One of my best memories associated with Boy Scouts involved a particular week-long camping and hiking trip to the Pecos Wilderness in the mountains of New Mexico. I don’t remember any cameras along on the trip, but the mental images still bring a smile to my face. I think the reason it is such a good memory is that the outing included my Son and my Dad.
The trip took massive planning, but eventually we were ready. All the boys in the troop were going—about 20—and five of the older boys who met certain requirements would go on a three-day backpacking trip. We had only one problem—not enough dads were signed up to go—so plan B began.
I asked my Dad (a man in his 50s) and my Father-in-Law (in his 60s) if they would like to go camping in the mountains for a week. I really don’t remember if I mentioned twenty boys in the sales presentation or not, but both agreed. That made four adults: the assistant Scoutmaster (who also had a son in the troop) my Dad, my Dad-in-Law, and me.
Camping in the Mountains
There is nothing like getting a group of boys, age 11 to 18, outdoors. As a troop, we had local campouts regularly, but things are different when you camp above 7000 feet elevation. The higher elevation caused one of our memorable moments.
The first night, with everyone in their tents, my father-in-law started gasping and clutching his chest. Quickly, a panic set in, and he said that he couldn’t breathe. Heart attack symptoms were ruled out, but we weren’t any closer to the answer. Accustomed to 3000 feet above sea level, the 7000+feet caused him to suffer from altitude sickness, and that was compounded by a panic attack. But he acclimated and soon we were ok again.
The second day, the older boys and I left the base camp for our three day backpacking trip, leaving the rest of the boys in the hands of a seasoned Assistant Scoutmaster, and my relatives. I would have loved to have been a fly-on-the-tent for those three days, but upon our return, all were safe and well-fed.
The thing I remember most about the backpacking trip was also caused by the altitude. Cooking and eating took much longer than planned, so we improvised a few times. On the plains, water would boil on our backpacking stoves in about ten minutes. At 10,000 feet, it was taking twenty or more, and then the food still had to be cooked.
Meanwhile, Back at the Camp
Back at camp after the backpacking trip, the stories flowed. The older boys told the younger ones all about the adventure: about fishing in the streams for trout, locating camp sites, carrying heavy packs, and hiking for miles and miles through the mountains. They even told of how when hills were crested, beautiful panoramic views opened up that caused us to pause and just look for long periods of time. The younger boys were excited by the stories, and started planning toward the next trip, determined to complete the requirements to participate.
Friday’s supper included beans, cornbread, and fried potatoes, which sure taste good outdoors, high in the mountains, and shared with a lot of guys. We had carried CornKits to make the cornbread, and a couple of packages were left over which prompted another curious memory-maker for me
My Dad decided to cook corncakes (like pancakes, but with corn meal) on the griddle for breakfast. The boys mocked and decided they didn’t want anything to do with his stuff; they would eat bacon and eggs. Then, once the corncakes were done, and a couple of boys got a taste with butter and syrup and said how it was, they all wanted some, but with only two packages of CornKits, there wasn’t enough to go around. Everyone got a bite, but not much more. Oh, and they were delicious … Dad did a super job.
All’s Well that Ends Well
At the end of the week, everyone was exhausted, but smiling … even the adults. It was an experience of a lifetime for some of the boys, and for a few, the beginning of their Scouting lives. Many of those same boys went on to gain their Eagle Scout badge, some inspired by a great week in New Mexico.
Here is more information on the Pecos Wilderness, and a great collection of photographs from thebackpacker.com