Backpacking has lost favor among Scouts and Parents for many reasons and starting or restarting a backpacking program is not easy for many Troops
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.
The best and the truest,
Alas! are the fewest;
But be one of these if you can.
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. Are you one of them?
Nothing annoys me more than a Scout who is constantly asking “how many miles until we get to camp?” It is the Venture Crew equivalent of “are we there yet?” which is a developmental stage that most children grow out of when they reach the age of 11 or so. Conscientious hikers should know approximately how long it is going to take them to reach camp before they even start hiking.
The typical Boy Scout likes to hike in the woods and camp under the stars. Most do it a few times a year. A few boys push themselves and go on high adventure outings like 50 miler backpacking trips and snow camping outings. Then there is little Max. He has already backpacked more than 950 miles with his Troop – and Max is only 16 years old!
Its Spring – a time when every sturdy young Scout starts thinking about the backpacking season ahead. Across the country, young men are pulling packs out of the closet, cleaning out the leftover food from last year, and getting ready for practice hikes. Adults are enthusiastically stepping up to do the same. Many with the goal of completing their first 50 miler backpacking trip before the end of the summer.
Philmont sits at the apex of the Scout backpacking experience. For skilled backpackers the Philmont routes are not difficult. However, most Scouts are not skilled backpackers and the challenge of being on the trail for two weeks makes a trip to Philmont incredibly worthwhile. In addition, the fun activities and camaraderie with Scouts from every state make it a “Scouting Disneyland.” However, not every trip to Philmont is a good one.
Across the country, young men are pulling packs out of the closet, cleaning out the leftover food from last year, and getting ready for the practice hikes ahead. All with the goal of completing a 50 miler backpacking trip before the end of the summer. Are you ready to get started? (Forward this message to your backpacking buddies.)
To keep their program going when the weather is bad, some units organize outings in the city. Overnights in museums, park gazebos, rock climbing gyms, and fitness centers are possible; and, if they are lucky, the boys might even sleep in decommissioned battleships or submarines in some areas. And while all of these are great Scouting experiences, they do not always deliver the adventure of Scouting that is described in the Scout Handbook. Real Scouts spent at least part of every year dealing with real winter weather.
Many Scout families struggle with the concept of high adventure outings. Some parents believe that backpacking, snow camping, and cycling are just too dangerous for today’s youth. The parental and peer pressure that used to propel boys out of the living room and onto the trail is getting weaker and weaker. As a result, outings are becoming less adventurous and boys are challenged less and less. Read what the Free Range Kids website has to say about this trend.
Getting into camp every afternoon means achieving a brief sense of accomplishment which is followed by a flurry of activity. Backpacks have to be emptied of Troop equipment. Water has to be filtered. Bear bag trees need to be located. And most important for most, dinner has to be prepared and eaten. But how does it all get organized?
Somewhere in these United States, there is a Boy Scout who is afraid of bugs. This made it impossible for him to earn the backpacking merit badge with the rest of his Patrol. So his parents came up with a creative, and some say absurd, solution: hike indoors on a treadmill instead. What do you think?
It’s difficult to determine how much Scout backpacking costs. The best we can do is calculate a replacement cost for all the things in a Scout’s backpack — regardless of whether they were actually borrowed, rented, purchased used, inherited, or given as gifts. You will, however, be surprised how much it’s all worth. The total cost to replace everything is staggering! (Please forward this to your friends who are interested in Scout backpacking.)
It’s after dark and two sad Scouts are sitting in the snow wearing ice-covered socks and holding frozen boots in their hands. No amount of pulling and pushing was going to get those boots back onto their feet. Frost bite is on our minds as we start planning an evacuation. These Scouts need to be in a warm place – and fast. (Please forward this email to other Scouters.)
Walking away from the cars, we zipped our jackets and checked the thermometer one last time. It was 18 degrees Fahrenheit but a cold front moving into the area promised to drive the mercury even lower. The snow ahead of us was hip-deep after a two-day blizzard. Our very large group of inexperienced Scout snow campers might be in for a tough outing. Little did we know how bad it was going to be. (Please forward this email to all your Scouting friends.)
The biggest risk on any snow camping outing is that someone will be unable to deal with the inevitable problems they will face. When the temperature is around zero and snow is falling steadily, you don’t have the luxury of doing nothing. Every man on the trip needs to keep working on their shelter while monitoring their own physical condition (and their buddy’s). Failure to act because you are not prepared can lead to disaster.
Forward to your snow camping friends.
Local Scout leader Scott Perkins has completed 25 long-term Scout backpacking trips and climbed Mt. Whitney three times. Along the way he has trained and inspired hundreds of boys. Read his tips for building a successful backpacking program in your Troop. (And tell us about what you do.)
Snow camping is the most unforgettable of all outings. For many Scouts, their first night spent in a snow cave is a defining moment – and the tipping point between boyhood and manliness.
That’s why it is so distressing to think that snow camping for local Scouts may soon be a thing of the past.
Since we are all bored by this stage of our long Christmas vacation, I decided to go back over the many high adventure outings we completed and select my favorite moments. Some are funny, a few are odd, and one is just sad. What were your favorite Scout backpacking moments?
Scouts form armies and recreate the 1899 Siege of Mafeking. Part Three. Forward this link to friends.
The goal of the “war” is to secure the British Flag, which is hidden somewhere in British Territory, or to capture Queen Victoria, who is still in his dress. If the Boers capture the Flag or the Queen, they are victorious.
Colonel Baden-Powell has assigned the younger Scouts to patrol the perimeter of the camp, least the Boers mount a surprise attack in the wee hours of the morning. Older Scouts are filling balloons with water and placing them in a large green tub. A hundred brown paper bags filled with flour are lined up on picnic tables to be used as bombs. The British are still angry that the Boers came into camp and stole all their water guns.
Please forward this story to other Scouts and Scouters.
The goal of Battle Camp was to recreate the Siege of Mafeking, a small town in South Africa where Baden-Powell earned international fame for holding off the vastly superior Boer army and its African allies for 217 days until help arrived. (Part One – Preparing the Armies)
My one and only trip to Philmont Scout Ranch turned out to be something of a disaster. But I would go there again in a heatbeat. Now there is a Philmont Movie that gives viewers a taste of the history, adventure, and beauty of the Philmont experience. (Forward this message to your Scout friends.)
The Meridian District has always been an “Alpha District” for delivering outstanding High Adventure programs to older Scouts. However, the number of backpacking outings dropped 25% in 2010! This makes you wonder if backpacking is too difficult for today’s Scouts.
Swim Test Blog on 50miler.com.
The alarm wakes me from a deep sleep. My watch glows in the dark a few inches from my face and I see that the illuminated dial reads 5:45 am. Not the normal time to crawl out of your sleeping bag at summer camp, but unfortunately this morning is the swim test, first for the Scouts enrolled in Small Boat Sailing and later for the entire Troop. Nobody is happy about getting up early.
A short drive to the San Pedro Terminal, and we join a line of more than 450 Scouts in uniform, snaking around the building, waiting to board the ferry. We move forward slowly, like refuges, pushing our duffel bags in front of us, pulling our backpacks, and trying to keep touch of lunches, water bottles, hats, and sleeping pads across the terminal and eventually onto the ship. Finally the gang blanks are raised and engines start to vibrate as we ease out into the channel for our one hour passage to Emerald Bay, near Two Harbors on the island of Catalina.
On the day of the outing, the vans are loaded and headed to the ocean. There isn’t a lot of equipment, only towels, lunches, sunscreen and water. The day is cloudy and overcast, so most of the boys are shivering when we get out of the cars. One Scout brings his wetsuit because he heard the water might be cold, something the other Scouts have forgotten.
More than 130 Scouts and Leaders are assembled at Camp Herms in El Cerrito to begin the hike. Eleven are from our Troop. There are no backpacks – only hiking boots, water bottles, snacks, and band aids. After the mandatory safety talk (“Drink lots of water” and “Don’t keep walking if your feet are really bleeding!”) we all start moving out of the camp and down the street. It’ still early. Thick fog covers the ground and we can barely see as we walk silently down the street towards the Wildcat Creek Trailhead. Most of us are still wearing sweatshirts against the early morning chill.
To the left and in front is a panoramic view of the ocean and the beautiful Marin Headlands. To the right, a few feet from our handlebars, cars and trucks whiz by at 50 miles per hour. The wind is very strong, occasionally pushing boys out of their riding lanes into oncoming bike traffic, prompting faster riders coming from the other direction to swerve quickly and curse loudly. Along the way riders can sometimes look straight down through the mesh plates in the pathway and see the waves 220 feet below them. If you are terrified of heights, closing your eyes helps, but it doesn’t improve your chances of surviving.
NorCal Jamboree turned out to be the biggest gathering of Scouts in the history of California and the largest celebration anywhere in the United States during this Centennial year. More than 20,000 Scouts and their friends turned up at the Alameda Fairgrounds to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the youth program that William D. Boyce brought to America in 1910.
Traditional dodge ball is a lot of fun for Scouts of all ages, but serious players are always looking for ways to kick it up a notch. Many units have developed their own rule variations and competitive traditions to increase the adrenaline rush. “What about playing dodge ball on trampolines?” Not only is it possible, its hecka fun.
The afternoon is passing quickly. There are only a few hours of sunlight left to finish the caves and get ready to survive the night. There is no time to waste. When the sun goes down, the temperature drops rapidly. Scouts have to finish digging and change into dry clothes before dark.
Skiing is not easy and many Scouts struggle at first. But with some lessons, equipment, and patient Scout Leaders, skiing is nothing but white fun. In fact, thousands of boys have learned to ski on a Scout outing. Bear Valley is a top destination because it has a special program for Scouts. Read about our skiing adventure.
If you put a boy in front of a big rock he will try to climb up the side. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the Rock City near Mt. Diablo, Balconies in Pinnacles, Half Dome in Yosemite, or even a boulder next to the parking lot. Boys like to climb. Scouting understands this impulse and offers the Climbing merit badge to put some structure around this natural activity.
In Northern California, there are only a few places to backpack in the Fall (unless you like snow) and the Monterrey area is one of the best. There are hundreds of trails, many overgrown and unmaintained, and lots of scenic views and interesting history. A huge fire ripped through the Ventana Wilderness Area a couple of years back, but it has just been reopened to backpackers.