Local Boy Scouts trek to national high-adventure base
July 3, 2013
The group atop Window Rock at Philmont: Bottom row (L to R) Jake Camp, Andrew Stanford, George Abraham, Dakota Burkhalter, Davis Baird, Andrew Sellers – Top row (L to R) Andrew Baird, Will Pendleton, Robert Perry, Joseph Farrow, Brian Moore, Cameron Nix
Lee County Boy Scouts departed
Auburn on June 14 for Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico — the Boy
Scouts of America’s largest national high-adventure base — to complete a 12-day
backpacking trek as part of the Chattahoochee Council contingent. The 12
members of Expedition 617-R, led by Troop 50 Scoutmaster Andrew Baird, included
Scouts and leaders from Troops 15, 50, and 128 — with all but one making the
trip to Philmont for the first time.
Philmont covers 137,000 acres —
about 214 square miles — of rugged mountain wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo
(Blood of Christ) range of the Rocky Mountains. Philmont, just outside
Cimarron, New Mexico, is situated among high mountains with rough terrain, beautiful
scenery, and bountiful plants and wildlife. Phillips 66 founder Waite Phillips
donated the land to the Boy Scouts in 1938, making 2013 the 75th anniversary of
the base. Today, Philmont operates 34 staffed camps and 55 trail camps, with a
seasonal staff of 1,000 and more than 22,000 Scouts who participate in the
various backcountry programs.
The contingent traveled by air
from Atlanta to Denver and spent two days sightseeing at locations such as the U.S.
Air Force Academy, Pike’s Peak, and Capulin Volcano National Monument before
heading to Philmont.
Expedition 617-R’s 12-day
itinerary covered more than 85 miles of backcountry hiking at elevations
ranging from 7,100 feet to 12,441 feet above sea level — a drastic contrast
with Auburn’s top elevation of 845 feet above sea level. Due to wildfires south
of the Philmont property and drought conditions throughout the area, the
contingent faced a number of challenges specific to backpacking in the
Southwest. A fire ban restricted the group to the use of lightweight
backpacking stoves and fuel. Dried up springs and streams forced the Scouts to
pack water into their campsites from wherever it could be found.
The days spent sightseeing in
Colorado and New Mexico allowed the Scouts to adjust to the altitude, thus
avoiding issues with altitude sickness or other problems. One of the highlights
of the trek was when all 12 scouts and leaders summited Baldy Mountain, the
highest mountain within the Philmont boundaries at 12,441 feet.
Troop 15 Life Scout Joseph Farrow
said that while running cross-country aided him with the physical demands of
the 85-mile excursion, backpacking at the higher altitudes affected every
member of the contingent to some degree.
“Being that high up, especially
when we were hiking up Baldy Mountain, required us all to take more frequent breaks
[than we would at home],” Farrow said. “We felt tired more quickly and we
needed to stop sometimes just to catch our breath.”
The itinerary allowed Scouts to participate
in several backcountry programs such as shooting .50 caliber black-powder
rifles, gold panning, rock climbing, and horse rides at several staffed camps.
The group also assisted with a conservation project in order to give back to
the environment. Scouts carried all their personal and group gear on their
backs across rocky terrain for an average of eight miles per day.
Andrew Stanford, Life Scout in
Troop 50, said the group took several training hikes to build up their stamina
and test out their gear in the weeks leading up to their trip.
“We each packed what we planned
to bring with us to Philmont, then went to places like Cheaha State Park and
hiked about seven miles at a time to get used to carrying that much weight,” he
Temperatures on the trail ranged
from the 50s overnight to near 100 degrees during the afternoons. Breakfast and
lunch were typically dried foods such as granola, packaged meats, and crackers.
Dinners were dehydrated foods such as pasta and rice that were prepared using
hot water. Due to the scarcity of water, the Scouts became quite dirty in the
dry, dusty conditions. Nights were spent camping in lightweight backpacking
tents. Scouts were also responsible for securing all food or other smellable
items out of reach from bears and other animals.
Robert Perry, a Life Scout in
Troop 50, said that the group had a great deal of fun together hiking, climbing
and participating in team-building activities, but the camping aspect was much
different and challenging than his typical Scout camping experiences.
“I’ve got to say it was a lot
more work,” Perry noted. “You couldn't just drive up and set up camp [at
Philmont]. You had to go through a whole day of hiking first."
An account and photos of the
contingent’s experiences at Philmont are available through its blog at www.philmont617-r.blogspot.com or on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Philmont617R
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