Photo- Sitting from left: Jack Seifert, Ryan Elliott, Brandon Smith, Ranger Dan D., Stephen Hollis, Taylor Jackson, Ambrose Ahlers. Standing from left: Bob McCormick, Neal McCormick, Darren Jackson
Seven members of Boy Scout Troop 69 of Louisville completed a twelve-day wilderness expedition at Philmont Scout Ranch. This national High Adventure base is located in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and is known for its extreme weather variations, rough terrain and elevation ranging from 6,500 to 12,441 feet. To prepare for the physically demanding trek of 56 miles, Troop 69 leaders Darren Jackson and Bob McCormick planned five practice hikes in the preceding months and helped each Scout to select the most durable yet lightweight equipment to bring so that their packs would be as light as possible. The crew had to be prepared to carry all of their gear, including water, tents, cooking equipment, fuel, and three days worth of food at a time.
After arriving at Philmont on July 22, the group spent one night at base camp, and got an early start the next morning on their expedition. “Dan D.,” an experienced wilderness ranger, was assigned to accompany the group for a few days and familiarize them with advanced mountain hiking and camping skills such as the “Bearmuda Triangle.” On the third day, the guide determined that the group of nine was capable of completing the trek on their own and returned to base camp.
“He potentially saved my life.” said Brandon Smith,” I didn’t bring a pillow on the trip because I was trying to eliminate extra weight. I was going to use my backpack as a pillow, but Dan told me about an unfortunate camper whose head was seriously injured when a bear swiped at the backpack while he was sleeping. The bear was attracted to the backpack because it smelled like food. So instead I used my sleeping bag case stuffed with clean clothes, and that worked pretty well.”
Every night the group set up a ”Bearmuda Triangle” and erected “bear bags” at least 50 feet away from the tent site. To prevent any incidents with bears, all smellables (food, toothpaste, and even clothing with a remote scent of food or drink) had to be put in this twelve-foot-high spot suspended by trees.
“Living in Colorado and being used to higher altitudes definitely helped us tremendously,” said Smith. “We ran into Scouts from St. Louis, Florida, and Indiana, and we seemed like we were struggling less than they were.”
The trip went smoothly overall, and there were no bear encounters. But, Smith recalled, ”One day Ambrose Ahlers, Neal McCormick, Jack Seifert and I were resting on some boulders, and Neal said, ‘There’s a snake.’ I asked, ‘Is it a rattlesnake?’ And he replied, ‘I don’t think so…wait…yes, it is.” We heard it rattle its tail and we sat and watched it for a while.”
“It was about three feet long, all stretched out,” recalled Seifert. On day eleven of the expedition Neal McCormick ran into another rattlesnake, about five inches away from him on the trail he was hiking down. It caught him by surprise, but the group snapped some pictures of it and continued on their way.
“The only other incident that I remember,” Said Smith, “was that I think Taylor and Ambrose went to get their sporks out of their backpacks to eat dinner, but they were broken. It would have been hard to eat, but Darren Jackson had duct tape to put them back together. We ended up using the duct tape almost every day,” said Smith. “It’s definitely something I’ll be sure to bring camping from now on.”
“Everyone got along very well,” said Bob McCormick. He has been to Philmont a total of four times- twice as a Boy Scout, and twice as an adult leader, and said,” I’d like to go back.”
The boys had assigned jobs, for example, Jack Seifert was the “Chaplain’s Aide.” He was responsible for assisting the crew in meeting their responsibility to the 12th point of the Scout Law. He also used conflict resolution several times during the trek to ensure the smooth operation of the crew. The boys took turns each day being the “Pace-Setter.” This person hiked first in line and kept everyone traveling at a steady, constant pace. Ryan Elliott was the assigned “Leave no trace trainer.” It was his job to make sure that the group left absolutely nothing behind. Before the trek, each camper signs the Philmont Wilderness Pledge, which declares that he will do everything possible to preserve the beauty and wonder of the Philmont wilderness and its facilities through good scout camping. Each morning before leaving the campsite, Elliott would direct the group to stand arms width apart in a police line and make sure no trash or personal belongings were left at the campsite. Stephen Hollis was the crew leader and was responsible for organizing the crew, assigning duties, and making decisions. Hollis enjoyed the trip, but when asked what he thought of the food, he replied that it was a “gross understatement” and during the whole trip he couldn’t wait to get home and get some Pasta Jay’s. The meals during Philmont were limited in variety. Breakfast and lunch consisted of powdered drinks that were mixed with water, crackers, tuna, squeeze cheese, PB&J, and canned chicken or ham. Dinner was usually one of ten different freeze-dried meals that had to be thoroughly rehydrated with boiling water. Many campers brought spices and hot sauce to make their entrée more palatable.
The Philmont itinerary also included both 12 Gauge Shotgun and .30-06 Rifle shooting, a “Class Five” rock-climbing challenge, and a chuck wagon dinner, all of which were nice breaks from the hiking. When Taylor Jackson was asked what he remembered most he replied, “It was a lot of walking.”
The group is glad to be home and some members are looking forward to another expedition next summer, this time canoeing at Northern Tier High Adventure Base in Minnesota.