Even though the temperatures were in the middle 90s for the last two weeks of July, Boy Scout Troop 609 of Iredell County, where my grandson is a member, prepared to take a hike.
This particular hike had been prepared and planned for two years. The trip involved flying to Denver, Colorado, and then driving to the small town of Cimarron, New Mexico, where Philmont Scout Ranch has its base camp.
Before we get started with this story, a little history about 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 donated to the Boy Scouts in 1938. Since then, thousands of Scouts and other participants attend the ranch each summer. Hundreds more Scouts attend the autumn and winter adventure programs the ranch offers.
A Philmont trek is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Each person carries a 35- to 50-pound pack while hiking 5 to 12 miles per day in this isolated mountain wilderness. Oh, and then I forgot to tell you that the elevations are from 6,500 to 12,500 feet above sea level!
My grandson, Elijah, and 11 other members of his troop flew into Denver and were taken to base camp in New Mexico. There, they received a crash course of what they are allowed to take 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 MREs. Extra 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 through.
Each pair of Scouts was assigned a tent and their food for three days at a time. Elijah carried the food while his friend, Case, carried the tent. The only weapons allowed were a pocket knife each Scout could carry.
When the Scouts first arrived at base camp, they were shown a map of where they would be hiking. It appeared to be a long way through some rough terrain. At first, the Scouts of Troop 609 thought they might be a little underqualified for the nine-day hike of almost 70 miles through the mountains. They had hiked and camped several days in and around N.C., but nothing quite on this scale.
To make a long story short, all but one Scout who dropped out within the first mile made it. Elijah and the rest of his troop dug down deep for some inner strength, and even some spiritual help, to finish a trip of a lifetime.
During the hike, the Troop crossed several small streams, a flooded river, and climbed the tallest mountain at Philmont and two other mountains to make their way to the trail’s end.
Along the way, the scenery of the San de Cristo mountain range was breathtaking. Wildlife, such as deer, rabbits, quail and chipmunks, was numerous. On one occasion, a notorious black bear crossed just in front of the hikers. Over the horizon and through the great forest you could see the snow-topped mountain just over in the state of Colorado. Wow, what a wonderful trek this must have been!
Hiking was not the only thing the Scouts did. Why, they even went whitewater rafting one day. Elijah and Case were allowed to ride in the very front of the rubber boat and boy, did they get wet! They also learned how to cut a large log with an old crosscut saw. All these activities were geared toward teamwork and helping build individual skills.
One night along the trail, Elijah’s troop camped near an old shack and an abandoned mine. The shack was long known to be haunted, but only to the staff. They said you could hear footsteps and unearthly sounds coming from within the cabin. Why, it got so bad in years past that a priest was called in to bless the cabin, near the old mine, to appease the ghost.
During the years since 1938, the ranch staff and some Scouts have encountered some accidents but none worse than a Scout being killed by a flash flood several years ago. The ranch has endured thunderstorms, lightning, hail, tornadoes, and even large forest fires, but now, as some of you know, the National Boy Scouts are planning for bankruptcy. Hopefully, the ranch can be saved.
All in all, this was a great trip for Troop 609. Sure, they all got a little hungry and tired. Who wouldn’t after such an ordeal! Before leaving for home, the troop was treated to a grand meal and I’m sure each Scout ate their fill.
I am proud of my grandson and his troop. Some, like Elijah, have earned their Eagle Scout badge. I also know several local young men in our own Richmond County who have made their way up the ranks to Eagle Scout. This is something they can take with them for the rest of their lives and be very proud of their accomplishment!
Before I close, I would like to personally thank each Scoutmaster and the many adult volunteers that help make Scouting such a great organization for our kids. Also, thanks to the parents who took them to the meetings and encouraged their children to continue with the Scouting program.
Scouting is a great pathway for our younger generation to become more productive and respected citizens of our great country. Someday, they too might be called upon to be the greatest generation this country has ever known.
J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and recently released his new book, “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories,” all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Contact him at email@example.com.