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Welcome to the Boy Scouts

October 5, 2008

By Olsen, Ken

A first taste of HIGH ADVENTURE: Rain, show, 50 blistering miles, several sticks of dynamite and one incredibly smelly exploding mule BY THE THIRD AFTERNOON of their backpacking trip last summer, the Taipan Patrol from Troop 4007 had endured rain, snow, sleet, hail, thunder and lightning, blisters and a burned-out campsite.

Then there was the unforgettable smell of a dead mule incinerated by multiple sticks of dynamite.

All this for an unbeatable adventure: backpacking 50 miles through the Pasayten Wilderness just south of the Canadian border in central Washington.

And these were not seasoned Eagle Scouts. Every year, Troop 4007 sends its newest and youngest members out on the trail almost as soon as they cross over into the Bellingham, Wash., group.

Most of the newbies have never been backpacking. Many have never embarked on anything more than casual day hikes with their families.

But it was the allure of a backcountry expedition that inspired them to join the troop in the first place.

“I thought it would be a great achievement for me to do it,” First Class Scout Hunter Hanlon says. “Just having the physical strength would be amazing.”

WELCOME TO THE BOY SCOUTS, FELLAS.

Training Days

Training for their first 50-miler begins as soon as they join the troop with day hikes to nearby lakes and works up to two- and three- day outings that introduce them to camping in cold, wet conditions.

With each outing, the new Scouts add more weight to their packs and more challenges to the itinerary. Not only do they get in shape, they break in their boots, learn to doctor blisters and discover what gear is essential and what’s just extra weight.

Troop 4007′s new recruits practiced with signal mirrors, studied maps, earned their First Aid merit badges and assembled wilderness survival kits. They planned meals and divided up tents and cooking gear so each Scout carried an equal share of the load.

They listened to the older Scouts share tales of their 50-mile hikes, complete with slideshows and tips for dealing with the most difficult parts of the journey.

“They told us it was hard work, that their backs hurt, that the weather was bad,” Second Class Scout Jakob Chase says. “They said they felt like they didn’t want to keep going, but they did. And they ended up having a really good time.”

Strange Encounters

By the time the seven members of the Taipan Patrol hoisted their backpacks and started hoofing it toward the Pasayten Wilderness that August morning, they had logged nearly 60 miles in training hikes.

Good thing, too.

They almost immediately found themselves switch-backing up Billy Goat Pass, gaining 1,800 feet in just three miles.

“It was the first day, and a lot of us weren’t sure about it,” Second Class Scout Trevor Northrop says. “We’re thinking, ‘Will we make it? Will someone get hurt? Will we have to turn around?’”

But the fun was only beginning.

That afternoon, the guys encountered rangers who were dealing ith a pack mule that had died along the trail about a week earlier. The mule had to be removed so it wouldn’t attract wildlife.

Rather than haul it out of the wilderness, the rangers decided to dispose of it with dynamite.

“We had to rush out of there because they were about to blow up this mule,” Second Class Scout Ben Detering says.

The patrol went a few hundred yards up the trail and waited. One of the rangers yelled, “Fire in the hole!” There was a thundering explosion. The ground trembled. A shock wave coursed through the air.

“It smelled horrible,” Ben says. “Like old meat that’s been left in the garbage for a really long time.”

It’s worth repeating: WELCOME TO THE BOY SCOUTS.

Battling the Weather

The weather turned wet the first night. In fact, just about every form of precipitation visited the Taipan Patrol during the first half of the nine-day trip.

“At one point, it started raining, hailing, slushing and snowing all at once,” Tenderfoot Scout Alex Stedman says. “My fingers started to get numb.”

Efforts to reach Coral Lakes, where they had planned to spend the third night, were abandoned because snow was piling up and it was impossible to see the trail. The Scouts solthered on toward an alternate camp at Mayo Creek.

Unfortunately, things did not improve. Taipan Patrol soon was hiking through the charred scars of a wildfire from five or six years before. Fallen trees frequently blocked the trail. Scouts had to crawl under, climb over and hike way off trail to get around the deadfall, adding miles to their weary day.

The wet underbrush and ferns soaked them as thoroughly as a rainstorm.

Eventually they found a campsite about a mile west, near the Pasayten River, and as the sun went down, they pitched tents, hung food bags out of the reach of bears and scoured for dry wood. As the sun set, footsore Scouts and a line of soaked boots and socks surrounded a welcome campfire.

Fish Tales

Day Four dawned. The Scouts rolled out at 6 a.m., fired up their propane stoves, made breakfast and returned to the trail. Six miles later, they arrived at First Hidden Lake – one of three Hidden Lakes located at the halfway point of their trip. They peeled off their packs, pulled out swimming trunks and fishing poles and prepared for a few days of relaxation.

SO THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A BOY SCOUT.

The water was as cold as an ice cube, but the view was stunning and the weather improving. Trevor landed a sizable rainbow trout from Middle Hidden Lake.

It was the best meal of the entire trip.

“It was a lot better than the freezedried food we ate every day,” Tenderfoot Scout Oscar White says.

In addition to day hikes, Scouts built sleeping shelters and worked on other requirements for their Wilderness Survival merit badges.

On the seventh morning, they left for Diamond Creek. Two days later, they took a break from the trail to clean up a campsite as part of their service work, then hiked the last few miles to the trailhead and a barbecue with their families.

“It was really rewarding,” Ben says. “I felt like I had accomplished the impossible.”

Some of their stories are already making the rounds.

What’s Tenderfoot Scout Paul Jackson hearing from the older Scouts as he trains for his 50-mile adventure this summer?

“Well,” Paul says, “there’s this story about a blown-up mule.”

The newest members of Troop 4007 make their way up some rough terrain in the Pasayten Wilderness.

“WE’RE THINKING, ‘WILL WE MAKE IT? WILL SOMEONE GET HURT? WILL WE HAVE TO TURN AROUND?’”

On the first major hiking trip of their lives, the Scouts quickly learned two things: You have to be in good shape, and you have to drink lots of water.

Oscar White takes a moment to admire a scenic view of the Okanogan National Forest.

GETTING READY FOR THE BIG.

Going from novice hikers to Scouts seasoned enough to handle a 50- mile wilderness trek presented a considerable challenge for the new members of Troop 4007.

Here are some of their secrets and some additional ideas for Being Prepared:

* Start getting in shape immediately: These Scouts did six training hikes ranging from four es to 21 miles.

* Practice camping in cold, wet conditions: Nothing like a night out in the rain or a snowdrift to help you discover the holes in your tent and aks in your boots.

* Practice packing your pack, setting up your tent, cooking on your backpacking stove and washing your dishes in the backcountry: These should be second nature by the time the big expedition rolls around.

* Make sure people know where you are going: Get in the habit of leaving a note that details your route and when you expect to return.

* Get current maps: Make sure you have the most current maps of the area you are visiting. Call a land management agency, such as the U.S. Forest Service or U.S. Bureau of Land Management, to see if any trails have been closed.

“We had to RUSH OUT of there because they were about to BLOW UP this male.”

Clockwise from left: Matt Schneider starts a fire with flint and steel for his Wilderness Survival merit badge. Alex Stedman treats a hot spot with moleskin before it turns into an all-out blister. Trevor Northrop has reason to be proud of his rainbow trout. Scouts do some late night reading before they turn in.

Copyright Boy Scouts of America Oct 2008

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