by Laura Bednar
Boy Scouts in Troop 385 put their minds and bodies to the test during a hiking trip at the Philmont Scout Range in Cimarron, New Mexico. Seventeen Scouts ages 13-17 and eight adults walked more than 70 miles along the Philmont trails over 10 days, stopping to camp and learn new skills along the way.
Troop 385 is chartered through Bath United Church of Christ. Scoutmaster Eric Matheny said he has been an adult leader of the troop for 14 years. He visited Philmont once before, but this trip was with a new group of Scouts. “It’s the pinnacle literal mountaintop experience,” he said.
The Philmont Scout Ranch covers 140,177 acres of mountain wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains, according to its website. The ranch operates 55 trail camps that range from 6,500 to 12,441 feet in elevation.
The Scouts’ trip began on June 29 with a flight to Denver, Colorado, to get acclimated to the elevation before continuing to Philmont. Matheny said the Scouts hiked Pikes Peak, 12 miles from Colorado Springs. Once at Philmont, Scouts were divided into two crews; each had a Scout as a crew leader, a chaplain’s aide, a wilderness guide and four adult advisers.
Crews followed an itinerary of 61 miles of point-to-point trails, plus additional hiking back and forth between campsites and staff camps and side hikes.
Preparation was key in covering that much ground in 10 days. Matheny said the troop started physical training at the end of December 2022. “Two to three times a month we would go to different places [to hike] and gradually walked longer distances with heavier packs,” he said.
Some of the hiking locations included Ledges Overlook, the Brecksville Reservation and Camp Manatoc. Before the Philmont journey, Scouts had a “gear shakedown” to make sure they only carried necessities in their backpacks. “The packs were anywhere from 45 to 50 pounds with food and water,” said Matheny.
After an initial campfire and studying the history of the Philmont land, originally home to Native Americans, Scouts were dropped off by bus at the trailhead. Elevation started at around 6,800 feet and gradually increased.
Every other camp along the trail included educational sessions and programming, such as rock climbing, blacksmithing, shotgun shooting and spar pole climbing. Staff members at these camps emulated individuals from the time period in which the activity was popular. For example, staffers at the first camp, Pueblano, portrayed employees of the 1918 Continental Tie and Lumber Company.
Scouts spent Independence Day watching the sunrise from Mount Baldy, elevation 12,441 feet. In order to get to the top of the mountain for sunrise, the Troop awakened at 1 a.m. and climbed the mountain using headlamps and moonlight.
“It was a magical life memory,” said Matheny.
After sunrise, Matheny spoke about the United States and how Philmont is a reminder of the freedom and vastness that comprises America. Oilman and philanthropist Waite Phillips, who gave the land to the BSA, wrote it was donated “for the purpose of perpetuating faith, self-reliance, integrity and freedom. Principles used to build this great country by the American pioneer.”
The next camp, Miranda, featured tomahawk throwing followed by stargazing at the Ringtail camp. “By that point the Scouts were fully functioning as their own group,” said Matheny. “They were totally responsible for every aspect of daily life.”
Adults were present as advisers, but the Scouts learned to work together and rely on one another. The two crew leaders were Quin Albrecht, freshman at Revere High School, and Paul Toma, junior at Revere. Both crews had the same itinerary and completed activities at the same time but did not camp together.
Along the way, Scouts practiced the “Leave No Trace” guidelines, which, according to scouting.org, “Allows Scouts to camp, hike and take part in related outdoor activities in ways that are environmentally sound and considerate to others using the same areas.”
Matheny said Scouts only walked on trails, camped where it was permitted, disposed of waste properly and tried not to disturb anything along the way. “Don’t take anything but photos and leave only footprints,” he said.
All Scouts received an Arrowhead patch for completing the trail as well as a Duty to God award, which recognizes moral principles of the BSA, and a Wilderness Pledge Award, which included leave no trace and conservation work.
Matheny said the troop is still working on achieving the 50-miler award, which requires walking 50 miles and participating in 10 hours of conservation. The remaining conservation hours will be done at home base in Ohio.
Matheny said he hopes the Scouts fostered a love and reverence for the outdoors and learned to believe in themselves and others. After completing the Philmont trail, Matheny related that one Scout said, “I believe we can do anything we set our minds to.” ∞
Scout Elliot Matheny tries his hand at spar pole climbing. Photo courtesy of Eric Matheny.
Scout Aleks Rees is bouldering while being spotted by Quin Albrecht and Truman Voris. Photo courtesy of Eric Matheny.
On our cover (photos): Boy Scout Troop 385 climbed Mount Baldy, elevation 12,441 feet, on Independence Day to watch the sunrise. The view of the mountains is from the Dean Skyline campsite, one of the many stops Scouts made along the Philmont Scout Ranch trail. Photos courtesy of Eric Matheny.