Scouts hike over long desert trails

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 19, 2002

Philmont Scout Ranch has been the premiere training ground for Boy and Girl Scouts across America, and a small group of Alabama scouts recently conquered the massive trek.

Scouters Mark Gable, Guy Wyche and John Croft accompanied scouts Drew Gable, Chad Buck, Johnny Croft, Ben Wyche, Heath Dudewicz and Andrew Loflin on the June 9 to June 21 trek through the trails of Philmont.

Gable, one of three scout leaders for the Philmont trip, said Philmont Scout Ranch is the ultimate goal of all scouts.

"This is kind of a special venue for scouts," Gable said. "Philmont is like the epitome of scouting where we get to practice all of our scouting skills."

Gable said the Philmont ranch was donated to the Boy Scouts of America by a very rich and influential businessman.

"Philmont is an area that is in the northeastern part of New Mexico. It is in the Rocky Mountains," Gable said. "It is 160,000 acres of wilderness donated to the Boy Scouts by a man named Waite Phillips in 1938. This businessman had this ranch around 160,000 acres. At that time he invited scouts onto his ranch to experience a wilderness adventure. He noticed that, through this experience, the scouts gained a little more self-reliance, a sense of community and they were different for the experience. He saw the value in this and he decided to donate all of the land to the Boy Scouts of America at the time of his death. Since then they have been having these adventures for scouts."

According to Gable, Philmont offers a variety of terrain laced with hundreds of trails and obstacles to overcome.

"It is a backpacking experience. It is approximately ten days of trails," Gable said. "Philmont is laced with hundreds of miles of trails. It covers all sorts of terrain. We mostly stayed among the mountains. Our trek went from 7600 to 12,000 feet. We covered over 70 miles in those days. We carry everything on our back. Our house is right there on our back. There was a crew of nine of us -- three scouters (or adults) and six scouts. There is something interesting about this group of young men. Five of the scouts were Eagle Scouts and four of those five had begun scouting in Andalusia at age six and became Eagles about the same time this year."

Gable said the requirements for visiting the Philmont trail are simple, but the acceptance process requires advanced application.

"The requirement for going on the trek at Philmont was to be at least a first class scout and must be fourteen years of age," Gable said. "This is a pretty physical type of challenge. It takes a great deal of physical ability to do this, and a great deal of scouting experience. Setting up camp, preparing your meals, going through the activities and then starting the process over again the next day tests the abilities of all the boys -- and men."

According to Gable, a person accompanies each group on the trail to teach them how to handle the challenges unique to the Philmont trail.

"The first two days we have a ranger. The ranger accompanies to train us about some of the special challenges that Philmont presents," Gable said. "It's not like backpacking in Alabama by any means. It is very arid. One day when we were in base camp the humidity was only six percent. It was required that we carry water with us as all time and

continually drink water.

Hydration was a constant problem and we saw crews on the trail who did not heed that warning. They had several sick individuals."

Gable said bears present another more dangerous challenge during the nights at Philmont.

"Bears were a constant presence -- black bears," Gable said. "They might look cute and cuddly, but you do not want one in your tent at night. So we had to constantly be aware of spillage of food on our clothing. Items had to be put in 'bear bags' at night and strung up. Some of the strangest things you would not think bears would be attracted to, like duct tape, batteries, flashlights and film for cameras. We had to put our flashlights in our sock and shoes so that bears would not become curious and join us at night."

According to Gable the increased altitude of mountainous terrain created problems with proper breathing and fatigue.

"There were a lot of problems with altitude. We were basically at sea level," Gable said. "The first couple of days we had a problem with breathing and trying to cope and adapt with going up a mile high above sea level."

Gable said Philmont gave the scouts an opportunity to increase their current skills and learn new methods of survival in the wilderness.

"One of the premises of Philmont is that the scouts do everything," Gable said. "They prepared our meals and pitched their own tents. They were in charge of navigation. All they had was a map and a compass. There is a saying at Philmont, 'You're never lost -- you're just confused.' Sometimes the adult advisors would tell the boys that we were confused and that we might need to look at the map a bit closer."

According to Gable, Philmont is an experience that does not change with time, adding that it remains a place of timeless beauty and grace.

"Needless to say, the scenery is spectacular," Gable said. "This is my third trip to Philmont. My last trip was 34 years ago as a scout at age 16. I thought I would see a different side of Philmont and surprisingly it still is a very special place. There were still the same types of experiences there that I thought I would see in a different light. Philmont just seems to remain the same. You are getting the same type of opportunities to learn about yourself, your fellow crew members. It is an experience that the crew works as a team and as a unit."

Gable said his love for the outdoors was one reason to join the Boy Scouts, but his father also played an integral role in his journey as a scout.

"My father was never a scout," Gable said. "We belonged to a small community church in Birmingham and it had started a scout troop and he was one of the leaders. I think that is what started it. It is just something I had always really loved. I like camping, hiking and backpacking. Our troop likes to backpack."