Not your average hike

Not your average hike
The crew at base camp after completing their 105-mile trek. (Photo/ Sharri Ralis)

By Kassidy McDonald

Boy scout troop 135, consisting of one older group and one younger group of scouts composed of mostly Alexandria City Public Schools students, completed a 105-mile backpacking trek in New Mexico last week.

The boy scouts ranged from ages 14 to 17 years old and were accompanied by parents. The two hiking crews were split into an older group and a younger group on their trek and four parents were assigned per group.

Troop 135 has been around for approximately 35 years, with many parents having been involved in the troop as well. They are sponsored by the Naomi Brooks Parent Teacher Association.

Their hike lasted 10 days and began at the Philmont Scout Ranch, the Boy Scouts of America’s largest National High Adventure Base. According to the ranch’s website, it covers “140,177 acres of rugged mountain wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains in northeastern New Mexico.” More than one million boy scouts have participated in activities at the ranch since it opened in 1939.

“It is the vision of Philmont Scout Ranch to continue to positively impact the lives of young people and their Scouting leaders through inspiring and effective delivery of the finest Scouting possible through backcountry adventures and Training Center experiences,” the website reads. “It is our further vision that these experiences will be expanded to help meet increasing demands. All future growth must be accomplished with minimal ecological impact on resources to ensure the preservation of this great asset to serve future generations of Scouts.”

Sharri Ralis led the younger troop, Crew 2, on their adventure and the older troop, Crew 1, was led by Nathan Solomon.

“Philmont is one of those pinnacle things you do in your scouting career,” Ralis said. “From the moment you cross over as a 12-year-old from cub scouts into boy scouts, you start hearing from the older kids about Philmont.”

Philmont is one of the three high adventure opportunities for boy scouts, with the other two treks in Minnesota and the Bahamas. According to Ralis, it’s called the “triple crown” if a scout is able to complete all three high adventure treks.

To prepare for the trek, the boys and parents began training six months prior to the trip. Training included weekend trips to the Shenandoahs and could range from 15-mile day hikes to multiple days of overnight treks through the mountains.

“The grownups should’ve trained for about a year, but we trained for six months,” Ralis explained with a laugh. “It was pretty intense.”

While on the Philmont trip, a ranger from the ranch accompanied the group for the first two days of the trek, Ralis said. The ranger made sure the group knew “the Philmont way” to wash dishes, prepare food, hang a bear bag and to generally leave as little mark on the land as possible.

Day three and four were tough because they were the first days the troop was on their own, Ralis said. The fifth day, and the halfway mark of their trip, was when the sleep deprivation and exhaustion started to hit.

“Day five is about the low point, for both adults and kids. Day five was rough. Then on day six you were like ‘oh, four more days … three more days, two more days’ … and then you know you’re going to make it,” Ralis said.

There are four categories of adventure treks: rugged, challenging, strenuous and super strenuous. The troop decided to do the super strenuous hike. The crew also carried packs that included gear, water and food they needed during the journey to the summits.

“We chose the super strenuous trek which was 78 miles and included five summit peaks. By the time the GPS was done, it was about 105 miles. You do lots of running around in between,” Ralis said. “The elevation was from 8,000 up to almost 13,000 [feet]. It was all hiking at high elevation. The packs [weighed] about 55 pounds for the adults, and the kids were carrying about 60 to 65 pounds.”

During the trek, the crew stopped at various staff camps, with different programs being held at each one. Programs included archery, blacksmithing and period weaponry. Staff dressed in period clothing to teach scouts about prior culture and ways of life.

For Ralis, the most memorable part of the adventure was how excited the crew was every time they reached a summit. Mt. Baldy has an elevation of 12,441 feet and has historically proven to be very challenging. According to Ralis, from the top one can see all the way to Pikes Peak, Colorado. She also said there was a 360 degree view because of the lack of trees on the mountain, hence the name Mt. Baldy.

Winds on this summit were whipping about 70 miles per hour, and Ralis said a lot of the crew had a hard time staying on their feet. She said it was an “impressionable” experience for her boys but also “very scary.”

Mt. Phillips, with an elevation of 11,721 feet, and Tooth of Time, with an elevation of 9,003 feet, were two other summits that the crew conquered.

Tooth of Time was the crew’s final summit, for which they left at 2:30 a.m. in order to see the sunrise from the peak.

“It was a treacherous trek, in the dark basically, walking from rock to rock on a ridge line, with luckily a full moon. The final half mile was straight up a boulder field using both hands and feet to climb up,” Ralis said.

What comes next for the troop is not surprising; there is another adventure trip planned for next year at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. This high adventure experience will mean traveling by ATV instead of hiking, Ralis explained, and the boys are excited about it.

Ralis said the most rewarding part of the trip was seeing the crew work together as a team and ultimately accomplish something that not many people will in their lifetime.

“There is the enormity of what you just did that sets in,” Ralis said. “When you’re standing there in base camp, you are looking at the mountain range and way in the back you see Mt. Baldy. You think ‘Wow. Not only am I going to hike there, but I am going to turn around and hike down this entire range and I am going to end up right back here in base camp.’ I hope that is what sticks in the boys minds, that they did this.”