Hikers from Boy Scout Troop 973, from left, Scoutmaster James Wall, Scout Sam Carter, Scout Andrew Maxwell and parent Steve Carter hike down Baldy Mountain, one of the many peaks summited by the group in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico. (Special Photos)
On a rainy July day, Sam Carter summited the 11,000-foot Black Mountain with a full backpack. He carried his sleeping bag, two tents, six liters of water, food, first aid kit, bear rope, mess kit and two days worth of trash.
Once Carter and his fellow Boy Scouts made it to the top, they marveled at the beauty of the clouds circling around other peaks in the distance. After they hiked back down to the base of the mountain, the sun came out. The boys basked in the warmth on the rocks of Tooth Ridge.
“It was the physical accomplishment,” said Carter of the reason that day proved the pinnacle of his excursion into a New Mexico mountain range. “I had a decently heavy pack and I was thinking ‘I’ve almost finished this trip a second time.’”
A member of Boy Scout Troop 973, which meets at First Baptist Church of Conyers, Carter along with a crew of nine other teenage Boy Scouts and troop leaders completed an 11-day trek through the Sangre De Cristo Mountains at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M., in July.
The group hiked 106 miles, summiting several rocky, steep-grade mountains including Comanche Peak at 11, 300, Mt. Philips at 11,730 feet and Baldy Mountain, 12,440 feet.
The group had 35 itineraries from which to choose, with number one being the easiest, said Scott Maxwell, who completed the trek with his Boy Scout son, Andrew Maxwell, 19.
“We went on 33,” said Maxwell, who added that several of the boys, including his son, had been on the trip before.
Maxwell said he and the other three adults, including one Eagle Scout, let the six Boy Scouts, who ranged in age from 14 and 19, follow maps to lead the way from camp to camp. With the exception of Baldy Mountain, where they stayed two nights, the group never spent more than one night at a campsite.
Each boy had a job to do when the group arrived at its daily destination. Jobs included tarp and tent setup, erecting a bear bag and tracking wildlife. Maxwell explained that all food and other smell-producing items had to be put into a bag and hung on an elevated cable several feet away from the camp as a safety precaution to deter bears and other wildlife.
“The boys had a lot of responsibility,” said Maxwell.
The boys carried all food, water, sleeping bags, tents, stoves, cookware and other items needed to survive on the trail, in their backpacks. The menu included items such as beef jerky, Pop Tarts and granola for breakfast; canned ham or tuna for lunch; and dehydrated meals for dinner. One night, the boys feasted on canned turkey and three boxes of stuffing mix (that required only water to make).
“It tasted great on the trail,” said Carter.
The 216-square mile Philmont Scout Ranch played host to thousands of other Scouts during the time the Conyers group hiked the mountain range. After each day’s trek, the boys participated in activities with other Scouts. They fired black powder muskets, climbed spar poles with utility lineman equipment, learned about blacksmithing and completed a trail improvement service project.
Maxwell said that while the Boy Scouts seemed barely affected by the 8- to 12-mile hiking days (with nose bleeds and blisters being the most common problems), the fathers of the boys had a different experience. After one particularly brutal day of hiking, the group set camp and collapsed, exhausted. Just then a group of other Boy Scouts came out of a clearing and asked the Conyers boys if they wanted to play ultimate Frisbee.
“They next thing you know they’re out there playing ultimate Frisbee. Their recovery rate was better than ours,” said Maxwell. “Nothing seemed to faze them.”
While the group did have a close encounter with a bear and her two cubs, the most intense danger on the trip came from lightning. At one point, as the group hiked on a ridge, they had to take the crouch position because of lightning.
“We had to crouch and hope the electricity traveled through our feet and not through our organs,” said Maxwell, who said that fortunately no one got struck.
Maxwell said that in order to make it up the steep grade mountains, the boys used a technique called the caterpillar. The hiker in the front takes several steps forward while the rest of the group follows in a line behind him. Then, the hiker in the back goes up to the front of the line and replaces the lead hiker, giving others in the group a chance to breathe and rest in the high-altitude air.
“When you’re going up a hill with 50-pound packs, there’s no way to do it quickly,” said Maxwell.
Maxwell said the adults are proud of how well the Conyers Scouts performed on the trail, and that they displayed tremendous cohesiveness.
“Any time you accomplish something like this, it’s fulfilling to do it with a group,” said Maxwell. “It’s kind of like winning a sports championship — you had to do this as a team.”