Local Boy Scouts complete 80-mile hike in New Mexico
October 30, 2012
By Erin Flemming
Twelve local teenage Boy Scouts and leaders took the New Mexico wilderness head on in August, hiking 80 miles over a dozen days. The group followed a track in the Philmont Scout Ranch, one of the largest adventure camps owned by the Boy Scouts of America.
The ranch, which covers 214 square miles of wilderness, has seen more than 950,000 Scouts, venturers and leaders since the first camping season in 1939. The ranch has trails that climb from 6,500 feet to 12,441 feet in altitude, and the territory is home to bears and mountain lions, among other natural challenges.
Philmont is well-known in the Scouting world, and ranch visitors are selected for hiking the area through a lottery system that Boy Scout troops can enter every two years. Other national camps also offer scuba diving in addition to hiking.
“If you’re in Boy Scouts, you know about Philmont,” Trevor Morton, a 15-year old student at Issaquah High School, said. “People in our troop have gone before and it looked amazing from all the stuff I’ve seen on it.”
The group, which consisted of four fathers and eight sons from troops 609 and 600, started training four months before the hike, completing various hikes in the area to prepare for long-distance hikes and higher-elevation conditions.
Though Trevor said the group was “very well-prepared” for the trip, one unexpected aspect of Philmont was the occasional extreme weather conditions. While temperatures weren’t extreme, August falls in monsoon season for the area. That meant sporadic bursts of heavy rain and flash floods, along with thunder and lightning.
Michael Cecil, one of the Boy Scouts who went on the trip, said though the lightning got close at times, it was an intriguing experience to be in the midst of the storm.
What to know
The essentials of a Philmont Ranch Trek
“You’re only carrying the things you must have,” said Derrick Morton, a father who went on the hike. Here’s a sampling of what each hiker carried on the 12-day journey:
“The lightning was so cool,” the 17-year-old Issaquah High School student said. “One day we got trapped in a lightning storm … it was scary but we were somewhere safe.”
Fortunately, difficult weather conditions came later in the day, often after the group had set up camp for the night, said Chris Backus, one of the fathers who went on the hike.
Backus, who went on the hike with his son Cole, said one of the hardest things about the hike was resigning control to the Scouts.
“The adults were there to advise and make sure everything was safe,” said Backus, a 41-year-old manager for Cisco Internet systems. “It was really hard for me, but I really enjoyed seeing the kids step up and lead the expedition.”
Two of the 12 days were spent at a base camp, preparing for the upcoming hike and, later, debriefing after the trek was completed. Staff members at Philmont prepared the campers for the hike upon arrival, outlining the planned route and talking through potential difficulties — such as the day in the hike that water would not be available.
Trevor Morton said the repetitive cuisine was a challenge for him. Breakfast was trail mix, lunch was trail mix with canned tuna and dinner was a dehydrated meal with trail mix, he said.
“The food they give you is just trail mix in every form you can get trail mix,” he added. “By the end of it, no one ate the trail mix.”
The hikers had to carry all needed food and supplies themselves, which translated to 40- to 50-pound backpacks, said Doug Backous, 50, a surgeon who went on the trip with his son Jonathan.
Backous said completing a Philmont Ranch hike is considered one of the “pinnacles of Scouting” and was a life-changing experience for everyone who went on this trip.
Besides hiking and camping, the Scouts and fathers participated in a range of activities set up by Philmont staff along the trail. Hikers got the chance to ride horses, throw tomahawks, fire black-powder rifles, pan for gold and even scale a telephone pole using spiked shoes and a strap.
Low-tech activities like these made the trip special for Chris Backus. After waking up at about 5:30 a.m. and hiking 5-15 miles each day, the group got to set up camp once afternoon rolled around.
“We really got to relax and enjoy then,” he said. “We’d talk and play cards … It’s something you don’t really get to do anywhere anymore because you’re always plugged into technology. That was really special.”
Erin Flemming is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.