It was a sunny day in June (2023) and spirits were high as the Scouts and their leaders were dropped off at the trailhead at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Scouts carried backpacks with tents and provisions weighing 32-35 pounds, while adult leaders carried an additional 40-46 pounds on their backs.
For Troop 679 (Mountain Valley District), it was an ideal start to the seven-day, 31-mile hike. A few hours into the trek, however, a heavy storm blew in, bringing rain, lightning, and quarter-inch hail.
For the next two days, the group set up camp in the rain. Gear was soaked, but spirits were not dampened.
“Through the next two days, they pulled together and worked as a team,” said Scoutmaster Reuben Travis. “Adversity allowed them to gel as a troop and learn to trust each other.”
Travis had his own challenges to overcome on his way to the Philmont trailhead. Upon becoming a Scoutmaster, Travis, who had never hiked before, said he changed his life in order to participate in all that Scouting has to offer and lost 80 pounds. The weight loss made him eligible for the hike, but he worried about passing Philmont’s required health check.
“I admit I weighed myself with my shoes off just to be certain,” said Travis.
Day three of the trek brought a steady increase in elevation. Again, they tackled the challenge and ended the day in an expansive, scenic mountain meadow. The weather had cleared, providing an opportunity to dry out their equipment.
Performing a conservation activity is required for the hike. On the fifth day, Scouts spent hours building a new trail before continuing along the North Fork Urraca Trail, a section that boasts 54 creek crossings for another 5.6 miles. After collecting and treating river water for drinking, they continued to Black Mountain, a historic, post-Civil War encampment.
Philmont places staff along the trail and at Black Mountain they were dressed in period costumes, teaching Scouts a game called Mountain Ball. They learned the history of the area and practiced blacksmithing and loading and shooting a black powder muzzle.
The group continued along two mountain peaks – Shaffer’s Peak at 9,413 feet and Tooth of Time at 9,003 feet – with the last day of hiking being the longest, using the many switchbacks to descend the final 7.7 miles to the campground.
The eight Scouts all earned their Arrowhead Patch and, because of the many challenges that they encountered along the trail, honed their survival skills and gained confidence in their abilities while depending on their fellow Scouts for support.