Chelsea Scouts Experience High Adventure in New Mexico
A band of young men from Chelsea and their leaders experienced an epic trip to the breathtaking backcountry of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains this past summer, counting on their training, self-reliance, and camaraderie to see them through.
In June, ten Boy Scouts from Chelsea troops 476 and 425 ventured to BSA's preeminent High Adventure Base, Philmont Scout Ranch, in northern New Mexico for an eleven-day backpacking adventure.
Philmont Scout Ranch is 140,177 acres of wilderness in the stunning Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It is one of the largest youth camps in the world, with an estimated 22,000 Scouts and leaders visiting annually for backpacking and other wilderness experiences. For outdoor-loving scouts, it is where Heaven meets earth.
A trip to Philmont is a thrill for any scout, but it took the Chelsea group three years to get out there because of the pandemic. But that downtime wasn’t wasted. The young men hardened their endurance with regular day hikes on local trails. Team leaders also conducted “shakedowns” to prepare them for the wilderness. In a shakedown, the scouts must empty their backpacks. The contents are inspected to ensure the pack only contains what is needed and nothing more.
The group followed in the steps of tradition getting out west, traveling by train aboard the Southwest Chief to Raton, New Mexico, which scouts have been doing since 1941. Upon arriving in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the group completed their paperwork, checked their gear, and procured their food. The next day they were bussed to the trailhead, where the long-awaited adventure suddenly became real and exhilarating.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains. The peaks are located in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, some reaching more than 12,000 feet in elevation. The area is rich in diverse history. The trails the scouts hiked followed in the footsteps of the Apache and Ute tribes of Native Americans. The group climbed the same passes made famous by such historical mountain men as Kit Carson.
Their backcountry experience was as much mental work as it was physical. The scouts used their problem-solving, map, and compass skills to navigate the unmarked trails. Like the explorers and pioneers of old, the young men carried everything they needed. Hiking to dry camps required each scout to carry as much as five liters (eleven pounds) of water. Their first food resupply on the fifth day weighed over 100 pounds and snapped the ropes of the bear bags when they hung it that night on the trail.
Many of the scouts’ highlight of the trek was the rugged ascent to Dean Skyline. They enjoyed stunning vistas of azure skies, towering pines, and purple mountains at the peak. They enjoyed a hard-earned sunset as the warm New Mexican light painted the landscape and sky gold. The next morning, they offered a benediction and scattered a vial of James Howard Dailey's ashes. His son Michael Dailey is a former Scoutmaster for Troop 476 and a long-time committee member. His father, James, was a second-generation Eagle Scout who loved Philmont, especially Mount Baldy.
The crew also planned to climb Mt. Baldy (the highest peak at Philmont at 12, 441 feet), but inclement weather--cold temperatures, rain, and snow--prevented them from doing so. During their trek, they experienced many new things, like viewing Puebloan petroglyphs chiseled into canyon walls, climbing spar poles, throwing tomahawks, rock climbing, and trail building. They even encountered a rattlesnake and saw signs of bears in the quaking aspen groves high in the mountains.
After the trip, when it came time to talk about their experience, one of the young men shared a new depth of self-awareness. During this adventure, he overcame challenges like enduring 36 hours of nonstop rain in forty-degree weather at 10,000 feet.
"Philmont was full of fun and challenging adventures,” reflected another scout. “From waking up at the break of dawn, pushing through the miles, and participating in all of the staffed camp and other activities. The biggest takeaway for me was how far I could push myself."
All Photos by Brian Lynn