Hi, my name is Noah. I am an Eagle Scout with a Bronze palm and I spent 13 years in the Boy Scouts of America. Backpacking was my specialty.
An Experience for a Lifetime
When I was in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), I spent a lot of time in the woods camping in one place not far from the vehicles we arrived in, but as I became acclimated to the difficulty level, I began to long for bigger adventures. A small group of my friends in my Troop decided we were ready for a high adventure trip. We planned to go on a 35-mile trek around the Durango and Silverton Areas of Colorado's San Juan National Forest. It would include freezing rainstorms, steep mountain passes, ice-covered trails, and a nosey mountain goat that would create the adventure of a lifetime. Trips of this magnitude typically require years of planning and training in cold weather camping, high altitude safety, and awareness of surroundings and wildlife. In addition to the years of experience in skills training for our Troop, 2006 would be the year we would take a group of thirteen boys out into the isolated wilderness of Colorado.
The foothills of the Ozarks were a perfect terrain where we learned skills like "Catapillering." Catapillering is when the person in the front of the line of hikers counts out a set number of paces and steps off the trail to catch their breath. They will wait until the last man in the group passes him, then he will fall back in line. Repeating the rotation of the first person allows for longer stints of hiking without long breaks. Catapillar is by far the most important tool we learned to use in Colorado. Above the tree line, the level at which oxygen is too low to allow trees to grow; this is the difference between passing out in potentially dangerous areas and staying alert. The treeline where we were going to hike was around 11,500 feet above sea level; we spent a lot of time above this elevation and used this technique often. I would credit it with the long distances we were able to cover per day during the trip.
Cold weather was a consistent hazard at high elevations. Like clockwork in the afternoon, the sky would open up and rain on us for about an hour. We learned to watch the cloud cover and time the afternoon rains to prepare ourselves the best we could. Having insulated raincoats and being able to set our tents up in a short amount of time was paramount to maintaining our stamina. I remember vividly when storms blew in as we were about to hike a trail called Hunchback Pass. Above the treeline, you are the tallest thing in the area and making lightning a real threat. As we began to hunker down for the storm to pass, the storm increased in intensity. The rain beat against us, and lightning flashed all around; no delay between the bolt and thunderclap. Raincoats were no match for the torrent and the freezing temperatures that found their way to our core. We began to break out our portable camping stoves and heat water for soup and tea. It felt like hours and hours, trying our best to maintain our core temperatures, but; the rain let up and the sun came out to warm our bones. Once we crested Hunchback Pass, we saw evidence of lightning strikes on the ground. Burnt and cracked rocks littered the trail proving again that preparation had kept us safe again.
Navigation is another vital skill to master. We practiced this in a wildlife refuge called Quivira up in Kansas. This area of Kansas was not the flat pancake as one would expect. Dotted with Scrub Oaks, creeks, and rivers, it was the perfect place to learn to read maps. Topography is a special kind of map that can show you elevation changes, especially helpful where we were going in Colorado. There was no trail or markers to follow. We just picked a point on the map, plotted a course, and took off checking landmarks and headings along the way. Only when our leaders confirmed our location via GPS did they tell us of our success. GPS was the most precise way to follow the map, but what if the batteries run out, or it breaks? This is why we practiced with detailed maps of the area. Applying this to Colorado was a game changer. There were many times when, deep in a valley you could not receive a signal from satellites; and in these instances, we broke out the map and proceeded with ease. While hiking in the San Juan National Forest there was a rule called "Leave no Trace" which applied to everything from trees, rocks, and trash to walking spread out so as not to wear down the earth. That being said many times there were no trails. Map or GPS Navigation was the only way to make out there. Knowing where to go was half the battle; the trails were not always kind to us and they demanded serious commitment and literal perfection to complete!
These skills combined created a once-in-a-lifetime trip in Colorado. 16 years later I still vividly remember these trips with great detail and cannot wait to share them with you. There is more to this story but, it will have to wait for another evening to come alive. For now, it remains a memory in my mind that never ceases to make me smile.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Noah