Even though temperatures were in the mid-90s for the last two weeks of July, Boy Scout Troop 609 from Iredell County, NC, of which my grandson is a member, prepared for a Trek.
This particular hike had been prepared and planned for two years. The trip involved traveling to Denver, Colo. And then traveling to the small town of Cimarron, New Mexico, where Philmont Scout Ranch has its base camp.
Before starting with this story, a bit of history on the Philmont Ranch is needed. It is the largest camping and hiking operation in the world. Philmont Ranch comprises 140,711 acres (220 square miles) of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in northern New Mexico.
Philmont Scout Ranch was offered to the Boy Scouts in 1938. Since then, thousands of Boy Scouts and other participants have frequented the ranch every summer. Hundreds of other Scouts participate in the fall and winter adventure programs offered by the ranch.
A Philmont trek is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Each person carries a 35-50 pound bag on a 5-12 mile-a-day hike in this remote wild mountain. Oh, and then I forgot to tell you that the altitudes are 6,500 to 12,500 feet above sea level!
My grandson, Elijah, and eleven other members of his troop flew to Denver and were taken to base camp in New Mexico. There, they received a crash course in what they are allowed to do on the trek and how to pack it. By the way, deodorants and colognes are banned in the backcountry because of bears. Phew!
Two gallons of water per hiker are required. Hats and walking sticks are optional. Food on the trail consists of protein bars, Slim Jims, nuts, and MRE. Additional water could be found along the trail in rivers and streams, but chlorine tablets had to be used. Elijah said the water tasted awful, but at least it got you out of it.
Each pair of Scouts were assigned a tent and their food for 3 days at a time. Elijah carried the food while his friend Case carried the tent. The only weapons allowed were a pocket knife that each scout could carry in their pocket.
When the Scouts first arrived at Base Camp, they were shown a map of where they were going to hike. It seemed like a long way through rough terrain. At first, Scouts from Troop 609 thought they might be a bit underqualified for the nine-day, nearly 70-mile trek through the mountains. They had hiked and camped for several days in and around North Carolina, but nothing quite on this scale.
In short, all but one of the Scouts, who gave up in the first mile, were successful. Elijah and the rest of his troop dug deep for inner strength, and even spiritual help, to complete a journey of a lifetime.
During the hike, the troop crossed several small streams, a swollen river and climbed the highest mountain in Philmont and 2 other mountains to make their way to the end of the trail.
Along the way, the scenery of the San de Cristo mountain range was breathtaking. Wildlife, such as deer, rabbits, quail and chipmunks, was plentiful. On one occasion, a notorious black bear crossed right in front of the hikers. On the horizon and through the great forest, you could see the snow capped mountain just above the state of Colorado. Wow, what a magnificent trek this must have been!
Hiking wasn’t the only thing the Boy Scouts did. Why, they even went white water rafting one day. Elijah and Case were allowed to get into the front of the dinghy and the boy, did they get wet! They also learned how to cut a large log with an old chop saw. All of these activities focused on teamwork and the development of individual skills.
One night along the path, Elijah’s troop camped near an old hut and an abandoned mine. The cabin had long been known to be haunted, but only to the staff. They said you could hear footsteps and supernatural sounds coming from inside the cabin. Well, it got so bad in years past that a priest was called to bless the hut, near the old mine, to appease the ghost.
In the years since 1938, ranch staff and some Boy Scouts encountered accidents, but none worse than a Boy Scout killed in a flash flood several years ago. The ranch has endured thunderstorms, lightning, hail, tornadoes, and even major forest fires, but now, as some of you know, National Boy Scouts are looking at bankruptcy. Hopefully the ranch can be saved.
All in all, it was a great trip for the 609 Troop. Of course, they all got a little hungry and tired. Who wouldn’t do it after such an ordeal! Before returning home the troop had a great meal and I’m sure every Scout had enough to eat.
I am proud of my grandson and his troop. Some, like Elijah, got their Eagle Scout badge. I also know of several young men from our own county of Richmond who have worked their way up to Eagle Scout. It is something that they can take with them for the rest of their lives and be very proud of their accomplishment!
Before closing, I would like to personally thank each Scout Leader and the many adult volunteers who help make Scouting such a great organization for our children. Thank you also to the parents who took them to the meetings and encouraged their children to continue the Scout program.
Scouting is a great way for our younger generation to become more productive and respected citizens of our great country. Someday, they might also be called to be the greatest generation this country has ever known.
JA Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time”, co-author of “Just Passing Time Together” and recently published his new book “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories”, all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Contact him at [email protected]