Getting Ready for Philmont!

Cimarron, gateway to Philmont

Cimarron, gateway to Philmont

As Spring approaches, hundreds of Scouts and Scouters across the United States are preparing for their trip to Philmont this summer. After winning a lottery to secure a spot, and after
collecting payments over the past year, it now becomes very real for the 20,000 hikers who will converge on the small town of Cimarron, New Mexico – gateway to the Ranch.

Some units go to Philmont every other year and have an established routine. Pull out the planning schedule from last time, change the dates, and get started. Other groups have never been backpacking and need to start from scratch as they try and learn how to hike together and camp in the back country. For them it is an exciting and scary scramble from the first meeting to the last practice hike.

By now most basic transportation decisions transportation have been made. Will the group be flying into Albuquerque or Fort Collins, or maybe taking the train to Raton? Some units will opt for the convenience of driving their hikers and equipment, often with rented vans. Many Scouts and leaders will suddenly become of aware of the BSA requirement that all travel be done in full Class A uniform and some will think that this is annoying. However, on the actual trip they will find that the uniform magically connects them with fellow travellers who were also Boy Scouts and who also went to Philmont. In this way, the boys will get a better perspective on the pervasiveness and influence of the Scouting movement in America.

philmont gate

Sightseeing in New Mexico or Colorado before or after the hike is a natural extension of the outing, and Scouts will soon have to decide where they want to go. Should they travel up to bustling Santa Fe for a history lesson or head over to dreary Taos to see the pueblos. Bandelier National Monument is nice, but the Sandia Peak Tramway is more exciting. Visit Los Alamos and learn all about the Manhattan Project or get over to Roswell and see “evidence” of flying saucers. It would also be fun to take a hot-air balloon ride (probably not BSA approved) and there are lots of museums of all kinds in the area just in case.

Mistakes will be made. Some units will decide that coordinated practice hikes are a waste of time, telling everyone to get into shape on their own. Participants will respond, form small groups, and try, with varying dedication, to prepare for the “big trip.” These unprepared groups will suffer the most as untested equipment breaks down on the trail to the Tooth of Time or Mt. Baldy, and tempers flare as hikers constantly work through the “storming” phase of team development. Not to mention the physical problems they are likely to encounter.

Getting ready to hit the trail, after months of preparation.

Getting ready to hit the trail, after months of preparation.

Stronger units will arrive at Base Camp knowing the Philmont Hymn because they have been singing it continuously at planning sessions and team conditioning hikes. For them, the Philmont experience started at their very first meeting, carried through to the practice hikes, CPR and Wilderness First Aid Training classes, fundraisers, and the pizza stops on the way home from camping trips. This kind of group creates their own Philmont shirts, with everyone’s name on the back, and wears them proudly during the orientation on Day One. These hikers will have the most fun together on the trail.

Scouts and Scouters start with a common objective – get to Philmont and have a fun adventure – but every unit will take a different route. Many groups will achieve their objective (and more) and will want to return as soon as possible. However, through lack of leadership, planning, preparation, or simply bad luck, some units will have a terrible experience and complain about it forever. No matter how it turns out, after returning home, everyone will tell friends and family that Philmont was a life-changing experience.

“Be Honest and True Boys”

This poem was published in the children’s periodical “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” in 1887, a few decades before the founding of Boys Scouts. It was featured during a flashback episode in the television series “Boardwalk Empire,” which also had several references to the Boys Scout movement.

Boy's Life was modeled after popular magazines like "Golden Days for Boys and Girls"

Boy’s Life was modeled after popular magazines like “Golden Days for Boys and Girls”

Be honest and true, boys!
Whatever you do, boys,
Let this be your motto through life.
Both now and forever,
Be this your endeavor,
When wrong with the right is at strife.

The best and the truest,
Alas! are the fewest;
But be one of these if you can.
In duty ne’er fail; you
Will find ‘twill avail you,
And bring its reward when a man.

Don’t think life plain sailing;
There’s danger of failing,
Though bright seem the future to be;
But honor and labor,
And truth to your neighbor,
Will bear you safe over life’s sea.

Then up and be doing,
Right only pursuing,
And take your fair part in the strife.
Be honest and true, boys,
Whatever you do, boys,
Let this be your motto through life!

— BE HONEST AND TRUE, by George Birdseye.

Lightning Strikes

There are lots of myths and misconceptions about lightning strikes on outings. However, one thing to always remember is that there is no place that is absolutely safe for Scouts during an electrical storm. Scouts and leaders have been hit by lightening (and killed) in shelters as well as open spaces. In fact, during one especially terrible storm at the Griswold Scout Reservation in New Hampshire, 23 Scouts who had taken shelter under a canopy were hospitalized after a lightning strike that hit close to them. The problem is serious enough that BSA has studied it and revamped the lightning safe procedures in the Guide to Safe Scouting, even mandating that leaders complete a Hazardous Weather course before going on outings. The result has been a decline in lightning related injuries and fatalities at Scout activities.

A lightning strike is an electric discharge between the atmosphere and an earth-bound object. According to the NOAA, over the last 20 years, the United States averaged 51 annual lightning strike fatalities per year, placing it just behind floods for weather-related deaths. In addition, lightning strikes hundreds of people every year that survive, and (depending upon the source) up to 80% of survivors sustain long-term injuries. Metal objects in the victim’s pockets (like smart phones) can concentrate the charge and make the injury even worse. Contrary to popular belief, however, a direct hit by a lightning bolt coming down from the sky is actually pretty rare and not a common way that Scouts are injured by lightning during a storm.

Lightening strikes are common - and dangerous

Lightning strikes are common – and dangerous

More than half of all lightning injuries and fatalities occur when lighting hits the ground near where Scouts are standing (or sheltering). The electrical current runs through the ground to nearby objects (like Scouts) that act as conductors to receive the charge. The result is burns on the body, and in extreme cases – death. If there is a nearby strike, touching your feet together at the heels can reduce the pathway of the electrical charge and minimize risk. In other words, if your feet are touching, the electricity will go up one foot and down the other. If your feet are not together, the electrical current will travel up through your body and have no easy exit point.

The second most dangerous lightning strike is called a “side flash.” The lightning hits a tall object (like a tree or tall pioneering project) and arcs sideways to objects of less resistance – like people standing nearby. (The lightning does not follow the tall object to the ground.) This kind of strike represents about a third of injuries and fatalities. A very similar danger is called “Upward Leader strikes” and accounts for about 10% of human injuries. In this case, the lightning is attracted to a taller object and then moves to something nearby. That is one reason why safety procedures stress having everyone crouch to get them into approximately the same height.

Lightning will often strike the tallest object in the area.  Do not stand next to a single tall tree during a thunderstorm.

Lightning will often strike the tallest object in the area. Do not stand next to a single tall tree during a thunderstorm.

The least common causes of lightning injuries or fatalities (5-10%) are direct strikes and coming into contact with an object that is transmitting high voltage like a metal fence or electrical wire. (Philmont call this a “touch-volt” strike.) The best way to protect yourself from both is to move to a safer area – preferably before the storm envelops your crew.

You can estimate the distance to a lightning strike by counting the seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder that follows. (One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, etc.) Divide the number of seconds by five (5) and this will be the approximate distance to the actual lightning strikes. Studies have shown that a second strike can occur 6 to 8 miles away from the first strike. Therefore, when the time between the strike and the thunder is less than 40 seconds you could be in danger if the storm is moving towards you. So, if you can hear thunder you might need need to take action quickly. There is no absolutely safe place outside in a thunderstorm, but here are some reasonable safety procedures.

• Separate and, if possible, find cover under clumps of shrubs or trees of uniform height.
• If there is no cover, crouch down with feet and knees together, chest on knees, and hands covering ears. Keep your feet together and touching.
• Always, spread out 25′ to 30′ from each other, but maintain voice contact.
• Stay off ridges and exposed passes. You are typically better off at lower elevations.
• Stay out of broad open areas like meadows or lakes.
• Caves are not safe.
• Avoid single high trees. (Do not set up your tents near them either!)

If you happen to be in a tent when a storm approaches, sit on your foam pad and pull your knees into your chest to create the smallest contact with the ground. If the lightning strikes are very close, cover your ears and close your eyes to reduce potential injury.

It goes without saying, that Scout leaders should be checking the weather forecast to understand the risk of potential thunderstorms in the area they plan to visit. However, it a thunderstorm does come up, play it safe.