes to shower the peak with our own return reports and you could hear the screams of excitement from the Scouts over the phone as they saw them.
The concept for Operation On-Target originated with Glannin A. Cloward, a former U.S. Air Force pilot and WWII veteran. In 1964 Mr. Cloward led a group of 10 Explorers from Post 156 (Clearfield, Utah) to the top of Mt. Timpanogos; from there they flashed signals to the inhabitants of Utah Valley using pieces of old mirrors from which Mr. Cloward had created signal mirrors patterned after those carried in military aircraft survival kits. Several dozen local residents, seeing bright flashes from the peak, improvised return signals using household mirrors from locations around the valley approximately 5 to 25 miles away. The following year a peak-to-peak signaling event was attempted between five peaks in northern Utah, but due to bad weather and inadequate planning communication was successful only between two of the five peaks. Similar activities involving just one to three scout units were repeated multiple times from 1965 to 1979 from various mountain peaks in central and northern Utah. In 1980 Mr. Douglas G. Brewer and several other Scout Leaders volunteered to expand the activity into a well coordinated, multi-council, multi-state event, and Operation On-Target was born.
I was a Varsity Team Coach back then and knew Doug. This activity was very exciting and I took my team to several peaks over the years. My two most memorable treks were to Mt. Delano in the Tuschar range of South Central Utah and one from deep into the Unitahs.
That third Saturday in July, (the standard date in our area), we got a late start and I had left Sue in camp. The peak was shrouded in clouds, but as we approached the 12,174 ft summit, the clouds cleared and we could see down the valley 12 miles to Strawberry Flat. I left Sue a note that said if you love me signal the peak at 11 am and signal she did. She used a dresser mirror that nearly cooked us with its reports.
Another time our LDS Stake was holding an Aaronic Priesthood Scout Camp in the Uintas over the week of the organized On Target that year. After a week of adventure in camp, each team split up so that we had 10 teams on 10 peaks all over the area. The hike was grueling and it was my sons first serious backpacking trek. I encourage him and the others, but I was having plenty of trouble myself. We made camp just beyond a lake like this. Then in the morning we summited the nearest peak.
With the sun behind us, we had to lay flat to catch the sun, but it was worth it. Along along the Wasatch front mirrors turned our direction and we took reports from more that 20 peaks, as well as a few deeper into the Uintahs and from our Stakes’s nearby units.
On the summit, after signaling, there was always time for reflection after the Mountain Top Ceremony, reading the letter from a prominent leader and letters from parents.
With hundreds of teams on peaks, towers and skyscrapers all over the nations, I guess that some of you have a tale to tell. I would love to hear how it went for your team. Be sure to send us your experiences to The Scout.
Author: Darryl Alder | Director of Strategic Initiatives, Utah National Parks Council, BSA