Eight Boy Scouts and four adult leaders from Troop 1097 of Gaithersburg recently returned from the adventure of a lifetime. The scouts participated in a 12-day high-adventure experience at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M., July 1 – 13. Philmont is considered the premiere Boy Scout high-adventure destination in the United States.
It is very difficult and quite an honor for a Boy Scout troop to be selected to visit Philmont. Troop 1097 participated in a lottery to gain a spot and was lucky enough to be chosen to attend this year. Scouts must be 14 years old or have completed eighth grade to participate in the Philmont experience.
Philmont Scout Ranch is the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) largest national high-adventure base. It covers 214 square miles of rugged mountain wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico.
The ranch provides an unforgettable adventure in sky-high backpacking country along hundreds of miles of rugged, rocky trails. Philmont offers 35 different itineraries for troops with difficulty levels ranging from challenging to super strenuous, and program activities are offered as part of each itinerary.
Program features combine the best of the Old West and include horseback riding, burro packing and gold panning, along with exciting challenges for 21st century scouts like rock climbing, mountain biking and rifle shooting.
Three members of the Troop 1097 Philmont crew are rising ninth graders at Quince Orchard High School. Christian McCann, Andrew Shiner and Jake Skimmons described the trek as “great,” “amazing” and “spectacular.”
The scouts spent several months preparing for the high-adventure trip before their departure.
“Learning how to purify water was really important to me. We used that skill a lot on the trip,” said Andrew.
“The conditioning we did to get used to the weight of the pack was important once we were on the trail,” said Christian.
The scouts said getting used to hiking at high altitude was difficult for the first few days, but they eventually acclimated to their new surroundings. The group traveled with a “sister crew” from Texas that had chosen an identical itinerary. The “sister crew” had a registered nurse traveling with them who was able to assist the boys who had a hard time with altitude sickness.
The 12-day trek was very challenging, and the scouts cited different aspects of the trip as especially difficult.
“Mt. Phillips is the second highest peak at Philmont at 11,600 feet. The day we summited the peak, it had been raining and it was kind of cold. We rode out a thunderstorm storm at 10,000 feet. That afternoon we hiked 1,700 feet to the top. When you’re carrying a 35-pound pack, it’s tough,” Jake said.
“Our second to last day, we hiked eight miles over Shaefer’s Pass, and a lot of it was uphill. I think it was hardest because we were so close to the end,” Christian said.
Kentlands resident Kevin McCann was one of four adult leaders on the trek. “Schaefer’s Pass lasted forever and was at very high altitude. There was a storm at our backs. All I was thinking was that we would be stuck up on this ridge, totally exposed. I kept thinking, ‘We’ve got to get off this ridge because this is dangerous,’” McCann said.
The scouts experienced a few scary moments during the trip.
“We had left one camp, and it was raining as we went up on the ridge. A storm came up really quickly and the lightning was very close to us. We dropped our packs, scattered and sat in lightning position for 57 minutes,” McCann said. “Jake timed the interval between lightning strikes and let the group know when it was safe to go on.”
Bears raised some fears as well. “There were signs saying that there were ‘problem bears’ in the area. The bears have no fear of humans because they are used to them and know they can win. The bears are tagged, and if one has an altercation with humans three times, the bear is put down,” said Jake. “We heard a bear roar at the end of a lightning storm about 500 feet away. It was time to go.”
Each scout was assigned a set of duties. Andrew was the “trash guy,” responsible for toting trash away from each campsite. Jake served as the chef, while Christian was the “naviguesser.” Andrew and Christian were also responsible for setting up the crew’s rain fly every day.
Along the trail, the scouts stopped to engage in a myriad of activities including blacksmithing, black powder shooting, fly fishing and spar pole climbing.
“The blacksmithing was really fun. We made a small dinner bell for Paul Schimke, our troop master, who will be retiring this year,” said Jake.
“I liked the black powder shooting. I shot up my mom’s old bandana. It was pretty funny,” said Andrew.
The boys enjoyed spar pole climbing like lumberjacks, spikes and all. All three scouts had to overcome a fear of heights to manage the pole, which was 30 feet high.
“Right before I started I was worried about climbing the pole, but once I started it wasn’t so bad,” said Christian.
McCann’s fear existed as concern for the boys. “I was concerned that I was making the right choices for the boys. I was worried that the boys weren’t in safe positions at times. I really wanted everyone to finish together. Twisting an ankle can take you out. I wanted all of us to finish as a group,” said McCann.
The scouts all had their favorite moments.
“For me, it was the Tooth of Time. The view was great, and you could see for miles. It was spectacular. It’s a rock formation and there’s no path to get there, so you have to jump from rock to rock,” said Andrew.
For Christian and Jake, the highlight was summiting Mt. Phillips. “You had a great view that was amazing. It left you speechless. We hiked it with our sister crew from Texas. The sense of accomplishment you get is amazing,” said Christian.
McCann experienced a more personal high point. “Last year I had a heart attack, so this whole year was spent in preparation for the trip. When we summited Mt. Phillips and I was able to do it, it was the best moment for me. It was the best stress test ever,” McCann said.
In another poignant moment, one of the scouts, Alex Collins, had his Eagle Scout ceremony during the trek.
“The ranger we had talked to the boys about conservation, ecology and history, and rolled it all into the experience. The message we all got in Philmont was that it’s not the number of years you live, but the quality with which you live them,” said McCann.
The boys were required to engage in a service project for three hours during the trip, and they helped resurface a trail with more than 500 pounds of rocks.
“It was tough getting that wheelbarrow down the hill,” Jake said.
This was the first high-adventure trip for the scouts, and all said they would take the trip again.
“Philmont changes people’s lives. I found that part of me that wants to get back out there and climb mountains. … It gave me a whole new perspective on the world,” said Jake. “When I was out there I completely forgot about life here in Gaithersburg.”
“It helps you appreciate what you have on earth. We don’t get to see much of the mountains and the views living here in Maryland,” Christian said.
“It’s great to get away from civilization every once in a while, and this trip did that for me. You don’t have to worry about anything. You just have to have fun,” said Andrew.
“This trip reaffirmed my love of that part of the country and getting away into nature. The BSA runs the camp so well, like DisneyWorld in its perfection. It is an emotional experience. Look what we accomplished over these 12 days at altitude,” McCann said.
“At their ages, 13 – 17, I wanted all the scouts to have a philosophical and emotional experience. At the end, several scouts approached me with words and emotions they had never expressed previously. I was glad that they could express those feelings, because it’s difficult for young men to do that.”
For more information about Philmont Scout Ranch, visit http://www.philmontscoutranch.org/.