Scott Perkins is a your typical high achiever! He is a flight test engineer, Naval Academy Representative for Northern California, Vice Mayor of San Ramon, and Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 84, which he helped start in 1987. Scott earned his Eagle rank at age 13 and with that achievement came a life-long love of the outdoors – and especially Scout backpacking. Counting both adult and youth trips, Scott Perkins has completed an astonishing 25 long-term treks (aka 50-milers), which translates into more than 2,500 miles of Scout backpacking.
“There are beautiful places I can go that are only accessible by foot. You can’t drive or ride a bike to some of the best places in the wilderness,” answers Scott when asked why he likes Scout backpacking so much. “Plus, I love what it does for a boy’s self confidence, especially after their first 50 miler. Parents often tell me how much their son has changed when we get back. Summer Camp is great, but it doesn’t have the same impact on their self-confidence.”
From all the miles on the trail, two Scout backpacking trips stand out. The first was a Yosemite hike from Tuolumne to Half Dome to Vogelsang. It rained every single day for a full week. “Even after we climbed to the top of Half Dome on a sunny morning it started to rain and we had to go down the cables backwards and very, very slowly. To top it off, we picked up a black bear who followed us for almost two days and we had to post guards at night so it didn’t get into our food.”
The second memorable trek was the South Lake/North Lake Loop out of Bishop, considered one of the most difficult hikes in California. “We hiked 57 miles in 5 ½ days, starting on Day One at 9800 feet, and climbing up or down almost 3,000 feet every day. Physically this experience was extremely challenging, but the views were spectacular and the boys were experienced, tough and required almost no adult assistance.”
In addition to leading Scouts, Scott gets off with the adult leaders once in a while also. His biggest personal achievement is completing the John Muir Trail in 2009. Wearing his favorite LOWA Renegade boots, Scott walked the entire 240 miles in 22 days without one blister, one band aid, or one piece of moleskin. Along the way, he saw some of the most spectacular scenery in the entire world, ending at the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. (Scott returned to the top of the mountain with Scouts the following year for his third trip to the summit.)
Scott has some tips and suggestions for leading a long-term Scout backpacking trip and building an outstanding backpacking program:
• Start the hiking season with lots of practice hikes. On week nights, Troop 84 Scouts hike “Perkin’s Hill,” which is in the Bishop Ranch Open Space a few feet from his back door. “We meet at 7:00 and leave at 7:05 with progressively heavier backpacks and longer distances.”
• Schedule two backpacking trips every summer. An easier one for 1st and 2nd year backpackers to places like Emigrant, Lassen, or Desolation Wilderness that are success oriented. Then a harder one to places like Mt. Whitney, Sequoia, or Yosemite to provide a bigger challenge for experienced hikers.
• Be a fanatic about hydration. “We ask the boys to drink at least a gallon of liquid every day, including water, juice, and soup.”
• Stop every 30 minutes to count noses. It slows you down a little but “I don’t want to ever lose a Scout, even for a few hours.”
• After shopping, get hikers together to unpack all the food, measure it, repack it, and distribute it according to the needs of the group to balance pack weights.
• Have Scouts and adults carry at least one walking stick and always wear proper boots, never tennis shoes.
• Carry tarps instead of tents if the hike is below the tree line. “One 10×12 tarp per buddy team can be erected with their walking sticks and makes a suitable shelter, even in bad weather.”
While the boys haven’t changed a lot since he started backpacking, the food and equipment sure have come a long way. “Today you can order packaged meals from “LDP Camping Foods” that taste good and don’t require a lot of cleanup,” says Scott; “and the equipment is better and much lighter. Most of the time now I carry a fully loaded pack with food and water that weighs less than 38 pounds. That would have been impossible ten years ago.”
What do say to young backpacker to get him to go one his first hike? “Focus on the fun and challenge of the experience and try not to scare him. Let the older boys talk about their trips so he sees that they survived and had fun.” Then end by telling the boy, “When you go back to school, you can tell your friends that you went on a 50 mile backpacking trip. They will be impressed.”
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