Statesboro-based Boy Scouts of America Troop 342, and other Scouts and their leaders from the Coastal Georgia Council, recently went on a life-changing summer trek through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico.
Philmont covers 214 square miles of wilderness, with trails that climb from 6,500 feet to 12,411 feet. During their trek, the Scouts and their leaders hiked 71 miles over a period of 11 days in June.
Carrying everything needed to survive in a heavy backpack, the group hiked from camp to camp. The hikers participated in back-country programs along the way, including rock climbing, black-powder rifle shooting and gold prospecting.
James Nevil, a 17-year-old Bulloch Academy student, was the oldest Scout in his group, which gave him the task of navigating and helping set up bear bags in camp so that the hikers’ food was protected from bears.
“Being from south Georgia, the mountains were intimidating to many of us first-timers out there, and hiking with 50 pounds is difficult at 10,000 feet, unlike flat ground,” he said. “The treks every day were worth the trip. After seeing that I overcame hiking Philmont and the rugged terrain, I feel like I can accomplish more physically demanding tasks and obstacles.”
Nevil said the best part of the day was time spent in camp at the culmination of a day’s hike with Scoutmaster Lovett Bennett’s group, eating a huge dinner, discussing the sights at the tops of the mountains with fellow hikers.
Statesboro High School 11-grader Matthew Walker, 16, said his favorite part of each day came right before he would fall asleep, when he would rethink what he did that day and realize he accomplished so much in so little time.
“I feel like I could accomplish anything after going through the hardships I went through at Philmont,” he said.
At times, some hikers ran out of water at the top of a mountain during a five-hour hike. Tt other times, hikers accidentally missed a turn and hiked straight up a mountain. Some hikers experienced difficulty breathing because of the high altitude, and some suffered asthma-related issues.
Connor Calhoun, a ninth-grade SHS student, said the views along the hike were spectacular.
“Somewhere in the middle, we went to a place called Black Mountain,” he said. “It was the most gorgeous view. It almost felt like you could see all the way to Colorado.”
Another of Calhoun’s favorite spots on the hike was the Tooth of Time, a monolith resembling a tooth at the top of a ridge.
When asked what he thought the name meant, Calhoun said: “It feels like everything stops. You’ve been without your phone for 14 days, with only the same group of boys, and no one else. When you’re up there, you can see a full 360, and it’s like everything’s stopped.”
Calhoun said his group was thrilled to see the “We made it” sign at the end of the trail, just before reaching the last base camp.
Completing this scouting pilgrimage enables three of the boys, Nevil, Walker and Joshua Gee, to receive the Triple Crown. That award is given to those who have completed the three scouting high adventure camps: Philmont, hiking the Rockies; Northern Tier, canoeing the Great Lakes; and Sea Base, sailing across the Florida Keys.